As a Fruits Basket fan, whenever I was confronted with a survey on what manga I would like to see licensed, I always included the two series Natsuki Takaya wrote before her big hit—Genei Musou and Tsubasa wo Motsu Mono. And when TOKYOPOP announced it would be releasing them (as Phantom Dream and Tsubasa: Those With Wings, respectively), I was thrilled.
I did all this without having read either series, and armed only with the vaguest notion of what each was actually about. And so it was that, while still pleased at having the opportunity to read Takaya’s debut work, I found Phantom Dream to be somewhat of a disappointment. It’s not awful, and there are certain aspects that I like, but it can also be very confusing at times and the supernatural system isn’t adequately explained.
High school student Tamaki Otoya is the sole heir to a family line of shugoshi, though he’s not very enthused about his duties. What’s a shugoshi, you ask? I’m not exactly sure. TOKYOPOP translates some terms—like juzu, the prayer beads Tamaki uses when casting his spells—but neglects to do the same for others, possibly because they were invented by Takaya. As near as I can tell, shugoshi is just the term for someone who has the power to exorcise the evil spirits (jaki) that take over people with an excess of negative emotions (jashin). The terms for some helpmates that Tamaki can summon are explained in the text, but the word for the kind of shield he can create (shichiboujin) is not. A glossary would’ve been immensely helpful.
Tamaki’s mother, herself possessed of some power, despairs of his ever developing his abilities more fully. When a former elementary school classmate transfers into his class, however, strange things start happening and Tamaki is compelled to act. This first chapter is the most confusing of the volume, and it’s sometimes hard to follow exactly what is going on. In any case, Tamaki is successful in exorcising the jaki and thereafter begins practicing and trying to get better.
The supernatural conflict is not the only confusing aspect of Phantom Dream. Accompanying Tamaki nearly constantly is his childhood friend, Asahi. She is very open about her love for him, though he never verbally returns the feeling. No confirmation about their exact relationship status is ever given. Later, they end up sleeping together when he is on the verge of going off and doing something rash. From the lack of drama attending this scene, I am left to conclude this isn’t the first time they’ve been intimate, but again, it’s another case where I’m not exactly sure.
Asahi herself comes across as the typical shojo heroine—clumsy, good-hearted, and miserable in academics—but in at least one way, she’s a kind of proto-Tohru. In the second chapter, Tamaki is confronted with a situation where the power of the jaki is actually keeping its human host alive and an exorcism will kill the boy it’s inhabiting. The boy is fond of butterflies, and tells Tamaki that when they hover around him, they’re actually saying, “You are loved.” He notes that Asahi is Tamaki’s butterfly. Later, Tamaki realizes that this is true. When he’s feeling low, Asahi’s presence is a constant reminder that he is loved and accepted. It’s neat to see a glimmer of one of the themes that Takaya will develop more fully in a future work.
The final chapter brings more plot complications in the form of a rival family that wants to convert as many people into jaki as possible. I suppose this addition to the tale is welcome—an episodic sequence of exorcisms would get boring pretty quickly—but it’s not exactly helping to clear things up. That said, I liked the bleak way in which the volume ended.
Phantom Dream is not Natsuki Takaya’s best work. Even if I can’t quite recommend it on its own merits, it’s still interesting to see how her storytelling and artistic skills have improved and evolved since her debut.
Review copy provided by the publisher. Review originally published at Manga Recon.