Reviewby Carl Kimlinger, Mar 19th 2010
Sub.DVD - Collection 2
Taro, Masayuki and Makoto have mastered soul traveling, the out-of-body experiences that allow them to explore their town's spiritual dimension while dreaming. Their newfound skill set is pretty handy, particularly of late as Makoto's family tries to resurrect their nasty cult and Masayuki's father enters the last phases of a biotech experiment that blurs the lines between machine, life and unlife. The town seems poised on the precipice of some huge and vague disaster, an unsettling confluence of events whose effects are already erasing the borders between the real and the supernatural. And somehow, at the center of it are the three boys and their family secrets: the experiments of Masayuki's father, the events that haunt Makoto's ghostly mother, and of course the long-ago kidnapping of Taro and his sister. As they use their newfound abilities to investigate, young priestess Miyako is drawn into the vortex of events, prompting Taro and his friends to make a stand in both the real and spirit worlds.
After taking a familiar premise—bored teenagers gain supernatural powers—and making something alien of it, Ghost Hound unfortunately lapses back into conventionality at its end, never quite delivering on the promise of its intellectually ambitious main body. Of course, that still leaves it several cuts above your average show. Several very large cuts.
That Ghost Hound is ambitious is a given. After all it reunites arty director Ryutaro Nakamura with Kino's Journey and Serial Experiments Lain collaborator and resident uber-scribe Chiaki J. Konaka while adapting an original story by infamously cerebral manga-ka Masamune Shirow. Under their auspices, the series' second half is a heady mixture of supernatural exploration, fringe science, industrial espionage and festering small-town secrecy a la David Lynch. Extreme psychology, Japanese mythology, politics, genetic engineering, quantum mechanics and good old fashioned human evil are explored, and multiple plot threads are juggled until some of them stick together, revealing unexpected and occasionally unsettling connections. Deliberately slow, its joys are quiet: deeply creepy imagery, the cold revelation of intertwining mysteries, ambiguous explorations of memory and man's darkest emotions.
So when it becomes apparent that the series is aiming for something suspiciously similar to an action climax, there's good reason to be wary. And when it breaks out the maiden-rescuing derring-do (and cross-dressing), wariness turns to outright disappointment. Resorting to a plot device that was old when villains twirled their mustaches and tied heroes' sweethearts to railroad tracks is a sharp deviation from the series' general intelligence, and it can't help but draw attention to some of the climactic episodes' other shortcomings. The series' air of uneasy uncertainty lifts as its conclusion nears and it tries too hard to explain everything. In the stark light of that lifting plot lines are revealed to be less related and science and religion less seamlessly married than they seemed. It reveals a show that, ultimately, is less than the sum of its intellectual parts.
What a conventional conclusion does offer, however, is conventional emotional closure. In the case of Makoto's psychoses that can feel a little contrived, but in the case of Taro and Miyako's terrifyingly cute relationship it's a lot more satisfying than something ambiguous or ambitious would have been. Indeed, for all the varied and eerie stylization of Production I.G's sleekly simplified visuals, it is this last and most conventional of scenes, as Miyako's face runs the gamut from fearful resignation to tearful joy, that lingers on in the mind's eye. And Nakamura's masterful soundscapes, crawling with distorted sounds and displaced audio and electronic tics that barely qualify as music, can make something weird and disquieting even of the series' most unimaginative sequences. The occasional cheap visual (chocolate-syrup landslide anyone?) or cheap plot development is a lot easier to forgive, and sometimes perfectly effective, when the series' fragmented audio is crawling up and down your spine.
Given the talent overlap and focus on alternate realities, it's hard to resist comparisons between Ghost Hound and Nakamura and Konaka's first collaboration, Lain. In many ways Lain represents the potential that Ghost Hound never quite realizes. Rather than explain itself, Lain remained unknowable to the end, a jigsaw puzzle that no matter how assembled always had a few extra pieces and a few missing ones. Which was exactly its tantalizing charm. You could assemble and reassemble the series forever and never get the same picture twice. Ghost Hound has only one solution (okay maybe two), and as the explanation for the concurrence of events is basically "it's a coincidence," the picture it forms isn't as interesting as perhaps it should be. Still, assembling it is a lot of fun, and when half-solved it can be quite eerie.
Overall (sub) : B+
Story : B
Animation : B
Art : B+
Music : A
+ A gonzo mix of freaky science, religion twisted to unsavory ends, and family secrets with nasty repercussions...all with a sneaky sweet underbelly; innovative sound design.
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