Reviewby Carlo Santos, Apr 6th 2013
Teito Klein was once a student at the Barsburg Empire military academy—until he learned that the empire was behind his father's death and went on the run. Fortunately, the Barsburg Church took him in, and now Teito is training to join the clergy so that he can uncover the empire's dark secrets (as well as his own). However, the Barsburg military is still after Teito because of a magical artifact in his possession, the Eye of Mikael. As part of this plan, a malevolent spirit called a Warsfeil infiltrates the church, trying to take control of Teito. Amidst the chaos, Teito's closest mentor Bishop Frau is framed as the culprit! In order to prove Frau's innocence, Teito, his roommate Hakuren, and Frau's former teacher Bastien try to ferret out the truth. But the truth they discover is far worse than anyone bargained for...
Stylish art and clear storytelling shouldn't have to be mutually exclusive. Unfortunately, 07-Ghost makes it that way, sacrificing the latter for the sake of the former. When everyone's flashing their spiritual powers and striking cool poses, it doesn't matter if the story makes sense, right?
Actually, it does matter. That lack of attention to the story is why Volume 3 of 07-Ghost feels like a half-built mansion: it's got a gorgeous façade, some stunningly decorated rooms, but also a number of idiotic flaws like a missing bathroom or no stairs to the upper floors. One of the "well-decorated rooms" in this volume is the development of the main characters: Teito, who once seemed so lost, starts to grow more confident as he trains his abilities. His budding friendship with Hakuren—who started out as a petty rival—also shows how interpersonal relationships can evolve. But most important is the bond between two grown men, Bastien and Frau: their back-story is explained here, and when a friendship comes as the result of years of struggle together, the drama runs that much deeper. That's also why emotional impact is another strong area for this series: Frau being implicated as a criminal is shocking enough, but the last chapter-and-a-half—where dark secrets and moral dilemmas come to light—is a tragic, hard-hitting finale to the story arc.
However, the way this tragedy is presented is what makes the series so frustratingly mediocre. The story never gains any sense of flow, and instead just stumbles from one dramatic moment to the next. Whenever a character says or does something important, it seems only loosely connected to what happened before or what happens right after. And heaven forbid the storyline switch to an entirely different scene, because at that point it becomes a guessing game of what the heck is going on. Supporting characters who barely introduce themselves, yet jump into the action right away, create yet another level of chaos. The elaborate fantasy world built for this series also gets lost in the fray: whatever happened to keeping up with the Barsburg Empire's machinations, or the mysterious magic hidden within Teito, or the Seven Ghosts who protect the balance of spiritual power? (In the mansion analogy, these would be the upper floors that have no stairs connecting them to the rest of the house.) Suddenly bringing back all these ideas in the last chapter doesn't absolve the flailing-around of the previous hundred-and-fifty pages, where Teito and company have been too distracted playing supernatural detectives.
The flashy artwork makes some aspects of the series more palatable, but it doesn't fix everything. For what it's worth, the tilted perspective and bold, sweeping lines lend plenty of energy to the Church's confrontations with dark spirits. But just as often, these displays of supernatural combat are downright confusing—an abstract mess of curves and shadows that could be a bishop unleashing his powers, or possibly running away ... who knows? The greatest paradox in all this is that the art is not overly detailed—if anything, it's quite economical in showing action with just a handful of lines—yet it feels crowded anyway, as if the characters ran out of space to maneuver in. The problem here is not drawing too much of something, but rather, drawing the wrong thing: speedlines, smoke, and magical effects take precedence over the characters' actions. It also doesn't help that the character designs are all crafted from the same triangular pretty-boy face, so figuring out who's attacking who becomes just as baffling as what. A few more background and interior shots would help clarify things as well; right now everyone seems to be running around a vaguely huge church with some neat architectural flourishes.
If disjointed storytelling and attractive-but-confusing art aren't bad enough, the cryptic dialogue completes 07-Ghost's triple play of being incomprehensible. Like everything else, the script has its moments of being pretty and poetic, but little of it makes sense. The characters are happy to ramble on about life and friendship and moral values, stirring some emotions along the way, but don't expect them to explain their motives, relationships, or anything that actually matters to the plot. To make matters worse, the series throws around various names and fantasy words that will be better remembered for how weird they sound than for being well-defined. ("Warsfeil," which might possibly mean "evil spirit on steroids," is just the tip of the iceberg here.) The English translation tries to use simple language where possible, but there's just no easy way to parse this unclear writing style.
One could look at this volume of 07-Ghost and see a fantasy world growing more complex, with emotions running high and secrets being opened up. But one could also look at this as a tragedy of wasted potential. Poor narrative flow derails much of the story, assorted plot elements are thrown in awkwardly, and the artwork often confuses the eye with its own stylishness. If anything, this is an example of how not to create an elaborate fantasy world and embroil its characters in drama. It's great to have striking poses, magical effects, shocking turnabouts, and heart-wrenching pain—but without a coherent story to hold it together, everything goes to waste.
Overall : C-
Story : D
Art : C+
+ Sweeping action scenes make an instant impact, as do tragic revelations near the end.
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