Phantom Dream Volume 1 by Natsuki Takaya
Fruits Basket is one of those defining series, both for the artist and whoever is lucky to publish it. As it is starting to wind down, Tokyopop is publishing Natsuki Takaya’s earlier works like Phantom Dream and Tsubasa: Those With Wings. Unfortunately Takaya’s first series Phantom Dream just made me appreciate the artistic achievement of Fruits Basket even more.
Phantom Dream is a manga of the “high school kids fighting demons” genre. Tamaki is the emotionally withdrawn heir to his family’s shrine who hasn’t mastered his powers. Asahi is the airheaded but emotionally intelligent girl who supports him. A long-lost friend of theirs from childhood transfers to their school, and they find out that she’s been possessed by the vengeful spirit of her dead twin. Tamaki manages to summon up the power to defeat him, and Phantom Dream settles in to a fairly typical “monster of the week” type manga. Towards the end we get the introduction of a new character who is related to Tamaki which hints that his supernaturally inclined family may not be entirely benign.
It is probably totally unfair to compare Phantom Dream to Fruits Basket since over ten years separate the series. The art in Phantom Dream is stiff and awkward, with little indication of the rich character design and fluid panel layout the reader encounters in Fruits Basket. Phantom Dream also hints at some of the themes (family issues, remaining steadfast in the face of adversary) that one sees later on and better executed in Fruits Basket. Towards the end of the volume, it looked like the art had improved a little bit, with the postures of the characters becoming less stiff. Overall though, there really wasn’t enough to capture my interest with this series, because there wasn’t enough in Phantom Dream to lift the title above the rather stale premise. I am glad that Takaya was able to mature and grow as an artist, but I think that Phantom Dream would really only appeal to Takaya completists and anyone interested in tracing her growth as an artist from such a humble start. Anyone else could read a better story about high school kids fighting spirits in the form of Yurara or Kekkaishi.