Reviewby Carlo Santos, Dec 2nd 2008
Ghost Talker's Daydream
Saiki Misaki has a rather unusual profession: when she's not busy helping to solve criminal cases by communicating with ghosts, she also moonlights as an S&M dominatrix. Between sex-crazed clients and the rumblings of the undead, it's a pretty tough pair of jobs to manage. One of Misaki's latest "play sessions" goes awry when her masochistic partner goes too far and gets himself killed; can her supernatural perception prove to the authorities that it was a suicide? Another case also ends up in her hands when she gets called in to investigate some mysterious deaths in a secluded forest. Lastly, one of Misaki's younger clients (of the crime-investigation variety, thank you very much) must call on her once again when a violent ghost gets out of hand.
Who says you can't have porn and a plot as well? Ghost Talker's Daydream tries really hard to be all things to all people, skirting the edges of guro while at the same time delivering more familiar supernatural-mystery fare. The result is something utterly bizarre and unbalanced: Volume 2 easily earns its Mature Readers Only label within the first few pages, ends up scaring away half those readers by the end of the first chapter, but eventually reveals some nuance and beauty when it gets to the supernatural segments. Of course, if it had stuck just to the supernatural side, it would have ended up as Yet Another Ghost-Hunting Manga, but are wanton acts of sex, violence and depravity really a legitimate creative solution?
For those who survive the first story in this volume, that's certainly something to think about. The tale of the S&M suicide is as gratuitous as they come, more an of exercise in testing one's prudishness than an actual crime story. The eventual resolution of this plotline is very basic talking-to-ghosts stuff; were it not for the explicit content, few would even bother to give it a second look. On the other hand, those who are just here for the porn can leave satisfied after this one—it's got all the boobs and leather and sexual deviancy you can handle.
Thankfully, the middle story offers more content, taking up most of the space in this volume with a winding tale of suicides and serial killers. This is where the nuance starts to emerge, with the clever, understated handling of how Misaki "sees" spirits, and a couple of wordless sequences that fill the story with an air of mystery. Unfortunately, the Dark Horse label on this book calls to mind the publisher's marquee ghost-hunting manga, The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service, which does all the stuff in this chapter but better—more interesting characters, plus a more intricate and tightly-woven plot. By comparison, Daydream is content to resolve things with a splash of gratuitous violence and a haphazard ending that basically just wishes the ghosts away.
By the third and final story, the series seems to have finally figured out how to strike a thematic balance: moments of quiet supernatural gloom, some edgy sexuality from Misaki, and an action-packed finish where the undead get what's coming to them. It still falls short of achieving brilliance, but it's probably the one least likely to leave readers averting their eyes or scratching their heads.
Now, guess which aspect of the artwork looks the most polished. If you guessed "naughty hentai action," congratulations! To be fair, though, the detail and texture that goes into Misaki's sexual exploits can be found in plenty of other areas as well, like in the fist-pumping action scenes and evocative backgrounds. (Too bad the artist has to cheat and use blatant photo-referencing.) Heavy shading and toning, in addition to carefully paced layouts, also set the mood well during occasional scenes of quiet spookiness,. At other times, though—like when Misaki is just talking to people and gathering clues or advancing the plot—the artistry only leads to clutter, with too many people trying to do too many things at once. Even the action sequences, fun as they are, sometimes lose coherence due to being too dynamic for their own good.
If there is one thing that's consistently good about this volume, though, it's the dialogue and translation. Misaki and company may not be the most memorable or unique characters, but they certainly bring plenty of attitude when they open their mouths. Whether describing S&M play in clinical detail, or reflecting on the mysteries of her past, Misaki's lines are often just as entertaining as the events of each story, if not more so. Sound effect translations are handled skilfully as well, leaving the Japanese characters intact while adding English equivalents in a variety of fonts that match the style. Occasional footnotes help to clarify the cultural aspects of modern life in Japan, and the sharpness of print in this edition is definitely a plus considering the detail that goes into the art.
With today's oversaturation of run-of-the-mill adventure series and simpering school-age protagonists, it's not hard to see why some might tout Ghost Talker's Daydream as some kind of daring, sophisticated masterpiece (just read the fawning summary on the back cover). But those who carefully examine the inner workings of each story in Volume 2 will find something lacking—the heart, the soul, maybe even the machinery that makes a supernatural tale work. Instead, readers will find that moody sophistication is often replaced with cheap sexual thrills, and that clever twists of plot have been supplanted by brutish, violent denouements. It may be labeled Mature, but that doesn't mean it's mature.
Overall : C
Story : C-
Art : B
+ Delivers sex and violence exactly as promised and then some, with strong artistic technique to boot.
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