Phantom Dream 2 by Natsuki Takaya: B-

phantomdream2From the back cover:
Tamaki Otoya is the last in a line of ancient summoners tasked to battle evil forces that threaten mankind. But when the rival Gekka family return to collect the demon sword Tamaki’s family stole centuries ago, a devastating secret is revealed! Tamaki is left in such a state of shock that he doesn’t even notice his beloved Asahi slipping away to the Gekka mansion…

I was pretty underwhelmed by the first volume in this series, finding it to be confusing and more interesting as a measure of Natsuki Takaya’s progression as a storyteller than for its own merits. Volume two is a big improvement, however; though the confusing elements persist, a potentially compelling story is beginning to take shape.

In this volume, more details about the feud between the members of the Gekka family, who use negative emotions to turn people into jaki, and the Otoya family, who are tasked with exorcising those people, are revealed. The current representatives of the families, Eiji and Tamaki, seem to bond a little over their shared burdens, but also engage in combat, as well. Some members of a branch family come to support Tamaki, leading to revelations about the reasons why more of the family is not rallying behind him. Asahi seems to feel a strange connection with a sword belonging to the Gekka family, which the Otoya family has sacrificed much to protect, but Eiji ends up in possession of the weapon after his cat demon minion manages to infiltrate the shields on the Otoya temple in an unexpected way.

That summary is distilled from a couple hundred pages of random and rapid plot developments, which brings up the biggest problem I have with Phantom Dream: major events happen too quickly, giving the progression of the story a rather slapdash feel. It’s possible that Takaya-sensei has meticulously planned out each new development, but they rush by without giving the reader enough time to appreciate what has happened. In the first volume, for example, I completely missed that a butterfly-loving boy whom Tamaki exorcised had volunteered to become a kind of reconnaissance spirit in Tamaki’s employ. This time, we’re barely given time to digest some news about Tamaki’s parentage before the sword is stolen, Tamaki’s mother dies, and Asahi goes missing, apparently on the verge of betraying Tamaki and awakening the Gekka king from his slumber.

Through the blur of these events, however, one is occasionally afforded a glimpse of what the story could’ve been if more time were devoted to allowing the main characters some reaction time. Tamaki and Eiji don’t seem to really hate each other; instead, they are bound by destiny and familial expectations to continue a pointless feud that’s been going on for a thousand years. Eiji, at times, doesn’t seem to want to do what he’s doing—and even seems to cherish some feelings of love for Tamaki—but does them nonetheless, causing Tamaki to have to fight him. I wish this element of the story had been played up a lot more, rather than the emphasis being on the secrets of Tamaki’s parentage.

Still, even with all of these problems, I find that I do like Phantom Dream, and substantially more than I like Tsubasa: Those With Wings. For all its speed, it’s still by far the more focused work, with a driving narrative that isn’t sidetracked by forays into “comedy.” It’s also more clearly the precursor to Fruits Basket, with a heroine whose sunny outlook proves of invaluable aid to the hero and even manages to get through to the ostensible villain of the piece.

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