Reviewby Carlo Santos, Mar 10th 2009
Ghost Talker's Daydream Graphic Novel 3
Saiki Misaki continues to solve unusual cases in her line of work as a supernatural medium and occasional S&M dominatrix. A friend of a friend's suicide leads Misaki to uncover an ill-fated lesbian love triangle, and the resulting investigation almost gets her killed as well. Then, after another late night out, Misaki wakes up on a park bench and recalls an odd high school memory—but not nearly as odd the encounter she has with an elderly man with a sad secret. Lastly, a recent rumor surrounding a "ghost taxi" turns out to be something far more sinister than mere ghosts. Misaki be may be used to "punishing" clients in the bedroom at her other job, but what will she do when faced with a real criminal who actually deserves it?
Hey, who's up for another round of overblown sexual pointlessness? If you answered "yes," then think twice about picking up Ghost Talker's Daydream Volume 3, because this series has finally figured out how to tone itself down and tell an actual story instead of flashing erotic imagery every five pages. Don't get too panicky about this change of mood, though—there's still enough adult material to qualify the book's 18+ label, from hot lesbian action to attempted rape in the back of a taxi. It's just that the plot leads the way this time, which is surely more palatable than having random acts of nudity forced in at every opportune moment. Yet this newfound sense of focus reveals another weakness: "sexy Ghost Stories" are apparently not all that different from regular Ghost Stories. So, is the trade-off worth it?
The answer to that question probably won't be found in the first few pages, which start out very similar to the previous volume: a steamy, explicit bedroom scene with plenty of detail. As the chapter develops, however, this storyline proves that it's got more to offer than just naughty illustrations of naked people. The connection to one of Misaki's personal friends provides a level of emotional investment, and the climactic final scene ends things on a strong, suspenseful note. Yet when compared to the rest of the genre, there are no unique touches to be found: it's just another jilted-lover suicide story with a dramatic finale that resembles too many other dramatic finales.
The short middle chapter, with its flashback to Misaki's high school days, is one of the few attempts at developing the main character—but again, it's a fairly formulaic affair, this time riding on the whole "strong on the outside but vulnerable on the inside" concept. That vulnerability does help to add some poignancy to Misaki's encounter with an elderly couple, but once the final story twist is revealed, it turns out to be yet another copycat plot device.
Maybe "Ghost Taxi"—the last and longest story in the book—has something cleverer up its sleeve? No such luck; this one only does well because of the atmosphere it sets and the larger-scale plot. Although it offers the complexity of two stories in one (a creepy taxi ride and then the gruesome truth behind it), it ultimately boils down to a crime-and-punishment revenge tale where Hell Girl just happens to be a dominatrix in a skimpy outfit. Of course, this does mean that the story has a satisfying finish—the bad guy finally gets what's coming to him—but stories like these need an extra touch of ingenuity to truly stand out. Sadly, this one doesn't have it.
In a way, even the artwork relies on unimaginative, easily-reproduced features: just look at the sheer number of backgrounds that have been reworked from photo references. Of course, with all the effort that's being poured into the sex scenes (the one part that's clearly done with love and care), it's to be expected that there had to be some corner-cutting going on somewhere. But isn't this supposed to be the volume where the fanservice finally takes a backseat to storytelling? Yes, and that's why it seems even more artistically lazy than usual. However, there are some areas where Meguro Sankichi's draftsmanship stands out: the strong contrasts of black, white and grey that set the mood, the delicate and confident sense of line, and the careful pacing and paneling that never moves too fast or too slow. These stories may not be groundbreaking, but they are, at least, easily readable and accessible.
Well-translated dialogue also helps with the accessibility; the script strikes a good balance between colloquial speech (with a handful of swears, of course) and the more descriptive, evocative tone when Misaki and friends get embroiled in spiritual affairs. This is a series that even manages to use background narration without sounding cheesy about it. But naturally, some of the most effective scenes are the ones with no dialogue at all—in fact, even sound effects are used sparsely here. When they do show up, sound effects are left in the original Japanese, with an English translation in a similar style placed next to it. However, while the fundamentals of translation are handled well, the overall packaging of this edition feels scant at just under 170 pages and no bonus content.
Perhaps the greatest improvement in this volume of Ghost Talker's Daydream is that it is now possible to read about 80% of it without feeling dirty if someone happens to peek over your shoulder. As for the other 20%, well, that's probably still the defining feature of the series, with its sheer detail and graphic nature—the only other place to find this level of smut would probably be in a pure hentai work (and we all know how those are when it comes to story). Visual titillation aside, this one does makes an effort at providing decent plotlines: a tale of love gone wrong, a poignant reminiscence of youth and innocence lost, and an urban legend-style mystery that takes a darker turn. But just because there are actual stories doesn't necessarily mean that they're clever or memorable: sadly, this series still has ways to go before proving that it can balance explicit sexual content with good supernatural storytelling.
Overall : C
Story : C-
Art : B-
+ Finally lays off the sexual fixation and makes an effort at well-developed stories and characters.
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