Haruto Tsukishiro is stuck in the world of dreams, but he seems to have a natural talent for (SOMEHOW) helping various girls who are trapped in their own personal dreams (afflicted with something called "Sleeping Beauty Syndrome") to overcome the personal traumas keeping them asleep, allowing at least them to awaken. Haruto is assisted by a dream researcher named Katsumi Kanzaki (who appears in Haruto's dreams as an anthropomorphized cat), and a white-haired young girl named Lily.
The first thing that came to mind when I thought about this show's setup was, of all things, Kanon (2006), because that, too, was a game-based show in which a young guy helped girls get through their problems, and the girls also ended up returning the favor. Some comparison/contrast may therefore be called for:
Kanon is set in the "real" world, though most of the girls' natures involved major fantasy elements, and its hero, Yuuichi, usually struggled heroically to help them, taking on "demons" with a sword, or trudging out into a blizzard- or at least he'd put his heart on the line for them, "marrying" one girl to fulfill her last human desire. So since 18if is set in the world of dreams, Haruto does even more spectacular feats of derring-do, right? WRONG. Haruto's aid to the "Sleeping Beauties" is usually much more passive; often I couldn't figure out what he'd really DONE to help them at all, which made their gushing gratitude to him seem a little strange. Oh sure, he did give a dying girl a "first love" experience- and to his credit kept it fairly innocent, so it's a pretty sweet episode; and in another episode he does the Clarence the Angel bit from It's A Wonderful Life, showing a skating star what the "ordinary" life she longed for would have been like- namely, boring and banal. (In fact, a number of the Sleeping Beauties were some kind of idol or professional star in their waking lives, who succumbed to the pressure. Generally, in their dream worlds the girls rule as "Witches"; most wear very cosplay-friendly outfits, though a few of the girls settle for street clothes even HERE.)
But the "first-love" episode and the "It's A More Wonderful Life Than The Alternative Would've Been" episode are the only two cases I could think of where Haruto actually DID much to help in any pro-active manner; mostly what he seems to have done is just humor the girls. One girl he seems to have "cured" by eating her curry. In another case, we have a girl who's killing the young punks who slaughtered her family in THEIR own dreams, Nightmare on Elm Street-style; Haruto's contribution, that helps her awaken, is to cheer her on. (Yes, you read that right: he CHEERS HER ON.) In Ep. 7 he seemed almost entirely a passive spectator, though I DID enjoy that one's surreal free-form take on The Wizard of Oz's characters, and its "grim fairy tale" plot is intriguing, if a bit difficult to follow. In Ep. 8 Haruto's clearly the one being helped. In that episode, by the way, I was never sure if there were supposed to be two girls, or just one, but if they were both the SAME girl, then she couldn't have been a Sleeping Beauty, since Katsumi met her in the waking world. (He can travel between both.) Most of the time Haruto's role seems to just be facilitating the girls talking themselves through to a solution to their problems, basically the approach psychotherapist Carl Rogers advocated. Still, if they just needed someone non-directive to talk to, a stuffed animal would have been as effective as Haruto.
I wouldn't exactly say that 18if necessarily accurately captures the ambience of dreams- yes, there's a fair amount of surreal imagery, but if my own dreams are typical, sudden shifts of scene and character, without transition, are common, and it's hard to tell a coherent story that way. There nevertheless IS some of that here, particularly in Ep. 10, which seems to be done in a different art style than most of the rest of the series. The "witch" in that one looks more like a character from Paprika, and I was pleased that in that one Katsumi was more the hero than Haruto, though as always Haruto was regarded as the most important character, for frankly cryptic reasons THERE in particular. Katsumi is by far my favorite character in the show. The only time the show missteps with him is trying to use him as over-the-top (and repetitive) comic relief in Ep. 4. He's MUCH better when being serious, or at least droll, and his manner also works as a nice counterpoint to his "funny animal" appearance in Haruto's dreams. Unlike Haruto, he DOES have a consistent sense of ethics, and as noted can travel freely between the dream world and the "real" world. He even has his own (implied) romantic interest, the bartender (and maybe owner) of the bar where he plays guitar.
Still, while a great ending can save a mediocre show, the corollary is that a lousy ending can tank even a generally OK one- and 18if is only sporadically OK. The final episodes of 18if try to assemble the pieces of story into some coherent struggle of cosmic significance. There's a VERY silly "war" between the witches, and a resolution of another matter- Katsumi's sister's OWN "Sleeping Beauty" syndrome- that's pure anticlimax. There's some muddled Judeo-Christian theology thrown in (though I'd certainly grant that a lot of "traditional" religious views aren't exactly feminist), and ONCE AGAIN I couldn't figure out exactly how what we've seen really RESOLVED things, but I guess you can't argue with success...
Probably the thing you'll most remember about this show is the "dreamy" bit of electronica that opens it, called "Enter the Red Doors." As was generally true here, I found this more interesting than necessarily enjoyable.
A frankly embarrassing ending, and a hero that I thought, viewed objectively, as being of very little help AT ALL, even if the girls dug him. Some of the dream art is interesting, but if you're looking for surreal imagery, Genius Party has more (and better) graphics. OK, SOMETIMES it wasn't too bad, I suppose. The Recommendations are admittedly disparate, but like The Blind Men and the Elephant, different aspects of the show reminded me of different things. — Allen Moody
Recommended Audience: The episode with the vengeful girl that filled Haruto with admiration (#2) has most of the corner on the violence, while Ep. 9 has the nudity and other fanservice, including some LITERALLY scatological imagery; both of these episodes I'd call for 16+, so I'll call the series that overall, even though most of the rest of the show would be fine for 14+.
Version(s) Viewed: Streaming on Crunchyroll.
Review Status: Full (13/13)
18if © 2017 Gonzo
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