Main character is Taro, a fourteen-year old boy, son of a sake brewer, who suffers from narcolepsy. Ten years ago, he and his sister were kidnapped and his sister died before they could be rescued. Even though he doesn't remember anything, he does have recurring dreams of that time -- but he always wakes up before he can hear what his sister whispers to him in his dream. He keeps a dream diary on tape, but doesn't tell anyone what he dreams about.
One day, Taro gets a new therapist: a young ideological psychologist who wants to help Taro to work through his post-traumatic stress. His help triggers some things in Taro, and instead of trying to forget the kidnapping episode, he digs into his memory to find out what happened.
This brings him into contact with Makoto, a classmate who rarely comes to school. He is a moody boy, the grandson of a priestess of some kind of cult in the village. Because Makoto's father committed suicide right after Taro and his sister were found, rumours started in the village that he was somehow involved... A new classmate, Masayuki, is very fond of pointing this out to the two of them. The three become friends after a rather tense start.
There are a lot of things afoot in the area. While it may look like a sleepy village on the surface, there are enough mysterious things: there's the haunted hospital just under the dam, there's the mysterious scientific laboratory with tight security just outside the village, there's the out-of-body experiences Taro and his friends experience, and the daughter of the priest at the shrine who can see ghosts...
There is some weird psychic field around the village that attracts mystic vagrants who camp out on the mountain behind the shrine. And it seems to emanate from the laboratory...
Meanwhile, Taro and his friends check out the hospital, find the room where Taro's sister died, and get their first taste of the out-of-body experience. They learn to control it, and see the various lifeforms that inhabit the 'astral realm'.
From there, the plot(s) start to branch out: there's Makoto who has to deal with his grandmother's expectations of him, the death of his father and the subsequent flight of his mother out of the village. There's Taro's issues with his sister, there's Masayuki's completely disfunctional family, there's Miyako's involvement with the cult, there's the psychologist and the neurology professor...
There are connections, but some of those are not as clear, which gives the whole series a bit of a jumbled feel, plot-wise. That's a pity -- the start and the conclusion are very powerful, but in the middle the series loses a lot of story-telling tension.
Visually, the series is very, very good. The character designs are detailed, animation is fluid, backgrounds are splendid. Production IG wanted to show what they are capable of, given enough budget, and they really pulled all the stops for this one -- and it shows. The episodes are very well directed as well: the camera angles (if you can call it that in animation), the pacing of the scenes and the shots are well-chosen. The music (and sound effects) all enhance the atmosphere.
Thematically, it reminded me a lot of Twin Peaks. There's this semi-secluded village, and there's a lot going on just below the surface. An outsider stirs up things (quite indirectly) which sets off a chain of events that reach an eventual climax. Just like with Twin Peaks, there's also a lot of supernatural stuff mixed in -- in Ghost Hound, there's where the focus of the series lies.
At the start of the series, just as Taro is getting interested in his own psychological make-up, the psychologist and the neurologist explain a lot of mental phenomena in terms of neurological events -- most of that makes a lot of sense scientifically. At least, that's what my psychneurologist wife tells me. ;) That's an added bonus in my book: real science mixed with made-up events, in such a way that it is hard to distinguish between the two. That keeps you on your toes, in a "it could have happened"-kind of way.
- Visually stunning;
- Very atmospheric;
- Multiple plots that are all interconnected;
- Uses real science as a plot device.
- Loses a lot of narrative tension in the middle.
All in all, one of the best series of that season. I'll give it an 8.5.