ADV Films // 2000 // 100 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Brett Cullum // January 19th, 2006
Some schools raise more HELL than others.
Japanese school children go to school at 7am and get out around 7pm. They have no summer vacation, hardly any breaks, and work very hard to graduate with the educational equivalent of our best college grads. They work very hard at school, and spend more than half their day there, starting at a young age. Is it any wonder they make up horror stories about haunted schools, and angry ghosts that inhabit their academic halls? School is pretty hellish for them.
During the '90s, a series of theatrical movies about school ghosts captured the imagination of the Pacific Islanders, and several projects were developed around these supernatural folk tales. One of those projects was an anime series that debuted in 2000, called Gakko No Kaidan, which featured a group of school-age children battling all sorts of popular supernatural beasties in an academic setting. The featured ghosts were all popular urban myths, similar to the "Bloody Mary" ghost story school-age children here in the United States pass around. The animators didn't have to give much backstory to their creation, because these figures were easily recognized by the Japanese audience.
ADV has taken the Gakko No Kaidan series and created its own spoofy fantastic version called Ghost Stories. This second installment, called Ghost Stories, Vol. 2: Semester 2 -- Sophomore Scares, ups the humor quotient and continues the show, which is often neatly contained stand-alone episodes that have a general theme to connect them. It's like Scooby Doo in that a gang of kids take on a new ghost threat in each show, but this time the spooks are real! No need to unmask any of them, they just have to find a way to bust the ghosts back to a Shinto shrine that has been demolished by careless construction workers. Think Buffy the Vampire Slayer meets Saved By The Bell thrown into a twisted anime, and you're getting close.
The plot so far...
Satsuki and her crybaby brother Keichiro move to a house their dead mother used to live in, and find themselves enrolled in a new school. Their new institution of learning stands next to a decrepit abandoned structure, where it used to hold classes before the shiny new school was built. Turns out the pair's mother was the school principal, and has left a guide on which ghosts haunt the old school and how to fight them. In the first volume, Satsuki and Keichiro teamed up with their cocky neighbor Hajime, his nerdy Jewish (in the American dub only) friend Leo, and a snobby born-again Christian (in the dub only) upper-class girl named Momoko. Also, their family cat became a talking rude sidekick after the first demon they fought possessed him. A recent community development has disturbed most of the spirits from the resting place the mom sent them to, so now it's up to Satsuki and her new friends (with the demonic kitty) to become real-life Ghostbusters. In every episode they face a new ghostly figure out of Japanese folk legend, and must find some way to stop them from taking over the school and the village.
This volume in a nutshell...
The gang fights four new spectres at school and at home, including a runner ghost who chops off the feet of his track victims, a pissed-off "Barbara Streisand" ghost that scares children into a catatonic stupor when they are home alone, an "Uma Thurman Sushi" ghost who sucks people into the mirror world, and an Internet demon who feeds off people lost on the World Wide Web and ushers them to the Buddhist land of the dead.
What makes this release so different is how irreverent it is. While most anime contains very literal straightforward translations of the Japanese scripts, Ghost Stories lets the American cast run loose improvising lines left and right. It's a pee-in-your-pants laugh riot, and more than a little twisted. The humor is sharp, topical, and kinky all at once. These are some sick puppies behind the microphones, who seem to be fascinated with Republicans, celebrities, and overweight transsexuals. If you're a purist, you can always watch the show with the traditional Japanese track and some direct-to-English translations, but that's only half as fun. Ghost Stories soars thanks to the comedy infusion by the cast. It's about time somebody stopped treating these shows as Biblical canon that can't be adapted to American culture. ADV is making sick and twisted humor not just a Japanese tradition, and I say bully for them.
The transfers are lively and bright, with heavy color saturation and no problems. The audio tracks are stereo in both languages, and they get the job done. There are no extras, save for some text information revealing the Japanese origins of the ghosts, which is sort of a shame. I'd love to see the English cast deciding how to improvise all this manic brilliance. You definitely need to check this title out. It's juvenile, petty, sarcastic, stupid, and offensive -- I'm hooked for every damn episode.
Review content copyright © 2006 Brett Cullum; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: ADV Films
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (Japanese)
Running Time: 100 Minutes
Release Year: 2000
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Clean Opening and Closing
* Ghost Profiles
* DVD Verdict Review of Volume One