Ghost Hunt Reviews Online.
Now, I’m a sucker for a good ghost story so the title of this series appealed to me from the start. What I have seen in the collection so far I’ve enjoyed. Ghost Hunt uses a relatively simple set-up: introduce a young school girl with a strong intuition who is relatively headstrong; add in a couple of enigmatic young men; sprinkle with various religious supporting characters such as the Shinto priestess, Buddhist monk; a celebrity spirit medium; and a Christian priest/exorcist (from Australia!); and top off with a series of arcs that has this diverse team investigating paranormal and supernatural events at the request of clients. In this first collection (episodes 1 to 13) there are several discrete story arcs between one and four episodes in length. The first arc is a haunted school and, amongst other matters, introduces all the characters. The so-called main lead, Mai Taniyama, has a penchant for ghost stories and was checking out a so-called haunted area at her school. She gets hauled into the investigation by the Shibuya Psychic Research Centre after inadvertently being involved in injuring Kazuya (Naru) Shibuya’s assistant, Lin. The principal of the school also called in the other characters (the priestess, the monk, the priest, the mystic) to help sort out the “hauntings” of a hall under reconstruction, presumably to cover his bases, and it creates the set-up to bring everyone together.
The underlying premise is hardly original — a diverse team of characters with different abilities and foibles solve mysterious problems and situations (Scooby Doo, anyone?), but the execution is well done. The story’s pace builds slowly but surely coming to a key climax usually at the end of each episode. The mystery is seldom solved in one episode and keeps one hanging through to the next. In each, we see the abilities and traits of the characters unfold slowly as they interact with each other. Some situations are obviously contrived to get some characters out of the scene for a while (e.g. cake making) while the focus is on Mai particularly and others. Mai’s intuition is usually bang-on and Shibuya often ends up trusting her observations — usually for reasons of his own. However, the pace of the story, the increasing dramatic tension and ultimate release is what ultimately appealed to me as a viewer. Contrary to the title, and the presentation of the collection’s cover, the story doesn’t go out of its way to scare you. There is certainly a degree of suspense and dramatic tension, but nothing gratuitously scary or frightening (a la Candyman or Magical Girl Pretty Sammy, heh heh). That said, it also isn’t a cutesy no-brainer romp either. I found it a comfortable middle-of-the-road drama with a supernatural and paranormal twist. Basically I enjoyed the stories as they had enough twists and red herrings to keep me guessing. The result was often not what I’d expected but when looking back through the rest of the story, several clues end up giving you that “ah-ha” moment where everything comes together.
Visually, nothing to complain about here. Main presentation is in an anamorphic 16:9 wide-screen format. There is a good colour palette with vibrant colours, and, where appropriate, the darker and moodier scenes have a subdued palette to assist with the suspense. Character designs and settings are sharp and well detailed. Mai looks like your typical anime middle-schooler with big eyes and, often, a determined expression. Naru and Lin look like your enigmatic older males — mysterious and aloof. There isn’t much in the way of eye candy (i.e. big-breasted babes) as everyone looks normal, and the presentation sits comfortably for me. The opening credits are noteworthy as they set the overall feel for the series well, while not having any references to the story itself. Unlike other openings where you might get characters and action playing out through the start before getting into the episode proper, these credits are abstract and undefined — very reminiscent of older shows like The Twilight Zone or The Outer Limits. The presentation also uses the good old idea consistent with thriller and horror stories: it’s what you don’t see that is often scarier than what you do. A lot of the suspense is portrayed by character expressions of what they’re looking at or implicit events such as a chair moving or a door slamming — but you, as the viewer, can’t see it. Essentially, the visual presentation and techniques used adds to the suspense and works rather well in this story.
Audio is presented in a Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo format for both English and Japanese tracks. For me, I listened to the original Japanese track throughout and the voices met my expectations. Although, John Brown (the exorcist priest from Australia) didn’t have much of an Australian accent with the original dialogue (go figure). I didn’t bother with the English dialogue, though — maybe I should take a listen to it to see how the Americans handle a so-called Australian priest. While the rest of the music was more-or-less unremarkable, the opening theme, though, did a particularly good job at conveying the supernatural/paranormal context of the show. From the start, you were able to feel the suspense building and, in conjunction with the opening visuals, these credits are particularly memorable because they aren’t your typical expected opening credits of an anime.
Extras on the second disc included brief character bios, a clean opening, so-called sightings of the ghosts, and other Madman trailers. Nothing overly special or extensive here, but I guess that comes with the territory when you’re putting seven and six episodes onto two discs — not much wriggle room. I’d guess there would also be limits on what was made available from the original production; and for something of this nature, I’d doubt there would be a lot of extra material available anyway.
The bottom line: A competently delivered series of arc-based stories with decent suspense and dramatic tension, coupled with good character and setting designs and a decent soundtrack. I enjoyed what I saw and await with some enthusiasm the next collection in this series. Definitely recommended for those who want something darker and grittier but without giant mecha, magical girls, or spaceships. Four stars.