Castle of Dreams – Stories from the Kare Kano Creator by Masami Tsuda is a compilation of short stories by a mangaka better known for Kare Kano. The book was originally published in two volumes, but the individual volumes were put together for an omnibus edition. Only the first volume is written in the fantasy genre, which is a shame because the second volume contained the better stories.
Overall this was an uneven compilation. The first half of the book was filled with quaint, but slight, fairytales that over-relied on deus ex machina endings. The second half of the book was much more satisfying.
Perhaps Tsuda is not suited for fantasy. Her stories based in our world had fleshed out characters with real issues that they struggled with. The real-world stories ended with uncertain resolutions, making them feel all the more real. The art styles were very rough, as many of these stories are from early in Tsuda’s career. One of the editorial cartoons at the end of the book alludes to this when Tsuda draws herself ashamed over the crudeness of her earliest effort.
Of the fantasy stories, “Castle of Dreams” was the best, with better fleshed out characters, a deeper storyline, and a more logical use of the wizard character. Unfortunately, the first two stories, although charming, were marred by a suddenly-appearing wizard pulling an ending out a hat.
The wizard is the only element tying all the stories together. In a way, he is a dark and dreamy fairy godfather who appears to offer one wish just in time to wrap up the story. At one point, he changed the story twice, until all of the issues that caused conflict and pain magically vanished, so that the two main characters could transcend Romeo and Juliet by surviving the bloodthirsty savagery of his people. That she was a mass-murder who drowned his warriors in the depths of the ocean over the course of her lifetime was now no longer an issue, and who can stay mad at a guy who has come to kill you when he’s so hunky?
Of the stories based in our world, “I Won’t Go” was my favorite, with its sophisticated story about a young girl who finds herself falling in love with another boy, despite having a long-distance boyfriend. The story seems like a high school romance at first blush, but instead is a story about the complicated choices we make in life and how those choices affect others. There was also a theme about being true to oneself while being honest in relationships. There was no tidy ending, no resolved loves. Yet the ending was satisfying.
A not-so-distant second place was “The Room Where an Angel Lives”. It was told mostly as a first person narrative and was about a proud young man surviving in industrial England. After he finds a younger girl abandoned by a river, he decides to take her in, which transforms his empty and miserable life. Suddenly, he has a reason to live. I found it heartwarming, though the story stumbled a bit towards the end.
Overall, Castle of Dreams was a good collection but not a strong one. Its greatest value is for fans of Kare Kano, who might enjoy seeing the humble beginnings of their favorite mangaka.
Release Date: January 6, 2009 (USA)
ISBNs: 1427812276 (9781427812278)
Original Language: Japanese
Original Title: 夢の城
Violence: 1 (peril, discussion of war)