Reviewby Carlo Santos, Sep 15th 2013
Years ago, the Barsburg Empire invaded the Kingdom of Raggs and eliminated their royal family—all except young heir Teito Klein, who was sold into slavery and recruited into Barsburg's military. However, Teito's long-suppressed memories eventually returned, and in his panic, he escaped to the Barsburg Church. After being trained as a bishop, Teito is now on a quest to uncover his past, including the secrets of a mystical weapon called the Eye of Mikael. Teito has arrived at Hausen House, a key institution of both the Barsburg government and the Church. An important secret relating to the Church lurks within ... but is it going to get Teito killed?! His mentor, Bishop Frau, is one of the "Seven Ghosts" with enough spiritual power to protect Teito—but only Teito's inner strength can earn him passage to the distant world that he is seeking.
Trying to figure out 07-Ghost is like trying to shoot a moving target. As soon as the series seems to be locked in a certain direction, it makes an abrupt turn and launches into a different side of the story. So far, it's already covered the following: an innocent boy caught up in political warfare, an eternal conflict between evil spirits and elite fighting clergy, and a quest to get stronger and become a member of said clergy. And now, with this volume, we get ... a soul-searching road trip?
It may be tempting to dismiss this as just another barely-logical turn of plot, but it's actually one of the more solid story arcs in the series. Teito's stay at the Hausen House is a unique variation on the classic "haunted inn" horror story, with a finale both terrifying and poignant. What's more, there's a flashback concerning one of the house's former occupants—a tragic figure who turns out to be more deeply connected to the series than one may have expected. And if that doesn't make this story arc intriguing enough, Teito also learns several key points about his quest: namely, what he can expect when he gets to the mystical "Land of Seele" that will solve all his problems.
Even the stand-alone chapters in this volume show some ambition as they try to pull on one's heartstrings, or reveal illuminating hints about the plot. A dream sequence provides a glimpse into never-before-seen moments from Teito's youth, and a stopover at a drinking house turns from merry sideshow to supernatural tear-jerker. Bursts of action are a regular occurrence as well—Teito and Frau's job description does include slaying evil, after all—so the emotional interludes and plot revelations end up sharing time with a few rounds of spirit-powered combat.
However, it's the big-picture storytelling where 07-Ghost suffers. Individual scenes and fragments from each chapter do well, but trying to make sense of the series as a whole is a struggle. Transitions between flashbacks and the present day happen in odd places, and even the customary black backgrounds that signify a flashback don't help to explain where in the timeline the story has jumped to. A subtle change of viewpoint, either to a different character or another locale, can also be a disorienting experience. Obviously, the authors of the story know what's going on because they have every little subplot rotating in their heads—but bringing up a side character or past event may confuse readers who haven't had to think about it in a while. Even simple conversations or interior monologues sometimes end up being vague head-scratchers.
Confusion also lurks in the artwork, where the stylish look is often obscured by unclear storytelling. Teito may be brandishing his staff in a dashing manner, but who did he just strike? What spell did he just use? It's anyone's guess as the action scenes, which at first look strikingly beautiful, devolve into a mess of abstract lines and shapes. The art fares better when actual corporeal spirits appear: these figures look half-dead, half-alive, and a hundred percent intimidating. The character designs are confidently drawn, with crisp lines and well-proportioned features—although with some of the lesser-known cast members, it starts to look like an endless parade of pretty-boy faces. Background details are sketched in lightly rather than in full detail, allowing more room for the characters to take center stage. However, this leads to crowded panels of one facial close-up after another, and rarely any establishing shots. (The exception would be occasional full-page spreads that show off a grand magical effect).
The dialogue in this series ranges from informative, to poetic, to downright cryptic—which explains why some of the plot points are so hard to decipher. The explanation of the link between Hausen House and Bishop Castor of the Barsburg Church, for example, sounds like a whole lot of hand-waving and insisting, "well that's how magic works around here." Sometimes a lack of dialogue can be equally frustrating, like when a scene from Teito's royal childhood is presented without comment. Discussions about personal feelings turn out better, though, like when Teito warmly expresses how he hopes to honor his late friend Mikage. General explanations about politics and society in Barsburg are also fairly understandable, although it might be information overload for those who aren't completely up to speed on the story.
With this volume, 07-Ghost proves that the storyline can change gears and still come up with something compelling and meaningful. Few would have expected that the hero of this story would one day be on a road trip and staying at a mansion with a dark secret—but here it is, complete with dashing action scenes, a substantive back-story, and roiling emotions. However, there's still a lot of work to be do before the series can prove that it is a truly great fantasy epic. The plot bounces between various timelines and viewpoints, often without clear explanation, and even the way the characters express their intentions can be confusing. The artwork, although stylish, often gets lost in its own chaotic layouts and abstract representation of battle. 07-Ghost excels at maintaining an air of mystery—but that shouldn't make the story itself incomprehensible.
Overall : C+
Story : C
Art : C+
+ The Hausen House incident and a couple of other adventures bring meaningful, heartfelt storytelling to the table. Stylish visuals also help.
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