Content Warning: Strangulation, violence against sex workers, possible animal death, sexualized tentacle imagery
What’s it about? Keitaro has been able to see ghosts since childhood, a skill that for years drove him to be a shut-in. With the help of his friend Eiko, he manages to escape this life, getting into a prestigious university and securing a job as a tutor. But just when he thought he had fully let go of his ghostly past he is confronted with his first student, a young girl named Yayoi who also can see spirits. She wants to investigate and catch them with him. His role? Well, he’s the bait.
Is it October? Because it certainly feels that way. With Zom 100 and Undead Murder Farce being the most talked about premieres by far, it was already starting to look like the season of spooky thrills. And there is no show more spooky (or spoopy, depending on your take) than Dark Gathering.
Dark Gathering is a horror comedy with a dash of moe on top, which makes for an interesting combination. The level of scares remains for much of the episode akin to a particularly creepy episode of Scooby-Doo, and half of the fun of is watching Keitaro have extreme reactions to things that to the audience are quite silly––possessed plushies being strangled! A girl with skulls for pupils! A haunted telephone booth! One could almost describe it as camp.
However, there are also moments that hint at a real darkness lurking underneath, both in the visuals and the writing–a darkness that seems to be linked to a rather strange way of looking at women. The scene where Yayoi’s mother is taken contains some particularly disturbing imagery, including some…tentacle action. The fate of the ghost of the hostess who ghosted her clients is to be torn apart, limb from limb, seemingly by the will of our female lead Yayoi. This does not look to be a show where we are encouraged to empathize with these spirits, nor a show where they are some larger metaphor for social ills–which is concerning when you are invoking such a specific kind of violence against sex workers.
This somewhat alienated view towards women extends to how the female leads are treated. Eiko can best be described as a trickster character–first helping Keitaro get out of his funk, manic pixie dream girl style, then abruptly roping him into this situation with her cousin, claiming that he clearly loves to be terrified. The uncertainty and tension around both her and his motivations could lead interesting places–it could be that Keitaro is, indeed, a glutton for punishment and this is a series much like Nagatoro, where his tormenting is at the end of the day done in a (somewhat) consensual way. It could also be that he is being gaslit and roped into this dangerous situation essentially against his will. It is unclear from this episode which of these routes or some combination the show will go down. Any could easily be compelling, although making Keitaro the victim of gaslighting would inflame the aforementioned concerns I have about this show’s view of women and girls. What would not be good, though, is if Eiko’s motivations remain unexplored or are whatever the plot needs at any given moment for convenience’s sake.
It is a relief to report that there doesn’t seem to be much shipping potential between Keitaro and Yayoi, as that spot is reserved strictly for Eiko, and the show finds other ways to make Yayoi interesting. Her character design is very much “spoopy moe,” and her backstory, while rather cliche, does give us a view into her twisted perspective on the world. The show is clearly playing with making the male character the damsel in distress dependent on a strange little girl, so it’s good that this girl seems to have some dark secrets, if the ending ritual is any indication.
If you want a show to watch as a spoopy good time, this is probably the show for you. It’s not going to win any awards for being insightful or beautifully animated, but it will give you the silly creeps to get you through until October.