I’ve had a hard time finding out exactly what Masamune Shirow’s role was in producing this 22-episode series, but I can tell you that his trademark themes are all over it. Whereas Ghost in the Shell was about the soul of the machine and Appleseed was about the soul of society, Ghost Hound is about the human soul and our ignorance of its properties and capabilities. At the end of the day there are no pat answers, and that may disappoint some, but this journey of exploration is well worth taking.
The story follows three teenage boys, Taro, Makoto, and Masayuki, as they explore the tragedies in their pasts and learn to experience the “hidden realm” through a series of out of body experiences. The show also involves a war between various Shinto sects and the activities of a large medical R&D firm, but the core of the story is Taro’s loss of his older sister at the hands of a mysterious kidnapper 11 years before the events in the series. That inciting incident ripples through the story and helps to keep the disparate plot lines together. The whole thing begins to fall apart dramatically when the mysteries of the past are ignored in favor of the mysteries of the present, but that really only happens toward the end. I get the sense that series writer Chiaki Konaka was told to wrap things up quickly as the series languishes for quite some time before rocking down a random tangent toward the end. It works, in a way, but the bio-industrial stuff really does seem like it was tacked on at the end. Yes, it reinforces the theme, but it also takes us away from the pivotal relationships in the show. Maybe that’s due to the fact that Masayuki’s relationship with his family is largely ignored for most of the series, only to come to the forefront near the end.
The art direction of the series is wonderfully unique, with character designs that are similar to other anime series’ but also different enough to set this show apart. I noticed there was no black used in any of the character models. In its place are dark greys. I’m not sure if this was a choice that was intended to reinforce thematic material or not but it made me think I needed to adjust the contrast on my TV. Then I’d notice lots of black used in the backgrounds and decide otherwise. Since Ghost in the Shell art director Hiromasa Ogura was in charge, I have to think that the choice was just that – a choice and not a mistake – but I didn’t like the overall effect. That’s picking nits, though, for a show that looks as good overall as this one does.
It also sounds fantastic. This is one of those few instances when its obvious that a true sound designer worked on it. Taro has a small crystal radio set that he fools with at night. The garbled radio transmissions become a sonic theme for the series, representing the other world of the soul and how we need to tune ourselves to it in order to experience the other plane of existence. Every show opens with a recap of the previous episode, but with all of the dialogue replaced by electronically garbled speech. It’s quite effective at setting the tone while also reminding you of what has gone before. The device continues in background sounds, where ambient noise morphs into feedback or drops into static or silence. I didn’t notice it happening at first, but it does a good job of reinforcing the ideas of the show whether you take note of it or not.
The series isn’t perfect and it’s unlikely that those with limited attention spans would make it through the whole thing, but if you’re willing to think a little bit and be patient with the show’s slow unravelling of past events, you might find you enjoy it as much as I did. Recommended.