The meaning of life, according to Ghost Hound

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.


The world is not beautiful, therefore it is; introducing Kino’s Journey


I quite like subversive fairy-tales; the suggestion that there is something ugly and unknown shifting beneath a veneer of superficial beauty. This is precisely why I so admired Princess Tutu, because lurking behind that familiar style of magical girl characterization was insecurity and doubt; supposed heroes and villains stalked by emotions betraying their cliche destinies. Kino’s Journey is much the same in the sense that its own depiction of beauty is often offset by a harsh reality. Supposing that one extreme of feeling cannot be defined without the polar opposite, Kino simply muses that “the world is not beautiful, therefore it is”.

3D-Fansubs recently released 2007’s “Kino no Tabi Movie 2”, also known as “Kino’s Journey -The Beautiful World- The Land of Sickness -For You-“. I still remember how I felt when I first discovered Kino’s Journey. Shocked? I had no idea of what to expect, I’d never even heard of it before, I simply got hold of the DVD and pressed play. Since then, I’ve always loved the show, it’s the quintessential unknown, underrated gem; serious, subversive and philosophical. The original TV series (13 episodes) appeared during 2003, but apparently, no-one noticed it. This is your chance to make that right.


First off, the new movie is animated by SHAFT; everyone loves them, right? After all, they’ve produced recent favorites like Hidamari Sketch, Sayonara Zetsubo Sensei and even Ef: A Tale of Memories. As expected, they’ve actually done a pretty fine job, most notably, the previously androgynous Kino is starting to look and sound inexplicably female; now she’s suddenly paternal and caring, but still distant enough to avoid breaking her 3 day rule.


You see, the twist of Kino’s Journey is that she’s a globe-trotting traveler who spends no more than three days in any one country, and her only companion is Hermes, her talking motorcycle. Kino may look like a frail young lady, but her seemingly weak appearance belies a great talent for pistol shooting and a rather ambiguous morality; basically, she’s capable of, and does commit, murder at the drop of a hat, but only tends to act when forced into a corner. Through out her various adventures, she travels from country to country, tasting various cultures and technologies, looking at everything from an objective point of view, much like a scientist observing an elaborate social test. She refuses to pass judgment on anyone, or feel either elation or horror, despite almost constantly facing strange circumstances.


As you may have guessed, Kino’s Journey was an episodic TV anime, and this second movie is no different. It’s completely self-contained and runs a measly 26 minutes, essentially, it’s just another installment to add to an already impressive inventory of bizarre adventures, with the ever-chirpy Hermes in-tow. You can easily watch it without having seen the original TV series. It’s worth noting that the vast majority of the show is directed by a certain Ryutaro Nakamura, who’s most famous previous work is the similarly discordant and thoughtful Serial Experiments Lain (and as of writing, he’s also directing one of my current favorites and arguably the best series of the fall 2007 season, Ghost Hound).


The basic plot of the “movie” goes something like this. We begin, as ever, with Kino and Hermes entering a new country; this time, it’s the worryingly named “Country of Illness”; a technologically advanced settlement purposely separated from the outside world due to the various illnesses and diseases affecting its peoples. To what depths is the country willing to sink to in order to find a cure? Are a few healthy lives worth sacrificing if it could mean salvation for hundreds more? Hell, what gives mankind the right to give or take life, even if it’s in the name of scientific advancement?

Kino herself refuses to ask these questions and considering her quiet apathy, we have no moral compass to blindly follow. There is no emotional music with its virtual “cry here” pointers seen in so much anime; you are expected to think, and feel, for yourself.


It’s interesting how the sickness is largely represented by a helpless, cute young girl, the likes of which we’re used to seeing in moe anime like Kanon and sola. We’re being pushed to feel pity for her, yet her precious existence is only possible with the sacrifice of countless others. Our endearment to her innocence and beauty, much like the superflat movement, is intentionally subverted by the corpses propping up her health. Again, Kino reminds us that the world is not beautiful, therefore it is.