Dream Saga is simple, and with five volumes, it’s very short for a fantasy adventure, particularly one with so many main characters. The characters may be likeable, but they do not go through substantial development and do not break out of their archetypes either. I love Dream Saga for what it is, but it’s also true that part of that love stems from the possibilities I saw in its setting, and the "what-ifs" that it invokes. I just really love the concept of two worlds connected through dreams and people having an alternate self in their dreams.
In the following, I’m listing things I would have liked to see in Dream Saga, or minor existing things that I would have liked to be expanded on — which, from a different perspective, are the elements I found lacking in the series. Still, due to how solid Dream Saga is to me for what it tries to achieve, this isn’t primarily intended to be criticism, but scenarios to entertain.
In a second step, I’m offering you a list of series that share various core elements with Dream Saga, each in a different way. If you’re already familiar with Dream Saga, you may be interested in having a look at some of these; if you’ve enjoyed some of these series, you may like Dream Saga. This isn’t a straight-up recommendation list in the sense of “these series are must-reads!”, as its primary purpose is to draw parallels. All of the series below are shoujo manga.
These are no spoilers for the series in question, as the texts are written as introductions. Any comparisons that enter spoiler territory are behind a spoiler div.
I’ve touched upon this in other parts of the shrine, particularly under Takamagahara: It’d be easy to think of Nakatsukuni as the real world, since it’s treated as the default world within the narrative. What’s more, though it may be subtle, the reader mostly only sees Yuuki go to bed and travel to Takagamahara when she falls asleep — not the other way around. That reinforces the impression that Takamagahara is part of something bigger, part of Nakatsukuni, or that it alone is the “dream world”. And as with many other fantasy adventures, by the end of the story, when the quest has been completed, the main characters even “return” to their own world, and are barred from “entering” Takamagahara again (as in, they lose their ability to remember their dreams).
But Takamagahara isn’t meant to be inferior to Nakatsukuni: Both worlds are real, both worlds are equal, and to almost everyone living in the two worlds (i.e. anyone without a Magatama and thus without memories of both worlds), the world they live in is the only reality they know. That wasn’t adequately depicted in the writing, though I also understand it wasn’t the focus. To me, there’s something romantic about Nakatsukuni and Takamagahara being each other’s dreams. As a young reader, something that made that concept relatable and exciting is that it’s true we don’t usually remember all the things we live through in dreams, and think of them in isolation rather than as part of something bigger. Yet, sometimes I find myself dreaming, or wake up from a dream and there’s a sense of déjà-vu, and I wonder whether I haven’t already experienced that particular dream before.
I guess the reason I haven’t come across to a setting similar to Dream Saga’s in fiction is that its worldbuilding is overly simplified, especially regarding space and time. How else can all people repeatedly share dreams at the same time? Time may have been stated to flow differently between Nakatsukuni and Takamagahara, but considering society’s structure and different sleep schedules, wouldn’t time have to flow differently for every single person as well?
Following what I’ve said about the equality of both worlds, I think the biggest missed opportunity in Dream Saga concerns the two selves in the two worlds. If you read the character profiles, you’ll see that with Souta, the first to join Yuuki, Megumi Tachikawa included a note to clarify that his Takamagahara self is a person different from his Nakatsukuni self, including a different personality. But then you read on, and every profile following that explicitly states that the persons are nearly identical.
I would have liked to see the characters have distinct separate egos with nuances in how their personalities differ. Souta is actually the only one where I see some of that, which is also why he’s my favourite character in the series. I would have also enjoyed seeing how the different selves may affect each other once they gain the memory of their other self. For example, whether or not it’s intended, Nakatsukuni’s Souta actually becomes better at socializing and working with others after having formed a group with them in Takamagahara.
Mixing it up regarding how similar or different the two selves are would also make a lot of sense, whether or not someone is in possession of a Magatama. There’s a flashback in the series where we see Takamagahara’s Takaomi’s past that he spent at the palace. Surprisingly, in his interactions with Kaya during that time, he was very much like the gentle and kind Takaomi in Nakatsukuni that the reader knows — very different from who he is when he is introduced. It’d make sense for the selves to be born the same, and be the same at their core, but to develop differently depending on their environment and the things they’ve been through. After all, it’s our experiences that make us who we are.
Although I say it’s a missed opportunity, I understand why Dream Saga simplified things like that: The series doesn’t strike me as an overly ambitious work characterization-wise, it prioritizes telling its story, it’s written for a younger audience and it is refreshingly drama-free. In the end, I love the characters anyway, even if they aren’t memorable.
One of my favourite things to be brought up in the series is Yuuki confiding in Binga and telling her that she’s slightly envious of how all her comrades are so much older and prettier in Takamagahara. That scene stuck with me, because many children, especially in elementary school, wish to grow up quickly. Romance and how romance is portrayed around us also plays a part in it, as it does in Yuuki’s case concerning her feelings for Takamagahara’s Takaomi. Yuuki alone isn’t older and taller in Takamagahara. Although she isn’t someone with insecurities, that scene with Binga is immensely relatable because it occurs right after she first hears or meets Takamagahara’s Nachi and Princess Kaya — both very pretty and confident girls who are also interested in Takaomi.
Were Dream Saga a character-driven series, I would have liked to see more of that. One of the refreshing things in the series is what a firm grip Yuuki has on others, excelling at crowd control due to her chaotic younger siblings: Her teacher is grateful to her for keeping order in the classroom, Takaomi’s former bandit group soon found themselves under Yuuki’s iron fist, and although the youngest, Yuuki is the one keeping her entire group in Takamagahara in check. In the third volume, there’s a very cute scene of her recognizing Taizou’s feelings for Nakime, and Yuuki decides to give the Shinjukyo to Taizou for safekeeping — the item that allows them to communicate with Nakime. Scenes like that show that Yuuki doesn’t have to be older or taller to be a substantial part of the group and to understand those around her.
Interestingly, Taizou in that scene thanks her and pats her head. I don’t think Nakatsukuni’s Taizou would have patted her head like an elder brother does, because they go to the same grade in Nakatsukuni. As for Souta, when she meets him again in Nakatsukuni for the first time, she remarks how calm and collected he was in Takamagahara — in contrast to his stiff self in Nakatsukuni. I would have liked to see more of how that age difference affects the way the characters interact with each other in Takamagahara, and how that carries over to Nakatsukuni — especially when you consider they’re supposedly different persons, just with merged memories.
Related to that last point are the blooming feelings between Souta and Nachi in Takamagahara, where they initially get along much better than they do in Nakatsukuni. By the end of the series, they’ve grown pretty close and even physically comfortable with each other in Nakatsukuni — no doubt an influence of their dynamic in Takamagahara. Lastly, in another striking scene, Takamagahara’s Nachi relates to Yuuki as a girl, and encourages her as a fellow girl. Though the gender confusion surrounding Nachi in the series is unfortunately mostly played for laughs, in a different series and story, it may have been allowed to be something more.
Fushigi Yuugi by Yuu Watase is not a series I can recommend in good conscience these days, but I also cannot leave it unmentioned in good conscience. This is a series that was enormous in its time, and the parallels to Dream Saga are striking. Out of all the series on this list, Fushigi Yuugi’s elements may have the most in common with Dream Saga, at least on the surface — and it isn’t just because they’re both fantasy adventures with a female lead.
Fushigi starts with two friends who find a strange book titled “The Universe of the Four Gods”; upon reading it, it transports the girls into the book’s universe, which resembles ancient China. While one of them returns to the real world, the other, Miaka, flees from her own life to hide in the book. Miaka is soon discovered to be the Priestess of Suzaku — a girl from the other world whose task is to find the seven Celestial Warriors of Suzaku, chosen ones carrying a celestial mark somewhere on their body. When all seven have gathered, Miaka would be able to summon the god Suzaku and ask him to grant her three wishes.
Like Dream Saga, Fushigi Yuugi features parallel worlds with a chosen one who is “the girl of legend”, and both series heavily draw from mythology — Fushigi Yuugi from Chinese, Dream Saga from Japanese. Both girls embark on a quest to look for the chosen comrades, each with their own unique powers, and in doing so, they travel the strange land they find themselves in. While Yuuki in Dream Saga isn’t lacking anything, whether in self-confidence or in friends, Fushigi Yuugi is typical of parallel world stories (not just as far as manga are concerned) in that its protagonist is burdened by things in her own world. Fushigi Yuugi also focuses far more on its characters, romance and the reverse harem factor than Dream Saga does.
The reason Fushigi Yuugi deserves mentioning on this page is due to it being one of the earliest fantasy adventures featuring a female lead that I remember, and I know it was enormous for others back then too. There are still scenes I dearly love, scenes that I remember vividly, and I still pick it up every now and then. In retrospect, however, Fushigi Yuugi is full of harmful things which make it very difficult to reread: Its plot is almost entirely determined by characters conveniently running off, but more importantly, they are subjected to repeated physical and sexual assault. This is usually followed either by its female characters being saved or their sexuality being controlled so as to manipulate them. The way Fushigi Yuugi treats women, how it pits them against each other — especially over male characters — and how often it threatens them with rape is disturbing, not to mention how it conflates homosexuality, gender identity and gender expression. (That last point was quite common in its time, and Dream Saga, too, is guilty of it, even if it doesn’t shame the character in question.)
Nowadays, there are more shoujo fantasy adventures to choose from. Fushigi Yuugi has also received a follow-up: Genbu Kaiden, which takes place before Fushigi Yuugi and tells the tale of the Priestess of Genbu. Genbu Kaiden has far fewer scenes as described in the frustrations above, though the worldbuilding, mythological elements and sense of camaraderie seem weaker to me.
Magic Knight Rayearth
Magic Knight Rayearth by CLAMP, like Dream Saga, is a fantasy adventure that addresses the burden of responsibility, albeit with different nuances than Dream Saga. Among the series on this list, this is the one I recommend the most — not just because I think it is the most accessible (as in most likely to appeal to any kind of reader), but because it’s a short, yet poignant story. Like Dream Saga, its pacing is great, and it’s remarkable how it manages to accomplish everything that it sets out to do in few volumes.
Magic Knight Rayearth is about three girls from different schools who happen to meet each other on a field trip to the Tokyo Tower. There, they receive a call for help from Princess Emeraude, before a flash of light transports them to a different world: Cephiro. They learn that Emeraude is Cephiro’s Pillar, an entity who preserves the peace in the world with the power of prayers and the strength of their own heart. Because the Pillar has gone missing, disasters and monsters are threatening the balance of the land.
The three girls learn that they are the legendary Magic Knights from the other world, and in order to return to their world, they need to learn magic, obtain weapons, and awaken ancient gods to save Emeraude from the clutches of her abductor.
If Fushigi Yuugi is the series on this list that has the most in common with Dream Saga in its surface elements, Magic Knight Rayearth has the most in common with Dream Saga in its ambitions and storytelling. From my childhood, there are few short and contained series that focus strongly on conveying a story and a theme above all else (characters and relationships) that I remember as having amazing pacing, and that impress me precisely because they’re short. Five to six volumes is short for a fantasy adventure, yet Dream Saga and Magic Knight Rayearth not only introduce the reader to a vivid parallel world, they also end up questioning that world. It’s not adventuring for adventuring’s sake, it’s journeying to learn become a better person — and I think that is carried over to the reader. That is important to me, especially since both series are aimed at a younger audience.
Magic Knight Rayearth also shows — to a stronger extent than Dream Saga — the three girls getting to know each other, it is also about questing to save a goddess (whose disappearance throws the world into chaos) and obtaining the power to do so. Both series also contain Magical Girl elements even though they aren’t Magical Girl series per se (a point I discuss on my Cephiro shrine), what with changes in attire, formula for spells, different powers, character archetypes and a mascot aide.
Compared to Dream Saga, Magic Knight Rayearth does a better job at balancing characterization and relationships with its themes and story. If you enjoy fantasy adventures or CLAMP series, I don’t think you can go wrong with the series. Both of them are called predictable, but what I appreciate about them is that they make you think — perhaps the younger you are or were when you first read them, the more of an impression they leave on you.
Time Stranger Kyoko
Time Stranger Kyoko by Arina Tanemura is a pitifully unpolished series, all the more so when you consider its incredibly rushed and premature ending. And while it is a fantasy romance that revolves around the quest for chosen ones, it isn’t what you’d call an adventure. The search for comrades, however, and the powers of those comrades — specifically the source of their powers and the incantations — resemble Dream Saga’s. As a result, both series remind one of the Magical Girl genre.
Time Stranger Kyoko is a very typical Tanemura series in that it focuses on comedy, romance and its protagonist — in this case Kyoko, Earth’s princess. She has been living anonymously among the public, but as her sixteenth birthday approaches, it is time for her to reveal herself so as to take care of her duties. As she’d rather things remain as they are, the King makes her an offer: Should she succeed in waking her twin sister Ui from her sixteen-year slumber, Ui would inherit the crown while Kyoko would keep her freedom.
Ui’s time was stopped by a giant clock made by Chronos, the god of time. To wake her, Kyoko must gather the twelve Strangers, each in possession of a God Stone that grants them powers. Only when all twelve Strangers have assembled would the clock move again. Kyoko is thereafter acknowledged as the Time Stranger and becomes capable of stopping and going back in time.
Both Dream Saga and Time Stranger Kyoko are series that don’t have much complexity. Where Dream Saga focuses on telling a story and conveying a theme integrally, Time Stranger Kyoko is more about its heroine and her relationships; there is no worldbuilding. The two series aren’t that similar, but they do have the mixed-gender cast with powers derived from the same source in common. Much like in Magical Girl series, each person in both series gains their powers from the same type of item (a Magatama or a God Stone), and each of them has an incantation to activate those powers. In Time Stranger Kyoko, each person’s attire as an awakened Stranger also shares a ring-shaped accessory, furthering the similarity to Magical Girl series.
Time Stranger Kyoko makes for a quick and light read, though I’d skip it if you aren’t big on Tanemura’s stories — its lack of focus and depth make it dead average (coming from someone who likes it the most among Tanemura’s works after Kamikaze Kaitou Jeanne). Also be warned that the quest comes to a sudden halt at the beginning of the third and last volume as the story rushes towards its conclusion; Tanemura asked to end the series prematurely due to personal issues.
Please Save My Earth
Please Save My Earth by Saki Hiwatari is the series on this list that has the least things in common with Dream Saga, neither sharing genre nor setting: Whereas Dream Saga is a fantasy adventure that takes place across two different worlds, Please Save My Earth is a science fiction drama that alternates between past and present. Yet, to me, this is the series to read if you want a follow-up on Dream Saga, specifically because it addresses pretty much everything that I wished for under Unexplored Potential.
The seven main characters share recurring fragmentary dreams revolving around a group of scientists who observe Earth from their moon base. When the children realize that they are reexperiencing their past life in those dreams, they seek each other out in present life, and start piecing together the events of the past. In so doing, they are faced with memories and feelings that have carried over — unresolved attachments which now threaten to interfere with their present selves.
Please Save My Earth has an immensely strong theme that is addressed in a fashion I have never before seen to this extent. That theme is reincarnation, and the struggles consist of who the characters were in their former life, how that former life may have shaped and continue to influence their present life, and what they may have done to each other in the past, with grudges and affections living on in the present. It’s about facing the truth and the past and coming to terms with so as to free yourself from their grasp; only then can you define yourself and grow from there.
I still remember first picking up this series a few years ago and thinking: Wow, all the feelings regarding Dream Saga that I’ve been carrying with me may have been for the sake of this moment. Please Save My Earth features alter egos that affect each other as well as their comrades in past and present, its cast’s experiences are shared through dreams, which are the gate to "the other world", its protagonist, like Yuuki, understands the feelings of plants and animals and is loved by them.The series even starts with meeting their past selves in dreams and the excitement in looking for those people in reality, then regularly meeting up to discuss those dreams. A particularly strong element is also the fascination and yearning for Earth and wanting to preserve it, and the cycle of life — in humans, plants and animals.
Unlike Dream Saga, the dreams shared aren’t the same: Where each person’s dreams stand in the timeline are different, and the dreams are witnessed from a first-person perspective, which further underlines their personal quality. Please Save My Earth is also far longer and more emotionally complex and mature than Dream Saga, as it addresses regrets, jealousy, religion and war, with a big focus on what is and isn’t communicated between humans. A fundamental difference between the two series is that in Dream Saga, consciousnesses of the two worlds are shared and the characters get to act in both worlds. In Please Save My Earth, the characters are passive observers in their dreams, as the past cannot be changed.
Due to its focus on its characters and their relationships, Please Save My Earth is able to write complex characters who are acknowledged to be distinct from their past incarnations. The memories and feelings of their past selves evidently affect them, but over the course of the story, they learn to examine reincarnation critically, and eventually try to break away from who they once were so as not to repeat the same mistakes. The group dynamics between their past selves and their present selves also share similarities, but the characters are given the means to shape those relationships differently this time around. In one memorable case, different genders of the two egos is also addressed, and for others, their past yearnings or grudges have a direct impact on their physical traits in present life.
Please Save My Earth is difficult for me to recommend here due to it not being a fantasy adventure (not to mention it’s a very long series), but it means so much to me on its own and as someone who had always wanted to see more refined characterization in Dream Saga. If you’re looking for a fictional work that addresses reincarnation in a mature way, this is it.