Ghost Hunt 6 by Fuyumi Ono and Shiho Inada: B

From the back cover:
The brave investigators of Shibuya Psychic Research must unravel a strange mystery. People are vanishing in a peculiar mansion. Eerie manifestations abound from the moment the team enters the house. Stairways lead to nowhere… windows open, but not to the outside… there are doors in the ceiling… and, scariest of all, something very sinister is awaiting its next victim. As the disappearances escalate one by one, beware and be forewarned: Don’t wander off alone—or you could be next!

This volume was a disappointment after the last two.

In volume five, Inada announced that Ghost Hunt was ending its serialization and would be published directly to tankoubon format instead. Evidently, she saw this as her chance to make more changes in character designs, once again not for the better. Mai’s hair was longer, causing her yet again to look completely different (and just when I was getting used to the first revision to her appearance). Also, each character had a couple of panels where they just looked wrong.

Plotwise, the creepy mansion was an improvement over the repetitive high school stories, and yielded the most gruesome image of the series to date. Unfortunately, it seems that a good plot and good character interaction cannot exist simultaneously with this series, as the latter was fairly clunky at times. The worst example was Mai talking with Masako, a psychic medium on the team, causing another person to note, “Oh, you’re getting along now?” It had never previously been established that they didn’t get along, so when Mai then demanded why Masako despised her, it was entirely out of the blue.

As I had predicted, Yasuhara did indeed return. In this case, he served as a stand-in for Naru so the other could avoid dealing with the media or something. Really, it didn’t make much sense, but since I like Yasuhara, I didn’t quibble. Alas, some other things in the story didn’t make much sense, either, like an explanation of why some measurements of staircases indicated there was a hidden floor somewhere in the mansion. At some point, one just has to accept it and move on, but it bothered me. I’m tempted to lay the blame on Inada rather than a translator, just because of all the other things that were slightly off about this volume.

My last complaint is that while the volume ended on a big cliffhanger, suspense was quickly dispelled by the preview for the next volume, which showed the person in peril to be completely fine. I mean, not that I really expected otherwise, but surely they could’ve chosen other pages for their preview, especially the ones chosen consisted solely of the group watching Lin sit in a chair.

Ghost Hunt 5 by Fuyumi Ono and Shiho Inada: A-

From the back cover:
The students of Ryokuryou High School think they’ve been playing a fun new game called Orikiri. They have no idea that it’s actually a wicked spell conjuring up evil spirits that intend to kill their sensei! Even more troubling is that with each passing minute, the strongest spirit eerily devours the other apparitions and grows ever more destructive. Since the spirit can’t be stopped, there’s only one way to save the sensei: turn the curse around onto the students who initiated it! Mai and Naru clash mightily on this case, as Shibuya Psychic Research must choose between the sensei and the students… And time’s running out!

This volume was the conclusion to the case from the previous volume. Although I never thought this story was particularly exciting or substantially different from their other high school cases, I still enjoyed this volume because of what was done with the characters.

For one thing, the solution to this case was much more of a group effort than has happened before. For the second time, Mai was able to provide a vital clue that led Naru to a realization, which in turn led Lin-san to come up with a method for dealing with the problem. Mai’s own growing abilities figured in more, and she, in general, kept her head when she found herself in more menacing situations as a result.

The best part, however, was the argument between Naru and Mai over whether it was right to deflect the curse back upon the students who had unwittingly cast it, when the alternative would be to allow the thoroughly unlikable teacher who was its intended victim to bear the full weight of it alone. Both had valid points, and I loved Naru’s remark after Mai told him she hated everything he stood for: “It is an honor to be despised by fools.” Oooh.

The one unfortunate side effect of this argument was a rare out-of-character “too stupid to live” moment for Mai, in which she decided to try to exorcise a bunch of powerful spirits by herself. I liked the aftermath—the other (non-Naru and Lin) members of the team realizing how upset she was and comforting her—but I didn’t like seeing her behave so irrationally.

Later, the apology scene was also pretty awesome, with Naru informing Mai that her problem is that she gives up on others too easily. I really love the relationship between these two. More and more, I think an eventual romance is plausible, but I love how slowly things are building. (It occurs to me that their dynamic is slightly similar to Ren and Kyoko from Skip Beat!.) Too, I love that Mai’s complete focus these past two volumes has been on her job; she hasn’t been sitting around mooning over him at all. Now that is the Mai I like. Let’s leave the silly heroines needing rescue to Matsuro Hino, shall we?

Ghost Hunt 4 by Fuyumi Ono and Shiho Inada: A-

From the back cover:
After a schoolboy’s suicide, the team at Shibuya Psychic Research must unravel mysteries at a local high school. As fires break out in an empty office and a stinky smell sickens an entire classroom, the ghost hunters’ job will take both courage and a strong stomach.

The team also investigates a church with a mysterious spirit that haunts only children, and in a hilarious twist, Mai is possessed and thinks that Lin is her daddy. But laughs quickly turn to concern when Mai hides outside in the cold and cannot be found. Now it’s very important that SPR saves her before she freezes to death!

This was the third case in four volumes to take place in a high school. The circumstances were different, of course, and the prominent involvement of the school’s student body president in the investigation was new, but I do look forward to a change of venue soon.

Mai experienced another precognitive dream and was proven right. Here’s my own attempt at precognition: I predict that the student body president, Yasuhara, is being groomed to take over Mai’s administrative duties as she develops her own abilities and moves into a more hands-on role. We shall see. The fact that he appears in the back cover illustration would tend to lend credence to my theory.

This was the first case in the series so far not to wrap up within one volume. Instead, the latter half of the volume was comprised of a wonderful side story called Silent Christmas, my favorite case so far. It was not, as the back cover blurb claims, at all hilarious. Instead, it was cute and sad, featuring the spirit of a little boy, expert at hide-and-seek, who just wanted to be found. The resolution was nicely creepy and though I should have, in retrospect, probably seen it coming, I didn’t.

Artwise, I finally have grown accustomed to Mai’s new character design. If I were to look back at the first volume now, that would probably be the one to look weird to me. I’m also particularly fond of Lin, Naru’s assistant, though he doesn’t do or say much. Probably because he reminds me of my favorite character in Fruits Basket—Hatori.

So, I’m still waiting for Ghost Hunt to truly bring the creepy, but as long as it keeps bringing stories like Silent Christmas, I’ll be satisfied.

Ghost Hunt 3 by Fuyumi Ono and Shiho Inada: B+

From the back cover:
The psychoc investigators are going back to school—this time to solve a baffling mystery. Every student who sits at one particular desk is later caught in a train door and dragged away to who knows where. As if classes weren’t hard enough! And when Naru and Mai find themselves stalked by their own evil spirits, the case becomes even more bizarre.

Could this dastardly desk be the revenge of a quiet young girl named Chiaki? Or is there another unhappy soul to reckon with? One thing is certain: Voodoo dolls, bad vibes, and sinister curses won’t stop the psychic pals from solving their most difficult and dangerous case ever!

“Psychic pals.” *snicker*

I didn’t like this case all that much, really. There were no spooky moments to be had, and the outcome was pretty predictable. That said, it gave Mai an opportunity to be helpful with her powers of intuition and to provide Naru with an essential clue that he needed to solve the mystery. There was also a terrifically cute scene between them where they were both trapped and he distracted her with magic tricks.

I liked how Mai’s feelings for Naru did not prevent her from focusing on her work; she’s not a ditz who goes all stupid for a guy. Plus, even though Naru did make a couple of insulting comments about her lack of smarts, because she is competent and resourceful, I actually can believe that a cool and aloof guy like him might reasonably be interested in someone like her (as opposed to all the other inane shoujo heroines that somehow manage to win the bishounen’s affections).

Also in this volume, Mai expressed frustration that her contributions to the case could only be administrative, but the subtle development regarding her intuition paid off when Naru had her tested for psychic ability. I thought this plot was well-handled; the seeds were planted well in advance, but there was no frustrating lag waiting for someone to notice and give Mai something more challenging to do.

The supporting characters were still fairly useless and bland, all except the monk, who had a little more backstory revealed this time. Maybe the others will have their turns in future volumes.

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.

Ghost Hunt 1 by Fuyumi Ono and Shiho Inada: B+

From the back cover:
The decrepit building was condemned long ago, but every time the owners try to tear it down, “accidents” start to happen—people get hurt, sometimes even killed. Mai Taniyama and her classmates have heard the rumors that the creepy old high school is haunted—possibly by ghosts from the Second World War. So one rainy day they gather at the old school to tell ghost stories, hoping to attract one of the suspected spirits.

No ghosts materialize, but Mai and her friends do meet Kazuya Shibuya, the handsome young owner of Shibuya Psychic Research who’s been hired to investigate paranormal activity at the school. Also at the scene are an exorcist, a Buddhist monk, a woman who can speak with the dead, and an outspoken Shinto priestess. Surely one of them will have the talent to solve this mystery…

I ended up enjoying this volume quite a lot. I’m not sure which of the creators should receive credit for the semi-spooky atmosphere throughout, but I thought it was well done. Actual creepy occurrences were pretty low, though there was a nice bit where a chair moved on its own. Mai was a fun lead character, spunky and level-headed, and I liked all of Shibuya’s gadgetry for monitoring the paranormal, too.

The basic plot boiled down to—are there really evil spirits here, or is one of these slightly suspicious so-called experts actually a fraud? It didn’t pan out the way I thought it might, but it wasn’t exactly surprising, either. Shibuya (dubbed “Naru” by Mai because of his narcissistic tendencies) was set up in an “ultimately, he’s going to be the one who’s right” kind of way, so we’ll have to see whether that continues in future volumes. He did have a distressing habit of making digs at Mai about her ignorance, but I guess we’re supposed to excuse that because of the single angsty panel in which he declares that he hates himself.

Clearly, I can find negative things to point out, but on the whole, I found Ghost Hunt to be a lot of fun and recommend it for some mildly creepy Halloween reading.

Ghost Hunt is published by Del Rey, and the first nine volumes are in print and available. The tenth will be released on April 7, 2009. The series is ongoing, but there was a two-year gap between volumes 9 and 10 in Japan, and no volume 11 has been published there yet, so it’ll probably be a long wait for anything else after April.

Fairy Tail 4 by Hiro Mashima: C+

From the back cover:
S-Class quests are so dangerous that one false move means certain death! Now loose cannon Natsu, rookie Lucy, and nearly powerless Happy have embarked on a stolen S-Class quest, setting out for the Demon Island. Can anyone stop them before they get themselves killed?

Sigh. Well, the resolution to the cliffhanger of Erza’s arrest was completely lame, as was the conclusion of her duel with Natsu. It felt like the mangaka suddenly lost interest in that plot line.

The S-Class quest wasn’t all that much better. I’m definitely not the ideal shounen audience, since I tend to get very annoyed with characters who do things they’re not supposed to and then get into perilous situations as a result. The lack of foresight also bothered me. It was bad enough Natsu hatched this hare-brained scheme, but Lucy continued to go along with it even after learning it would likely result in her expulsion from the guild she had been so desperate to join back in volume one. And evidently felt hardly a qualm about doing so!

Ultimately, their quest lead to various angsty revelations about Gray’s past which Mashima admitted including in an attempt to lure more female readers. About the only good thing in this volume was the introduction of a cool new guild member, Mystogan, whose power is to put everyone to sleep. Ironically, that was the one bit that didn’t have me yawning.

Fairy Tail 3 by Hiro Mashima: B

From the back cover:
The evil members of the Dark Guild Eisenwald have found a cursed flute that can murder anyone who hears its music—and now they’ve taken over a midtown train station with a very loud public address system. Only Natsu and his crazy friends (including a flying cat) can stop them!

Fairy Tail has finally won me over. I think it was the fact that several guild members went on a mission together that did it, since I enjoyed seeing their various powers on display. Natsu also got to partake in a couple of nifty battles with nice choreography.

One thing I like about the combat in this series is that people have more than one trick. They don’t have to keep doing a “Wind scar” or “Amekakeryu no Hirameki” over and over again, but have many different aspects of their magical specialties that they can employ. I especially like Erza’s ability to don armor to suit her opponent; it has the added benefit of being very prettily drawn, as well.

At the end of the story, Erza gets arrested by the body that governs those with her special abilities. Oh noes! I predict the spiky-haired hero and friends will attempt a daring rescue, that Happy will turn out to be a sexay layday, and that Erza’s heretofore unseen angsty brother, Pyakuya, will make an appearance.

Fairy Tail 2 by Hiro Mashima: B

From the back cover:
Beautiful celestial wizard Lucy has teamed up with the crazy fire wizard Natsu and his bizarre flying cat, Happy. Their job: to steal a book from the notorious Duke Everlue. But the eccentric Everlue has killed wizards before, and Lucy’s team is walking right into his death trap!

I was getting serious GetBackers vibes from the first mission in this volume. Natsu, Lucy, and Happy are hired by a client who will pay them two million “jewels” to retrieve a book from the library of some crazy, lecherous old guy. They fight some bodyguards with specialized combat abilities, and Lucy goes around in skimpy outfits, though not quite as skimpy as the stuff Hevn wears. (Side note: I haven’t read any GetBackers for two whole years now. Must remedy. It’s not the best thing ever, but I would still like to finish it.)

A new powerful female character is introduced in the second mission and I thought I’d like her, since she seemed keen to instill some discipline in her fellow wizards, but she turned out to be as illogical as the rest in her own way. The second story also introduces the threat of dark guilds, those who’ve broken rules (such as accepting assassination requests) and have been ousted from the league of official wizard guilds, which is pretty nifty. Some of these villains have some neat magic abilities, too; I particularly like the guy who manipulates shadows.

The art continues to be great. Not only does Mashima excel at depicting cities, but there’s never any question of where a scene is occurring, and sometimes you even know what room is next door, what’s down the street, etc. Some maps are helpfully provided, as well.

I liked this volume a little more than the first one, but I’m still not entirely sold on following it long term. Mashima employs gag humor that I don’t really care for (someone turning up naked for one panel just so someone else can joke about it), but at the same time there are amusing bits that I like, such as when Happy (the cat) picks up a skull in a storage room and randomly wears it as a helmet for a few pages. The magic system, not only the abilities but the organization, is also original and interesting. If only the characters weren’t so irksome!

Fairy Tail 1 by Hiro Mashima: B-

From the back cover:
Cute girl wizard Lucy wants to join the Fairy Tail, a club for the most powerful wizards. But instead, her ambitions land her in the clutches of a gang of unsavory pirates led by a devious magician. Her only hope is Natsu, a strange boy she happens to meet on her travels. Natsu’s not your typical hero-he gets motion sickness, eats like a pig, and his best friend is a talking cat. With friends like this, is Lucy better off with her enemies?

This series was praised on a couple of review sites I read, but I have to say I’m kind of underwhelmed so far. I think my main problem with it so far stems from the characters, who are fairly annoying and reckless. The wizard guild members pride themselves on thumbing their noses at authority, and one has to wonder how they keep getting jobs when they’re famous for destroying public and private property.

There’s definitely potential, though, and later chapters that began to explain Lucy’s magic were more to my liking. I’m quite impressed by the art, as well. I adore any panel that depicts a city, because Mashima does them particularly well, and though we’ve got the stereotypical spiky-haired hero and buxom girl for the leads, some of the other character designs are very original. Like the Taurus spirit Lucy conjures who looks like a man-cow in superhero briefs. With six nipples. His appearance led to the one line that I actually did giggle at, when he saved them from a dangerous situation and Natsu gratefully cried, “Cow!!”

So yeah, I didn’t like this as much as I thought I would, but I’m willing to give it a couple more volumes to catch my interest.