I'm back with a ton of goodies to recommend. I have been meaning to come on over and share some wondrous good stuff I've unearthed, but real life has a way of putting a damper on everything. But I am here. Now.
Let's not waste time with small talk and my paltry excuses! Let's get to the main course.
What do I have for you?
I wanted to write a Halloween post but didn't, but this is wonderful for any dark night: it's an anime called "Ghost Hunt." It's available in the original Japanese on Netflix and it should be watched late at night in a dark room... Think of it along the lines of a Scooby-Doo gang-meets X-files, meets Ghostbusters, but in anime and you can get mildly close to what this is about. It's awesomeness. What a cool series. Considered horror, but not too gory, this anime is about a group of people referred to as spiritualists. Based on a series by Shiho Inada, the anime consists of the adventures of Mai, a young teenage girl who is revealed to be rather sensitive to spiritual phenomena, as she works for a mysterious guy called Naru (for Narcisssist- a nickname that sticks...) at the Shibuya Psychic Research Center. Together, including an intriguing Chinese assistant called Lin, Takigawa, or simply "Bou-san," a formally trained Buddhist monk who also moonlights as the member of a rock band, sensitive spiritualist and famous medium Masako, abrasive and hilarious shrine maiden Ayako, and Australian Catholic priest John Brown (with his adorable Kansai accent), they investigate several unusual cases.
|Shibuya Psychic Research Center...and associates?|
What I really like about this series is the nice balance between the relationships and the actual stories. The interplay between both is well done. Mai has a spirit guide of sorts that points her in the right direction regarding difficult cases. She only sees him in her sleep and he takes the shape of Naru. Is he Naru or someone else taking a pleasing form so that she'll notice? I like that she ponders this as well. It's cute how she notices her spirit guide smiling sweetly and then looks at Naru and thinks, "Ugh...no way...what a grouch." Her confusion is ours as well. She's as new to all this phenomena as we are. In fact, one of the ways explanations about certain legends and psychic phenomena are conveyed is by using Mai's inexperience and unfamiliarity with the field to introduce different topics to the viewers. It doesn't seem too contrived.
I also like Mai. She may have a big crush on Naru, but it doesn't stop her from speaking up when she disagrees with him and she certainly doesn't mope around because of her apparently unrequited crush. I love her dynamics with the other characters, especially Bou-san.
|So you may wonder how it is that a high school girl can keep skipping out of school to go off on these adventures. She addresses this. I like that. Respect your audience!|
|Bou-san. He is so awesome. Proof that you can be bad-ass AND a good guy.|
|Masako is a medium with her own TV show, but she's the real deal.|
|Ayako, the Shrine Maiden. Her skill seems to be that she is a grown-up more than a spiritualist, but she amazes everyone. Wait and see.|
|John Brown is so very sweet and helpful. He needs more of a story to him.|
|Lin's got that moody bishie thang going. I don't mind: carry on.|
|The outwardly efficient and cool Naru has many secrets...|
Bou-san might be my favorite character- aware of his skills, limitations, and strengths, he is not arrogant or cocky. He is very kind and insightful, but at the same time has a bit of an edge and a sense of humor. (And he's eye candy. As is Lin. *Sigh*)
Lin's got the Chinese juju thing going on, with the mysticism cloaked by a professional and cool demeanor. There's an interesting exchange between Mai and Lin when she confronts him over his dismissive attitude towards her. He states he dislikes the Japanese because of past atrocities committed against the Chinese by the Japanese. And here I think Mai handles the situation very well. She gets understandably upset by this, but instead of going all emo or crumpling into tears or getting all preachy, she acknowledges the ugliness of the past, but then states something great: you can hate me if you want, but hate because you can't stand me for being me- not because I am Japanese. This kind of catches Lin off guard and things get a bit better from there. But the anime doesn't even scratch the surface of Lin's story. All we know is that he stays beside Naru as some sort of request from his parents, to whom he is very devoted, apparently.
I like Ayako a lot too- and while she has a lot of skills, she never seems to be very effective when she employs her ghost chasing techniques. The audience notices this and the characters allude to it until she's finally called out for being so ineffective. And then something awesome happens. I won't spoil it, but Ayako turns out to be very gifted- she just needs certain elements nearby.
Masako and Mai have a little romantic rivalry going on. While Masako openly picks on Mai and refuses to admit they are on friendly terms, there is affinity and affection between the girls. Mai is key in assisting Masako during one of the story arcs. Masako is gentle and sweet, but at the same time she seems to have something on Naru. Mai gets this too- and she's itching to know what Masako has on him to make him agree to so many of her requests.
John Brown is, in my opinion, the least developed character. He's more like a sidekick, a supporting character, who lends his exorcising expertise whenever needed. I like the fact that despite the fact he is fluent in Japanese, he has a Kansai accent, which cracks up the others. I found that little dynamic endearing.
Mai and Naru's relationship is complicated. Naru is reserved; he does not display much emotion. He is even a bit cold and dismissive. His real name is Kazuya, but Mai gives him the nickname "Naru" for narcissist...and it sticks. Mai is intrigued by him and curious. She is more observant, though, and we are spared some painful reciprocated romance playing out. It is unclear whether or not Naru shares some of those warm, fuzzy feelings. Although he appears to Mai in her visions/dreams, mai isn't certain it is really Naru. Masako, however, makes an interesting point, though, that may hint at a closeness Naru shares with Mai: Mai is the one he addresses without a honorific. It annoys Masako, who is treated with formality and respect. He also seems to understand things about Mai that she does not, such as her affinity with the spirit world, and he does aim to look out for her well being in subtly caring ways. The series ends before the manga does, as most anime seems to do, so we are left with little development regarding their relationship. However, the stage is set for much more...
Mai does need some saving, but not just from Naru- Lin injures himself saving her in the first episode, thus creating the opportunity for her to become Naru's assistant for a while. Bou-san is also amazing in this aspect- but being a cool guy, he also teaches Mai to defend herself with sutras. Ayako also teaches her some evil warding moves and Mai is actually able to defend herself better and contribute. In fact, it feels like everyone is looking out for each other and while Mai needs some saving from baddies, she does some awesome saving and helping herself. They all realize that Mai has latent abilities as the series progresses, and it is treated as a normal thing she needs to figure out better.
Another thing I like about this series is how they go about the actual cases. Naru is all science and skepticism. I mean, yes- ghosts, demons, spirits, all that is given as real. But Naru is adamant about ruling out other causes. In the beginning of the series, his analysis of why the school house is so apparently haunted and apparently cursed with unfortunate accidents, points to perfectly normal phenomena: building on swamp ground that causes the structure to be unstable and shift, human error, etc. It wasn't just: here's a haunting! let's chase it! Ok, it may have often gone that way, but not until Naru had recorded and analyzed and hypothesized, and played the skeptic for a while.
I enjoyed all the cases, which lasted from two to several episodes. Some were downright eerie, such as The Bloodstained Labyrinth story arc, others were heartbreaking, such as Silent Christmas, and others are just humorous and heartfelt, such as Ghost Story in the Park!?All the episodes are good. All of them provide more insight into the characters while telling a chilling tale.
I am now trying to find the manga so I can find out what happens beyond the anime. And so I can oogle Bou-san and Lin some mooooooore...