16 February 2008
Today's review is Ghost Hunt. It's relatively recent anime - the first (and so far only) season concluded early 2007 in Japan, and should be appearing at the whim of Funimation on American shores sometime soon. Twenty-five episodes in length, it was adapted from a manga, which was in turn adapted from a series of novels. It starts with Mai Taniyama who upon investigates the mysterious building attached to her school after a bout of ghost story-telling. She barely gets through the door before becoming accidentally responsible for injuring Lin - who happened to be the assistant of Kazuya Shibuya, a young, narcissistic paranormal investigator there to inspect the supposedly haunted building. She�s guilt-tripped into taking his place, and then, after proving useful, hired permanently. Naturally, adventures of the spooky variety ensue.
If you even remotely enjoy Japanese folk horror, Ghost Hunt is worth watching. It shares many of the traits of other such paranormal investigation animes, but it does it with such class and aplomb that most others merely feel like cheap imitations. It works in sets of episodes - most mini-arcs are about three episodes in length - treating each case as a completely unique storyline. Each of the arcs are captivating in their own way, and there are not enough of them to ever become formulaic. There are more twists and history in each of the short cases than what some animes manage across a whole series.
The animation was well done, though honestly there were no moments where it had a chance to be really impressive. The sound really sold the series, though. In addition to an excellent and atmospheric soundtrack composed by the incredibly diverse Toshio Masuda (Excel Saga, Naruto, Jubei-Chan and Mushishi being among his credits), the actual sound effects were unusually stellar. Some of the ghostly screams and the sounds created by poltergeist phenomenon make your skin crawl.
On that note, for those perhaps feeling a little squeamish at the mention of horror, I will assure you that it is more of the creepy variety rather than the gory kind. If you enjoyed xXxholic or Mushishi, I would rate it perhaps just a little above those experiences. As in, so long as you don't watch it by yourself in a dark, quiet house (like I foolishly did), it�s fine.
Back to the story, one of the nicest things about Ghost Hunt is that there really weren't any characters that were annoying - with perhaps the exception of Masako, but she still filled her role well. It was a rather small cast, but they were all interesting, had dynamic personalities, and there were plenty of hints of excellent back story that were very rarely touched upon. Which brings me to perhaps the only gripe I can summon against the series.
Ghost Hunt does suffer to a degree from the typical manga to anime adaptation problems. Fortunately, these problems come in the xXxholic and Kare Kano variety - the pacing is fine, the format doesn't call for filler, it simply just... ends before it should. There is some positively delectable foreshadowing that is not followed up, leaving the audience with a large number of burning questions. What is Ayako's grudge? Why can't Shibuya read kanji? Who is the professor that Lin refers to? What blackmail does Masako have on Shibuya? Exactly what is the deal with Mai's talents? It doesn't feel like there are awkward forgotten elements without purpose - each of the short stories in the series are well constructed and nicely connected, so these tiny snippets of information weaving together a larger story and purpose are obviously moving towards something larger. Hopefully they'll do a second season to wrap things up in time, but failing that, you may want to resign yourself to getting closure from the manga after watching the series.
Given that was the only real criticism I could level at Ghost Hunt, I highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys Japanese folk horror, or even just darn good anime in general.
Overall rating: 950,000 / 1,000,000