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February 8, 2010

Bento Bako Weekly: Phantom Dream

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Written by: Kristin
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Title: Phantom Dream
Natsuki Takaya (Fruits Basket)
Five total volumes; the final volume came out the last week of January, 2010.  The first volume is $9.99, all the others are $10.99.
Serialized in Japan from 1994 to 1997.  Tokyopop began publishing the title in America in 2008.
Older teen for some sexual elements (this means that there is non-explicit sex between characters, and some frontal female nudity) and some violence (he is basically an exorcist; it’s sort of part of the job).  It’s a romance first, with supernatural, fantasy, and mystery elements.

Phantom Dream is Takaya’s first serialized manga, though she started Tsubasa: Those With Wings during the middle (so she was writing them simultaneously, or switching between them regularly).  Comparing the two, you can tell she was finding her drawing style (the styles for both are a bit different from each other, and are a long way away from what she eventually settled into with Fruits Basket, though you can certainly see elements that carried on).  I’m a huge Fruits Basket fan, so that may cloud my judgment a bit when I read her other works.  Despite the weaknesses of her earlier books, Takaya tells a damn good story, and in the end, that’s what is most important.  If you read her more recent stuff, you can tell she has improved immensely as both an artist and a writer.

A thousand years ago, a woman named Suigekka was secretly revered in Japan as a protector and a healer.  She lived far away from the villages in a palace, with her guards Saga and Hira.  From there she would perform rituals to protect the people and give life to the land, while she sent Saga and Hira down to the people to aid them with their spells of protection and healing.  To protect them from the backlash of the spells, Suigekka gave Hira a sword, and Saga juzu beads (prayer beads).  Both men loved and adored Suigekka, Hira especially, and she loved him in return.  One day, when drought and sickness plagued the land, the people turned on Suigekka and murdered her.  Hira arrived too late to save her, and Saga was away.  Seeing what the people had done to his beloved, Hira went mad and began summoning ghosts and monsters that attacked the humans, and declared himself King of the Gekka.  Saga rose up against him as the first Shugoshi of the Otoya family, vowing to protect humanity from Hira with his spells of protection.

Hideri's father explains the relationship between the Shugoshi and the Gekka in Phantom Dream vol. 2.

Now, a millennium later, Tamaki Otoya is the Shugoshi.  He exorcises jashin, powerful negative emotions that can turn people into jaki.  He is directly descended from Saga, and uses the same powers and juzu that Saga once used to protect humanity.  The Gekka family still thrives, and is headed by Eiji, a jahoutsukai who uses jaryoku (black magic) to turn humans into jaki.  Jaki that will help King Hira’s (who sleeps sealed away in the Gekka palace) dream of creating an ideal world where humans throw off their weak emotions and become strong.  By Tamaki’s side is his lover Asahi, a sweet and cheerful girl full of hope and love for everyone, who gives Tamaki strength and courage.

As the time for King Hira’s awakening draws near, the Gekka increase their attacks.  Several years ago, Tamaki’s grandfather sealed the Gekka’s demon sword away, and Eiji is hunting it down.  It’s all Tamaki can do to protect those he loves, and to exorcise the jaki Eiji creates.  When Eiji finally gets hold of the sword, more tragedy awaits him than he could have ever imagined.  Asahi disappears, and mysteriously joins up with the Gekka.

Why would Asahi, who has always loved Tamaki with all her heart, betray him for the Gekka?  And just what is the truth behind the feud between Saga and Hira?  The tragic history of both families unfolds throughout the pages of Phantom Dream, as key players switch sides and hearts awaken to new feelings.  People sacrifice themselves for those they love, while others drown in despair and hatred.  Takaya weaves a beautiful story of love, sacrifice, hope, despair, loyalty, betrayal….  Asahi can seem a little…too bubbly at times, and even kind of ditzy, but there’s a strength within her that she draws on to protect the man she loves at any cost.  Tamaki probably grows the most, from someone who hates himself for his limitations, to someone willing to sacrifice himself to save his greatest enemy.  There is an occasional plot hole, though the specific one I’m thinking of may be an editing issue (which is worse; it’s a gender pronoun mistake), and it gets a tad confusing at the end, when Takaya basically takes everything you know from four volumes of story and turns it on its head.  But it’s a good read, sure to stir up some emotions (it certainly teared me up more than once).

Tokyopop has included some nice little glossaries and character bios at the beginning of some of the volumes, like volume three, where the character description for Asahi gives away a major plot element that isn’t revealed until you read through a few more pages (thanks, Tokyopop).  The first two volumes also include previews for Fruits Basket, but they take place in the final volumes of the series, and while they don’t give away major spoilers, they do show some resolutions; probably not the best choices, so don’t read them if you haven’t ready Fruits Basket yet (what’s taking you so long?).

Unfortunately Tokyopop decided to mar the cover of every volume with a tacky “From the creator of” stamp on the front.  There are better ways to do that, like putting it on the back (oh wait, it’s on the back, too), running simple text along the bottom (or top, like for Tsubasa) of the cover, or putting it on the spine (oh wait, it’s on the spine, too).  I understand they want to sell the book by getting Furuba fans to buy it; that makes total sense.  What I don’t understand is why they feel the need to plaster it all over the book.  The covers are beautiful…except for that.  An easily peelable sticker would have been ideal, if they absolutely had to have it on the front like that, and there’s really no reason to plaster it everywhere either.

Don’t forget that you can now follow Comic Attack on Twitter (@comicattack), and me too (@girlg33k_Kris)!

Next week, come back for Taimashin: The Red Spider Exorcist!  And a little later this week, return for some more Harlequin titles!




  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by John Mulder and ComicAttack.net, Kristin Bomba. Kristin Bomba said: New Bento Bako: Natsuki Takaya's Phantom Dream #manga from Tokyopop https://comicattack.net/2010/02/bbwphantomdream/ […]

  2. billy

    Wow, this sounds really cool Kris. I love stories that have a “long ago…” beginning to them and then move forward to more modern times.

  3. Kristin

    Well, it’s more like a background element. Takaya goes back to it a couple of times, as she reveals more about the truth of the past, but really the story is all in “modern times.” There’s just a sort of…classic Japan element because the characters are so tied to the past, or have been alive for a thousand years.

  4. […] Biased Manga) Connie on vol. 9 of One Thousand and One Nights (Slightly Biased Manga) Kristin on Phantom Dream (Comic Attack) Michael May on Talking to Strangers (Robot 6) Connie on vol. 4 of Two Flowers for […]

  5. […] Biased Manga) Connie on vol. 9 of One Thousand and One Nights (Slightly Biased Manga) Kristin on Phantom Dream (Comic Attack) Michael May on Talking to Strangers (Robot 6) Connie on vol. 4 of Two Flowers for […]

  6. gotta love that right to left!

  7. Kristin

    You know, I read so much manga, that it’s American comics that look strange to me. Every time I crack open my Wonder Woman or New Avengers, I open it up the right way (probably only because of the cover, lol), but I still try to read the text from right to left. Then I get confused and have to remind myself what I’m reading. It’s become that natural for me to read R-L.

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