The protagonist of Ghost Talker’s Daydream is an emancipated, teenaged, albino S&M queen who can talk to ghosts and moonlights as a freelance paranormal psychologist. If that doesn’t sound like prime material for a Jerry Springer show, I don’t know what does.
Seriously, though, this manga takes the basic idea of any number of other shows and gives it a wicked little twist with a combination of gallows humor, a frankly sexual backdrop, and shoujo-ish tragedy thanks to a rather unsparing view of the unhappy afterlife. Uplifting, it’s not—the ghosts are usually of people who met a tragic end, they’re not at all happy (if not outright murderous), and the living are usually just as bad on all counts. Yet it’s got just enough sentiment to keep it emotionally engaging, and it stops short of crossing into weepy bathos. It also doesn’t take itself too seriously, and the relatively strong sense of humor keeps it from feeling like a total downer. The ghosts are also rather scary, though the pacing keeps it from being nearly as spine-tingling as it could have been (I’m very interested to see if the anime adaptation manages to do more with this).
It ends up being about 20% humor, 20% real-life character drama about the somewhat self-destructive protagonist, 20% action (there are a surprising number of martial arts fights in the first couple volumes), and 40% tragic horror. Its strongest point is, I’d say, the real-feeling characters. Even the humor rings true some of the time—if your talents are talking to unhappy dead people and beating willing perverts into submission, and you don’t enjoy doing either of those things, having a sense of humor about it is the only thing that’d keep you sane.
The sexual content, a bit surprisingly, is handled quite well—it’s not the least bit shy, but it also doesn’t try hard to shock. Rather, it slips in bits of background color—realistic, so far as I know—about a sub-culture that most of us find unsettling. The main character takes a pragmatic view of it—it’s her job, and it has its advantages, though she doesn’t particularly enjoy it (she doesn’t like talking to ghosts much, either, but she seems to prefer that to leather and bondage). A weird mix, basically, of something completely out-there and something completely familiar to many—stuck in a day job you don’t particularly like, but don’t hate enough to work up the confidence in your other abilities to quit and do something more fulfilling.
The more tragic end of the story—assorted sub-plots about how people met their untimely end, and the living people who either got left behind or were responsible—is also well done, in that it hits notes that are affecting without devolving into shoujo-syle melodrama. It’s actually a little impressive how well it treads the line between shoujo melodrama, josei-flavor heavy slice-of-life, and male-oriented shock stuff (the blunt sexuality and action scenes) without ever getting stuck in any of those categories. Also, do not expect any sort of soft focus, tearful-yet-somehow-uplifting notes ending the roughtly half-book-long storylines—there’s no happy-talk about “moving on” or such, the protagonist has a bleak outlook on the afterlife given she can talk to ghosts, and more often than not the ghosts (and living) are just as miserable when the story ends as when it began, just less destructive to others. More than once she says in no uncertain terms “Too late now, you’re already dead.”
The author, Saki Okusei, is a woman, which may account for the lack of misogynistic undertones (and a strong focus on female characters; the males are, thus far, mostly comic relief, bad people, or willingly bound and gagged, though the main character’s somewhat estranged relationship with her father is developing solidly). An aside, it’s interesting how female writers seem (at least in my experience) to do better than men with frank sexuality—men seem either tentative or trying too hard to shock or titillate.
Anyway, the only real weak point in the writing is that the scarier parts seem to be just a bit off in pacing, though it could well be that horror (or creepy thriller, more accurately) just doesn’t work as well for me in manga form compared to something more animated—no creepy sound effects or pregnant pauses to set tension.
On that note, the artist, Sankichi Meguro, is male, not that it should matter, and the art is quite good—detailed, expressive character art, realistic backgrounds and wardrobe, and a reasonably good sense of space and light. My only real art complaint is that some of the scariest parts don’t look as scary as I feel like they should; it seems like splash pages or dark backgrounds could have been used more effectively, though I can’t specifically say how. It’s also a little hard to tell who’s real and who’s a ghost some of the time when I’m pretty sure we’re supposed to know.
My other complaint is that it’s dense enough in terms of the plot and characterization that I had trouble catching everything on the first read-through; several times the show-(or imply)-rather-than-explain storytelling left me having to go back and re-read a section to get what was really supposed to be going on. I enjoy dense stories, so it’s not necessarily a down side, but it deflated a bit of the drama when I lost track of what was supposed to be happening, and I flat-out missed a couple of the should-have-sent-a-chill-up-my-spine moments until I realized that was supposed to be scary and went back to re-read the page and figure out why.
Enjoyed the first three volumes, and since there were 8 total in Japan and the story is complete, the length seems like just enough to get into and resolve the larger-scale plot arcs of the protagonists’ relationship with her father and some sort of dark supernatural force at work encouraging suicide that has been hinted at so far (and will presumably become the big ghost-related plot arc). It also got me interested enough to pick up a copy of the anime when the DVD was cheap; we’ll see how that compares, though at only 4 OAVs it’s probably going to be abbreviated at best.
On an unrelated note, it’s fun to see something spice up the now-somewhat-cliche “talking to ghosts” genre by adding some nice, hard S&M/BDSM. And really, what old genre couldn’t be made new by adding some bondage? Schoolyard romance + bondage = something entirely new! Or = Bludgeoning Angel Dokruo-chan, so maybe that one’s not such a good idea. Light Fantasy + bondage = Sorcerer Hunters. I’m sure this would work fantastically for other genres as well.