A pistol packing little girl fighting Lovecraftian monsters in the dream dimension? Must be anime. Created by writer-director Shinji Okuda, this five part serial is a weird mishmash of Saturday morning kid’s TV cuteness, softcore titillation and graphic horror. Yet somehow it works.
Insomniac little Rem (voiced by Naoko Matsui) develops the power to enter other peoples dreams and earns a living as a private investigator, accompanied by her puppy Alpha (Sanae Miyuki) and kitten Beta (Naoki Tatsuta), who transform into a ferocious wolf and cougar in the dream world. Young Miyuki is demonically possessed and the goofy parapsychologist investigating the case is driven insane. Her wealthy parents hire Rem, who loads her .44 Magnum with silver bullets (“able to take out werewolves an mammoths!”) and leaps into the dream world, where she finds a tentacled monstrosity known as Death God is holding Miyuki prisoner.
Time and again, anime can surprise with its ability to fuse disparate genre elements into an innovative whole. Here, a fluffy kitten and cute puppy mascots co-exist with topless nude scenes or a sequence where dream demons melt the skin off Rem’s face. Not to worry, for while she is gorily staked through the heart and set on fire, our indestructible heroine shrugs it off with a witty quip and transforms into a battle bikini babe with a lightsaber. Whilst startling in its violent surrealism, Dream Hunter REM remains disarmingly sweet natured. Sort of like a child’s primer to the fanciful horror worlds of Clive Barker or Poppy Z. Brite. It even includes some surprise Sapphic titillation as Rem calls Miyuki “beautiful” and inexplicably plants a passionate kiss. Weird.
Candy coloured visuals leave this looking as innocuous as any little girl’s anime, while imaginative creature designs will delight monster fans and the mysteries are surprisingly well-crafted and involving. A splattery climax sees the monstrous supervillain shape-shift into a muscle-bound incubus and big, blue dragon before Rem reduces him to puddle of goo. This first instalment features plot quirks that reference H.P. Lovecraft, A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) and The Exorcist (1973), although later episodes ventured into classic horror, with Rem taking on Dracula and Frankenstein clones in stories that rework their respective novels. Every episode concludes with the appealing little heroine - whose name comes from the acronym for “Rapid Eye Movement”, of course - delivering a lecture about dreams, brainwaves and scientific research into the human subconscious. All part of its unconventional charm.