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Appellate Judge Mike Pinsky • Location: Wesley Chapel, FL
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Ghost Stories, Volume 1 (Preview Disc)
September 28th, 2005 11:01AM

Ghost Stories: Semester 1 – Freshman Frights

Release Date: October 25, 2005

Practical Satsuki Miyanoshita and her inarticulate little brother Keichiro move to their parents’ old hometown – and a new school. Pretty soon, they are wandering the CG hallways of the abandoned school up the street in search of their lost cat, with some new friends tagging along. Hajime is the sarcastic one. Leo is the paranormal expert – ahem, nerd. Momoko is the pretty ditz and potential psychic (and Christian fundamentalist, which is at least a new twist on a stock character).

Of course, the old school is full of malevolent ghosts. The big bad is a demon that feeds on fear and seems to know Satsuki. Satsuki finds her late mother’s old spell book and banishes the demon. Well, sort of. The spell sends the demon (“a Keebler elf reject with bad gas,” according to Satsuki) into the cat.

And so the show is off and running, as Satsuki and friends defeat the monster of the week and deal with the demon cat’s empty threats. Episode two features a bathroom ghost. (Expect lots of poop jokes.) Episode three revolves around a cursed play and Leo’s stage ambitions. The characters are pretty standard anime stuff, and the voice actors hit their comedy beats in reliable fashion. The standout here is Monica Rial as Momoko: making her character a sweet but judgmental Christian was an inspired move and provides the show with much dry wit.

As you can probably guess, Momoko was not a Christian (nor was Leo Jewish) in the original Japanese version of the show. Gakkou no Kaidan (“School Ghost Stories”) was a short-lived series (only 19 episodes) directed by Noriyuko Abe, better known for the similarly themed hit Yu Yu Hakusho. ADV plans to release the first three episodes on October 25, just in time for your Halloween shopping binge. But American otaku are already apparently talking about Ghost Stories, mostly because producer Steven Foster’s English dub is largely improvised by the voice cast. The basic plot stays faithful to the original, but the characters and dialogue have been tweaked, in some cases (like Momoko) quite extensively.

I have no qualms about ADV’s efforts here to punch up the comedy by allowing the voice cast to improvise jokes more appropriate to their American audience. It makes the show funny and accessible to viewers not intimately familiar with Japanese culture. And if anime is ever going to completely cross over into the mainstream without thoroughly bastardizing itself (“Ash Ketchum,” anyone?), there must be a compromise between faithfulness and freshness. Ghost Stories seems as good a place to start as any.

I am sorely disappointed that ADV did not include the original Japanese soundtrack on this review DVD. Hopefully, the final copy will have it. Given the controversy generated by this freewheeling translation, having the original Japanese track (with subtitles, of course) would allow the audience to compare. When Satsuki assures her brother that “monsters only get evil people, like Republicans,” I wonder what the original slam was. When the lecherous Hajime ogles Momoko and quotes Family Guy’s Quagmire with a “giggity giggity,” or when Leo remarks that he is Jewish – these are not too distracting. Producer Steven Foster also tried a liberal English adaptation of the bizarre and opaque Super Milk Chan, which is enough to drive anyone around the bend. The jokes in Ghost Stories blend in nicely – most of the time at least – and the show is entertaining.

Judgment: 86

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