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A Patch of Dreams

Written and illustrated by Hideji Oda
Fanfare/Ponent Mon
192 pages, $22.99
ISBN: 8496427234

When she was a teenager, Renei experienced a series of dreams, one night after the next, that took place in a strange Wonderland-like world where her deceased stepbrother was still alive. The strangest part: Each one picked up where the last one left off. It's been a few years since Renei had those dreams: She's a teaching assistant and aspiring painter now, getting ready for her first gallery show, and despite her affair with a separated-but-still-married teacher, things seem to be going okay. But then she gets pregnant, aborts the fetus, and the dreams start coming again... only this time, she's seeing the elements from her past dreams in the real world, rather than while asleep. Is Renei going mad? Worse: Her high-school friend Kaya — the one who committed suicide — is appearing as well. And Kaya doesn't seem to have Renei's best interests at heart at all.

 

Read excerpt from right to left. The dead return to life as fantasy and reality bleed together, driving Renei to the point of madness in the process. Panel from A Patch of Dreams, ©2006 Fanfare/Ponent Mon.

 

I was initially baffled by Fanfare/Ponent Mon's decision to translate A Patch of Dreams, rather than the original work to which it serves as a sequel, Ku's World, but reading this book quickly answered the question for me. In the original (scanlated by Mangascreener), our heroine's journey into the dream world has obvious symbolic significance to her waking life, but tenuous actual connection: She misses her brother, and her journey through the dreaming state helps her deal with it, but that's about it. Since Ku's World is primarily set in "Ku's World," it never really establishes the extent to which her life might or might not be changed by what she discovers about herself while experiencing her dreams. It's an interesting story, but not necessarily an essential one.

By contrast, the sequel is set in the real world, and Hideji Oda makes full use of the story's dream elements to augment analogies to Renei's life as an adult. A Patch of Dreams is about the emotions and lack of control we experience in extreme situations. Fantastic apparitions aren't simply appearing to be weird or picturesque; they show up at key points to fuck with Renei's life even more grievously than the real world itself has so far managed, turning her personal crisis into an existential storm that leaves Renei at her absolute wit's end. Oda uses the elements from Ku's World to dramatically and economically bring her heroine to a terminal point of despair without resorting to soap-opera melodrama. This allows Oda to universalize the resulting struggle through metaphor without disconnecting the story from real life. It's an excellent example of an author selectively using fantasy elements in a controlled way that serves the larger storyline, rather than letting said elements dictate its parameters.

A Patch of Dreams was written in such a way as to allow it to serve as a standalone work, which is good, since it's superior to Ku's World in virtually every respect — and the original was a good, solid read to begin with. With this book, Hideji Oda has produced a startling and emotionally wrenching tale of magic realism that the artist's prior work had only hinted was possible, a sequel that renders its source material irrelevant.

 

This essay appeared on the then-website of The Comics Journal sometime between 2006 and 2008.

 

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