Ah, your fandom dreams have been realized. Your ship finally got together, the world was gloriously rent asunder, the villain finally died – whatever you definitely thought was going to happen, happened. Unfortunately, it turned out it was all just a dream…
From the standpoint of the audience, having something turn out to be a dream sequence in anime, or any media, is lazy writing, or otherwise a giant “fuck you” from whoever wrote it. However, while many times it seems like that, it can also be a powerful tool to escape the otherwise surly bonds of reality that bind a show, a display of symbolism or foreshadowing, or otherwise to display some sort of mental break in a character. When done properly, a dream sequence can be a powerful characterization or plot advancement tool, but typically it is not done well.
Think dream sequences are just the lazy realm of movies and regular TV? Here are 11 time in anime that everything was all just a dream.
Love Hina – Princess Rescue
In episode 8, Love Hina utilizes the dream sequence to both create a video game-themed humor episode and create some character growth to the emotionally shut off Motoko. In the episode, Keitaro finds his old game console and hooks it up to play with the girls. Motoko initially declines play games with them angrily storms off only to return to find Naru whisked off by an evil villain and Keitaro stuck in the role of the inept hero trying to save her. Motoko assists him and the rest of Love Hina’s characters appear throughout the adventure in fantasy RPG roles.
In the end, Motoko wakes up from her dream with the realization that she really does want to spend time with her friends and be included in the group despite the mature veneer she puts on. Unfortunately, she returns to the game room to find everyone asleep.
Bleach – Ichigo and the Magic Lamp
If you skipped all the Bleach filler in the anime, you probably missed this one, but in episode 287, they made good use of the dream sequence and added a little extra twist at the end. Throughout the episode which involve a bit of a Bleach-themed 1001 Arabian Nights story, you are lead to believe that this oddness is all part of Ichigo’s dream, with Ichigo himself believing it at one point. However, at the end of the dream it is revealed that it was not his dream, but rather a dream within a dream by Isane Kotetsu. Dream-ception!
To-Love Ru – Sex-ception
The dream sequence is a popular comedy and perverted situation device in harem anime, much like in Love Hina above. However, unlike in Love Hina, most harem anime, like To-Love Ru, do not utilize it for character growth. Instead they use it for abstract silliness and to play out fantasies that no girl would agree to. This is whole trope is perfectly showcased in episode 10 where Rito accidentally sees Haruna changing out of her tennis uniform. As he tries to look away, Haruna comes to him wanting to kiss and more. He immediately wakes up from his dream to find a naked Lala sleeping next to him, to which he freaks out and faints.
While most other harem series will lack the protagonist waking up next to a naked girl, aside from that, the dream sequence will almost always be used in an identical way.
Cowboy Bebop – Toys in the Attic
The Toys in the Attic episode of Cowboy Bebop is probably one of the most notable, albeit confusing, dream episodes in anime. In it, the Bebop crew must battle a blob-like monster that invaded their ship only to find out it was the product of their broken refrigerator. Due to the futuristic setting and occasional weirdness in the universe, the whole situation is still within the confines of feeling real in the episode and makes for one of the best in the series. However, the following episode begins with Spike waking up to what appears to be a very odd dream, leaving it up to the audience to decide whether the whole episode had been a dream or reality.
Ranma 1/2 – The Destruction of Jesenkyo
Rumiko Takahashi is a big advocate of using the dream sequence in her creations. While she uses them frequently in Inuyasha, the most stereotypical use comes in Ranma 1/2. In one episode, Ranma dreams that the Jusenkyo has dried up and he can no longer reverse the curse. When he wakes up, her uses a magic mirror to time travel to a reality where Ryoga and Akane are married and Ranma tries to prevent himself from falling in the well in the first place. After some more shenanigans, Ranma wakes up to realize his first dream was a dream within a dream. The episode ends with him understandably paranoid that even now, he is still dreaming.
Shakugan no Shana – Dreaming Villains
The beginning of Shakugan no Shana’s second season utilizes the power of dreams in a way that is actually pretty popular with a lot of action series. The season starts off with Yuji trapped in a dream created by the first season’s villain. Like many trapped in dreams, he begins to experience a bit of deja vu, but when other past defeated villains start showing up, he begins to realize something is wrong. Like other shows that have used this villain-created dream scenario, Yuji is able to break out once he puts all the pieces together.
The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya – Haruhi and Kyon, Sittin’ in a Dream
The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya uses dreams frequently to haphazardly explain away some of the general weirdness that happens in the series. They even infer that the events of the movie were all part of a dream. However, the most memorable dream sequence happens in the sixth (chronological) episode where Haruhi, in denial of her feelings for Kyon, creates a space just for them to be alone after his jealousy-inducing interactions with Mikuru. After Kyon manages to escape, he rolls out of bed thinking it was a dream. However, Haruhi shows up that day wearing a ponytail, something he had told her in the dream she looked good in, and stating that she has just had a weird dream.
Neon Genesis Evangelion – The Final Episodes
The final episodes of Neon Genesis Evangelion were mired in problems from the depression of the creator to the financial difficulties that the series faced, but they are widely believed to be a dream, which left audiences furious and unfulfilled until they got a proper ending. In it, all the aliens and giant robots are nowhere to be seen, replaced only by Shinji’s happy rom-com school life. Of course, in the end, this alternate universe was inferred to be a dream Shinji was having if he had never needed to pilot the EVAs.
GUNxSWORD – End of Dream
GUNxSWORD, like many anime series, sets itself in a world that somewhat defies reality, and through the suspension of disbelief, the anime audience usually doesn’t question it too much. In it, two mecha pilots scour the Planet of Endless Illusion looking to avenge their loved ones, however as the series goes on, the line between reality and hallucinations of a dying man begin to blur. The end is kind of a kick in the pants to fans of the series, but it does hit you pretty hard.
Ouran High School Host Club – Haruhi in Wonderland
You get to see a lot of parodies played out in Ouran High School Host Club thanks to the club’s absorbent riches and free time for cosplay. However, very rarely is the fantastic settings built far from reality. However, in one episode, the fantasy does turn out to be a dream. In it, Haruhi ends up as Alice in Alice and Wonderland with her friends showing up as the other characters. Throughout the dream she realizes that the characters and places are not quite as they should be, defying dream logic. The final straw is getting to hug her otherwise dead mother, which is a touching way to wake up and also helps her realize how much fun she actually does have with the club boys.
Get Backers – Dream Shatter
In Get Backer, Ban Mido uses a Jagan in which he can look people in the eyes and produce hallucinations. Typically this is used throughout the series so the audience can watch the heroes die or otherwise lose without it actually happening. This is typically a pretty crap way to create tension, but what makes Get Backers the worst when it comes to dream sequences is that the whole series turns out to be a dream of the heroes who are hooked up to some Matrix-like contraption.
Do you know any other anime series that wield the powerful tool that is the dream? Tell us about it in the comments section below.