I’m back to school these days, and last week I had a paper due that I really didn’t want to write. This is also know as the prime conditions in which I marathon a lot of anime, so of course I wound up cranking through a couple shows, finishing both Dream Eater Merry and the exhaustively titled Problem Children Are Coming from Another World, Aren’t They? I’m not reviewing them together solely because I finished them in the same week (although that’s part of it), but more because I had somewhat similar responses to them.
Both shows finished with a 5/10 rating (Rankings).
Dream Eater Merry
Before the marathoning sessions of last week, I had been stuck on Dream Eater Merry [J.C. Staff, 2011] for a few weeks. I initially added it to my queue on the recommendation of a friend and on the strength of Merry’s design and on the virtues of a premise that seemed to offer a little more than what I’d typically expect from this type of seinen show. But, four episodes in, I was on the verge of dropping it due to the blandness of the story. Thankfully, things picked up in episode five and hooked me enough to get me to the end of the series with minimal trouble.
There really are some cool ideas floating around in Dream Eater Merry, and once the characters start adding up it begins to toss around compelling moral dilemmas and knock parties with different agendas together in an interesting way. Unfortunately, both of the villains are nothing more than “SUFFERING MWAHAHAHA” types and there’s not really enough thematic weight (nor are the moral dilemmas explored enough) to turn the show into anything more than a light mental workout. The setting and context of the show aren’t really fully explored like they could be, which is a bummer because the connection between dreams and reality is something that I’ve always found interesting.
The show benefits greatly from a fantastic aesthetic design—the dream worlds are fantastically imagined (Engi’s wheat fields were my favorite), the character designs distinctive, and the direction is solid. The animation has obvious budget restrictions holding it back, but the direction during the battle scenes is a step above the direction in the rest of the show and makes them effective even on a minimal budget. It’s a shame; I would have loved to see this style of action direction given a full budget to work with.
I couldn’t finish talking about Dream Eater Merry without talking about the music. The OP is fantastic, the ED solid, and the OST is really, really good. The overall atmospheric effect isn’t on the same level of something like WIXOSS, but it’s solid music in its own right.
In the end, Dream Eater Merry doesn’t really live up to its full potential and the first four episodes of the show are a real drag on the overall quality. If you’re a fan of director Shigeyasu Yamauchi and want to see him tackle a different type of show, you might find it interesting. Otherwise, while Merry is reasonably entertaining, there are a lot more shows that offer more fun or more compelling mind games out there.
Problem Children Are Coming from Another World, Aren’t They?
Dang, that’s a long title. Problem Children [Diomedéa, 2013], is based off of a light novel series rather than a manga, and the difference is apparent. Problem Children all but breathes “light novel adaptation,” and while it’s noticeably less trashy than similar offerings (NGNL, I’m talking about you) it still suffers many of the same problems. Compounding those issues is the 10-episode run time, which emphasizes all of the show’s difficulties and none of its strengths. I probably would have been bored by or hated Problem Children had I been watching it weekly, but as a marathon it was a nice, concentrated bunch of fun, even if it failed to be as cool as it thought it was.
Problem Children has four “main” characters—Izaiyoi, Asuka, You, and Black Rabbit—and a plethora of prominent side characters, but somehow none of them actually feel like main characters. The show actually has a surprising lack of internal monologues and while I don’t think I’ve been so crippled by anime that I need internal monologue to connect to characters, it’s pretty hard to connect to any of the characters or really get any sort of grasp on who they are without it here. Black Rabbit (oddly, as one would expect she be little more than a fetish-joke character) is actually the most fleshed out character of the bunch, as the actual Problem Children never get beyond talking about the plot.
This, I think, is the main problem with Problem Children—it’s far too focused on action and plot, at the expense of any character work. And so battles that should be exciting or climactic or engaging end up just being sound and fury because we’ve got no investment in the characters. “Oh, cool, fighting, bright lights, robots, animal powers,” was my reaction to most of the show. Which was sad, because I liked the ideas of the characters. But that’s not enough to compel actual investment in them.
It doesn’t help that the animation is pretty sparse in Problem Children; and while the visual design and character designs are easily digestible and the bright colors of the early episodes fell into a spectrum I personally like, a lot of the fights lack impact because the animation just doesn’t do it justice. Sonically, the OP is enjoyable and the ED is cute, but the vocal performances by everyone except for Black Rabbit (again!?) are flat.
I’d certainly recommend Problem Children over No Game No Life for people looking for the “exceptional children in a game world” premise, but the show doesn’t have a lot to recommend it beyond just being kind of fun. The general lack of pop in the show is disappointing and my general feeling is that it’ll be easily forgotten.