Judge Brett Cullum thinks more anime series should go the "improvised English dub" route, like this ADV offering does.
Bunnies, dead cabbies, and dolls…oy vey!
Ghost Stories represents a shift in anime from ADV. What they've done is taken a series that wouldn't work well if you directly translated the Japanese dialogue to English, and decided to create a sidesplittingly funny, irreverent dub for Americans. They've let loose their cast of carefully chosen, politically incorrect actors to improvise anything they want, as long as it matches those lip flaps of the characters on the screen. It's something anime purists would have a field day tearing apart…but screw those geeky bastards. Ghost Stories Semester 3: Junior Jitters (Volume 3) is rampant buffoonery of the most beguiling kind. I've never had this much fun with anime before.
The original series aired in Japan in 2000. It was a show that capitalized on the success of a movie that showed urban legends concerning school ghosts common in Japanese culture. You have to understand that Japanese students spend up to twelve hours a day at school, and often see teachers more than their parents. So it's natural they would come up with superstitious tales about ghosts haunting their academic institutions, rather than the more domestic counterparts in American culture (such as Bloody Mary). The problem with Ghost Stories the original series is it requires a lot of understanding of Japanese tradition and superstitions to work. ADV includes the direct translation through subtitles, with the accompanying Japanese audio track, for those who wish to view the series in its original incarnation. In truth, the show would only be of mild interest had ADV decided to do a direct faithful translation. The animation is solid, but never truly innovative or impressive. And the narratives are straightforward monster-of-the-week plots that remind me of Scooby Doo.
That brings us to the outrageous work done by the American vocal cast. Hillary Haag, Chris Patton, Greg Ayres, Monica Rial, Christine Auten, and Rob Mungle relish the chance to add irreverent comments to their dialogue. The gang turns the Japanese culture references into crude, zingy one-liners about Republicans, transvestites, and pop culture. Your jaw will need to be picked up off the floor after five minutes of any given episode, and you very well may have to change pants.
I'm pleased with the technical presentation; it's solid work. Transfers are chipper and colors have the right level of saturation. There is only slight edge enhancement in brief intervals, and the occasional artifact. The audio tracks are both in simple stereo, and do a fine job with making the dialogue clear in both English and Japanese. Subtitles are provided for both the traditional Japanese script as well as the politically incorrect improvised dub. Extras are a little sparse, limited to clean credit sequences and a text profile of each ghost. I hope for the next volume ADV gets the cast together for a commentary or a behind-the-scenes featurette. I'd love the chance to hear how these guys develop the English script.
The only drawback I can see for Ghost Stories Semester 3: Junior Jitters (Volume 3) is that the humor relies on current events and trends. In a few years, will the jokes about Hurricane Katrina or the cast of Lost still be funny? And how much replay can you get out of a series that doesn't take anything seriously? Once you've gotten through the hilarious English dub, and then gone back and read the more traditional Japanese script, it's hard to imagine revisiting the series immediately. But it will be one of those titles you whip out every time a person not familiar with it comes over, with an evil grin on your face. Your friends will never believe the lunacy you've found.
I hope this marks a new trend in anime, because I could deal with more humor in the genre. Perhaps in the future ADV will provide three audio tracks for every title. You could have one traditional Japanese track, one direct-to-English translation, and a third with improvised jokes and goofs from the cast. I remember in college we used to provide our own dubs to animes after a few beers, and Ghost Stories Semester 3: Junior Jitters (Volume 3) is light years ahead of the wacky stuff we came up with. It's as if ADV pumped nitrous oxide into the sound booths while the cast recorded the dialogue. Hats off to them for a fabulously funny romp that's well worth checking out.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: ADV Films
• Clean Opening and Closing
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