Haunted Junction

One doesn't have to look very far to find the tradition of the "manic comedy" in anime. With its roots in the classic Urusei Yatsura and continued in shows like Tenchi Muyo, the manic comedy usually revolves around a slightly dopey guy whose every routine is turned on its head by bizarre intruders that thrust themselves into his daily routine. Over the course of the manic comedy, the protagonist develops a love/hate relationship with those that antagonize him, finding that he needs them despite their constant irritations. Following this formula straight through is Haunted Junction, a 12-episode OVA series that tries really hard to capture the manic comedy lightening in the proverbial bottle. It's a thankless job, but Haunted Junction winds up being fairly entertaining, despite an abundance of bathroom humor that isn't nearly as funny as it intends to be and few real standout episodes. The main characters are strong enough that HJ can still elicit a good smile, if not a hearty belly laugh.

Haruto is doomed by fate to be stuck with an unruly bunch of spirits that populate Saito High, a school known for its infestations of otherworldly phenomena. The son of a minister, he's duped into becoming the president of the Holy Student Council, whose members are charged with keeping some semblance of order with all these crazy ghosts running around. He and his fellow council members Mutsuki and Kazumi don't even have to attend classes, but Haruto longs for a normal school life. With this band of nut cases, though, it seems impossible. Between pretty young apparitions that live in the men's toilet, anatomical models who love flatulence and Russian dances, and every phantom inbetween, the Holy Student Council has their hands full. And if that weren't bad enough, Mutsuki's got a fetish for young boys, whereas Kazumi can't go an hour without being possessed! Haruto's on his way to a nervous breakdown as he finds out that the specters that inhabit Saito High are the least of his problems.

When I first started this series, I was getting a real sense of dread after the first episode. Although the start of the show introduces all the main characters, it really does very little else, and with five hours to go, I was seriously worried. My concerns were unfounded, though, as the rest of the series picks up and gets moving pretty quickly. The biggest issue that HJ has is that it simply isn't as funny as most other comedies similar to it. A part of the problem is that most bits come off as merely smirk-worthy. The other part is that the show relies on a number of gags that are edgy but not necessarily funny. For example, Mutsuki's obsession with little boys is more unnerving than hilarious. There's also nothing intrinsically humorous about the bathroom, and the show sometimes thinks that things are funny just because they relate to body functions. The bar has been raised so high in America by the Farrelly Brothers and their ilk that nothing in HJ is even remotely shocking, but the truly sensitive might have some issues with it.

Despite all that, Haunted Junction is still a decent show. What saves it more than anything is that its main character is genuinely a likable kid in circumstances beyond his control. Haruto is an everyman, and it's his story despite loads of secondary characters, which was a very wise move on the writers' part. Even when the show is just OK, Haruto is a good center to have. He acts as a buffer between the show's nutty characters and the audience, and if the audience thinks the proceedings are stupid, at least we have a protagonist who completely agrees. What also raises the show a notch is its last two episodes, which wrap things up nicely and in ways I never expected. They raise the seriousness of the show while staying true to the spirit (no pun intended) that had already developed during the previous ten episodes. Other high points include the animation, which isn't perfect but quite nice in spots, and a few really good running gags that don't rely on the loo (such as when the show cross-references itself).

Haunted Junction is a value DVD title packaged much like the earlier release of EatMan '98, and though the shows are very different, they do share some remarkable similarities. Both are second-tier titles that don't have a big following, both are 12 episode OVA series, and both are extremely reasonable for the cost. Neither one is going to change the world of anime much, but both are decent series. And like EatMan '98, my vote for HJ is a cautious recommendation. Haunted Junction doesn't always know what's funny, but it really tries hard to be likable, and often it succeeds.

Haunted Junction -- mild violence and language, bathroom/bizarre humor -- B