When there's something strange in your neighbourhood, who're ya gonna call? No, not the Ghostbusters - they went bust years ago. Instead you want the Shibuya Psychic Research Centre, who will send the young and very good-looking Kazuya Shibuya to solve all your paranormal problems. High-school student Mai Taniyama finds herself getting drawn into Kazuya's work when she interrupts an investigation he's carrying out at her school...
What they say
The appeal of the unknown is undeniable and freshman Mai Taniyama is hooked. This fact, coupled with her burgeoning psychic powers, leads Mai to join the ranks of the Shibuya Psychic Research team. Led by enigmatic Kazuya "Naru" Shibuya, she works alongside a spirit medium and a shrine maiden, an exorcist and a monk to uncover the darkest mysteries of the unseen. Using state of the art technology and their respective spiritual gifts, evil is confronted and vanquished time and again.
Audio for this release comes in both Japanese and English 2.0 stereo – I listened to the Japanese track for this release, and apart from occasional placement of effects isn't that much to write home about. The series is more focussed on its stories than its presentation, usually, and that lets the side down a little.
Video comes in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen, and is a fairly solid transfer. The series is pedestrian for the most part, which means there isn't much need for fancy animation or anything that could tax the visuals. It's also heavy on darker scenes, which reduces the need or opportunity for much in the way of lavish backgrounds and such like. Overall, though, it's a decent looking release – just don't expect much in the way of visual fireworks.
No packaging was provided with our review copy.
Menus on both discs in the set are fairly simple affairs – a static image (Ayaka and a wolf-like creature on disc one, Masako against a background of burning skulls on disc two), with options provided for Play All, Episodes, Audio and (one disc two only) Extras. It's pretty much what I expect on DVDs these days – quick and easy to use.
There's a decent selection of extras with the set, all contained on disc two. First up is a slideshow of pages from the Ghost Hunt manga, released by Del Rey – this gives you a feel for what the manga looks like, but even on my 37" TV the text on the pages was a bit too small to be readable. There's also a set of character case files giving short bios of the minor characters, a set of screenshots showing the ghosts and spirits encountered in these episodes, and a set of trailers.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review will contain spoilers)
There's nothing Mai Taniyama and her friends enjoy more than a good ghost story - and their school seems to have more than its fair share based around it. One day, 17-year-old Kazuya "Naru" Shibuya crashes a story-telling session, and immediately rouses Mai's suspicions - she's convinced he's more than he appears, and she's rght: Naru has been sent to the school by the Shibuya Psychic Research Centre to investigate paranormal activity at the school, which some say was built on the site of a World War II military hospital. When Mai's own invstigations of one of the school's supposedly haunted buildings leads to one of Naru's assistants being injured, Mai's drafted in to replace him - and after learning that Naru's a real-life Ghost Hunter, she's got no objections. The school principal seems to be a firm believer in keeping his options open, though, and Naru's not the only expert on the unusual he's brought in...
That's a good summary of the first of Ghost Hunt's story arcs. There's only one standalone episode in the series (episode 11, which is also the show's comedy interlude), with the rest split into a number of multi-episode arcs, of which there are 4 in this set. The basic idea of each arc is the same, though – introduce a mystery, persuade the eternally-sceptical Naru to investigate it, then follow the exploits of him and his team in unravelling what's really going on. It's a whodunt it, wrapped in occult clothing, and how much you get out of it will depend on how you react to smug investigators who claim to know it all.
Of course, there are no cases that Kazuya hasn't solved - he's quite the little Mr Perfect (or Narcissistic Naru-chan, as Mai calls him) – but even so he does rely on his array of occult experts from time to time. They are Ayako Matsuzaki, a Shinto shrine maiden (although looking a bit old to be one); Buddhist monk Houshou Takigawa, unbelievably young Catholic priest and exorcist John Brown, and TV spritualist Masako Hara. They're officially joined by Mai at the end of the first arc, after she proves to Naru that she possesses an uncannily accurate sense of intuition that he finds useful. This motley crew are all intended to work together, but they often all end up trying to do things their own way, with plenty of bickering and arguing as a result. Add in that Mai, Ayaka and Masako all have a romantic interest in Naru, and there's plenty of opportunities to be sidetracked, often in ways that aren't all that entertaining to watch.
The stories don't manage to get it quite right, either. The key to a good mystery is to pitch the solution just right - you want your audience to be able to figure it out before the hero, but not so soon that they lose interest. You also don't want it to be so convoluted or illogical that the viewer ends up scratching their head and wondering "wtf!?". Ghost Hunt somehow conspires to do both... I had the opening arc figured from around the 10-minute mark of episode one, thanks to one fairly obvious line, but come the end of episode three when Kazuya explained his reasoning behind the strange events at the school, his explanation made absolutely no sense whatsoever – he and I had come to the same conclusion, but for different reasons, and I made more sense. That surely can't be right. While the later arcs are structured a little better, it's still often too easy to pick out the real "villain" of the piece, and once you've settled in your own mind what's really going on in an arc and who's behind it, the rest of the arc becomes something of a chore to watch.
It's the characters that save the show from becoming too tedious, thankfully. They may have issues, but they're a varied bunch who are interesting in their own rights. While they each start off as freshly-minted archtypes, they're developed as the series progresses and by the end of the set each has their own personality, their own strengths and weaknesses, that keeps the show's focus from being too much centred on Narcissistic Naru (and the nickname is well-earned).
The end result is competent without being anything special. It's well-presented, the stories seem reasonably well though-out, but none of the story arcs reach out to grab you, and while the main characters are a decent bunch I don't know that it's worth picking up the show just to see them. One to try before you buy.
Japanese Language 2.0, English Language 2.0, English Subtitles, Ghost Hunt manga pages, Character Case Files, Ghost Sightings, Trailers
Toshiba 37X3030DB 37" widescreen HDTV; Sony PS3 Blu-ray player (via HDMI, upscaled to 1080p); Acoustic Solutions DS-222 5.1 speaker system.