It’s funny that we were six weeks into Dark Gathering and still technically circling around the possibility of Keitaro officially teaming up with Yayoi to do the spirit-hunting business. They’ve been getting into different ghostly shenanigans every week; it felt like the decision had been made for Keitaro, regardless of his reluctance! Nevertheless, after regularly meditating on the subject, our boy, at last, seems to have reached a definitive decision regarding his work/life/afterlife balance. It almost feels like those points when a light novel anime adaptation reaches the end of its first volume. Except Dark Gathering is based on a manga, so maybe it’s just that solidly structured overall.
With everything that’s led up to it, this episode is about further reinforcing the ways that Keitaro, Yayoi, and Eiko get on during the day and night shifts of their odd lives. Okay, Eiko mostly ends up damsel’d during the supernatural section. But given that we now know she’s somewhat into that as a vector for encouraging Keitaro’s further interactions with her, it still fits as far as framing her role here. And the first half, where we watch the trio hang out and get along during the camping trip, is great. All the establishment of their rapport in earlier episodes and how it leads into this one means we can fully believe in Keitaro’s resolution and decision to stick with them and face his spiritual struggles head-on.
It also means that Dark Gathering makes an effort to really advance the relationships between these characters. One of the key features of this episode comes when Keitaro and Eiko clearly state that they love each other by the end of it. The pair had always projected an air of romantically-interested childhood friends, a fairly standard setup in anime and manga like this. But to have them directly confirm it is an extra step, indicative of the story’s advancement this episode conveys and the ostensible maturity of these two as young adults rather than kids or teenagers. It also adds its flavor, thanks to contrasting with the lingering detail of how obsessed Eiko is with Keitaro and the way it motivates her manipulations of all these situations. They’ve built up layers to all this, meaning we can look forward to continuing depth from this goofy ghostbusting cartoon.
All that said, I wish the said ghostbusting, which climactically codifies what this episode reaches, was a little more engaging. Setting it up is fine, especially as we realize it’s been a while since we saw Keitaro and Yayoi directly team up for this sort of thing. It feels like Keitaro’s been the one getting rescued more often than not, so this situation shows how effective the pair is when at least one of them isn’t compromised in some way. The problem is that the need for this episode to portray them as so effective ends up undercutting much of the tension that you’d hope this series would still serve up as a horror series.
It is somewhat neat at first, the way the storytelling in this episode flashes back to reveal how Yayoi and Keitaro anticipated aspects of grappling with these ghosts and prepared for them beforehand. The step-by-step technicalities of how Yayoi wrangles spirits have always been a specific selling point of Dark Gathering, and that appeal is still in play here. The problem is that I feel this episode repeats the trick just a couple of times too many, constantly serving up some surprising swerve in the struggle, only to go “Nope, actually our heroes were fully prepped for that part too!”. This extends to the final phase of the showdown, with Yayoi anticlimactically capturing the whole other half of the bunch of spirits off-camera in a skipped-over scene. This is supposed to be the big, decisive stretch that confirms how well Yayoi and Keitaro will be working together moving forward, so why does it play out like they’re just putting in a couple of hours of overtime at the office?
Even with that decidedly iffy storytelling choice, they still make some bits work interestingly. Specifically, when Keitaro is at risk of being overcome by possession, the art adds compelling visuals of him falling under and drowning in esoterically deep water, even as he lies in water that is physically shallow. I also appreciated seeing the cleansing sacred sake from last week make a comeback. It’ll be funny if that becomes a recurring combat option for these characters. Also, some of the tonal elements they eventually arrive at fulfill the show’s established vibes effectively, particularly in, once again, reiterating how extremely “Not Nice” Yayoi is in her approach to dealing with spirits. She’s in this for cold, hard vengeance, and both Keitaro and we better not forget that.
It all means I’m still reasonably satisfied here as Dark Gathering transitions into what it’s presenting as its next phase. We’ve learned a fair bit about these characters and how that leads to their connections clicking together. Aspects like Yayoi and Keitaro’s abilities complementing each other, or how Eiko’s eccentricities might complicate situations moving forward, serve as good springboards for future storytelling. I’m just a bit frustrated that this episode, which solidified all that, wasn’t itself a more exciting showcase of that potential.
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Chris knows that summer is the perfect time for spooky stories, and hopefully, it’s enough to distract him from this blistering Fresno heat wave. You can help distract him further by bothering him on his Twitter (for however much longer that lasts), or check out his less-scary musings over on his blog.