Reviewby Theron Martin,
DVD 2: Sophomore Scares
Elementary school students Satsuki, Hajime, Leo, Momoko, and Keiichirou are back for a second round of ghost-busting action focusing mostly on undead denizens associated with school. This time around we have a ghost obsessed with running, ghosts who operate through mirrors, a ghost who bashes down doors to attack children who are home alone, and a ghost who uses a haunted Web site to lure Leo to the land of the dead. As always, the wisecracking ghost Amanojaku, still trapped in the body of a cat, hangs around to pester the kids and occasionally offer help.
First, let's get the contentious issue out of the way: yes, as with the first volume, ADV's English dub for the second volume of Ghost Stories radically alters the characterizations of the main characters and outright changes about two-thirds of the original script in an effort to load each episode with topical jokes and off-color humor. This effectively turns the English dub into a parody of the original, with separate “hearing impaired” subtitles included that are keyed to the English dub. Playing the dub with that option on is recommended, since some of the jokes fly by too fast for the average viewer to make out and there are additional jokes specific to those subtitles. (Watch for the trademark symbols, especially in the Next Volume preview.) The Japanese language track is still unaltered and has faithful subtitles associated with it, so those who have lambasted ADV for what they've done to the dub can just ignore it and watch the show as originally written.
Most non-Japanese viewers are not going to find the unaltered version to be of much interest, though. Without the the alterations you're watching a run-of-the-mill family-oriented supernatural series which is unlikely to be fully appreciated by anyone who didn't grow up in Japan, since the stories are meant to resonate with people who grew up on tales of ghosts in school bathroom stalls, human-faced dogs, or ghosts who manifest a path to the underworld in a school's sports equipment shed. American fans may appreciate the cultural insight it offers, but moreso here than with most anime titles they won't fully “get it” because they weren't raised Japanese. The English dub, on the other hand, is much more attuned to content that American fans would be more likely to appreciate. It's also slanted much more towards adult audiences than the Japanese version, with references to “tranny hookers,” Barbra Streisand, and other things that either wouldn't be appropriate for a 10-year-old viewer or would fly way over his head.
The humor in this volume is more hit-or-miss than it was in the first volume, and some of it may be too edgy or tasteless for some viewers. Some jokes and cultural references – especially in episode 5 – are also too topical for their own good; how many anime fans will get a reference to Joel Osteen, for instance, and what's with all the Christian Slater-bashing? Enough of the jokes and alternate characterizations do work (especially Monica Rial's ultra-Christian take on Momoko) for the volume to be well worth recommending, though, and it's certainly more entertaining than the very blasé unmodified script shown in the Japanese version. Both positive and negative credit goes to the principal English VAs, all of whom contribute to the English script and deliver their lines for great effect. (Much of the humor, according to some of the VAs involved, was complete ad-libbing.) That their performances don't resemble the originals at all is irrelevant in this case.
For those who don't have a clue about Japanese traditions on school-based ghost stories, a very informative “Ghost Files” entry is included in the Extras which explains the cultural aspects of the phenomenon and the particular commonly-known ghosts being referenced in this volume. Some of the introductory material is a straight repeat of what was offered in volume 1, and the way the information is organized could have been handled better (another submenu for the individual ghosts would have improved things), but it's still an indispensable aid for those who are intent on watching the series straight-up. Other extras include clean opener and closer, company previews, and a Next Volume preview – and, as mentioned before, don't skip this and do play it with the “hearing impaired” subtitles on or you'll miss some extra jokes.
Artistry and production values for the series are a little above average but not particularly remarkable, with good points (background art) balanced out by bad ones (the thick-lipped character design for Leo, some imperfect integration between foreground and background art, monster designs are very generic). The soundtrack is heavy on spooky themes in the way you would expect a kid's “horror” show to be; think classic Scooby-Doo. The opener is a decent enough J-pop number, but I have to wonder what the original producers were thinking with the closer; a song named “Sexy Sexy” is being used for the closer for a family TV show? How is that a good idea?
Ultimately there are only two valid reasons to watch Ghost Stories: you want to be educated about Japanese school ghosts or you want to see what kind of craziness the English dub cast can pull off. My recommendation? Skip the subtitled version and only watch the parody rewrite offered by the English dub. It's far more entertaining and actually worth your time and money, unlike the original version.
Overall (dub) : B+
Overall (sub) : C-
Story : C-
Animation : C+
Art : C+
Music : C
+ The English dub is considerably more watchable and entertaining than the original version.
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