One of the Highlight Releases of 2009

Have you found anime series to be too generic of late? Do you hunger for something creatively different in your anime viewing? Ghost Hound may be the series for you. From its earliest scenes it avoids the norm by getting its characters involved in the supernatural through the window of advanced psychology. It looks at the biological processes involved in how emotions like fear, hate, and disgust can affect memory, discusses how visions of spirits, angels, and devils can be deliberately induced, and examines potential underlying causes for OBEs, enough so that it calls into question the supernatural phenomena its characters are experiencing without denying them; in fact, it still gives its characters ample reason to believe that their soul traveling is real. It also looks in-depth at how past psychological trauma can affect a person's fears and perception. The result is a supernatural story wholly unlike anything else in its genre, one which, at times, can be quite impressively creepy.

The mood, tone, feel, and especially sound of the story puts it in rarefied air somewhere between Serial Experiment Lain and Boogiepop Phantom, the two series which Ghost Hound most closely resembles. (The former should be no surprise, since the two series share a common director.)

It occasionally gives the viewer a first-person perspective on the soul traveling experience of Taro and joins the viewer with Taro in discovering possible psychological foundations for the things he is experiencing.

Not all of the story is grounded in psychology, however, and in fact the series biggest weakness is that it sometimes goes overboard in delving into its dissertations on psychological phenomena; given that, is it any surprise that Masamune Shirow was the original creator? The actual plot finds plenty of time to explore the development of the boys OBEs from initial random experiences to more controlled later forms, which leads to the series' name finally being justified around episode 10.

The characterizations are a more typical, if somewhat subdued, mix, with Taro as the low-key one, Masayuki as the gregarious one, and Makoto as the angry one. Despite her limited lines and a lot of her screen time involving just staring at things, Miyako may actually be the most interesting of the core cast, as her attitudes are more implied than openly displayed. She also has a greater aura of mystery about her, a direct result of the series rarely showing us what she actually sees and instead only suggesting it. Totally absent are any extreme-personality side characters; in fact, Miyako's priestly father is one of the most grounded individuals in the series rather than the more typical role of being one of the extremists. Many of the side characters are, in fact, fairly dull.

The sound in the series is something special, however, to the point that watching this set of episodes on anything less than a surround sound-equipped system is doing the title a disservice. The score actually only infrequently uses true musical numbers and instead depends much more heavily on little snippets, lingering notes, electronic sounds, or sound effects, including ticking clocks, speech electronically distorted to the point of incomprehensibility (especially when characters are speaking in the recap scenes at the front of most episodes), and exaggerated versions of innocuous sound effects such as footsteps, electronic hums, and computer mouse clicks.

Ghost Hound does suffer from some minor flaws, but an extremely effective musical score and a fascinating blending of psychology and the supernatural more than balance them out. If the second half finishes as strong as the first half starts out then this could be one of the highlight releases of 2009.


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