Reviews: Dreamless

If you felt the life of another person half way across the world

Dreamless is another completed graphic novel/webcomic drawn by Sarah Ellerton, although written by Bobby Crosby. It's beautiful, touching and very easy and quick to read, I just finished it within an hour on the most recent reread and the experience was utterly worth it.

It follows the life of a young girl who, when she sleeps, experiences the life of a Japanese boy born the same day, she looks through his eyes and feels what he feels and he does likewise when he sleeps. They can't hold a conversation with each other, but they talk so that the other one can listen. But in many ways they don't need a full conversation, if you lived as another person their whole life, then you understand what goes through their head, what they're thinking and how they can react. When they were younger they used to ask each other questions. but later on they realised they already knew the answer.

And the love between two people must be huge, almost complete and utter empathy, sharing every moment of their lives and if they choose to sleep at the same time there's only blackness where normally they would have a whole life. Despite having never seen each other and despite the setting being Japan and the US just before the outbreak of WW 2 it understandable that they're completely devoted to each other.

The only other real character in the story is the girl's father who has a complicated life and a complicated relationship with his daughter, it's interesting and very delicately told.

But here's the catch to this all. It's readable in under an hour because what I've described is the full extent of the story, their lives aren't explained, it's clear they withdraw from the world around them but it's not explored and we see nothing of the differences in culture between the two countries or the similarities.

People say it was a wasted opportunity and in a way, yes it was. There was so much that could have been done with this idea and almost nothing was done, but if you only expect it to be fast sketch, powerful and emotional but telling the story with the barest details that can get the ideas across, then there's nothing not worth while about this amazing (and beautiful) novel.

Come for the artwork...and stay for the artwork.

I like to think of the comic in this manner: come for the artwork, stay for the artwork. I say this because I personally think that Sarah Ellerton carried the story much, much more with the visuals than Crosby did with the plot, and at least made the story feel more plausible. Ellerton not only used realistic art for the comic, and was able to draw the characters as distinct in terms of ethnicity, but also brought individual facial features into account, and was consistent. That, I think, is amazing in a comic of any kind, web or not.

I think Crosby, however, failed to deliver anything other than a story with a resemblance to a Lifetime movie with any sense of "strong womanhood" ripped out from its spine. For instance, it's implied that Elanor never hangs out with friends, but the one time she actually denies anyone (that's shown), it's because she doesn't want to go to the beach. Boo hoo. I can understand it being painful from the aspect of Takashi being across the ocean, but I'm pretty sure that she could compromise and ask to go to a pool instead of a beach on the Pacific. She also quit a paper route as a kid because she had enough money for a phone call. I can't fathom that a kid would just want a three minute phone call: that seems like the desire of a prisoner, not a kid. I don't get why she wouldn't want to continue on with the job to get herself toys, and go to the movies. Humans are social animals, and even with the trauma of her mom's suicide, and even with the sexist feel of the 40s, she seems unusually stifled, and unwilling to the point of being, dare I say it, clingy. Being clingy is usually something a guy doesn't really like, so it's a wonder Takashi puts up with this. If Elanor is meant to be a stronger character, than she should of had more independance within the story. I personally understand why Elanor was the focal character, but if you want a strong female lead, you have to make her strong in the first place.

If it weren't for Ellerton, I think that Dreamless could have been another forgettable webcomic.

So much wasted potential

Dreamless starts off with a typical concept - two people from different warring cultures are in love. But Dreamless ups the ante by having share lives, and this fantastical element upends the typical 'star-crossed lovers' story.

Tragically, Dreamless falls short of fully exploring this. The story does briefly address how the bond affects someone, like the doubts that the other doesn't exist, but that's it. There's no awkwardness from knowing that someone is watching every embarrassing moment, or exhaustion of seeing someone else's problems on top of your own, or anything. It's just accepted that they're perfectly happy with this arrangement.

Secondly, we only follow Elanor's viewpoint. This would be fine if Elanor's universe wasn't entirely focused around Takashi at the exclusion of everything else. Thusly, the entire backdrop of WWII is entirely pointless. We know it must be happening in the background because of the timeframe, but we never see Elanor reacting to the attack on Pearl Harbour, racist propaganda against 'Japs' and so forth. You'd think someone who knew a Japanese person would be distraught by these events, but again, Elanor is shut entirely within herself and the storyline is completely wasted.

Frankly, I'd enjoy this story so much more if it was from Takashi's viewpoint, precisely because of the reason above. Takashi, at least, has friends, listens to constant talk on invasion, and actually has a life. The plot seems to be happening on his end and he makes attempts to deal with it in a realistic human way, and it's tragic that we miss out on it.

Elanor, meanwhile, is co-dependant and almost smothering in her obsession with Takashi. She has a suicidal breakdown over Takashi lying to her, for god's sake. This could have been interesting as a way to show that the bond can be bad, but apparently Takashi is just an idiot. It's awfully hard to be sympathetic when your viewpoint character is clearly mentally ill but the story claims she's justified in this sort of behaviour. Not to mention the sheer Unfortunate Implications of a woman being the co-dependant one in this relationship.

To be honest, this story almost feels like a waste of time. So much plot potential is never explored and the relationship between the two is disturbing to watch. I really wish this could have been better.