Saturday, February 22, 2014

Review: Akumu-chan (My Little Nightmare)

Akumu-chan ( 悪夢ちゃん ) aka My Little Nightmare poster.

Akumu-chan is a family drama with a bizarre twist and quirky characters. Our leading lady, in need of much development, is Mutoi Ayami played by Kitagawa Keiko. On the outside, she is a perfectly friendly elementary school teacher who does and says all the right things. But the moment she turns away, the smile melts from her face and she remains emotionally isolated. There's a good reason for this, of course, but we'll only find out as her life gets disrupted and she begins to open up.

Kitagawa Keiko 北川景子 (きたがわ けいこ) as Mutoi Ayami notices Kimura Manatsu 木村真那月 (きむら まなつ) as Koto Yuiko, staring at her in the hallway.

Enter the strange introverted child, Koto Yuiko, played by Kimura Manatsu. She suffers from prophetic dreams and for some reason, she and her grandfather have chosen Ayami as her teacher and savior. Ayami is, naturally, averse to the latter.

Koto Yuiko awakens from a nightmare, wearing her headset. / Mutoi Ayami, Koto Yuiko and Koto Banosuke, played by Kohinata Fumiyo 小日向文世 (こひなた ふみよ) in the lab, watch Yuiko's latest nightmare.

Grandfather Koto, played by Kohinata Fumiyo, is a scientist who has developed the technology to record dreams and play them back for anyone to see. When the dreams involve people at the school, Ayami is forced to help interpret them, and resolve the conflicts.

Gackt ガクト as the Dream Prince with Ayami as a princess in her dream. / Gackt as Shiki Takashi meeting Ayami for the first time as her mouth hangs open.

Ayami, always in control of her life, also controls her dreams. She often frolics with her Dream Prince, played by Gackt, who caters to her every wish. When she meets him in the real world, she is taken aback and their relationship becomes quite unusual.

The professor's car drives up a winding road to a oddly shaped building that serves as his lab, under a sky heavy with dark clouds.

Even waking scenes seem dreamlike as the director uses skewed camera angles, dramatic skies, disorienting architecture and bits of exoticism here and there.

One of Ayami's students with many hissing snakes protruding around him.

The special effects utilized in the dreams don't look super cutting edge, but they're done well and used appropriately. All the dream symbolism was entertaining and made sense as it was revealed step by step.

Yuka 優香 (ゆうか) as nurse Hirashim Kotoha eagerly reads a blog on her laptop. / Vice principal Nakagomi Shinya played by Anan Kenji 阿南健治 (あなん けんじ) interacts with principal Amasawa Tatsuko played by Kimura Midoriko キムラ緑子.

The supporting cast was fun and unpredictable. Aside from being excellent comic relief, some inspired suspicion as you didn't know if they were going to end up being a help or a hindrance. Others invoked curiosity due to an obvious, but hidden connection.

A row of colorful characters appear before a group of headlights, creating a road block.

The episodic format was enjoyable as the dreams were always interesting, and Ayami's ongoing progression towards finding herself held a bit of mystery and suspense.

SION performs with harmonica and guitar, and of course, his gorgeous raspy voice.

There were many illustrious guest appearances as well, including SION; what a wonderful surprise! I actually didn't recognize him until I heard him sing, and then I fell over in happiness.

For the most part, I loved Akumu-chan with its layers of fantasy and reality. However, the writing got sloppy in episode ten, and by the end, an important part of the plot didn't even stay within the bounds of the series' own system of logic. Then there was the comparatively minor flaw of a website in episode nine which was supposed to be geared towards English readers, yet the English was so bad, the site would never have worked.

My last complaint was the horrible perm (wig?) they gave to Gackt. Certainly the man is gorgeous no matter what, but that hair really put a damper on things. Still, I loved watching him and listening to his delicious voice.

The ending definitely lent itself to the notion that things were not quite over yet. Confirmation of the fact is coming in May with Akumu-chan The Movie. Despite its flaws, this drama is well worth watching for its fresh, fantastical story and engaging characters.

Smiling photo of cast members Kawamura Yosuke, Gackt, Kimura Manatsu, Kohinata Fumiyo and Kitagawa Keiko.

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