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[personal profile] salinea
All right, enough with the slacking!

Ghost Hunt



Young teenage girl Mai likes telling ghost stories with her friends. Someday a supernatural investigation is launched at her high school, and after a mishap where the assistant investigator is injured, she finds herself replacing him in helping 17 year old head investigator Naru (short for Narcissist, due to his charming and remarkably humble personality, nicknamed by Mai and everyone followed up through on that ^_^) in this investigation an later on taking on a part time job officially at the Shibuya Psychic Research Center.

Adapted from a series of light novels by Fuyumi Ono (aka the writer of 12 Kingdoms), Ghost Hunt is made by a series of a few episodes long case stories. The cases are pretty classical haunting and ESP based stories, and never very surprising, but all very solidly told in terms of pacing, atmosphere and storytelling and as a result very successfully enjoyable and entertainingly creepy, each one better than the previous one. They also manage well to be credibly build their world in a way that made me want to reach for my Second Sights book to play nWoD: Ghost Hunters, if you see what I mean.

There's also a definite appeal to the cast dynamics. Naru is a pretty amusing character - a rather antisocial, extremely intelligent, exigent and dry-witted young man - and he plays up to Mai - your ordinary cheerful high school girl with a spine and lots of natural curiosity - in a very entertaining way. The secondary characters - we've got a kind hearted Australian Catholic priest, a laid-back and fashionable Buddhist monk, a Shinto priestess with a bad temper, a famous Medium girl with a traditional demeanour; and Naru's protective and laconic assistant - also all have their appeal and their moment to shine.

Although it's not show where i can point out one thing and say : "this is why it's awesome", I really enjoyed watching it all the way through, it's just solid and well done overall. The animation is also excellent and very fluid, and the musical atmosphere quite good.

One of the only bad point i have against it is that the series ended short of adapting one of the key reveal from the light novel, which I had to go find out on the internet (there's manga adaptation which does go until there, for the curious) - and it's a shame because that's one reveal that made me even more interest in the characters and their relationship.

Ghost Hound



In a small village, eleven years go, Taro and his older sister were kidnapped and imprisoned in the disaffected hospital beneath the dam, and when their kidnapper died unexpectedly when he was chased by the police, it was three days before they were found. Taro's sister was dead then. Nowadays he's a 14 years old boy whose whole family is still trying to get over the trauma of what happened. When a new boy from Tokyo, Masayuki, who likes asking uncomfortable questions spurs Taro and another boyfrom the village, Makoto, whose father may have been involved in the kidnapping before killing himself; to go back together to the deserted hospital in an effort to exorcise their fear and the mysteries from the past, they all end up having an Out of Body Experience, opening up to the Unseen World.

All right, as you see it's not exactly a simple premises, it's got a lot of texture, a lot of interesting and intriguing details interwoven thematically. The pacing is pretty slow, but it's got gripping atmosphere served by some of the most creepy sound effect I've ever seen. The characters are all very well realised and compelling. They play onto your average anime archetypes, yet feel much more realistic (and flawed) than that, while still ending up making you feel concerned with them. The somewhat claustrophobic setting in a small village where everyone knows everyone also works great.

In terms of the main mystery, I found the end of the story a bit of a disappointment, with a rather anticlimactic ending which didn't end up solving as much as I hoped it would. In fact, the true emotional climax of the story is three episodes before the actual ending, playing up to the psychological and character development which was the true highlight of the story. Despite the disappointment in the overall story, it's still got some really effective ideas, mixing psychological, quantum physic, biological and mythological concepts from right and left and building up a fascinating tension, interweaving characters and thematics in a great way.

The animation and graphics are top notch, and a pleasure to see. I love how they designed the Unseen World, full of old extinct species done with very lovely CGI. I really love the OP, too.


The main characters from Ghost Hound : sweet and cute Taro, nosy and cocky Masayuki, troubled boy with an attitude Makoto, and Miyako, a sensible elementary school girl and daughter of the local Shinto priest who sometimes gets possessed.

(so yes, I did review the two Horror anime with very similar names together on purpose ^_^)

12 Kingdoms

Jun. 5th, 2008 12:25 am
salinea: (Default)
[personal profile] salinea
12 Kingdoms starts with that good ol' trope : a young girl from our world is transported into a fantasy world where she has an important and mysterious role to play, around which various intrigues, adventures and magic revolve. The young girl is Youko, a nice obedient girl who has the flaw of wanting everyone to like her - if you're a HP fan fond of Remus as a big part of my flist is, you'll know what that mean - and she was carried away along with two of her school mate, one of which is another girl, Sugimoto, who is a big fan of fantasy novels herself and wants nothing but be carried into that world of magic, persuaded that she'll finally find there a place to belong (the other is the second girl's boyfriend and has very little personality and plot relevance so don't mind him). Quickly after travelling, they are, because of a fight, separated from the man who had made them cross over and find themselves stranded in a world which they know nothing about, and on which their status as travellers from another world makes them subject to pursuit and imprisonment.

However the anime as a whole presents several stories, only another one deals directly with the same character as the first (the others center around secondary characters from the first story or new characters altogether) - giving a bit of strange feeling to the pacing of the series as a whole. Both the opening and ending songs are gorgeous pieces that really help the immersion.

In terms of characters, the story intrigued me immediately by intentionally setting its characters as not very likeable. Most of the major protagonists are presented as flawed people - not in the glorified anti-heroic way of gritty fantasy - but with the essential pettiness, self-delusions, small hypocrisies and selfishness of teenagers. Their depiction is very stark and raw, but not without compassion for the hardships they suffer from. I liked seeing them grow out of those weaknesses and learning to face their responsabilities in all their forms, to blossom into better people. There's a certain feeling to this theme of responsability and maturing which reminded me of Utena, although the treatment is very different. Overall the characters are very nuanced, believable and differenciated.

In terms of story, it is very entrancing and tightly paced (a lot of episodes end up on cliffhangers!). Once we get to the part with more ambitious plotting it is also well constructed if not exactly complex. There was at least one point which surprised me when they completely glossed over what could have been a major epic moment summarizing in a short voice-over, but we got paid back on that with another epic moment in the sequel story. The storytelling, however, is mostly focussed on the evolution of the various characters which it does very well.

The world building of the 12 Kingdoms is pretty interesting. It's fairly low key magically. A lot of the details revolve around the concept of government chosen by the Heavens, what happens when it goes wrong, and the difficulties in making it work right, which might sound silly but is examined with a lot of earnestness and gravity as one of the central theme of the story and end up being rather fascinating as such, even as its political blindspots could occasionally be frustrating. There are also a lot of creatures, wolf-like, horse-like, bird-like and plain chimera, which look gorgeous and totally appealed to my inner 12 year old. The graphic design of the world is also beautiful and works well. There's a certain abuse of exotic terms and names which can be sometimes be hard keeping track of, but I couldn't figure if that was a genuine issue of the writing, or an effect of using those words without translating them in the adaptation (which was fansubs, of course). My other main criticism is that for all that it's got 12 kingdoms, most of them remain unused and have zero differentiation between them apart from which King or Queen rules over them.

There's a couple of excellent ideas such as the fact that this is a world in which people get born from fruits of a special tree. I kinda fell in love with this idea because I think it's got ginarmous potential to explore issues about gender and sexuality in a way that's very pertinent in a fantasy world without having the boys of the old boys' club of sexist fantasy complaining about the lack of realism. Sadly, the story doesn't much explore this idea - there's a couple of clever throwaway lines about different kinds of marriage contracts and how they're used by people and that's about it. All of the couples we see are also heteronormative.

The gender dynamics of the series in general are a bit ambiguous. Definitely, they don't mean to show female characters as having less status or power in this world (except maybe in the Kingdom of Kei for very specific reasons), and the stories portray a lot of strong female characters as main protagonists. However the way that two Queens (one crowned the other consort) had their fatal flaws being their jealousy of other women left a rather bitter taste in my mouth. My overall impression is positive, it's just that it had the couple of WTF moments.

12 Kingdom is about an old trope, to some amount it did some acknowledgement of the escapist aspects of that trope, and some genuine effort to try to subvert it - but I don't think it was entirely successful. It also fell into that trap of telling the same story over and over. You know how in Darkover at least half of the books revolve around the story of a Terran, or someone who was raised among Terrans for reasons x or y goes onto Darkover, and discover telepathic powers and the culture there? Well, a good part of 12 Kingdoms gave me the impression of telling again and again the story of someone from Japan transplanted (for reason x or y) the 12 Kingdoms and having to discover the rules of that world and their own role in it. For all of that, it was a very interesting use of that trope and the best of those I've had the occasion of watching in anime (the others I know of being Fushigi Yuugi, Escaflowne and the first episodes of Kyou Kara Maoh...)

In conclusion a very good series well worth watching and very immersive, with strong and fascinating characters and a lovely examination of the themes of responsibility, admission of one's flaws and growing up. And pretty creatures/monsters ♥

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