Reviewby Theron Martin, Oct 24th 2009
Sub.DVD 1 - Collection 1
Eleven years earlier, current middle school student Taro and his older sister were victims of a kidnapping, an event which only Taro survived. Ever since then, Taro has been troubled by a lack of clear memory of the incident and by dreams of his sister, for which he continues to receive counseling. More recently he has also begun to have OBEs (out-of-body experiences), which seem linked to that incident, and some seriously creepy visions. He soon meets two other boys his age with troubled pasts: Makoto, whose father's suicide eleven years earlier was rumored to be connected to the kidnapping incident, and Masayuki, an outgoing student who transferred to the mountain village of Seitan Town because of his involvement in an ugly incident at his previous school. All three boys also soon discover that they can go “soul traveling,” which allows them glimpses of the spirit-filled Hidden Realm; some are curious, while others are downright frightening. Eventually they also discover that they can, to an extent, manipulate themselves while soul traveling, but they are not the only ones having visions of spirits. Miyako, daughter of the local priest, could always see them, but eventually some ordinary townsfolk start to have strange experiences, too.
Have you found anime series to be too generic of late? Do you hunger for something creatively different in your anime viewing? Ghost Hound may be the series for you. From its earliest scenes it avoids the norm by getting its characters involved in the supernatural through the window of advanced psychology. It looks at the biological processes involved in how emotions like fear, hate, and disgust can affect memory, discusses how visions of spirits, angels, and devils can be deliberately induced, and examines potential underlying causes for OBEs, enough so that it calls into question the supernatural phenomena its characters are experiencing without denying them; in fact, it still gives its characters ample reason to believe that their “soul traveling” is real. It also looks in-depth at how past psychological trauma can affect a person's fears and perception. The result is a supernatural story wholly unlike anything else in its genre, one which, at times, can be quite impressively creepy.
The mood, tone, feel, and especially sound of the story puts it in rarefied air somewhere between Serial Experiment Lain and Boogiepop Phantom, the two series which Ghost Hound most closely resembles. (The former should be no surprise, since the two series share a common director.) With the former it shares the sense of distorted and shifting reality; with the latter it shares the sensibilities of individual psychology, how that affects characters dealing with fear and other stressors, and how traumatic events can have long-lingering consequences even for those not directly involved. It occasionally gives the viewer a first-person perspective on the “soul traveling” experience of Taro and joins the viewer with Taro in discovering possible psychological foundations for the things he is experiencing. It also looks at how Masayuki's fear of heights might be connected to an incident involving a fellow student's death and how Taro glaringly remembers certain minor details from the kidnapping (such as a buzzing fly) but not ones he considers most important (such as the last words his sister spoke to him).
Not all of the story is grounded in psychology, however, and in fact the series' biggest weakness is that it sometimes goes overboard in delving into its dissertations on psychological phenomena; given that, is it any surprise that Masamune Shirow was the original creator? The actual plot finds plenty of time to explore the development of the boys' OBEs from initial random experiences to more controlled later forms, which leads to the series' name finally being justified around episode 10. It develops an underlying implication that something even more sordid may have been going on with the seminal kidnapping incident, and that the man accused may or may not have been the right culprit. It suggests that the sudden increase in supernatural experiences towards the end of this 11-episode run is part of a bigger developing picture, and that the boys' ability to soul travel, and Miyako's extrasensory abilities, might be part of that picture. Along the way it does an exceptional job of subtly ramping up tension to create scenes almost certain to leave viewers on edge, although the almost-too-cutesy look of the boys in their spirit forms brings one such superb scene crashing down with startling (and unwelcome) abruptness and partly sabotages others.
The characterizations are a more typical, if somewhat subdued, mix, with Taro as the low-key one, Masayuki as the gregarious one, and Makoto as the angry one. Despite her limited lines and a lot of her screen time involving just staring at things, Miyako may actually be the most interesting of the core cast, as her attitudes are more implied than openly displayed. She also has a greater aura of mystery about her, a direct result of the series rarely showing us what she actually sees and instead only suggesting it. Totally absent are any extreme-personality side characters; in fact, Miyako's priestly father is one of the most grounded individuals in the series rather than the more typical role of being one of the extremists. Many of the side characters are, in fact, fairly dull.
The strength of the series does not lie in its artistry, which makes heavy use of CG to create the spirit creatures and OBE perspectives and is not among the smoother series at pulling it off. The look of the boys in their spirit forms is somewhat reminiscent of the CG-animated version of Casper, The Friendly Ghost, and while too cutesy for its own good, the image of things moving around inside their spirit forms can be intriguing to look at. The series is at its visual best during a few scenes where ordinary images are distorted into things disgustingly monstrous, but that is not often. The non-CG artistic and animation effort headed by Production I.G is not one of their better efforts, either, although character designs are just different enough to distinguish them from the masses.
The sound in the series is something special, however, to the point that watching this set of episodes on anything less than a surround sound-equipped system is doing the title a disservice. The score actually only infrequently uses true musical numbers and instead depends much more heavily on little snippets, lingering notes, electronic sounds, or sound effects, including ticking clocks, speech electronically distorted to the point of incomprehensibility (especially when characters are speaking in the recap scenes at the front of most episodes), and exaggerated versions of innocuous sound effects such as footsteps, electronic hums, and computer mouse clicks. What musical numbers are used contribute directly to the weirdness and sense of distortion of the whole piece, an effect somewhat similar to the use of sound in Boogiepop Phantom but far more pronounced. In fact, the impact and effectiveness of the whole series depends most heavily on the mood that the score sets. Appropriately-named opener “Poltergeist” is a base-heavy light jazz number with its own appeal, while closer “Call My Name” is a gentler, more melodically melancholy piece.
Sentai Filmworks deserves kudos for taking a chance on such a fringe title, but once again they must be called to task for sloppy subtitling. Really, someone there needs to actually bother to do an editing pass on them, as they have all of the hallmarks of a rush job; this block of episodes averages about one instance per episode of a missing or misused word. They did get all of the technical references right, but there are entirely too many little errors here. As with other releases by Sentai, this one has no English dub, and Extras on the two disks are limited to a clean opener and closer.
Ghost Hound does suffer from some minor flaws, but an extremely effective musical score and a fascinating blending of psychology and the supernatural more than balance them out. If the second half finishes as strong as the first half starts out then this could be one of the highlight releases of 2009.
Overall (sub) : A-
Story : A-
Animation : B
Art : B
Music : A
+ Exceptional musical score and sound effects, often intense, very different from the norm.
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