Reviewby Theron Martin,
DVD - Season 1 Part 2
Mai's own burgeoning psychic abilities, especially her ability to perceive things relevant to a current case in her dreams, start to become a real asset to the Shibuya Psychic Research team, but they also lead her into enough danger that she seeks training in protective wards from the monk Housho. A rivalry between her and Masako over Naru also grows, and the team picks up a new regular member, as they proceed through a trio of difficult cases. In “Forbidden Pastime,” rampant school-wide use of a Ouija-boarding-like game unwittingly attracts spirits to a school that come together in a dangerous way, carrying with them the power of a death curse. In “The Bloodstained Labyrinth,” the home of a prominent politician, which has been constantly expanded-upon over the years, seems to have a monster afoot, one which may be responsible for various disappearances of young people within its walls. In the close-out case “The Cursed House,” a curse lingering over more than a century threatens the well-being of a family that runs an isolated inn, as well as the lives of the SPR team who come to investigate it.
The first season of Ghost Hunt mostly painted itself as a supernatural mystery series, one which occasionally displayed a creepy intensity laced with hints of danger and menace but rarely edged down a truly dark path. A sprinkling of humor kept the stories from ever getting too heavy as they profiled Mai's exposure to the realms of psychics and the supernatural.
That changes in the second season, however. Oh, sure, the bits of humor still linger, and the series tosses in some vague romantic rivalries to try to spice up the character interactions a bit, but this trio of four-episode story arcs use an exploration of more macabre themes to ramp up both the threat level and the intensity, resulting in a second half which carries more decided horror overtones. This is especially evident in “The Bloodstained Labyrinth,” the second case on this volume, which at its peaks – the dream sequence at the end of the second episode and the climax near the end of the fourth – is as nerve-wrackingly intense as the best anime horror scenes. Partly due to that, “Labyrinth” is arguably the best of the series' eight cases.
These cases also delve further into Mai's emerging psychic/spiritual abilities, the existence of which were strongly hinted at over the course of the first volume and confirmed at the end of it. While giving Mai powers allows her to play a more integral role in the cases, and thus avoid an “eye candy” or “camera lens” classification, the indistinctly-defined powers she manifests prove so broad and utilitarian that she becomes as much a tool for advancing the story as an actual SPR team member. Need to show a crucial bit of backstory or offer a key revelation or insight to the team? Just channel it through Mai. Need to have someone do a trick that their powers do not normally allow? Just have Mai discover a new ability or a new twist on an established one. While this practice does not get abused enough to become a major irritation, it does detract some from the cleverness of the story execution.
The first episode of this volume (episode 14 overall) introduces Osamu Yasuhara, the student body president at the school the SPR is investigating in “Forbidden Pastime.” Though at first he appears to be only a major supporting character for that storyline, he continues to make prominent and effective appearances in the remaining two arcs. His friendly, forward nature balances out the stern, terse disposition of both Naru and Lin, something that the monk Houshou alone was not able to do. These episodes also reveal the true nature of the powers of Ayoko, Lin, and even Naru, as well as partly (though not completely satisfactorily) answering the question about how Mai can skip school and home responsibilities to do this job.
As with the first volume, the pacing of these cases is excellent; not once in twelve episodes does the plotting feel like it is dragging or stretching itself out to fill up time, and neither do any of the stories seem rushed. On the downside, though, the series focuses so much on its story and plot that it wastes a lot of opportunities for further character development beyond Mai. John Brown might as well be a puppet for all the character he gets to show, Masako has little character beyond her low-key jealousy of Mai's familiarity with Naru, and Lin only rarely gets to do anything except look and act dour. Ayoko and Houshou both show more actual personality, but even given that Ayoko still seems underplayed. It's telling that Osamu, despite being a newcomer, is arguably the third most interesting character beyond Mai and Naru, and he may even surpass the latter. Granted, this is not a character-driven series, but more still could have been done here.
J.C. Staff's artistic quality slips just a little bit in places compared to the first volume, but this is still a good-looking series featuring attractive character designs and quality background art to go with the ever-changing wardrobe of certain characters. The animation seems more limited here, especially in one scene where Mai is falling over, but the artistry pulls off enough positive visual effects to compensate for the flaws. Thankfully the artists actually put some effort into sprucing up the visuals for the opener this time around, but regretfully the series continues the same lame theme. The closer also remains unchanged, but the use of the musical score to enhance the more regularly intense scenes has notably improved.
To complain about the English dub – whether in terms of casting, performances, or scripting – is to nitpick. Performances that were on the mark in the first volume remain so here, and new supporting roles are equally well-cast. The English script may stray from the original wording but never from the original meaning, either. The one noteworthy incident is a scene where a character suddenly spoke in English in the Japanese dub, which loses some of its impact in the English dub, but that could not be avoided in translating the series.
Extras are the same as last volume except for the lack of an audio commentary. As before, the twelve episodes offered here are packed onto two disks in thinpack cases stuffed into a narrow art box. Together with its first volume, the entirety of this series will take up only slightly more shelf space than two typical DVD releases.
Although the end of the second volume firmly wraps up its most recent case, it leaves a few things unanswered, such as what, exactly, is the deal with the image of Naru that Mai keeps seeing in her dreams (that is explained in the original novels, but nowhere in the animation). It also conveniently overlooks the fact that a Catholic priest would be unlikely to ever be so cooperative and accommodating with Buddhist and Shinto religious figures and grossly simplifies the exorcism rituals of each religion. The second volume does, however, also offer an interesting exploration into arcane aspects of various types of mysticism (some aspects of “Forbidden Pastime” may remind viewers of a similar bit of magic worked in certain episodes of Inuyasha, for instance) and delivers every bit as much entertainment value as the first. That can compensate for a lot of flaws.
Overall (dub) : B+
Overall (sub) : B+
Story : B+
Animation : B
Art : B+
Music : B
+ Excellent pacing, offers good entertainment value, sometimes genuinely intense and horrifying.
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