Last week’s episode of Dark Gathering was a bit stuttery in its setup, but having gotten most of that taken care of means it’s able to horrifically hit the ground running in this one. This episode’s engagement of Keitaro and Yayoi taking on a powerful ghost that’s barged into Ai’s apartment is actually but a side-quest, a pit-stop before dealing with her betrothed god that’s just here to demonstrate the kind of high-level baddies her situation has been attracting. But it still hits on plenty of effective horror fundamentals that move points of Ai’s plot and character forward with the themes of the story, so that it doesn’t come off as disposable.
Just having the team deal with a relatively straightforward ghost-to-bust helps realign Dark Gathering‘s presentational priorities here. The spirit that invades the apartment has a simply solid scary design, his creepy sideways eyes piercing unnaturally whether he’s gazing at one of the characters or into us through the fourth wall. And there’s a smart insistence on demonstrating his monstrous methodology through his actions and other characters’ reactions. There’s just something tangibly, effectively unpleasant about the way we see his grody groping of characters’ brain stems. It’s very nails-on-chalkboard, teeth-on-tinfoil, in the best kind of visceral way you want out of something like this. Or the way I want anyway and hey, I’m not even a horror guy!
But it plays up psychological aspects of the ghost’s gimmick as well. Late in the episode, when Keitaro is forced to see visions of exactly how this thing claimed and kept controlling its previous victims, it ramps up the deep unpleasantness even more. It revels in the charged imagery of the violative scene, really selling how even a scaredy-cat like Keitaro would have reason to be extra scared by this. It’s an effective way to build up what is just a jobber spirit drawn in by the god to demonstrate the escalated power levels our leads are now contending with, and concerning that, show off how Yayoi is still able to handle herself against something like this specifically by exploiting its self-assuredness. As has been her approach since she started this crusade, Yayoi triumphs by always thinking offensively, refusing to react with the fear these ghosts desire no matter how hard they try to drive up the tension.
It’s all a pretty potent presentation the episode arrives at after earlier parts of it look a little rougher. It’s particularly noticeable at points where the characters are attempting to escape the apartment in the elevator, as it looks awkwardly pasted onto the background, that backdrop itself filled out to look like everyone’s lost in that 3D maze screen-saver from the ’90s. Fortunately for Dark Gathering‘s storytelling, it uses a dip like this to dig into those thematic elements as well. We reinforce Ai’s worries about dragging people into her problems, neatly mirroring the issues we know Keitaro just spent half the show getting over, and putting him in a position to mentor her on such things. He is her tutor, after all. But then the vestiges of Keitaro’s main motivational nature still resurface in places, in how he’s all too ready to let himself get dragged down in the elevator if it means everyone else can get to safety.
That always-present nexus of self-sacrifice against selfishness can be detected in this arc’s articulations even as its primary antagonist takes a backseat this week. Ai’s god is sticking around her, drawing in other spirits while simultaneously “protecting” her from their effects, not unlike what Yayoi’s been doing with her allies. But the god’s actions are even more singularly, indefensibly selfish than Yayoi’s often admittedly transactional arrangements. Rather, between the violent abilities and raw power on display, the god almost seems to be acting as a fulfiller of that qualifier Keitaro has regarding Yayoi which he repeats here: It’s a good thing she’s on their side. So, with this god representing someone on Yayoi’s level in terms of ability and loosely similar intentions who our leads have to fight against, this makes for a compelling escalation.
It’s just one more avenue for the show to explore the idea of strength from friends and allies versus strength from selfishly exploiting people. I don’t doubt the series will come down on the side of Keitaro and Yayoi as they unravel more of the mystery behind Ai and help break up her ethereal engagement, but the how of them doing so will still be entertaining. The warm-up match in this episode proved that, confirming that Dark Gathering still has plenty of terrifying tricks up its sleeve.
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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.