Judge William Lee hasn't had an out-of-body experience, but he locked himself out of the house once.
"Each of us has our own story, they aren't even necessarily connected,
and yet all three of us carry a burden we can never really change. If we all do
this then maybe we can just change something after all."
The 2007 anime series Ghost Hound, created by Shirow Masamune (Ghost in the Shell) and animation studio Production I.G, materialized on Region 1 DVD courtesy of Section23 Films' two-volume release in 2009. However, that release was presented in its original Japanese language version only. Sentai Filmworks has produced a new English dub of the series and now we have Ghost Hound: Complete Collection (Blu-ray). Let's see if the improvements warrant a repurchase.
Facts of the Case
Meet three teenage boys in the quiet town of Suiten in Japan: Taro Komoni, the son of a sake brewer, survived a kidnapping incident when he was three, but his older sister wasn't so fortunate. Taro has frequent nightmares as a result of the tragedy and he sees a councilor every week. Makato Ogami is the school's loner who hardly attends classes. One week after the kidnapping incident, Makato's father committed suicide for reasons unknown. Masayuki Nakajima is a loud, obnoxious kid who has just transferred from Tokyo. At his former school, Masayuki bullied a classmate until he committed suicide.
At Masayuki's insistence, the three boys return to the location where Taro was held for ransom. Things take an unexpected turn during their visit when some kind of psychic explosion occurs. Now they're seeing ghosts and uncovering a web of connections around the kidnapping that involves the adults in the town. The boys also learn to trigger out-of-body experiences whereby their spirits leave their bodies to travel in the Hidden Realm. They also meet a strange girl named Miyako who seems to be naturally attuned to the spirit world and may hold the key to solving the mystery.
Ghost Hound is not an action-packed anime nor is it especially visually arresting. Yet, it has a way of getting under your skin and hooking you in to its mystery. There is a calming tranquility on the surface as the mountain surroundings are rendered in soothing earth tones and not a lot of activity goes on around town or in the schoolyard. Before long, however, distorted and unsettling noises become common features of the sound environment. Occasionally, startling images creep into the frame. Slowly, the tranquil reality of this world seems to be unraveling and it's hard to look away.
The characters in the story also grow on you over the course of the series. Taro starts out weak; Makato is too cool to warm up to; and Masayuki seems like a big jerk at first. Yet, these three troubled teens eventually manage to work well together. As they warm up to each other, they become much more likeable protagonists and their stories weigh more significantly as well.
The story is well plotted over its 22 episodes. Few installments close with a cliffhanger, but each chapter introduces enough new questions to keep you eager for the next episode. The first third of the series establishes a sense of psychological dread that hangs in the air. The three boys, haunted by their personal ghosts and each one dealing with them in their own way, are compelled to face their fears. There is considerable tension created as they enter the show's equivalent of the haunted house. That tension is given slight release when the boys discover their out-of-body forms resemble translucent gummy babies. It's a welcome lightening of the mood before the elements of conspiracy, scientific experiments and religious cults are mixed in with the ghost story. Best of all, the plot is constantly chipping away at the central mystery as the story deepens so it never feels like we've been sidetracked from the main concern.
The 1080i/VC-1 picture on this Blu-Ray Disc looks very good but it's not a huge improvement over the standard-def DVD image. Backgrounds benefit from the increased resolution and color saturation. There is a good amount of fine detail to be appreciated in the painterly mountain scenery and the various shades of green. The buildings that comprise the town are plain by comparison as they're rendered in a very realistic style in paler tones. The character animation is about average for anime but the limited and stiff movements complement the emotional reserve that the boys exhibit. Lines are smooth, details are sharp (though there isn't a lot of fine texture in the foreground artwork) and the image shows no physical damage or digital problems. The colors are satisfyingly rich even when the palette is pale and the depth of blacks works well for those moments when ominous shapes scurry in the shadows.
The series has a very controlled soundscape that is deceptively quiet. Distorted sound effects are frequently used and surround placement is precise. The DTS-HD Master Audio delivers voices with strength and clarity. The subtle but throbbing bass effects underscore the suspense with an uneasy rhythm. The audio quality is just as good in either language option but the new English translation is my preference. The English-language voice cast does a good job with their characters and the script flows much smoother than the subtitles while retaining the essence of the original Japanese version.
The only extras included on this set appear on the third disc. For anime fans that care, the opening and closing animation sequences are presented without the credits. However, they're also presented in standard-def.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
The series has a deliberate pace that feels like a slow burn before their interactions with the supernatural really have any consequence for the protagonists. The story takes its time to set up the characters' histories and investigate the mystery that links them. There is also some repetition, for example, in Taro's story we're often revisiting his nightmares through an animation sequence that is reused quite a bit.
Ghost Hound: Complete Collection is a satisfying mystery series that's a refreshing alternative to the usual frenetic anime programs. The strong storytelling justifies its structure and pacing. Sympathetic characters with developed histories help keep the supernatural elements grounded. The moody sound design effectively puts viewers in a different realm and dares you to watch with the lights turned off. The modest improvement in visual quality may not be enough justification for an upgrade but combined with the new English-language audio track and the richness of the DTS-HD sound and it's an easier recommendation.
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Studio: Sentai Filmworks
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