With Christmas just around the corner, it’s time to turn our thoughts to all things creepy and weird.
Oh, c’mon. I’m not the only person who thinks Christmas is pretty creepy and weird.
Fine, okay, look, it’s the celebration of an overweight elderly man sneaking into your house, after dark, to give your kids free shit. How is that not creepy?
Yeah, yeah, pagan rituals, birth of Christ, blah, blah, blah. We all know Christmas is really about Santa Clause, and that guy is creepy as hell. Especially when he’s portrayed by Tim Allen.
Geeze, okay. Christmas is really about showing how much you care about others by affixing a definitive price tag to that affection. Which is also creepy as hell.
I’m really not a Christmas person. I know.
This weeks anime is the 2006 J.C. Staff produced shojo series, Ghost Hunt. Clocking in at a respectable 25 episodes, it brings mystery and the supernatural to our teen heroine’s life, while also managing to actually be creepy as fuck more than a couple of times.
The story follows high school student Mai Taniyama who, after accidentally breaking an expensive camera belonging to Shibuya Psychic Research, and getting one of their employees injured, finds herself indebted to Kazuya Shibuya, the head of the ghost hunting team. Agreeing to work off her debt, Mai finds herself drawn into the world of psychic research, and a new circle of friends.
Which pretty well sums this entire show up.
Now, that might sound like I’m dissing the show, but I’m actually not. Ghost Hunt knows just what it is, what it wants to do, and how to do that. It’s a solid little show that follows a set pattern, and does a damn fine job of doing it. It just isn’t a whole lot more than that.
The series is divided into several mini arcs, as Shibuya Psychic Research, or SPR, takes on a case and works to get to the bottom of what is actually happening. From one arc to the next, the cause of the supernatural events changes, with cases revolving around telekinesis, evil spirits, not so evil spirits, spiritual matters, and one very funny ghost. In each case, one of the team members of SPR usually gets to hep lead the charge in putting a stop to whats happening.
Most of the story, though, revolves around Mai, and her developing psychic abilities, as well as her relationship to Shibuya himself, and the rest of the team members. As our POV character, Mai helps us navigate a world the rest of the team is already familiar with, as well as Japanese mythology and spirituality, which the show draws on heavily to build the story arcs.
The characters are all really well written and fleshed out, with Mai getting the most development, of course, as she is the main character. Shibuya, who begins the series with a condescending and arrogant demeanor, is gradually revealed to more than he seems. The little plot twists concerning him, especially, are intriguing, in how they intersect with Mai’s character arc through the series.
The employee Mai injured in the first episode, Lin, is a stoic Chinese native, and one of the more interesting characters in the show, due to his own prejudices and history and how it affects his relationship with the others. Takigawa, a Buddhist monk, brings a great deal of humor and humanity to the series. Ayako, a self styled shrine maiden, provides a lot of sass, but also a lot of insight into Japanese myth and legends, while managing to be an adorably lovable asshole.
John Brown, a Catholic priest from Australia, is a quirky fun character who really stands out, while managing to offer the best example of Christianity I’ve seen anywhere, pretty much ever. Then there’s Masako, a tv psychic who talks to the dead, hangs on Shibuya like a cheap suit, is arrogant and dismissive, yet somehow still manages to be a well realized character with a great deal more depth than we see at first.
Of course, that goes for everyone in the main cast. All of the characters begin as sort of second rate caricatures of various pop culture archetypes. Priest, Monk, Druid, tv Psychic and so on. Yet, as the story goes on, all of them have more and more depth added to their characters, making them fleshed out people.
Rather than this being a by product of the writing, it’s a side effect of Mai growing to know them better. As Mai remains at the center of everything we see, serving as our narrator, the personalities of the people around her broaden with her understanding of them. It’s a clever use of a largely first person narrative in a video medium, and works well, as the viewer feels they get to know the characters better the more time they spend with them, rather than having their character info and backstory dumped in at a convenient point.
The other reason it works well is because there is no real overarching plot to the series. The show is almost entirely character driven as SPR moves from one case to the next. With each case comes a chance for Mai to know more about co-workers, and the world of the supernatural, which becomes the central plot, more or less.
As for the various cases themselves, they move from curious, to intriguing, with one that’s pretty funny, another that’s heart breaking, all while offering up a couple of genuinely goose-bump worthy moments. Especially if you have a thing against dolls, like I do.
In one case, yes, a doll gave me the creeps. In another, the teams investigation into a Winchester mansion inspired story brings a solid dose of real horror when Mai comes face to face with a vengeful spirit. Most of the time, though, the investigations are just solid storytelling of the supernatural from a Japanese perspective. While Shibuya does employee scientific means, or at least, ones anyone familiar with shows like Ghosthunters will recognize, the show also embraces the multiple spirituality nature of Japan.
Catholicism is the dominant branch of Christianity there, but Buddhism and Shintoism are still very much flourishing as well, all three co-existing more or less without difficulty. The series recognizes this, and embraces it as part of the world view the show presents, along with Taoism and even atheism. Honestly, on that score alone, Ghost Hunt is a bit of a delight, especially these days when “other” has become something so quickly rejected and feared.
Ghost Hunt was based on a series of light novels, again marking them as not as bad as everyone claims, written by Fuyumi Ono back in the late 80’s and early 90’s. While they did well, the story ended abruptly, and was never continued for reasons that were never made entirely clear. It has been adapted into a radio play, two mangas, and has a live action film wasting away in development hell, as well.
The anime was directed by Rei Mano, who was the director on Gunslinger Girl II, has done a smattering of episode directions here and there, and was the assistant director for the Cardcaptor Sakura movie. While Mano has a distinct style, that style isn’t exactly gripping. While Ghost Hunt is solidly directed, and uses camera angles and lighting to excellent effect, it also features a lot of static shots and an overabundance of reaction shots. This is neither good nor bad, really, but it isn’t awe inspiring, either, nor is it just plain terrible. As I said, solid.
Script work was done by two people. The first, Reiko Yoshida, has a credit list as long as both my arms. Highlights include Tokyo Mew Mew, Street Fighter Alpha, School Rumble, Romeo x Juliet, Peach Girl, and Scrapped Princess. The other, Rika Nakase, has a list of credits as long as only one of my arms, but it includes things like Bleach, Eyeshield 21, Fruits Basket, fucking give me fingernail nightmares forever Higurashi, Princess Tutu, and Gad Guard.
So, yeah, the scripts are flippin awesome. Seriously, the writing is one of the best things about this show. The dialogue flows so easily, and the various cases are all interesting and manage to be unique, even when they are similar. With that kind of writing talent behind the wheel, it’s hardly a wonder why.
The music has handled by Toshio Masuda, whose work includes shows such as Excel Saga, Mushi-Shi, everything Naruto, and Kamisama Kiss. Why the music in Ghost Hunt is so bland, I’ll never know. Really, this guy is a musical badass, but for Ghost Hunt, the music is just sorta there for the most part, with a few good themes cropping up occasionally. Not something I’d call memorable, especially considered the body work Masuda has behind him.
In terms of animation, it’s standard J.C. Staff. Good, but hardly ever great. Hardly ever being the key phrase here, as there’s a few moments where the animation quality steps up dramatically to add some real power to specific scenes, before dropping back to the generally fine work done throughout. It’s never terrible, which still puts Ghost Hunt way ahead of most shows, where animation quality tends to drop off sometimes in whole episodes, such as last weeks The Legend Of The Legendary Heroes.
When it comes to character design, the show fares a good bit better. While everybody looks almost like a standard anime character, there’s always a little more to them that makes them stand out. Pretty much all the characters, recurring characters, and even guest characters have this kind of a design quirk, making them easily identifiable and memorable enough you could pick them out of a lineup. So, I’m gonna say the character work was above average.
The English dub was done by Funimation, so you already know that’s gonna be pretty good. It also bring sin pretty much all their heavy weights. Todd Haberkorn voices Shibuya, and manages to not sound exactly like Natsu, which is basically just how Todd actually sounds. Great guy, funny as hell, but he has a really distinctive voice, and sounding like anyone other than him is pretty difficult.
Travis Willingham, best know for Roy Mustang, and being a most excellent barbarian, gives a fun turn as Takigawa, while Colleen Clinkenbeard, our beloved Riza Hawkeye and Erza Scarlet, changes things up to be the often arrogant Ayako. Jason Liebrecht, probably best known as Yato in Noragami, gives what movies and tv have taught me is an excellent Australian accent with John, while J. Michael Tatum, the voice of the incredibly intimidating Scar from FMA: Brotherhood, adds some real gravitas as Lin.
Of course, special attention should be paid to Cherami Leigh, who voices Mai. Her incredibly extensive body of work is all noteworthy, and she gives a stellar performance here. You’ve probably heard her as Lucy in Fairy Tail, Itsuki in Corpse Princess, Asuna in SAO, and more high profile anime than I shake a stick at. D. Grey Man, Hetalia, FMA: Brotherhood, Steins; Gate, Black Butler, and so many more. One of the anime dubbing worlds finest, giving one of her best performances.
While the series does raise a number of character questions it never fully answers, the source material does the same thing, so I can hardly fault the anime for this. Working from an incomplete picture pretty much always leads to an incomplete picture in the end.
What it does do, tough, is offer a good look at how Japan as a society functions with such varied and contrasting spiritual beliefs, gives us a beginners guide look at their mythology and superstitions, and provides a good 12 hours or so worth of character driven drama that never devolves into melodrama, all while giving a couple of genuinely good scares along the way.
Not bad, when you think about it.
So, this year as you huddle behind your fort made of wreaths, clutching your shotgun as you await that red suited, child soul sucking, demon spawned bastard as he sneaks into your house, toss some Ghost Hunt on and enjoy a few laughs, a few chills, and a solid example of character driven narrative.
Then shoot the fucker. Right in his jolly bag.