Genre(s): Horror, Mystery, Psychological, Science Fiction
Director: Ryutaro Nakamura
Studio: Production I.G
We have come to expect big things from Production I.G, who have brought us such young adult heavy-hitters as Ghost in the Shell and Blood+. For their 20th anniversary project, the studio reunited the director and head writer of Serial Experiments Lain to once again blur the line between dreams and reality.
The small, rural mountain town of Suiten is loaded with secrets. Three middle school students, whom I refer to as the wise-ass (Masayuki), the badass (Makoto) and the dumb-ass (Taro), discover their commonality in their childhood traumas. Once the boys accidentally cross into the "Unseen World" of spirits in an attempt to uncover the past about Taro's kidnapping, it becomes clear that their horrors are the least of their concerns. The spirits have followed them home. The result: astral projection.
The boys' abstract forms look like malformed transparent blue-tinted Lava lamp babies, but who am I to judge?
Taro, our undisputed main character, is fifteen-years-old and dabbles in lucid dreaming. When he was a child, he and his sister were kidnapped, and only he survived. Now, by unlocking the gate of his memory through hypnotherapy, Taro uses astral projections to find his sister's spirit. His cousin Makoto is a reserved, sharp-eyed punk who walked in on his father hanging himself. Now his ancient grandmother, a previously influential cult leader, is demanding he inherit the family legacy. Finally, Masayuki, the smirking transfer student from Tokyo, developed acrophobia once a student he tormented jumped from the roof of his school.
Eat your heart out, Shinji! You've got nothing on these punks.
Fans of Satoshi Kon will definitely get the most from Ghost Hound: it tosses around complex psychological terminology like a harem anime tosses panty shots. Series director Ryutaro Nakamura ambitiously blends the series' themes of psychology and Shinto mysticism to create a coherent aesthetic. Memories and flashbacks are drowned out by both static and an underwater blurring effect for both their audio and video: you feel as though you are floating in and out of a dream you cannot control. There are also many elements of horror and suspense, so expect a ton of extreme-close-ups.
Ghost Hound blends complimentary styles including supernatural, psychology, horror, and mystery into one genre that aims to literally blow your mind apart. However, despite all the smart-people talk, the story is chronological and easy to follow: you are never totally lost.
That said, the series has much that could have been improved. Because it deals with childhood trauma, expect a lot of flashbacks to the same scenes over and over and then over again. Script-writer Chiaki Konaka (Hellsing, The Big O, Lain) juggles many mysteries at once, and while he develops them all evenly, much of Ghost Hound's sharp intelligence becomes a double-edge sword resulting in some pretty dull episodes. There are mountains of dense psychological theory cluttering the dialog, and the series could easily have been Freud's Ph.D. thesis. The intense dialog is contrasted by dream sequences and frequent trips to the Unseen World, which may look cool, but remain disappointingly bland.
Nevertheless, By the end of the ride, you do feel as though you have grown with these boys. Makoto has gained a heart despite his overt hatred for his family. Masayuki has gained courage in confronting the scientist who sexually possesses both him and his father. And Taro gains the brain he so desperately needs. While Ghost Hound definitely runs on anime rules (trauma, Shinto shrine maidens, family, blaming the past for our present inadequacies) it is difficult to imagine an audience for this show. It is for young adults, and while it has great cliff-hangers, it lacks energy and pizzazz. But, just as with the human brain and our dreams, there are far deeper themes and meanings in Ghost Hound than can be fit into a simple blog-styled review.