Reviewby Zac Bertschy, Aug 23rd 2005
There was a time, not too long ago, when anime fans in the United States, starving for product, would eagerly devour any title they could get their hands on. They liked something specifically because it was anime; there was no such thing as an “A-List” or “B-List” title because everything was considered excellent simply for being what it was.
That isn't true at all anymore, and now, thanks to the colossal, ridiculous glut of anime that's flooding the market, the distinction between a top-shelf title and something that belongs in the bargain bin is getting clearer and clearer. For every Fullmetal Alchemist or Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex, you get five Wild Arms or Gunparade Marches, shows that just don't mean much of anything to anyone, don't have big fanbases and just aren't remarkable. Ghost Stories, an innocuous kid's show about a ragtag team of elementary school kids who deal with a ghost-infested schoolhouse, was the epitome of a bottom-shelf, bargain bin title… until ADV dubbed it.
Make no mistake, there's nothing about Ghost Stories that you haven't seen before. The story's pretty basic: a girl named Satsuki and her innocent little brother move into a new neighborhood; their next door neighbor is a spunky kid named Hajime who plays by his own rules, and he's followed around by a nerd with a penchant for the paranormal. On their first day of school they venture into the scary abandoned schoolhouse next to their elementary school and discover, shockingly enough, that the place is haunted.
Can you guess what happens next? I'll tell you anyway.
Turns out Satsuki's dead mother used to be the principal there and had sealed away a ghost named Amanujaku who's been released thanks to the deforestation taking place behind the school. She left behind a diary that details how she got rid of the spirits in the building, which have all been released; sure enough, Satsuki follows the diary and manages to seal Amanujaku… inside her cat. It's up to Satsuki to follow the instructions in the diary and rid the place of its ghost problem, save the abandoned schoolhouse and exorcize the ghost living inside her cat.
In its original Japanese, it doesn't get any more banal or uninteresting than Ghost Stories, to be frank. This show has zero fans in the states, primarily because it's as run-of-the-mill a kids' show as you can possibly imagine. The characters are cardboard anime archetypes, and the whole “plucky kids solve ghost-related mysteries” story has been done to death. The animation is surprisingly high-end for a show like this, and the opening and ending themes are suitably catchy little J-pop confections, but let's be honest: the original version of this show is a yawn.
Thank god for ADV Films. In a move to sell more than three copies of this series, they've done something very wise: completely screwed with the dub script and turned what was once a painfully uninteresting kids' series into an absolutely hilarious show for adults that's hard to stop watching. Tossing out the original Japanese script (but leaving the basic storyline intact without editing any scenes out), the English dub for this show is a howl. Sure, there are a few too many throwaway dirty jokes and the second episode delves a little too deeply into name-dropping pop culture icons, but when you pitch this many jokes in 23 minutes, you're bound to strike out a few times. If you've ever seen Samurai Pizza Cats, the anime series Saban released in the 1990's where the scriptwriters simply threw out the Japanese dialogue and wrote all-new, totally hilarious lines, then you've got a good idea of what Ghost Stories is like in English.
What's better is how well the new lines are delivered; Hilary Haag and Chris Patton knock their performances out of the park. Clearly they have some talent for comedy and it shines more in material written for an American audience rather than the usual eye-roll-inducing Japanese-style comedy so prevalent in other anime. It's fascinating to see how well these actors can perform when they're either ad-libbing or reading lines that weren't meant to be said in a different language; the result is a very fluid and extremely funny dub experience that's not to be missed.
Now, there are those fans out there who will scream bloody murder at the thought of an altered (in this case, totally original) dub script. And to be fair, this is from Stephen Foster, the man who managed to transform Sorcerous Stabber Orphen into an unrecognizable pile of garbage. They have reason to be suspicious. The fact of the matter is, there's no reason to get up in arms about this dub; the original series isn't some untouchable sacred masterpiece, and Foster's work here really shines. It was a boring, uninteresting kids' show that wouldn't sell (and besides which, the DVD comes with an unaltered subtitle track and the original Japanese version). The show ADV has produced, in English, is one of the funniest things I've seen come out of any anime studio in a while. Simply put, if you're not the kind of fan who keeps a stick wedged firmly into someplace uncomfortable, you're going to get a big kick out of the English dub of Ghost Stories.
If you're a purist, well, you're no fun anyway.
+ Fantastic and hilarious dub
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