Ghost Hunt (Gōsuto Hanto)

Ghost Hunt (Gōsuto Hanto) 2006

Time for more supernatural anime!

Aside from that category, to my eye Ghost Hunt fits firmly in the YA genre (to use the literature terminology). There are things like the ‘absent parent’ trope, a focus on first love and our young heroes take centre-stage (in generally believable ways).

So to switch back to anime vocab for a moment, this is a great shoujo series that I wished had been given another season. Maybe like so much anime out there, was it always partially meant to be a gateway to other media forms, or maybe – more likely I think, it just wasn’t popular enough for JC Staff to afford another season? I’m finding it hard to find much in the way of contemporary reception for a ‘non-landmark’ show from 2006.

But I guess you could say that I have a soft spot for JC Staff productions, and this feels like one of their stand-outs. Based on a series of light novels from (you guessed it) the 1990s, Ghost Hunt was an anime I stumbled across during a bit of a supernatural binge I was on a fair while back now.

And I was quite happy to find Ghost Hunt, since it featured comedy and drama while being genuinely creepy at times. I wanted to take a moment to talk genre too, because it’s very much ‘suspense’ rather than horror, so depending on your tolerance, even if you don’t like shows that are meant to be scary, I’d say that Ghost Hunt is most often ‘spooky’.

Part of what keeps the tone generally lighter a lot of the time, is the focus on humour, with banter and ribbing between a large team of characters (folks who do care for each other) as they work to solve paranormal mysteries.

I think I was especially drawn to the folklore and mythology aspects too, plus the occasional historical storyline. The season only covers a handful of ‘cases’ but the pacing is taut enough that you’re pulled along through the various 3 or 4 episode-long arcs quite nicely, I reckon.

Visually, I certainly have no complaints and Mai and Kazuya are engaging characters, probably exactly what you’d expect for leads in the age-group, but the supporting cast I enjoyed as much. There’s even a Catholic priest from Australia, John Brown, who uses the Kansai dialect. I’m not sure if I’m remembering this correctly from other shows, but it seems that because the dialect is maybe a bit ‘broader’, then it is sometimes used for AU and UK characters in anime?

Not sure how good my memory/understanding is there at all – in fact, if anyone knows I’d be interested in your thoughts 🙂

To finish at last, this is a fun suspense anime with a bit of folklore, comedy and romance mixed in. Like so many series, sadly, it never gets a chance to reveal all its secrets in regards to a certain key character, since there was no follow-up season and thus you might finish it feeling a little short-changed in some ways.

3.5 Stars

There was the occasional use of old school techniques like this or the split screen, which I liked.

8 Man After (1993)

8 Man After is a short OVA series that I’d recommend to cyberpunk fans or folks who collect 1990s anime – especially if you crave a bit of violence, as it has what might now be called an ‘old-school’ violent anime feel. However, it’s not R-rated or anything, and there is a bit of character development and time spent on the setting too.

What I’ve been wondering about is to what extent the 8 Man After series is a response to things that came before.

And to discuss that, I think I have to jump back to the 1960s and 8 Man. Based on the manga by Kazumasa Hirai, the original iteration could be grouped into that robot boom in anime, the one that included Cyborg 009 and Astro Boy for instance. Tonally, those two shows might differ somewhat from 8 Man but again, I suspect modern audiences would find the ‘60s version of 8 Man somewhat ‘tame’ in some ways.

However, getting back to the ‘reactionary question’ I wanted to share a part of the premise I copied from Wikipedia:

Murdered by criminals, Detective Yokoda’s body is retrieved by Professor Tani and taken to his laboratory. There, Tani performs an experiment that has failed seven times; Yokoda is the eighth subject to have his life force transferred into an android body.

Sound at all familiar?

A cop murdered by street trash and returned to life as a robotic avenger – sounds nothing like Robocop, right?

Well, maybe if I look at the changing levels of onscreen violence in media during the 1960s to the 1980s and then further in to the good old grungy 1990s, then I think I can see what 8 Man After was going for. And after the grit of Robocop, maybe the teams at Ashi Productions and J.C. Staff felt that audiences wouldn’t accept a comparatively ‘clean cut’ cyborg revenge story?

In 8 Man After our hero Hazama is sometimes a little callous, and you could argue he must be in order to survive a city steeped in grime and corruption but the basic detective and cyberpunk tropes play out much as you might expect if you’re a fan of the genre.

Now that I’ve spent all those words putting the OVA into a bit of context, I should get to a few of the things I enjoyed; definitely the designs and fast pace, along with 8 Man himself, who had non-conventional abilities in some ways, but one of the things I remember most is the way American Football features in the story. There are a few links back to the original 8 Man too but I won’t spoil them here of course.

I was also interested to hear just how different the US and Japanese audio tracks were – my Diskotek release has both and while the US one is uptempo, semi-industrial techno at times, the original soundtrack can be perhaps a little more moody. Both suit the story but I really enjoyed the ending credits of the Japanese OST. I can’t actually find it on Youtube to share, so you have to trust me that it’s more interesting, I guess!

Ultimately, I don’t feel like the series has a whole host of flaws or anything and so maybe my rating might seem as though I didn’t enjoy the anime but that’s not true either, I think that instead, I found it more fascinating than enjoyable overall.

3 Stars

Ocean Waves (Umi ga Kikoeru)

Ocean Waves (Umi ga Kikoeru) 1993

Ocean Waves is a teen romance with a love triangle, which is where much of the drama comes from, though there are a few comedic moments too (like the bathtub-as-bed offer).

Compared to other Ghibli films it’s perhaps a little slight, being a bit shorter (as most TV movies are) and having a fairly narrow focus in terms of its story, but it’s still quite lovely visually.

Usually that’s enough for me to really enjoy an animated work on at least some levels but I can’t help but think of Rikako as a villain in most ways, which marred my enjoyment. Sure, it’s a story about teens and the things that hold them back from being honest… but still, I didn’t end up seeing her as someone Taku or Yutaka should have fallen for.

Having said all that, Ocean Waves is by no means a poor film and many folks regard it as an underappreciated part of the Ghibli catalogue. I guess it is in a way, since fewer people tend to mention it and I don’t believe it’s had a dub just yet. The ‘fathers’ of Ghibli were looking to develop successors in the early and mid 1990s and they had Tomomi Mochizuki in to direct Ocean Waves, and I recently learnt that other studios were involved in the actual production too.

Definitely worth a look for completionists perhaps, or maybe folks interested in 1990s Japan as there’s a bit of slice of life detail too.

3 stars

Babel II (Babiru Ni-sei) 1992

Babel II (Babiru Ni-sei) 1992

This is a fast-paced action OVA based on the 1971 manga.

It’s also the second of three adaptations of the source material, with a longer series in 1973 and a thirteen episode release in 2001. Here however, the OVA compresses the storyline pretty hard, rushing through events across four episodes.

Like a lot of early J.C Staff productions the budgets weren’t high compared to the current climate, and so you’ll see lot of repeated shots (especially in the final episode), pans across stills and other cost cutting techniques but it is interesting to see a show hold on to the 1970s aesthetic. It was also nice to see the really hard lines used for some of the freeze frames.

I also found it fun that a range of psychic abilities were the main aspect to the hero and villains’ powers and the action sequences, as it’s an area of speculative fiction that’s fallen well out of fashion I think. Again, due to the focus on battles and at first, some intrigue, Babel II isn’t one to watch if you’re seeking a lot of character development – though Juju does get a chance to evolve.

Elsewhere, I’d have loved some more variety when it came to the sound design because woah, the electricity/psychic-force sounds quickly grew abrasive for me. I think if you’re a fan of 1990s OVAs or more so Mitsuteru Yokoyama (Tetsujin 28-go, Giant Robo) then maybe take a look if you’re curious. If you’re after a more measured adaptation then I think the 1973 series would be the way to go.

3 Stars

Gude Crest – The Emblem of Gude (Onna Senshi Efe & Jīra: Gūde no Monshō)

Gude Crest – The Emblem of Gude (Onna Senshi Efe & Jīra: Gūde no Monshō) 1990

Gude Crest is a JC Staff one-shot OVA. It’s based on the high fantasy novels of Hikawa Reiko’s (Onna senshi Efera & Jiriora, 1989 -) and at 45 mins it really zooms through the story, so that’s a plus if you want something fairly old-school and fast-paced.

On the other hand, Gude Crest wasn’t blessed by a big budget. You’ll get a fair few pans across stills to establish the location and even a few repeated shots, though overall it’s not miles behind the studio’s Ellcia (released couple of years after). To my eye, care has mostly gone into character design and some of the fight sequences.

What I found most enjoyable was the characters and the world itself, since everything is presented pretty boldly, which makes sense given the running time. In a way, the heroines Efe and Jīra aren’t too far removed from say Charlies Angels or even the Dirty Pair, since their dynamic is pretty similar. You can see that mismatched partners/buddy-cop feel to their interactions at times, though the bickering isn’t always funny so much as just ‘on-screen’.

(I did notice the direction at times, there’s some great use of perspective or framing, like here with the candles in the temple)

Elsewhere the dialogue can be exposition-heavy and I suspect that’s partly because the adaptation starts more ‘in the middle’ of a book. Instantly, the characters are already well-defined but in contrast, there’s a lot of contextual info that seemed to be missing.

Still, it’s a short, fun fantasy story. And somehow, though it is less complex than say Ellcia, I think I enjoyed Gude Crest a little more. Even with a fairly anti-climactic finish in some ways, it just had more exuberance overall.

3 Stars

Ellcia (Gensō Jodan Elicia)

Ellcia is, for me, a somewhat standard ‘chosen one’ story with a few surprises nevertheless.

Ellcia (Gensō Jodan Elicia) 1992

It never gripped me but I still enjoyed it; there’s a nice mix of humour and action throughout, along with some striking visuals, even if the animation isn’t through-the-roof-good.

I also enjoyed the way the storyline opened up a little to reveal how certain characters were at cross-purposes, adding an extra element to what starts off as fairly a straight forward Good vs Evil tale.

At times, some aspects tended to feel a little rushed, particularly in the final episode, and maybe if Ellcia was closer to 12 shorter episodes that could have alleviated the issue for me, however, seeing the magical ship in action was always interesting and I loved its design. So too, for one of the main (somewhat) panther-like villains, who managed to make whiskers seem evil! On a related note, I couldn’t help feeling that the ‘motley’ look to the costumes of Ellcia’s crew didn’t signal ‘pirate’ as much as ‘circus clown’ at times?

Maybe a minor quibble – but the sum of its shortcomings weren’t enough to ‘ruin’ this lesser-known OAV series by any stretch, and so it’s a definitely ‘3 star’ kinda show I reckon. One of the reasonably early works of J.C.Staff, who you might recognise as being behind (among many others) shows like Revolutionary Girl Utena and Excel Saga.  

3 Stars