By Owen Corkin / October 20th, 2016
Welcome to this week’s Throwback Thursday, your weekly fix of older anime appreciation. Today’s focus is 2006’s Ghost Hunt, animated by J.C Staff responsible for works such as Toradora!, Scientific Rail-gun and Shakugan no Shana. As the name suggests, this action supernatural series focuses on a varied and eccentric team of ghost hunters. Despite sounding as generic as it gets, this show’s demonstration of character development and surprisingly dark themes certainly blew me away when I first watched it. Accompanying that with the stellar animation quality of J.C and the gritty while gruesome visual style results in a series of eerie and sometimes frightful episodes.
So what’s the show about?
Ghost Hunt is an action, mystery, supernatural show following the hectic and dangerous lives of six ghost hunters. The team is led by 17-year-old Shibuya “Naru” Kazuya, a narcissistic stone cold “too cool for you” character who dedicates his life to neutralising supernatural threats. Not much is really know about old Naru-chan but as the series goes on, maybe you’ll discover that there’s more to that boy than you’d think. He also plays the role of the love interest for Mai Taniyama. Mai is your run of the mill high school student who got herself involved in the whole business by luck and has stuck by her leader ever since. The same can’t be said for 23-year-old Ayako Matsuzaki, a self-appointed Shinto miko (priestess) who is confident in her powers of expelling ghosts. Often clashing with her comes along 25-year-old “Monk-san”, a music loving monk who acts as an older brother figure and demonstrates excellent power. Alongside them are John Brown, a young exorcist and Hara Masako a teenage spirit medium with a vital ability to communicate with the dead. Taking on jobs from various settings and backgrounds, the crew ensure the safety of others keeping the paranormal at bay.
Colourful cast of characters
As with most shows of the early 2000s, each character in the show resembles a certain function for the narrative drive and their personality revolves around this. In total, the show’s main cast consists of six members and they all play a different role in the collective team of Ghost Hunters. While they don’t always get on, their wide range of abilities outweigh their dis-functionally contrasting personalities. In J.C fashion, a prominent main character is an ordinary high school girl known as Mai Taniyama. This character often works as an excuse to explain the history behind the more experienced member’s methods which is a great help to viewers as supernatural shows have a tendency to leave their audience behind in their ghostly mumbo-jumbo. Overall, Ghost Hunt showcases a cast of engaging and relatable characters ensuring an effective connection between the viewer and the narrative.
An engaging episodic format
Ghost Hunt features a sporadic and unpredictable format to the length of their stories ranging from single episode plots spanning up to four episode long arcs. Tying in with the theme of the unpredictable nature of hauntings, I often found myself thinking that a story had resolved itself only to be met with a gripping cliffhanger where clearly all is not right. Personally, some of the most fun to be had with this show, is being taken along for the ride and not knowing how long it will take for the gang to neutralise their enemy from the other side. With the complete series taking place over twenty-five episodes with twenty minutes per episode, some of the more fleshed out and well-written stories can take a long time to resolve. However, as expected, some stories are clearly more hard-hitting and entertaining as others. Not in a “filler episode” sense, but in that some arcs didn’t feel as detailed as others (especially going from a four episode story to a two episode one). As I own physical copies of the complete series, I can pick and choose my favourite story arcs, (The Doll House, The Bloodstained Labyrinth and The Cursed House for anybody that doesn’t look to watch the whole series). That being said, I still thoroughly enjoy every episode of this show and think that watching from start to end is the best way to experience Ghost Hunt – just be prepared for some slow starts in some cases.
Bold and ambitious visual direction
To summarise this whole paragraph in a few words, it’s a mystery how this show is only rated PG-13. A name that most anime fans will know as “The Producer of Full Metal Alchemist”, Justin Cook also worked as a producer for Ghost Hunt alongside Clarine Harp. Now, this should be no surprise that this show is produced fantastically. The visual direction is absolutely spot on merging elements of gothic horror with a more contemporary Japanese style complemented exquisitely by subtle sound design to keep a consistent spooky atmosphere. Ghost Hunt is a spectacle to observe and still stands strong today when compared to the powerhouse studios we’ve been accustomed to in modern anime. As a side note, blood is absolutely everywhere in this show, with constant themes of death and decay surrounding the main cast, it’s inevitable that some it would show up, but the amount is staggering. Thankfully, it’s not used in a corny way where blood is splattered on a wall or used to spell out “DIE” on a table. Apparently, this show got the memo that “more is more” and made sure that every spirit had some form of blood wound – even if their cause of death involved no blood. This is most likely used as a scare tactic as some of the images presented are quite brutal and grim but this only really works effectively in one of the stories and fans of Ghost Hunt will most likely know which one I’m referring to.
Underwhelming sound design
The supernatural genre can be seen as a combination of horror, action and mystery. In all of these sub-genres, clever and impactful sound effects are a key difference between a boring sequence of tension and one with a long lasting effect. Not even mentioning the lacklustre soundtrack to this show, once you’ve heard the sound effects of the first arc you’ve heard it all. Repeated stock sound effects you could find in any free online effects library dampen the impact of the brutal visuals shown on screen. There’s no meshing between these two elements, your eyes will see a terrifying image and your ears will hear, well, nothing interesting. More specifically, the number of times Mai’s scream is used to cut off a scene followed by a swift camera pan upwards from the building’s exterior is hilarious and just feels lazy. For a show with such an experimental and imaginative narrative, it’s disappointing that these micro-features fall short.
Average Japanese voice acting and an atrocious dub
The original voice acting for Ghost Hunt is fine, they match their characters and often work well with the situation they’re in. While it’s nothing too spectacular, each character personality shines through in the original voicing with Shibuya’s cold delivery and Mai’s higher more panicky tone, there’s not much you can complain about. Then there’s the English dub that butchers near enough every character in the show. Responsible for a long list of respectable dubbing performances, the majority of the western cast have proved their worth in the field but it really doesn’t come through here. As an example, Jason Liebrecht’s character of John Brown is “A Caucasian Catholic priest from Australia who learned to speak Japanese with a Kansai accent, thus giving his sentences a rather odd, humorous structure.” [MAL – Wiki]. Despite this, apparently there was a shortage of Australian voice actors in 2006 as Liebrecht’s (born in Austin Texas) Australian accent is grating to the ears and doesn’t fit the caring and good-natured character at all. Consider this a personal recommendation to experience this show with its original Japanese voice talent.
Real and accurate representation of Shinto
Set in such a culturally rich location as Japan, some foreign elements can get lost on western audiences assuming a prior knowledge we haven’t experienced. Fortunately, the show takes on a “teach and show” style of explaining the cultural influences on the various plot lines such as a story that revolved around the Meoto Iwa or Married Couple Rocks. This is accomplished through the use of Mai’s character as I talked about earlier in the characters section. These references to actual locations and the native religion of Shinto help ground the show and keep it from spiralling off into Roahl Dahl territory where half of the dialogue doesn’t make any sense. Not to mention, one of the reasons I find anime so interesting as an art form is how the Japanese construct narrative within their eastern culture and eccentric way of life (compared to that of the UK).
Touching and heartfelt stories
Finally, the show isn’t all about kicking ass and taking names. Death as a concept is one of the scariest to a lot of people but the idea of coping with death can be another thing altogether. Formatted as a commission based team, this allows an excuse for the main cast to connect with somebody related to the paranormal activity. Whether it be happening to themselves, their lover or their family, this connection gives another human element to the supernatural as the audience follows in the strong emotions of those around the hauntings. Especially in the files where young children are being targetted, some of the dialogue is incredibly emotional and overwhelming at times when it’s all happening as a vengeful spirit grows impatient and more aggressive. One a story starts, it doesn’t stop until something is resolved and the journey to that point is a rollercoaster of emotions both positive and negative.
Overall, there is a lot to enjoy from Ghost Hunt and is definitely worth a watch. Combining writing staff capable of crafting such relatable and engaging characters with an animation studio just as competent to visualise and display these characters is a recipe for a great anime. Especially if you’re a fan of the paranormal and horror genres presented in a dark and twisted series, this will not disappoint. Even though it may show its age from time to time with lackluster audio development and an opening that looks like a stock windows screensaver, the show’s plot, settings and ability to build tension keep all kinds of viewers on the edge of their seat. Owned by Funimation, the best way to watch this show is by purchasing the DVD set over at their website, link below, but who knows, maybe soon it’ll be readily available on Crunchyroll.
animeFall 2006Ghost Huntj.c. staffOperation RainfalloprainfallParanormalReviewsupernaturalthrowback thursday