Reviewby Lissa Pattillo,
Ayako and Lin are still missing and the remaining members of Shibuya Psychic Research find themselves trapped in the old school house seeking both their friends and answers. One by one the rest of the team vanishes and in their place returns a small child. Nobody seems phased at first until certain facts about their very own appearance there suddenly stops making sense. When Mai is left on her own, it's up to her to figure out the reason why people have been disappearing into this school house and find a way to ensure she and the SPR aren't next on the missing persons list.
Volume eleven of Ghost Hunt finds the characters in a situation similar to where the whole story began - in a supposedly haunted school house, though it's evident pretty quick that this school house is considerably more spiritually infested than their first. It's nice to see the series returning to its roots and seeing all these characters in this setting again is a pleasant throwback to earlier stories, it's all the more depressing that this eleventh volume is so lackluster in comparison and likely the last we'll ever see of this once loveable cast of ghost hunters.
Continuing directly from where volume ten left off, the crew of SPR learns the story of a busload of children who died in an accident along with their teacher. In a series of text-heavy pages, they deduce that the spirits have been left haunting the school, for what reason Mai deduces more clearly later on. The ghost hunters have already lost two of their team members which they dwell on with saddened faces and adorable animal coffee mugs. Unable to escape the building themselves, the exploration continues and they discover the school is hiding more than the spirits of its recent victims. You don't get to see any of the apparently gruesome discoveries in this one, just a few reaction shots that suggest some pretty sick stuff is going down.
As the book progresses, the characters are picked off one after another in a series of events both frustrating and intriguing. For one reason or another, more often than not a lapse in judgment, individuals are separated and go missing, only to be replaced moments later by a child. The remaining team members then seem completely unaware that anything is amiss, which for a split-moment is confusing (a sort of welcome break from wondering why the characters are making such dumb decisions), until you realize they're all being manipulated by those haunting the building. Watching the remaining cast members puzzle out what exactly is happening to them is surprisingly gripping and well-done.
By mid-volume, it's all up to Mai who shines in this volume as an independent member of the team, which is both a good and bad thing. On one hand, it's great seeing her abilities come nearly full-circle as they've grown since the beginning, along with her will to steel herself for the scarier parts. Although she gets a little help from Naru's hints, she figures out the mystery mostly on her own and then begins seeking out the spirits to deal with them herself. Although she's clearly come in to her own and sticks the landing primarily by herself this time, the book is at its best when she's part of the team; it's always been fascinating to watch this group work together, combining their different religions and spiritual abilities, regardless of how effective or ineffective some proved to be. To suddenly have this vital element removed does a big disservice to what is stated as the 'The Last Hunt', regardless of how it favors the book's lead character.
More disappointing than even the lack of practical teamwork however, is the severe lack of personality. Sure, everyone's present, but they spend so much time wandering about discussing the matter at hand, and then are separated for the remainder of the book, that they have little to no time to shine. Their individual quirks and personality traits are left to the sidelines, used as mere flashback material later for Mai to gather up the inspiration she needs to face the spirits. This book may have served Mai's evolution well but it does so at the expense of everyone else, readers included. For a book that has its lead repeating her affection for her friends as much as she does, it feels distractingly hollow in terms of reminding us why we should empathize.
It's unfortunate we've seen this as a trend in recent volumes of the series, a noticeable decline in quality since mid-way through the adaptation. Characters have felt less lively and details of their adventures less well explained as a result, but no where has it been more apparent than in the artwork which lacks the same polish and consistency of earlier books. Facial structures seem extra doughy here and often look different panel to panel on some pages. For better or worse though, you'll find these artistic blips far less distracting than the excess of word bubbles, sometimes over a dozen on a single page, that hamper both the flow and the impact of what's actually going on.
As a series meant to give the occasional scare, their trek through this haunted school house provides some attempts, the events and accompanying artwork are often effective in certain scenes even if they fail to be consistently executed throughout. For example, seeing the skeletal forms of the children reaching out for Mai has the potential to be chilling but the viewpoint always remains so pulled out that you can never see them in good detail. Seeing the characters led away one by one does make for some good suspense, especially since each new vacant-eyed child is revealed by turning the page.
Despite news to the contrary from Kodansha, Del Rey had solicited this as the final volume of the series and with more recent news in regards to Del Rey's hand-over of its licenses to Kodansha Comics, it seems a safe assumption to believe the original claim. With Mai having dutiful flashes to her friends as they're missing and a sweet but sappy reunion at the volume's end, this book certainly feels poised to act as a finale. A single page cliffhanger on the last page does spoil the finish however and reminds us there are still some pinnacle plot points left unresolved. With little chance of ever seeing the remaining volume or original light novels released in English, it's an unsatisfying finish despite any intent to the contrary.
Ghost Hunt as a whole has proven a generally engaging combination of suspense-based horror and character-driven stories that have taken readers and cast alike on quite a trip since Naru and Mai first met in volume one. Sadly this last volume is bound to leave a rather sour taste behind for fans of the story, if not for a rather bland finish than for the promise of more on the final page likely to never be fulfilled. It possesses just enough of the series' creepy charms to at least provide a finish that doesn't completely skimp on the essence of its title but it would've been far nicer having a more all-encompassing send-off for this varied cast of characters who once proved so much fun to follow.
Overall : C
Story : C
Art : D+
+ Another spooky take on the haunted school house that succeeds at some creepy moments watching characters vanish; gives Mai a chance to show off how far she's come as a member of SPR
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