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Anime Review: Ghost Hunt

Josh Viel | 8 Oct 2009 14:04
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When you think of the word "ghost" and combine it with the word "anime," the image that comes to mind probably has more to do with sword wielding super-humans or monstrous beasts than the classic poltergeists and haunted houses. And if you've ever wondered why the latter is so underrepresented in the Japanese animation medium, Ghost Hunt might be the show for you.

The premise is as follows: High-school student Mai Taniyama, a girl who loves telling ghost stories, finds a job working for Kazuya Shibuya, a psychic investigator and owner of Shibuya Psychic Research. They, together with a Catholic priest, a Buddhist monk, a dubiously-skilled priestess, and a famous spiritual medium investigate all manner of supernatural activity, from curses to hauntings. Really, the setting isn't much different from what you'd expect to see on one of those live-action 'ghost hunter' shows. Except, you know, the houses are actually haunted in Ghost Hunt.

The plot of Ghost Hunt is something of a deviation from your standard-fare anime story-structure, in that there is no overarching plot. That's not to say that the show has no story, but rather, Ghost Hunt consists of a series of self-contained plot-arcs with a few one-shot episodes sprinkled in for flavor. Each of these plot-arcs could easily stand on its own without much revision, and only the first and last arcs bring in any significant character development. I suspect this format is because Ghost Hunt is based on a series of light novels first published way back in 1989.

Ghost Hunt doesn't focus much on its characters - they are, for the most part, simply caricatures of common anime archetypes. Instead, Ghost Hunt is strictly plot-driven - which is good, because this is clearly where its strength lies. Where other anime series involving ghosts and the supernatural would devolve into drawn-out fight scenes and mindless action, Ghost Hunt is surprisingly devoid of any such sequences. This loss of action is not a bad thing, though - in the place of such sequences, the series focuses on building suspense and weaving together mysterious plots. As a "psychic researcher," Kazuya does not - and indeed, cannot - face ghosts with the blunt intent to beat them into submission. Instead, the characters must investigate the hauntings and face their problems in an almost detective-novel-like style. This buildup of suspense through the tried-and-true method of reviewing the facts and searching for clues is, for the most part, handed skillfully, and most of the plot-arcs can be truly compelling.

If I were to lob criticism, though, I would have to mention that the story-arcs - especially towards the beginning - can be a little hard to follow. The first arc in particular ended in a way that, because the setting of the series was still being introduced and was not yet well established, was nearly completely unpredictable. The resolution simply felt arbitrary. Luckily, the story-arcs seem to get better with this as the series progresses. Something it does not get better with, however, is its tendency to use red-herrings more often than it probably should, leading to plot points that seem complex but are really quite simple. Still, these flaws are mostly minor, and overall, the story-arcs can still be quite entertaining.

One of the keys to the success of Ghost Hunt is the series' exceptional soundtrack. In a show that relies almost entirely on building suspense, the score delivers an excellent variety of music, conjuring up some truly creepy and tense musical arrangements that really help to set the mood in important scenes. The dubbing is also better than average, which is almost a requirement with how dialogue heavy some scenes can be. Although I do have to single out one character's dubbed voice in particular - the priest John Brown talks with such a thick Australian accent that I had to pause the DVD in his first scene because I was laughing so hard. Of course if, for some reason, you don't want your anime characters talking with an Australian accent, the DVD does come with the original Japanese audio track.

On a whole, Ghost Hunt is an entertaining diversion. Like a good detective novel, Ghost Hunt focuses more on fleshing out mysteries and building suspense than throwing together one action sequence after the next. The characters aren't very interesting, and it certainly doesn't break any new ground, but the strong story-arcs and skillfully built tension make the show at least watchable, if not enjoyable.

Bottom Line: An interesting take on an underrepresented portion of the rather common supernatural trope. There's nothing about Ghost Hunt that makes it stand out much, but it's entertaining for what it is: a series of mystery novel-like ghost stories.

Recommendation: If you're looking for stand-out action or character development, Ghost Hunt will probably leave you wanting. If, on the other hand, you're looking for an entertaining diversion that involves ghosts and isn't afraid to make you think a bit, then you'll probably like this series.

Josh Viel always knew there were never any monsters or ghosts hiding under his bed. Now his closet, on the other hand...

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