Ghost Hunt 2 by Fuyumi Ono and Shiho Inada: B+

From the back cover:
High school student Mai Taniyama, her handsome boss Kazuya Shibuya (aka Naru), and other members of Shibuya Psychic Research are now tackling the eerie case of the Morishita family. What is the tragic story hidden within the Morishitas’ old house? Is it haunted by a mischievous poltergeist, or by something far more sinister?

As Mai and Naru dig deep to uncover the home’s dark secrets, they learn that every child who has ever lived there has died under mysterious circumstances. And they soon discover that the malevolent forces at the house have a disturbing face: the creepy smile of Ayami Morishita’s doll. Of course, destroying a child’s toy should be a simple matter, right?

I think this volume might mark an official serialization of the series, since there were a few differences from the first volume. Chapter title pages and authorial sidebar columns, both lacking in the first volume, were included. Also, Mai’s character design was subtly changed to make her appear younger (face rounder, eyes bigger, hair poofier). I’m not a fan of the transformation; she doesn’t look bad, and her personality’s the same, but I preferred the original design.

The story itself was pretty good, though not as creepy as I’d expect something featuring an evil doll to be. There was one scene where she’d crept into a little kid’s futon that was pretty freaky, though. Like the first volume, the atmosphere was well done; reading this felt kind of like watching a spooky movie. And once again, Naru came up with the right answer at the end. He didn’t, however, make any insulting remarks to/about Mai this time; it seemed he has come to respect her competence some, and trusted her to take charge in certain areas.

One thing I liked was the quick pace of the story and the assumption of intelligence on the part of the reader. For example, a child was shown floundering in a pool, then Mai was shown jumping in after her. The next panel was of the child’s aunt holding her and saying, “You’re safe.” The reader can put together what happened without going through several pages of underwater rescue. Also, Mai was shown experiencing some dreams that might’ve been an indication of burgeoning psychic power, but she didn’t spent five pages angsting over the dreams and their possible significance.

On the other hand, one thing that bugged me was the way dialogue bubbles were handled. It wasn’t always apparent who had said what, owing to the lack of bubble “tails” in most panels. Contextually, again, the reader was allowed to figure it out and it did always make sense, but somehow, this level of effort annoyed me while the examples cited above didn’t. I guess I’m fickle like that.

Ghost Hunt continues to be enjoyable. True, beyond Naru and Mai, the characters (exorcists of various kinds hired by Naru) are pretty flat so far, and I have to wonder why he keeps them around when they fail so often, but the leads and the stories are enjoyable enough that I can still recommend this series without reservation.

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