What They Say
When he was three, Taro Komori and his sister were kidnapped, but the kidnapper was run over and killed before the ransom could be delivered. The police eventually found Taro, but not before his sister died. Eleven years later, Taro still has nightmares of the events surrounding the kidnapping and is haunted by a tall, featureless specter. Now, Taro searches for answers in the Hidden Realm, but something sinister is brewing there. The spirits are restless and a malevolent ghost is appearing with increasing frequency. In the “real” world, an out of favor religious cult is finding dozens of new converts, especially among high ranking politicians. And just what the scientists at Dai Nippon Bio are up to is a question in need of an answer. Can Taro and his friends find the answers they need in time to save their friends and families? Unseen spirits, ghosts, and out-of-body experiences all combine in an intriguing exploration into the workings of memory and our perception of the world. Don’t miss the latest masterpiece from Masamune Shirow and Production I.G: Ghost Hound!
Ghost Hound’s Blu-ray release contains the new English language dub in addition to the original Japanese track, both of which are in 5.1 using DTS-HD Master Audio. Ghost Hound has a really great audio mix and the lossless mix here really takes the already strong tracks from the DVD and shows us just how much more it can be. There’s a lot of surround sound going on here that makes it very immersive, giving it the feeling of something very creepy and atmospheric. The dialogue is just as well done with some great placement and depth as the dialogue really carries many scenes in combination with the rest of the mix. This is one of those shows that very effectively uses its sound design to enhance the show overall.
Originally airing in late 2007 to early 2008, the transfer for this series is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 in 1080i (which is what the masters are in) using the VC-1 codec. The twenty-two episode series is spread across three discs with nine on the first two and the fourth volume has the last four episodes. Ghost Hound has a really good earthy and dark look to it and the transfer here really captures it well with a very solid look to it. There are areas of banding to note at times that looks to be in the source itself but it doesn’t turn to blocking or excessive noise. I liked the DVD release when I saw it though it had a harder time with the darker backgrounds, something that’s not an issue here as everything looks much cleaner and lets the source material shine well.
Ghost Hound is released in a standard single sized Blu-ray case with a hinge inside that helps to hold two of the three discs. The DVD covers didn’t exactly thrill me but this one takes it down a notch more as it shows just some of the architectural aspects of the show with an old torii in the background while the cold corpse-like image is in the foreground with all the deep gray colors. The background has a lot of reds to it that adds a bit of foreboding but the cover really doesn’t do a good job of selling the show in the slightest, unfortunately. They do push what the show’s creator, Masamune Shirow has done, and a nice nod that it does have a new English dub and how many episodes across the total number of discs. The back cover does a bit better of a job selling the show though getting someone to turn it over based on the front cover will be a challenge. The soft tan background allows the black text to be easily readable and there are a few character shots along with some small, very small in fact, pictures from the show itself. I was particularly glad to see a good mention of some of the voice actors to help promote the dub. The bottom third of the back cover offers up some of the projects backgrounds and a look at the production credits for the Japanese release and who was involved in the English release. The technical grid is solid across the board though as we’ve learned, there was a mistake in listing it as 1080p when it’s actually 1080i as per the original source materials. No show related inserts are included nor is there a reversible cover.
The menu design for the release is pretty similar to the DVD release in that there’s a full breakdown of the episode numbers along the left side against an almost parchment-like design for the background. The other part of the menu uses the character artwork that we’ve seen on the DVD covers which has the primary cast of characters that’s done in a really good illustration style that gives it a lot of appeal. The layouts are simple and easy to access and submenus load quickly and without problem. The discs didn’t read our players’ language presets though as it defaulted to English language with the sign/song subtitles.
The only extras included in this release are the clean versions of the opening and closing sequences.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Based off an original idea by Masamune Shirow back in 1987, which ties in really nicely to things being part of Production I.G.’s 20th-anniversary event back in 2007, Ghost Hound is a twenty-two episode series that will alternately bore you to tears or have you laugh out loud at certain visuals. I’m a huge fan of Shirow, and I like how his works get adapted out of his hands into something just as intriguing, but he’s had his share of misses over the years as well and the first half of Ghost Hound feels like one really big miss.
Ghost Hound takes place in the sleepy little mountain town of Suiten, which is along the mountainous area of Kyushu. It’s a very quiet place where small town politics are amusing, everyone knows everybody else and when things go badly, well, the blame is something that permeates that particular person of family for what seems like an eternity. The series revolves around three middle school students who all have some form of trauma in their lives so far. Taro was part of a kidnapping when he was younger that was the cause of his younger sisters death, Makoto’s father killed himself years earlier after that kidnapping though he doesn’t appear to have been involved and Masayuki transferred from Tokyo with a fear of heights caused when he used to bully someone who ended up falling off of a rooftop to his death. The trauma for all three has deeply impact who they are, and while they don’t get along at first, they do eventually find some common ground.
Interestingly, it’s Masayuki who is the initial driving force as he’s found the rumors and stories of Suiten to be fascinating and discovers that both Makoto and Taro have ties to these events. Obnoxious at first, because of his Tokyo attitude and the way he’s so blunt with things, he eventually is able to get closer to both of them and they sort of joke around about their traumas and the things that make them who they are. Taro is dealing with his out of body experience dreams, Masayuki plays video games that deal with heights in order to try and conquer his fear while Makoto is trying to find out more about his father and who he really was, which can be quite dangerous in a small town environment.
One of the interesting factors to the story is that the town has a history involving a dam that was built quite some time ago which ended up leaving a big chunk of a town in ruins, covered in mud and left to rot. There’s a fascination with a hospital that’s there which has all kinds of stories associated with it. In fact, Makoto’s father is tied to it when he and friends went there when young, which also brings in connections to other people who have grown up since then and have various positions in the town and possibly know the details of what happened back then. There are a lot of little secrets that are on the verge of being discovered throughout the show which gives it a feeling very reminiscent of Kaze no Yojimbo.
When the show moves fully into the paranormal material by having the three kids perform OBE’s, or out of body experiences, we start to see more of the Hidden World as opposed to the Visible World that we normally inhabit. It’s through these trips that the trio start to work through their issues, since flying in this form helps Masayuki for example and Makoto starts to learn of his father’s past while talking to others. Calling it soul travel, they explore a fair bit of the countryside and discover ghost spirits of extinct animals and more while also starting to see things from their own pasts that still haunt them, particularly the image of the spirit of the man who was involved in the kidnapping that got hit by a truck when he ran. It’s filled with some terribly creepy moments that really do put you somewhat on edge.
Once the setup phase of the show finishes, things start to progress more and more into the realm of the strange and unusual before it picks up some steam to resolve everything. The slow pace of the first half did leave the impression that there wasn’t much plot to it and the second half, unfortunately, reinforces that as it meanders heavily here as well, where when it gets to the end you realize that this is what the show was actually all about. There’s a real lack of focus with Ghost Hound because of how it meanders, which can be good for some series, but here it was too much.
Much of these the second half focuses on the characters trying to find what they’re looking for if they’re prominent enough characters. Some, like Michio, are little more than set props to be used during a couple of scenes. Taro is continuing his journey to find his sister as he believes that she may be alive somehow or that Miyako may be the reincarnation of his sister. Masayuki is doing what he can to find his place within his family, especially since his mother is zoned out most of the time and his father is consumed by his work at the bioresearch facility. Makoto is similar as he’s trying to find his place within a family that he despises since he believes his father was responsible for the kidnappings eleven years ago and he’s fighting against the destiny that his grandmother is putting on him when it comes to the shrine. And Miyako is simply trying to figure out who she really is as almost everyone thinks she’s someone else.
Taro’s story has been at the center of things since the start but it manages to be really weak here since all the good material came in the first set. His search for his sister had a lot of revelations about the hazy mysterious person involved in it and there were some good action moments to be had as they confronted it before. This time, there’s some minor nods to it, but he spends more of his time thinking that Miyako is her reincarnation and that only serves to conflict both of them. Miyako has it worse as she feels possessed at times by the Lord of One Word which causes her to be taken in by the Ogami family after an accident as their new high priestess and prophet. Forecasting the return of the Dragon God, Miyako spends a lot of her time blanked out in this collection.
The more interesting stories involved Masayuki and Makoto. Masayuki is trying to discover what it is his father is up to and that leads him to explore the bioresearch facility in his soul travel form. This ties into what Taro is learning about the brewery where he discovers life being created there in the mix that Kei and his father are working on. With Masayuki, he’s understanding what it is that Reika and his father are making with the bioid life forms that are essentially computer controlled skin/organ sacs that are lifeless. But therein lies the real discussion of the series, or at least the real meaty section, as it talks about what really is life and whether these bioids are truly alive or not. With the soul travel side and the ability of the kids to see the creatures of the hidden realm that are out there, understanding what the bioids are makes it pretty creepy as they try to find their way out of the lab and to become truly alive in a way.
Makoto’s story is the one that feels the most concrete here as he’s trying to come to grips with his family issues. When Taro heads to Kumada to apologize to Kei, Makoto goes with him to confront his mother about what happened in the past as well as to put an end to her, thereby ending his suffering. His mother is an interesting character, as is the Kaibara person that has been spending time with her and has some odd moments in the Hidden Realm, but she does provide some revelations – to others – that helps explain why she did what she did with Makoto when he was young. Makoto also makes a really nice discovery about his father when he visits Taro at his house and finds that their fathers were friends in Tokyo years and years ago. Makoto has the hardest time of anyone here it feels like because of how estranged he is with his family so seeing him work through it and get some answers and resolution in his stoic way was a highlight in a show with few of them.
All the little events eventually build up towards the climax, which doesn’t get all that much time itself when it finally comes about. Using Miyako as their prophet, she tells of the coming of the Dragon God and that helps the “cult” to gain more followers quickly. There’s an interesting angle that’s not played up much about the people backing the Ogami’s on this but like a lot of the show, the interesting elements get little attention. The climax of the series does try to tie together different things that have been covered throughout as well as trying to make sure each character’s individual arc is dealt with. When it all does come together at the very end, it has that too-forced of a feeling where you have most everyone coming together and realizing the various morals of the story.
I’m of two minds when it comes to the visual design of the show. On the positive side, the characters have a very strong real world look to them for the most part which is complement by some great settings. It feels like an extension of When They Cry in a sense because of the locale, but it feels a bit more oppressive and not quite as lush which works in its favor, giving it a more earthy feel that gets into your skin. The character designs are very appealing to me in how they’re portrayed, move and interact with the world. Where they lose me though is their soul travel forms when they go out of body. They’re so comical looking that they push it beyond that realm of disbelief that I can suspend. It just makes me laugh.
Watching Ghost Hound the first time left me feeling very uncertain about it as it was the kind of show that really took awhile to get to the point. Some shows can effectively use a slow moving premise to their advantage and keep you engaged. Watching the characters interact and explore their situations can make a show work well. Ghost Hound unfortunately just couldn’t do that as the story moves so slowly and the characters have so little to really attract you to them that it falls apart fairly easily. It has potential and can go somewhere, but where it lost me the most is when they started the out of body experiences and use such unusual designs for that form. It didn’t create the intended effect as it simply made me laugh and took me out of the show entirely, something that was hard to get back into again afterward. Ghost Hound has a lot to offer if you go into it with the right perspective, but two viewings of the series have only reinforced my opinion that it’s really not for me.
Japanese DTS HD-MA 5.1 Language, English DTS HD-MA 5.1 Language, English Subtitles, Clean Opening, Clean Closing
Content Grade: C
Audio Grade: A
Video Grade: A-
Packaging Grade: B
Menu Grade: B
Extras Grade: B-
Released By: Sentai Filmworks
Release Date: September 14th, 2010
Running Time: 550 Minutes
Video Encoding: 1080p AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Widescreen
Sony KDL70R550A 70″ LED 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.