I give this short book about a girl trying to find the meaning of happiness...a 62/100.
Last year, I reviewed a movie and novel titled I Want To Eat Your Pancreas. Both were not great, and it was pretty clear that Yoru Sumino, the writer, still had a lot to learn when it came to things like characterization and creating engaging prose. While browsing the internet, I found out that Seven Seas had licensed two more novels that she wrote, this being one of them. I Had That Same Dream Again centers on a young girl and her attempts to find the meaning of happiness through various people she meets every day. That's really it. Having read it, it seems like Sumino learned from the mistakes she made in Pancreas and tried to rectify them here. At least when it came to writing a main character who wasn't a one-dimensional wooden slab.
A more specific summary of the story is that Nanoka Koyanagi, a young, lonely girl with no friends but lots of brains, is given an assignment to define what happiness is and what it means to her. Nanoka is a rather eccentric girl who feels her classmates are spineless or idiots, but does have some friends: An elderly woman who gives her sweets, another woman who, I kid you not, is solely known as Skank (Yes, I'm serious, and we never learn her real name), and later, Minami, a high schooler who cuts herself. As Nanoka searches for answers, she makes mistakes and learns new things, not just about the people around her, but about herself as well.
One thing I will say in Sumino's favor is that Nanoka is a much better, more nuanced and three dimensional character than the lead in Pancreas was. Unlike the main character in that novel, who was just a quiet non-entity who was solely made so he can learn the beauty of life from his classmate, Nanoka has much more depth and personality to her. She's a precocious, outspoken kid who loves reading and tries to be as smart as she can, is a little egocentric, judges her classmates before getting to know them, tends to push her beliefs onto others without respecting their boundaries and wishes, and while she tries to be compassionate towards others, she makes plenty of childish mistakes that she has to learn from. She's not exactly a perfect portrayal of a child though, as Sumino makes it clear through the writing that she's not exactly the best at writing children. Nanoka often says a lot of philosophical things that no child in real life says, and she's always going on saying "Life is like X because Y and Z," and things of that nature, with a lot of gratuitous introspection that is unbelievable for a child of her age. Plus, her behavior in the beginning can make her very hard to like. Then again, it's very hard to write children realistically, especially if one hasn't really been around them all that much, which is understandable. As far as being a realistic child goes, Nanoka's not getting any points there, but as a flawed, three-dimensional character who actually grows, develops, and learns, Sumino fared much better here than she did in Pancreas.
Unfortunately, I can't really say the same for the side characters. The only ones I really liked were her classmate Kiryuu (For some reason the translators render his last name as Kiriyuu, but I have to wonder if that's right. I know Kiryuu exists but not Kiriyuu) and the unnamed elderly woman who gives Nanoka sweet treats every now and again. The rest of them were just bland and kind of milquetoast, with very little in the way of their own character arcs or development whatsoever. Plus, some of them felt like they were just there to be props for Nanoka's development, especially since many of them outright disappear from the story with no concrete explanation whatsoever. We never even know what Skank's deal is, or why she even goes by that moniker, nor anything about Minami, the high schooler Nanoka runs into or why she cuts herself. There are so many unanswered questions, and the book kinda winds up feeling empty because of that.
Furthermore, one thing Sumino still hasn't improved much on is her prose. She still favors telling over showing most of the time, and her descriptions of the setting are still rather stale. The fact that Nanoka tends to monologue about philosophical things that are unbelievable for a child her age only adds to just how stale the writing is, because her monologues tend to be gratuitous at best, and obnoxious at worst. The narrative voice feels muted, dispassionate, and distant, and combined with the prose, it feels like Sumino really didn't give a crap about giving the world she created some kind of life to it. So...yeah, I don't really have much else to say about this one. The story itself is simple, and it can actually be rather hard to do simple stories. While I feel this is better than Pancreas, I Had That Same Dream Again is still nowhere near the threshold of being called good, still bordering on mediocre at best. It's fine for a light read, but nothing more.