story by Okuse Saki; art by Meguro Sankichi; translation by Matthew Johnson
published by Dark Horse; $10.95 US
Review by Ed Sizemore
Misaki Saiki is a part-time dominatrix with the ability to see and communicate with ghosts. Her father works for the government’s Livelihood Protection Agency (called the Quality of Life Section in volume one). This bureau is tasked with removing ghosts from public places. Her father sends her some of the more difficult assignments.
Souichirou Kadotake is Misaki’s contact at the LPA and helps with her assigned cases. He’s a good fighter and excellent researcher. His main drawback is that he’s deathly afraid of ghosts. So much so, he almost suffers a nervous breakdown in volume two.
Two other people play continuing roles in Misaki’s life. The first is Mitsuru, a stalker and panty thief who actually can prove to be useful at times. The second is Ai Kunugi, a girl that Misaki helps but who suffers post-traumatic stress as a result. Both Misaki and Souichirou feel guilty for her condition and offer help and counseling when possible.
So let’s work from bad to good. The dominatrix subplot feels tacked on. It shows a lack of faith by either Saki or the editor that the ghost stories are strong enough to draw an audience on their own merit. There is no attempt to tie these two aspects of Misaki’s personality together so that there is at least a thin veneer of explanation behind her career choice as a dominatrix. It’s evident Saki uses this as a cheap ploy to draw in readers with kinky fanservice.
Japanese literature is filled with stories of people helping ghosts to either seek vengeance or tie up that one last loose end. Saki is able to bring a real sense of instability and danger to his stories. For example, Ai’s sister and niece are murdered in the first volume. However, putting their souls to rest doesn’t enable her to deal with the loss of her family members any better. In fact, she seems worst off after the case then before.
Another example are the ghosts of murdered women in volume two. They are so filled with rage that they take their revenge on any man that passes by their graves. They stalk Souichirou and almost drive him to the point of madness. Even when they are put to rest, there is no sense of peace and closure. The end of their suffering just leaves an emptiness.
Saki has created an interesting cast of characters, the best thing about this book. Misaki comes across as a little unstable herself. She constantly complains about being a dominatrix, yet when we see her in action she really seems to be enjoying herself. The scene at the beginning of volume two is disturbing to read. She is really whaling on her client with glee. I worried for the man’s safety. She talks about how disgusted she is at the acts she is requested to perform, but she does them nonetheless. I confess that part of what kept me reading was curiosity to see if Misaki really does lose control.
Misaki also has more than one layer. She doesn’t like taking on ghost-talking cases because she get emotionally attached to the spirits she’s trying to help. She knows once she agrees to a case that she won’t rest until she is able to help the ghost pass on to the next life. She can be a walking contradiction. There is a part of her that takes great pleasure in being a dominatrix and another side that takes equal pleasure in reliving the suffering of others.
Sankichi’s art, with its ability to create creepy atmospheres, is well suited to Saki’s stories. The fight scenes are especially well done with great sense of energy and realism. Sankichi expresses the entire range of emotion in the stories. You cringe at Misaki’s evil smile when she is ‘entertaining’ a client. You feel her sadness when trying to console a ghost. Of course, for those looking for fanservice, there is that, too. Be advised, this book obeys the censorship laws. Misaki is anatomically correct from the waist up only; she’s a Barbie doll below the belt.
There’s a lot of wasted potential in Ghost Talker’s Daydream. I wish that Saki had chosen to focus on the ghost story elements and dropped the S&M. The bleak nature of some of these stories provides an excellent opportunity to reflect on the human condition. However, the stories are never given a chance to go deeper than the basic plot. There are a lot of other good supernatural manga in print, so don’t waste your time on this series. Instead, pick up a volume of Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service or Mushishi.