Have you ever wondered how a different nation might interpret a staple of another nation? Like how would a place like Japan would make a pizza. How would their culture and tastes affect what toppings would be used or how the dough would be prepared? Though seeing a nation adapt another nation's food, I find it more interesting when a nation adapts another's literature. Specifically, I find mangas made outside of Japan tend to be very interesting because they use different tropes and can have unique artwork reflective of the nation it originated from. Today, I'm going to cover the French manga, Dreamland.
*Warning for mature content. There are multiple scenes with full frontal nudity, drug use, and a sex scene.*
Imagine, what is a dream? Is it just random thoughts given life or is it a gateway to worlds unknown? In Dreamland it is a world of the bizarre, fantastical, uncanny, but most importantly, it is a world of adventure. Meet Terrance, a lazy high school student, who has just gain the power to traverse dreamland by conquering his greatest fear, fire. Through his journey, Terrance meets others who have the power to traverse dreamland freely as well as the quirky populace of dreamland itself. Though Terrance goes on many rousing adventures, his time in dreamland is limited as once he wakes up in the real world, he can't return to dreamland till he falls asleep again. So, Terrance must find a way to manga his life in the real world with his life in dreamland.
This is the only aspect of the manga that I felt was decent and even this is a stretch. In the beginning of the manga, the art is just plain bad. There are multiple instances of proportions being out of line, which can be very immersion breaking. Also, most of the scenes in the manga have either a poorly drawn or have no background at all, even in dreamland, which makes it feel like the manga takes place in a white void. Although, around chapter 30 or so, many of the problems get fixed to an extent, with the quality of character art and the art in action scenes increasing subtantially. Also, the character art has a unique feel to it through out its run. The manga blends the art style of American newspaper comics (like Calvin and Hobbes) with shounen manga elements to make an art style that makes each character pop out. The art in this manga is subpar for its initial arcs, but improves dramatically later on.
The story is a garbled mess that takes an eternity to actually decide what it's doing. At the very beginning of the manga, Nightmares are tormenting Terrance with his fear of fire. Over the course of the first chapter, Terrance is able to over come his fear and become a traveler, a person who can freely travel through dreamland. What's wrong with this chapter is it tells us nothing about the course of the story and Terrance himself. This would have been ok, albeit a shaky start to the series, but Terrance has no goal to strive for a while afterwards. In the mean time, Terrance ends up exploring dreamland without much cause and it is incredibly boring because Terrance isn't that interesting of a person and the areas he visits aren't interesting either. This arc felt like a huge waste of time because nothing was getting done.
Even when Terrance does get his first goal, it doesn't improve the series at all because his goal adds nothing to the series. Specifically, Terrance wants to protect the dreams of the dreamers, basically people who aren't travelers. This is a terrible goal for this kind of story because it gives Terrance a carte blanch to explore the world, while telling us nothing about his desires. In the end, this goal leads does nothing to build a cohesive plot.
Even further in the series, Terrance's goal switches once again, but this time his goal is actually decent. This time, Terrance wants to visit heaven to see his dead mother, but this heaven is in the far reaches of dreamland. This is actually a decent plot because it gives Terrance a clear goal to strive for while traversing dreamland and adds to the lore of the world. Though this change improves the story immensely, it comes incredibly late into the story and does nothing to alleviate what came before it.
Dreamland's world is completely pointless. What I mean is that there is absolutely no reason for the dual reality mechanic to exist in this manga because the events in dreamland and in the real world aren't connected in any meaningful way. If feels pointless to see Terrance's life in the real world because it doesn't affect his time in the dreamland except for the fact of when Terrance gets to go into and has to leave dreamland. Also, the mechanic of being in dreamland is completely stupid because it's used in contrived ways. Basically, whenever this mechanic comes into play it's used to create a contrivance. For example, when Terrance and his fellow traveler, Savane, are fighting another strong traveler, Terrance is forced out of dreamland just in time for Savane to get the crap kicked out of him. No matter how you look at this, this did nothing but force Terrance to act out of character and force some sort of conflict to happen between Terrance and Savane. The dual reality mechanic of Dreamland is completely pointless and only serves to create contrivances.
The sheer volume of characters in Dreamland is insane; unfortunately all of them suck. All of the main characters in this series are completely boring. Terrance is a misanthropic teenage who only thinks about his high school crush and is pretty idiotic. Savane is the muscle of the group and is a battle manic with nothing else to set him apart from a character like Vegeta, from Dragon Ball Z, except for the lack of Vegeta's pride. Savane, the stoner of the group and the one who is responsible for 99 percent of the drug use in the series. Finally, there's Eve, the chick of the group and a person with probably one of the worst introductions into group. It was an extremely powerful moment, that made me feel for the character, but I was also utterly disgusted at author for showing me this scene because it clashed with the tone of the series and offended my senses to no end.
Also, there is a massive amount of side character in the series that impede the development of the main characters because they eat up a lot of screen time while not being very important. It's really annoying because most of the times these side characters only appear once for a certain set of chapters and never appear again, making me wonder why the author spent time on a nobody when the manga could have focused on developing its characters more. In the end, the main characters feel like empty husks whom could have had more development if the manga didn't focus on a million pointless side characters.
I wanted to like Dreamland because it would have been a shining example of what a manga created outside Japan could be like. Instead, what I found was a mess that didn't know what it wanted to do. The story was an unfocused mess that I couldn't get immersed in. The dual reality mechanic was completely pointless except for the fact that it could explain away most of the contrivances that arose. Finally, the characters were god-awful. Yes, they were merely just husks of people, but what they did offended my sensibilities that I began to question who the intended audience for this manga was. There was way too much sexual and drug related content to be targeted to children and the writing isn't mature enough to be targeted at adults. In all, Dreamland has absolutely no idea what it's trying to do.
All images were taken from Mangahere.co except for the cover which was taken from the Dreamland wiki. I do not own any of these images.
You can read Dreamland here.
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