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The meaning of life, according to Ghost Hound

Ghost Hound: Makoto

There’s a field of thought which postulates that the only reason this universe exists is because we humans do. […] I’m consumed by the thought that this world itself may be nothing but an illusion. That “Snark” in the Abstract World may be my real self, and my physical body here just a hologram.

The suggestion that there might be a level of consciousness beyond the physical realm has fascinated people for thousands of years. Are we tied to these bodies forever, or, could this vague concept of “we” be a mere illusion; a solid container that our ‘ego’ is ready to transcend at any given moment? Science has one answer (neurology), religion offers another. While striving to understand this ambiguous essence of our individuality (or “soul”) forever remains man’s greatest quest in life, it’s ironic that the only true answer lies in his death. Ghost Hound is a very literal attempt to answer, or at least, ask those same questions.

Looking over his work, investigation of spirituality often appears in the writing of Masamune Shirow. After all, his most famous creation is Ghost in the Shell; the whole concept of which is built around cyborg Motoko Kusanagi’s search for a (or indeed, her own) soul. Within four episodes, Shirow‘s Ghost Hound has established that several characters are capable of interacting during out-of-body experiences, but unlike Ghost in the Shell, it isn’t so concerned with trying to discover, or define, that ‘ghost’ as much as how our perception of that existence remains shrouded in mystery; a mystery not even fathomed by scientists who boldly claim to understand life and enjoy “playing god” with their genetic experiments under the guise of medical advancement.

Ghost Hound: Miyako

Masamune Shirow: “The present animated TV series has slightly changed the original theme and focuses on the “loss of unworldly power and transformation to an alien being called adults” as it reveals a story of three junior high school students coming into contact with the adult world.

All this talk of spirituality is brought to the fore by Ghost Hound‘s intimate portrayal of loss of youth. Taro’s family still haven’t come to terms with the death of his sister; his grieving mother continuing to lose grip of her sanity. Makoto’s family were blamed for that death; his mother abandoned him and his father committed suicide. Masayuki’s family are just plain loveless and cold. Haunted by this past (and present) trauma, the boys bond together and adventure into a world of ghosts and imagination. People (including Mitsuhisa Ishikawa (the president of Production I.G)) have compared Ghost Hound to Stand By Me, it’s a great comparison because despite its sci-fi overtones, it’s a very emotional and moving coming-of-age journey that deals with a group of kids who, up until this point, haven’t been able to cope with the tragedy that has forever tainted their innocence.

Ryutaro Nakamura: “In an extreme sense, one could say that human existence itself is horrifying. And there are many approaches and directions we can choose in the process of speculating about what exactly this thing we call “existence” actually is.

Director Ryutaro Nakamura, whose previous work includes Serial Experiments Lain and Kino no Tabi, is interesting, in that he regularly blends his artsy, abstract touches with symbolic human drama. Ghost Hound could quite easily degenerate into an alienating Ergo Proxy-esque philosophical exercise, but it never felt like that for me, it’s as if I can always understand what he’s trying to say. It’s quite an achievement when you consider that Nakamura and writer Chiaki J. Konaka have created a story here that regularly ponders mysticism and spirituality without ever compromising intimacy of feeling with the viewer. In particular, I’d like to note Nakamura‘s distinct use of sound; the almost negligible humming of power cables over head, the constant whirring of machinery and the dissonancent noise of a badly tuned radio. His unique mingling of discordant, unnatural sounds often creates an atmosphere of surreal ill-ease.

In 2008, Massey University professor Brian Whitworth stated that all physical phenomena in the universe can be explained in terms of information. Therefore, what we perceive as reality is in fact a virtual reality run by someone on a computer.

I still haven’t seen the last episode of Ghost Hound and I’m not convinced I’ll find an easy answer to every question it has raised. But that’s fine. In this case, being thought-provoking is enough. I don’t want a scientific explanation to try and rationalise the supernatural, or reality, or the source of life. The mystery is more engaging and more important than any answer.

Comments

IKnight says:

Anime – storytelling generally – is much better at provoking questions than it is at answering them.

Incidentally, is your new habit of italicising the names of creators an attempt to put them on the same (typographical) level as the titles of their works? That’s what my lit-crit instincts tell me.

Ivy says:

Same here on waiting on the last episode. I’ve found the show on a universal level very surreal. The idea of having out of body projections and visiting the dead while interacting with bacteria (BACTERIA!) is such a thought-provoking concept, its almost possible. Having realistic characters with an array of organic performances was a great step too, it makes you think what if the world really works this way. Its plausible and Masamune Shirow has proved once again that hes capable of delivering captivating stories over and over again. I didn’t like the sound department at all though, I know his unique use of odd sounds ranging from the out of tune radio to the sound of machinery help enhance the atmosphere. I’m not against it at all I just wished that they would include any semblance of actual music. The animation and art front has been solid and consistent and at times odd (the episode of Taro running around in his brain and then finally meeting snark) no other complaints though. Heres hoping the end delivers something as close to a closure as possible, knowing that a bunch of questions still linger doesn’t help but we’ll see what Masamune Shirow and the rest of the crew have up their sleeves.

Kim says:

I enjoyed what I saw of this series (the first 11 episodes) but I ended up forgetting about it because the subs were so slow and barely anyone was talking about it. One of these days I do plan to pick it up again. But it will probably have to be after the spring season. There are too many good shows coming out now that I can barely keep up with them all.

That’s an interesting comparison to Stand by Me. I was just talking about the movie recently.

Kim says:

I wish there was an edit feature on here :)

@IKnight

Anime – storytelling generally – is much better at provoking questions than it is at answering them.

I agree but I think the best stories don’t give the answers but leave you thinking in the end.

Peter S says:

I’m not so sure I agree with the concept of the Universe simply being information, but it does make for some good stories.

I can’t agree with Ivy’s wish that the show carry some genuine music. I’m fascinated by how they’re using sounds on this show. Even the “normal” ones seem a little odd. And I love how Taro’s dad plays atonal jazz. It just seems to fit right in. Besides, if you want typical music you have a terrific opening song, though the OP is sort of bland.

lars says:

Like you I’m pretty excited about the conclusion of the series, although I have to admit that I temporarily shut my brain whenever the characters talk about the metaphysical stuff and throw around complex terms. I’m sure that if I make an effort to understand I can appreciate the show better; but sometimes being deaf and blind to some aspects makes the show more worthwhile to watch :D

bateszi says:

@IKnight: RE: the italicising of names, something like that. I do it because I want readers to note that auteurs like Ryutaro Nakamura are a fundamental part of Ghost Hound and there’s a clear style of story-telling running through SE Lain, Kino’s Journey and Ghost Hound that’s definitely worth investigating. Chief writer Chiaki J. Konaka is also involved with SE Lain and Ghost Hound, and I’d definitely include his work on Texhnolyze to this list of “mind-fuck pathos” anime. In addition, two other names I’d consider to be a part of this group are Hirotsugu Hamazaki and Yoshitoshi ABe. (I realise you didn’t ask about any these people/genre specifically, but I wanted to say something about them anyway.)

Also, I agree with your thoughts that storytelling is better at provoking thought, though depending on the differences in the story, sometimes I feel like I’m deserving of a literal answer too (LOST is a great example of that, but even still, I totally preferred LOST when everything seemed weird and supernatural).

@Ivy: I think we’ll get closure in terms of the characters (for example, both Makoto and Masayuki appear to be recovering some happiness) but, for example, I doubt we’ll get any flat out answers as to who has been speaking to Tarou during his OBEs (not Snark, the other one); I’m not a religious person, but I get the feeling he’s talking to God and venturing in and out of the ‘after-life’. I’ll be amazed and surprised if they try to explain any of that in the final episode, but that ambiguity is important too, because I don’t think there’s any tangible, serious way of describing such spiritual themes.

@Kim: I’m abstaining from viewing most of the spring anime until I finish older series like Ghost Hound, Kaiji and so on, otherwise I’ll just forget about them and never finish anything. Up until this past weekend, I’d built up 8 episodes of GH in my backlog; I knew I had to write about it sooner or later, as I genuinely think it’s one of the best of 2007, well up there with the likes of Dennou Coil and Baccano!.

@Peter: Yup, I’m also a little skeptical of Mr. Whitworth’s ideas about physicality, but, regardless, it’s definitely a thought provoking and unique theory. Also, your point about Tarou’s father’s love for jazz music is spot on, I really liked those scenes of him just sitting in his room, surrounded by records and chilling out. The use of jazz is obviously symbolic too, but on an emotional level, those scenes just felt right.

@lars: It’s a credit to the strength of the characters that you can empathise with and understand their emotional journeys regardless of the technical stuff. In a way, I was in the same position with Serial Experiments Lain and that’s what I mean about Nakamura’s great talent for offering up philosophical ideas without ever compromising that intimacy of feeling with the viewer.

Martin says:

I’m reluctant to say much about GH right now since I’m 1. inclined to write a comment of epic length and 2. want to see the last ep before making up my mind fully. That said, it is a fantastic show so I couldn’t let it go un-commented on entirely!

The ‘Stand By Me’ comparison seems odd but makes perfect sense now I think about it. It’s my favourite Stephen King adaptation, possibly because it has powerful character study instead of the dumb shocks and gore he normally uses in his stories (I’m not a big King fan unfortunately).

Hrm… I watched the first episode of this and I’m still undecided on it. Plus is it as solipsitic as that first caption hints at? And does Konaka slip in his, “the human species is dying out unless it evolves” theme. Because I know it popped up in SE Lain and in Texnolyze. If it doesn’t then I’ll be happy and I may watch it.

@iknight- Honestly a story that answers it’s own questions, isn’t really a good story. I could bring up a rather famous director who’s infamously guilty of this, but I won’t.

Ryuk says:

For me the goal of the anime is to bring out-of-body experiences/astral projection/lucid dreams into the mainstream anime and to make theme an important topic for the viewer.
Don’t get me wrong but all these concepts are real!!I out-body-experiences, I had lucid dreams and let me tell you that the anime describes them very well.
I get the feeling that no one seems to get the message very clear.Of course we should talk about the art, sound, plot but has anyone searched more about the topic of each episode(right when the opening ends they show it)
Maybe my thinking is weird but that’s because I had OBE’s and lucid dreams and everyone can have them.

Tara says:

ryuk is right. Everyone can have OBE’s and lucid dreams. There were alot of spiritual aspects and anomolies that were thrown in the anime just once without being expanded on. Mothman, for example, made an appearance in episode 5. Mothman is considered an extra dimmensional being. Dr. Hirata was abducted by aliens, etc. There is too much for me to describe in one comment, but my point is that i strongly believe the show was trying to introduce metaphysics and the spirit realm as a reality, not as an interesting concept. He totally knows.

[…] If you’ve ever seen anything from the anime directors Ryutaro Nakamura (Serial Experiments Lain, Ghost Hound) or Hiroshi Hamasaki (Texhnolyze, Shigurui,) you’ll know what to expect. Kurosawa’s made a lot […]

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