Ghost Talker's Daydream is tells the story of Misaki Saiki, a young woman with a troubled past, who is a professional dominatrix in one of Tokyo's most exclusive S&M clubs. However, her real money is something she likes even less than being a dominatrix. Ever since childhood, Misaki has had the ability to see and communicate with ghosts, and that talent is put to use by the Livelihood Protection Agency, who pairs Misaki with Souichirou Kadotake, a martial artist who happens to be deathly afraid of ghosts. Using her gifts, Misaki is able to help troubled departed spirits resolve what is troubling them and allow them to move on to the afterlife. If all that isn't odd enough, Misaki is an albino and a virgin.
Writing a review for this manga is a masochistic activity in itself: its strength and weaknesses are intertwined so intricately, that they can’t be listed, they require thorough mapping. I also find that the art (though it has its moments of greatness) doesn’t exactly flow, so reading requires effort and patience, but this manga has stuff to show for it – Vulgar Ghost Daydream is memorable, unique and more intelligent than you would likely think from its description.
Let’s start with the important. It does picture sex and in considerable variety: there’re detailed SM play sessions, lesbian sex, hermaphrodite sex, messy first attempt at oral and
plenty of hints on varying perversions. Perhaps, the only kind that is amiss is the heterosexual functional one. Sometimes you get the impression that it’s been introduced as shock content and pandering (which is undoubtedly true), but external motivation aside, most of it looks lifelike and humane, a thing that happens in people’s lives, not the usual teen hysteria. After all the main character can be classified as a sex worker too.
Ghosts, “bad” apartments and their denizens, a “dungeon”… We see the human life flipside and deal with it. This manga is at its best, when it shows the seedier, messier, darker moments of lives and shadier, wearier people. Curiously, even the designs of the more broken are better. And it’s not a case study, the story cares, albeit with a healthy dose of cynicism too – a strange masochist client of the MC domme or a stalker may be allowed dignity, but they will still be called idiots for the questionable choices that they make.
The horror is what VGD excels at. It’s nothing too new, but the thing that sets the local ghosts apart is a great use of the uncanny valley (they look human, but not quite or always) and that they’re dangerously interested – aware, focused, actively malicious. Most of the ghost sequences are visually great too – a hanged man’s ghost suddenly peeks through a wall, eyes already focused on the necromancer/reader, a ghost floats up partly from water, looking cautiously at something even worse residing in the fog ahead. In addition there’s no technique to deal with them, necromancers are just strange people, who can channel voices of the dead or wander into dead dreams at their peril. I also appreciate that, healthily, the salvation of the living is prioritized, not the whims of the ghosts.
This manga is at its worst in… well, most things Souichiro (that’s how the main henchman of our domme hero is called), namely weird humor episodes and more traditional fanservice. Ok, it’s character motivated, but no matter the explanation it’s unbelievably annoying. No, nosebleeding after seeing high schooler’s panties doesn’t work in a manga with protagonist spanking a gimp-clothed guy for money. I guess, the manga would’ve been more boring completely without humor, and some of the jokes are good, but I’d rather see Souichiro developing his cooler fighting side, not running hysterically around for several chapters, because he imagined the MC sailing away on a ship as a sex pirate (thankfully, it’s rarely so radical).
You see, initially Souichiro had potential, being a goofy government official, but also in the exorcism business, scared of ghosts, but capable in a fight. The characters here have interesting concepts and, sometimes, dedicated story arcs, but on the global scale I find their developments underwhelming – some of the red herrings seemed more engaging than the results. You may not end thinking that way though, since it’s not that critical for enjoyment – there’s steel plenty of juice in the initial conflicting traits and most side characters work nicely.
The plot is episodic at the beginning, but then an overarching story forms. I find the overarching story… well, proficient. It has its mystery, tension, sometimes even cathartic moments, but I would prefer stronger character arcs and I have no idea how one important storyline can be tied up satisfactory in the remaining volume.
There’s this issue with the flow that I’ve mentioned. Some of the smaller arcs are stalling, and, perhaps, there’s something wrong with storyboards – the whole manga reads heavily, with constant friction. Individual panel sequences are, however, often spectacular. VGD makes good use of edited photography for backgrounds: eerie familiarity, upped contrasts and coldness of edited images work well for a ghost story. People are drawn mostly well, including the older, more rugged types, rare in manga (or maybe even specifically them). The problem is that the author fails at drawing the main character’s naked body for some reason, and it absolutely breaks her “star” moments of exorcisms in her fetish clothes. It’s not that they are not jarring story-wise too.
In the end, if I try to evaluate the whole SM-hostess idea, I’ll also end up conflicted. On one hand, it’s pictured as a job, with much, much less giggling that you’d expect, and it is fitting story-wise somehow, since all necromancers are unusual, and there’s this clever detail with a possessed rope the protagonist uses for protection. On the other hand, it is exploitative, and the author does like to self-consciously remind you how brave he is, and he doesn’t want to let go of the Japanese pop-culture pureness fetish, and there’s perhaps too much sex content shoveled in, and Misaki doesn’t exactly come together as a character. But then it’s what you’ll most likely start reading this manga for, isn’t it?
Vulgar Ghost Daydream is indeed vulgar, but also accepting, it’s a strange mixture of sex, humanity and cynicism, a decent story with even better unrealized lines. It has both visual greatness and graphical hiccups. It’s a bit hard to read, but has things to reward you with for it. I can’t help but want it to improve, but I admit that, as it is, it strikes a fine balance. It’s a mixed bag, but one I haven’t forgotten in more than 6 years since I’ve first read it. Most importantly, it’s obviously clever and unusual, so I definitely recommend to try it, if you’re not too skittish or chaste, and can stand abundant and various sexual topics (that, besides the poor flow, is what it gets only a 6 for).