Anime in Retrospect
In a world where the forty hour week is becoming more a luxury than a standard, is a focus on the slow and everyday the sort of entertainment we are beginning to need more of? Join Animefringe as we take a second glance at Someday's Dreamers.
"With all my precious feelings..."
Kind of a cheesy tagline, although it does roll off the tongue a lot more naturally in Japanese. It's not an inappropriate tag though, and in greater context, it's a little less cheesy, just a small sprinkle of parmesan in the place of a chunk of cheddar.
A lethargic play on a typically hyperactive concept, Someday's Dreamers is something of a unique cliché. It features a world where magic is the norm, the lead character is a seventeen-year-old girl, and the episodic plot structures can be quite conventional. However, it allows itself a far more relaxed atmosphere than is the norm. The visual design is bathed in clear, yet faded colors, cast over with washes of white and pale lighting. Everything is clean and has a soft edge to it, and while this approach to attaining a relaxed look may feel a little predictable (imagine a 'classy' soap commercial with cartoon characters), it does its job effectively, and it is pleasing to look at. That said, while it is pleasing to look at, it still falls behind the overall refinement of the visual presentation in comparable titles, such as Kiki's Delivery Service and the utterly seductive Haibane Renmei.
Following the story of young Yume Kikuchi, a country born and raised mage trainee who has moved temporarily to Tokyo in order to undertake this training, Someday's Dreamers establishes several story bases that it doesn't quite follow in a manner that may be expected. There is plot continuity here, although it's more or less an undercurrent that flows beneath an array of stories -- that in turn join in part with this undercurrent -- than it is a key focus. The outline and course of Yume's training are never really explained. It's things like this that can make the appeal of Someday's Dreamers a little hard to explain, as it frequently manages to be predictable in one sense, while being fresh in another. It comes down, in a way, to the immediate versus the overall.
On an episode-by-episode bases, Someday's Dreamers is very, well... episodic. Character introduced, problem raised, solution of one sort or the other found, theme addressed. Tick the boxes, prepare for the next round. These little spates of storytelling struck me as somewhat predictable and cheaply sentimental at times, but the show ultimately manages to use them to push a form of narrative forward in a strangely effective manner. Yume acts largely as a beacon, a foreigner in her metropolitan surroundings who alternates between perceiving her own life and those of others, and naturally, she takes the viewer along for the ride. It is because of Yume's compulsively polite nature and ability to become attached to things with which she has become involved that the story doesn't come across as feeling like aimless fragments.
The scope of Someday's Dreamers is more modest than it is epic, and this attributes a lot of its appeal for me. It also serves as a one of its redeeming features. The show isn't concerned with any great events. Instead, it uses the occasional crisis purely as a means to maintain interest and affect character. An overall sense of the epic is traded off for small pockets of localized apocalyptic intensity, a series of personal crisis' worth little more than, if anything, page three news. These events do little to contribute to a steam-rolling plot, but they hold significance in theme and character. After seeing a world or country saved from inhumane destruction so many times, I couldn't help but find this focus to be incredibly refreshing.
Someday's Dreamers is often willing to put mood first, and it is very selective about what it gives significance to and how it does this. When Yume acts too heavily outside of her regulations during one particular magic stunt, we are naturally shown the fuss that it causes over in the mage headquarters, but by the start of the following episode, it has been put aside and it is never followed up on. Clearly the purpose is to expand the world and the rules that govern it a bit more, granting the viewer a familiarity that can be relied upon during the next time that such a situation may occur.
This seems to be becoming a little more familiar now, and it would be easy to draw parallels with Haibane Renmei in how it sets up things largely as an expansion of its world. Haibane Renmei is still a little more focused, however, and to be fair, it is probably the stronger series overall. On a personal level, however, the fact that Someday's Dreamers wears its belt more loosely and is willing to drop threads like this is something for which I am eternally grateful. There are many occurrences that could be picked up and followed in a linear fashion, but this would have thrown the series headfirst into a specifically focused storyline, or an arc-focused structure, and this in turn would have destroyed its wonderfully relaxed day-by-day vibe.
Focused plots surround us. Well-written or utter rubbish, they are persistently present, and they frequently come packaged with no-nonsense attitudes that demand that everything that happens should serve the story. As a result, the viewer is pushed along at a forced speed, unable to pause and soak up things along the way. There is nothing wholly wrong with this in and of itself, but we have more than enough of it already in anime to last several lifetimes.
The way in which Someday's Dreamers follows up on its threads is unique and selective, mostly unconcerned with predictable drama, and wholly subservient to the day-to-day motions of its characters and the world in which they exist. The selection of the personal over the all-enveloping epic concern towards storytelling can be explained with the light conflict between Yume and her trainer, Masami, a male mage with a feminine name, when the issue arises about whether a mage should or shouldn't emotionally hold on onto clients once the appointed task for them has been fulfilled. Yume does, and because of this, many of the events in the show orbit around her.
While these character interactions aren't going to lead to some greater meaning, they still have an effect on the lives of the characters. There is a unique pleasure that comes from this. While the show may at times disregard audience expectation, I find this to actually be necessary for it to allow the viewer to watch the show more on their own terms than what is usually the case. Essentially, by largely disregarding plot, Someday's Dreamers is putting the experience back into the hands of the viewing public.
This may actually be where the appeal in watching an anime like this may lie -- in the routine and slightly mundane. It's not the wings or the halos that make Haibane Renmei so endearing and charming, and likewise, magic in Someday's Dreamers means very little towards the overall appeal. Although Yume is a mage, and special power is something that is taken for the norm in this world, this is by no means a magical girl anime. Someday's Dreamers is gentle, an anime which aired at a late at night in Japan not because of censorship, but because this is a show that is very easy to watch when you are exhausted or tired. It's possible that it was simply intended for this purpose: to creating a pillow-like atmosphere, with the magic aspect simply becoming a key plot concept as a means of attaining the all-clear. The magic displayed here is, after all, more softly metaphorical than it is flashy.
By the time the tale comes to an end, no exceptionally strong linear narrative path has been travelled. Instead, fragments are picked up and used to bring Yume's time in Tokyo full circle. It is this time in Tokyo in which the series is essentially about. Comparable to life in a sense, the show works in pockets of moments, some of which may go on to affect you, and others that won't. There is a premise here of a young girl undertaking her training, but this seems more concerned with providing movement to an inevitable goal, and providing an overall body for us to cling to whilst all of the experiences that make up this tale drip off as appropriate.
It is perhaps a fault that the series tries a bit too hard to provide a revelation for it's final climax. This isn't a unique problem, as it took even Miyazaki years before he was able to get a film's emotional climax to peak with a gesture as simple as a girl getting on a train. Kiki's Delivery Service fell into the self-important climax trap: a story of a girl's growth salted in day-by-day appeal ended up relying upon a race against time, life-or-death climax as a means of ending the film. Although the ending ofSomeday's Dreamers falls into a similar trap, and Yume's inevitable last big decision will be obvious to anyone watching, the path travelled is still well trod, and it does manage to be just that little bit moving in the process. The reality of it seems to be that the appeal, a focus on the sights along the journey more than finding out what's going to happen next. As pointed out by a chibi cat in a certain independent animation, it's about noticing things, and realizing that you're in love with this world.
Structurally predictable at times though it may be, Someday's Dreamers is still worth the trip. It's refreshing to see something that is mostly concerned with smaller day-to-day situations, and something that moves forward in its own relaxed manner. I didn't find it to be a revolutionary or life-changing affair, but there are aspects of originality in the overall narrative focus and presentation, and it caters much more effectively towards my sixty to sixty-five hour week lifestyle than most other titles out there. Still naive perhaps, but not as much as before, and all those precious feelings may just hold a hint of sincerity as well.