The Use of Dreams in Anime article published in Animerica Extra Vol. 3, No. 8, July 2000
This article was written by and is copyrighted to Patricia Duffield and may not be reproduced in part or whole without permission.

Dreams are universal. Whether remembered upon waking or not, everyone has them. Dreaming is considered a necessary part of a full, healthy night's sleep, and your brain is more active in sleep than when you are awake. So significant are dreams to the human psyche that the interpretation of them has been a part of most cultures for countless years. The insight into a person's mind which dreams are believed to provide is such a commonly accepted concept that there are endless books and a whole facet of psychology devoted to the subject. Considering the imaginative, unlimited landscape of dreams and their universality, it's only natural that writers would want to use dreams in their stories.

One of the most regular uses of dreaming in fiction is to give us insight into a character. This particular application of dreams is a favorite of comedic authors, as demonstrated in the numerous series which have used dreams to make fun of their characters. Exposing the outrageous, uninhibited aspirations found in a character's dreams is inherently amusing. How many times has Maizon Ikkoku's Godai had some laughable, wish-fulfilling dream? Both Fushigi Yugi (long u) and Video Girl Ai begin with comical dreams which introduce the main characters' motivations and inner desires. Another fan favorite, Kimagure Orange Road's Kyosuke also has an active imagination which influences his sleeping brain. But laughs are not the only function of dreams in this series, for some of the young esper's dreams are yochimu, prophetic dreams which portend danger and death.

Many dramatic stories have used dreams to foreshadow dire future events. X (X/1999) has cursed its characters with numerous dark and terrifying dreams. Nausicaa (Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind) has been guided by her dreams on more than one occasion. Osamu Tezuka also uses dreams to direct a number of characters in his classic, Hinotori* (Phoenix). Due out this fall on Fox, Tenku (long u) no Escaflowne (The Vision of Escaflowne) plaugues its heroine with powerful visions, several of which occur in dreams. Such visions in dreams add mystery and tension to a story, causing the reader to feel more anxious about the character's future. Will things turn out as they did in the dream? With this in mind, it's to be expected that a diverse variety of titles have implemented dreams for this purpose. From series as mild-mannered as Doraemon to ones as action-oriented as Dragon Ball Z, scary dreams have been used to show us characters' possible futures and inner fears.

Freddy Krueger is not an original idea. Creatures which live off dreams are far from an unusual concept, especially in anime and manga. What better way to play upon an audience's fears than to attack characters when they are most vulnerable in sleep? GeGeGe no Kitaro (long o), GS Mikami, Onikirimaru, and Jigoku Sensei Nube (Hell Teacher Nube)* are just a few monster-oriented series which have encountered such beings. These stories are not inspired so much by U.S. slasher films as by Japanese legends and myths. The most prominent traditional tale is that of the dream-eating Baku (also known as Shirokinakatsukami). Unlike more creepy creatures which plague human dreams, Baku are classically portrayed as benevolent beings. Ferocious in appearance --Baku have been attributed with features of lions, tigers, elephants, rhinoceros and other animals-- when called upon, these creatures derived from Chinese legend are said to drive off and eat evil dreams. This belief was so widely accepted that to prevent nightmares pictures of the beast were hung in Japanese homes and the kanji for its name painted on the wooden pillows of old. Baku have made personal appearances in Urusei Yatsura (Lum*Urusei Yatsura) and, more recently, in this month's Marionette Generation. With a legend such as this, it's to be expected that many stories inspired by Baku --like the one about a dream-eating cat in Koko wa Greenwood (Here Is Greenwood)-- can be found among the infinite series from Japan.

The idea of such creatures is understandable, for many cultures consider dreams a link to the supernatural. So it's only natural to find dreams a part of many other-worldly stories. The concept of dreams being a window into past lives is fairly common among some groups who research dreams, but the idea is still a fairly unique plot device. One of the most famous manga stories to use this idea is Saki Hiwatari's Boku no Chikyu o Mamotte (Please Save My Earth). In this dramatic, intriguing story, a group of seven young people share strangely intense dreams. Eventually they come to realize that the dreams are from their past lives, not as regular humans, but as a group of researchers from another world, observing Earth from the moon. These past lives come equipped with powerful emotions, motivations, and even psychic powers, all of which wreck havoc with their current lives. This twenty-one-volume Hana to Yume series, though still fairly unknown in the U.S., was and is extremely popular in Japan and all over Asia.

Kaori Yuki's dramatic saga, Tenshi Kinryoku (long o) (Angel Sanctuary), has a similar set up, only instead of aliens from outer space, the characters' past lives are those of angels and devils. Flower Comics' Kazumi Ooya (two o's, not a long o) has also used past life dreaming in her charming four book series, Hyper Baby. This light-hearted tale centers around a high school girl who keeps having strange dreams involving her newborn nephew. It turns out they have known each other for many past lives, and dreaming is one of the ways the infant can communicate with her. Ancient enemies are after the little tyke, and it's up to her to keep the baby safe.

In JET's Jubee (long u) Kurenai Henge (Jubee the Crimson Ghost), it is in dreams that timid high school girl Sayaka is introduced to her past life as a formidable samurai. Jubee takes over Sayaka's body in times of crisis, lending a great deal of comedy and to this Asuka Comics action series. Dreams have been used not only for exposing past lives, but for delving into characters' pasts.

Who can forget Tetsuo's revealing dream during his second examination in Akira? The silent glimpse into the childhood bond between him and Kaneda dissolves into a vivid vision of terror, ending with all the glass in his room shattering upon his waking. Subaru's haunting dreams of his past in Tokyo Babylon are equally disturbing, changing from benign to twisted horror. An unexpected side of Kido (long o) Keisatsu Patolabor's (Mobile Police Patolabor) calm, cool Kanuka Clancy* is revealed in a powerful nightmare of her youth.

The use of dreams to illuminate a character's past is more poignant than a mere flashback, for seeing into a dream is far more intimate and personal. Dreams in fiction let us peer into the hidden heart of a character and show us aspects which might never be revealed otherwise. Dreams have long been considered a rich source of inspiration and creativity, but they are also a useful, diverse tool for storytellers. Whether used for comedic effect or to add mystery and tension, these insightful peeks into the minds of characters add another dimension to an audience's experience. It doesn't take a psychologist to understand your favorite character's hopes and fears when they are revealed in a dream.


Don't know if you'd prefer Hinotori or Hi no Tori, but the one anime book I have transcribes it as one word.

Nube is spelled Nu~be~, however you want to interpret that, and Onikirimaru is a name, so it doesn't really need translating.

Please, check the spelling of Kanuka Clancy with the VIZ standard.

If you want to add any other examples, just let me know.