Secret Santa Project Review – Ghost Hound

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Sure the Secret Santa Project only asks that a person pick, watch, and review one work in any given year but I don’t like the idea of missing a good series and Time of Eve was a spectacular movie; so, I dove into another pick from my Secret Santa – Ghost Hound. Can it continue the string of great anime that I’ve discovered or will it break the chain? Let’s find out.

Story

Set in rural small town Japan – think Higurashi and Shiki – our main character is a middle-school boy whose haunted by a horrific tragedy that happened to him when he was three. Being three he only has a few vague memories but knows the outline of what happened, namely, his older sister and he were kidnapped and his sister died from starvation because the kidnapper was accidentally killed before revealing the location of the kidnapped kids. And this inability to fully remember what happened appears to upset him almost as much as what actually happened. When a new therapist, from distance Tokyo, comes to the little town to start treating the main character, he decides that he will try whatever it takes to remember what happened and get closure. In the course of his treatment, the main character gets caught-up in a series of mysterious events that seem to signal the coming of something big.

Thoughts and impressions

The closer something gets to perfection, the easier it is to find faults in it or so it seems.

Does the word Chaos;Head send shivers down your spine? It should. Watching a very good anime series fall so completely apart at the end like Chaos;Head did scarred more than a few anime fans. It’s the reason so many people were leery of Steins;Gate and Robotics;Note. (Even with Steins;Gate being as great as it was, it alone couldn’t completely wash away the memories of Chaos;Head.) From a blogger standpoint Chaos;Head showed that I needed a way to note a series that flubs it’s ending and by how much. Hence the ‘Ending’ subscore and a peek at the scoring for Ghost Hound below shows some bad news.

Ghost_Hound_04There is plenty of like about Ghost Hound (which is why it earned the overall score it did) but the ending is what I’ve been turning over in my mind these last few days and is also what I first think now that I’ve finished with Ghost Hound. So, I’m going to start with it and try not to spoil the series for potential viewers. One of the reasons why I’ve been stuck pondering the ending is because it’s not a classically bad ending. Ghost Hound’s ending is not one of those open endings that actually signifies the inability of the creators to figure out an ending nor is it an ending that is really just a way to justify a second season nor is it an ending that fails to tie up the plot and story arcs of the series. It actually ties up many of the story arcs, gives the plot a conclusive feeling of closure, does not pull out the deus ex machina tricks, and it does not suffer from running out of a budget with a couple of episodes to go but I definitely felt disappointed by the ending. And it’s bugging me.

I’d be tempted to think that the happier-then-I-thought-possible ending was the reason for feeling disappointment but most of the happy parts were logical endpoints of what the series included before it got to the finale and the other parts didn’t stray away from being plausible. Nor have I been bothered in the past when a darker series works out a happier ending so it’s not a general dislike of that type of ending. If I would have to take a guess, I think having the series run only 22 episodes instead of 24 – 26 forced the creators to compress the ending just enough to make it not quite work and thus feel disappointing but that’s just a guess.

The failings with the ending marred what had been a near perfect run by Ghost Hound.

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My normal mode of anime consumption is watching shows on a weekly basis. I think on average it deepens my ability to appreciate the very good anime series and lessens my ability to watch the generic to bad anime series. Sometimes, though, watching a series on a weekly basis isn’t the best way to watch a series; Shiki is an example of this. I’ve watched it both ways and when it’s marathoned it became a very excellent, suspenseful series. With Ghost Hound being a slightly older series I had the option to watch it however I wanted and I planned to watch 2-4 episodes a day.

This is what happened.

The first day I watched 2 episodes. The second day I watched 8 episodes. The third day I watched the last 12 episodes. I could not stop watching Ghost Hound; if I had started early enough on day 2, I would have finished it that day.

Why did this happen?

Ghost Hound has many elements in common with other suspenseful series set in rural Japan so I felt like I would be familiar with what to expect but I obviously didn’t plan on getting sucked in as much as I was. One of the reasons for this stemmed from being actually and genuinely creeped out by Ghost Hound. The choice of sound effects and how they were used really contributed to Ghost Hound’s unsettlingly creepiness (and also because I watched this at night in a pitch dark room 🙂 ).

Another reason why I marathoned this as fast as I did came from the tight plotting of the overall series. After setting the series up in episode 1 there are no breaks – no hot springs or beach episodes – nor does it meander aimlessly around – there is no “filler” episodes – to sever the accumulated tension and allow the viewer to easily put Ghost Hound down. I was always ‘1 more episode’ at the end of each episode. I can only guess now but I think Ghost Hound is definitely good enough that waiting for the show on a weekly basis would have about killed me.

ghosthound15000Ghost Hound also did itself the favor of not featuring a loser male main character. I keep hoping this character-type would die out already but the continued popularity of Evangelion probably makes that an impossible wish. Actually, the easy path of changing a loser male main character into a cool male main character probably appeals to slacker writers who just want to create painless derivative or clichéd works populated with one-dimensional characters. Thankfully, Ghost Hound doesn’t fall into this trap; though, the male main character has ample reason to be that way. Instead, he contains an actual backbone and continues to strive towards a positive future while carrying his pain like a normal person would do.

So, instead of relying a very weak way to create “character development”, Ghost Hound works at defining the main character, his two eventual friends, and the other noteworthy major characters and minor as actual people and then lets them organically develop in response to what’s happening around them.

I could ramble on further – talk about how Ghost Hound’s animation style helped make it a more unsettling show, or the great vocal performances, or how the show was able to include a bunch of science and psychology information without bogging it down and making it relevant to what was happening onscreen, etc. – but this a good place to sum it all up. Even knowing the ending was a disappointment, Ghost Hound overall is just too good of an anime series to miss and is a definite must watch if one enjoyed the likes of Shiki or Another.

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Final Series Score: 10.5/12 Strong A
Rewatchablity: 3.5/5 – Medium
Ending: 1.5/5 – Disappointing
Animation: 3.5/5 – Very Good

This review was part of Reverse Thieves’ 2012 Secret Santa Project.

For a second opinion you can try The Nihon Review, KaminariAnime, OishiiAnime, Organization Anti-Social Geniuses, Paper Chimes, Mono no Aware, and Star Crossed Anime Blog.

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4 thoughts on “Secret Santa Project Review – Ghost Hound”

  1. I liked Ghost Hound and finished it on Netflix streaming; however that also meant watching the English dub without the option to toggle on the subtitles, so I missed out on some of the on-screen, text-heavy “info-dumps” that cropped up from time to time. The ending didn’t bother me, but then, I wasn’t put off by the ending of Chaos;head either.
    (but I WAS put off by the ending of Soul Eater, though…that was so incredibly weak and cliched! With that show you just have to take deep breaths and repeat “it’s the journey, not the destination…”)

    I liked the Ghost Hound well enough that I decided I would get it on Blu-Ray, and I look forward to re-watching it. Even though I prefer dubs to subs, I always flip on all the subtitles anyway, but especially prefer the special subtitles that explain Japanese textual information or cultural notes. I agree that Ghost Hound succeeds in being genuinely creepy in a way that makes my skin crawl. There are a number of characters and situations that are genuinely psychologically twisted in an interesting (if perverse) way.

    As for Shiki, it’s alright, I guess….I thought Part 1 gets bogged down way too much in all the medical babble. It fails at making the audience a participant in unraveling the mystery…because we’ve already been shown that this is NOT a plague or new disease, and watching the human characters stumble around in the dark until they finally conclude the same thing isn’t remotely entertaining. It’s dull and annoying and not good storytelling.

    So there’s that and the fact that the humans make some really dumb mistakes and don’t really get their act together to face the looming threat until well into Part 2. Maybe I would’ve enjoyed the series more if I had marathoned it as you have done. Instead I’ve been watching it over the course of several weeks as a local Anime club has been scheduling it for screening, watching it in 4 episode bursts. Some 4 episode stretches I’ve liked, others I haven’t. It’s very hit or miss. I won Shiki Part 1 in a special drawing at my Anime club and decided to go ahead and buy Part 2 just to have a complete set, even though I’m very lukewarm on the series as a whole.

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  2. Thanks for going easy on the ending. I went into Ghost Hound armed only with the knowledge that the ending was terrible, and honestly wasn’t that repulsed by it. Perhaps due to how much it had been built up I was underwhelmed by its terribleness. The separate ending score is much appreciated because while its certainly compressed the rest of the series is superb.

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  3. I watched it while ago and liked it quite much. I do not remember the ending now, but that also means that I do not remember any disappointment either.

    What it comes to Shiki, it was one of the few shows I actually dropped (after watching 10+ eps), it was so slow, cliche and boring. Another was OK, though I think Ghost Hound is much better. Also Another’s ending left me with some disappointment at least.

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