Wednesday, January 6, 2010

When you meet the black hound, stare it in the eye

I've always been fond of Chiaki Konaka. He can't help slipping in Forteana and Cthulhu Mythos references even when writing for Digimon, so I'm always amused when he gets to really cut loose and just empty his strange head onto the screen.

I am hesitant to describe Ghost Hound in any real detail, because it treats its audience the same way as its characters, as travelers in strange, undiscovered lands. If I had to sum it up, I'd say it's a lot like Stephen King's moodier, teenager-focused books like It, the Talisman, or early Dark Tower, crossed with the paranormal surrealism of Serial Experiments Lain... no surprise, since Konaka wrote that too, and GH reunites him with its director Ryutaro Nakamura (who actually did another show about "travelers in strange lands", Kino's Journey). Masamune "Ghost in the Shell" Shirow has a vague "original creator" credit, but based on most of his other anime work, I'll be shocked if he did anything more than a rough outline and maybe a character sketch or two.

I'm not actually sure who this show is aimed at. The main characters are angsty teens (albeit much more realistically sullen ones than typical anime histrionics), but I can't imagine the people who eat up, say, Nana, eagerly sitting through long expository scenes about neurochemistry. I mean, this is a show that expects you to be on-the-ball enough to recognize a passing reference to the Mothman. And unlike Magical Index, another super-expository occult show I've been watching, there is rarely any particularly explosive payoff for all the chit-chat, although the overall atmosphere is amazing, consistently tense and dreamlike, with some fantastic sound work. Calling something "trippy" is usually a lazy cop-out, but this time it's just stating a fact.

Ghost Hound is an interesting show, and one that goes out of its way to avoid mainstream anime cliches, but I'm not sure if something this far out on the fringes can find an audience. It'd probably most appeal to people who aren't actually anime fans, by which I don't mean "people who only like Ninja Scroll", but "people who watch Darren Aronofsky films". I like it, but my tastes are, uh, idiosyncratic, and I've actually spent a lot of time immersed in the kind of conspiranoia natter Konaka revels in. Anyone who ever liked Lain definitely owes it to themselves to check it out. Like Tokyo Majin, this is another review at the halfway mark; we'll have to see whether the conclusion raises or lowers my opinion.


  1. Show is so good. Also the only anime I recall to actually terrify me.

    I do have two misgivings, though; one of them lies with the writing, and the other I'm not certain. I like the ending, and the general purpose of the show (it being a "spiritual" anime that uses the psychological jargon as a means to have the characters react and develop, rather than represent the Big Ideas in Lain), but it really, really could have benefited from one more episode. There's a few rushed spots of animation, but those could be accepted if we didn't have these resolutions seem thrown together more than planned out.

    The other is the frequent use of flashback. I understand why Konaka (or maybe Nakamura?) uses it, and the repetition adds to the atmosphere, as well, but a lot of the time it seems like needless padding. Even though Lain and Texhnolyze -- especially the latter -- are prone to seriously elongated moments, I never felt as though the scenes themselves were unnecessary and could be replaced.

    Still, this is a helluva lot more accessible than those two, and more than makes me excited for their reunion with ABe.

  2. Hmm, I'm guessing the flashback complaint is endemic to the second half? Because I just watched the first eleven episodes all in one sitting, and the only thing I recall being flashed back to more than once is the kidnapping (if you can even call that a flashback per se, given the way it's reused), and that's kind of the main thing driving the main character, as well as the only thing resembling a mystery so far.

  3. I'm very confident that it wasn't an issue in the first nine episodes (and I would suppose the entire first half). Seemed to gradually occur later on, which left me frustrated as the larger plot was really starting to take form.

  4. Like David said, this show is so good. Wish it had gotten a blu-ray release and a dub, but I'm still happy it was brought over in the first place. One of the 2 anime I strongly recommend be watched with headphones, the other being Shigurui.

  5. I had none of the problems David had. Thought the ending was immensely satisfying, don't remember a flashback issue.

  6. I really liked Ghost Hound, too, and just chiming in to say I ended up comparing it to a Stephen King novel as well (although my choice was ultimately Stand By Me!)

    What did you make of the funny looking OBE representations/ghosts of the main characters? I remember a lot of anime fans complaining/dropping the show when they first appeared!

  7. The astral forms are an odd choice, but I'm sure it's probably a direct reference to some "real" phenomenon, judging by what else turned up in the show...

  8. In spite of my grievances, I do really like the ending a lot; reminds me a bit of Last Exile's finale, except far less slipshod.

    As for those astral forms, I thought that they were basically childlike representations of homunculus? Which makes sense, given a specific development in the second half of the series.