Judge Brett Cullum is one of those things that go bump in the night.
Can a school have too much spirit?
As a kid, did you ever stand in front of a mirror and ask Bloody Mary to come to you? Japanese kids have a lot of ghost stories exactly like that one, but most of the ghost stories they know center around school. There's the girl who is supposed to haunt the third stall of the bathroom, and if you ask her to come she will ask if you want to play and then scare you. Or how about the dog with a human face usually found rooting through garbage? Most kids in Japanese schools fear statues will come to life and attack them. The Japanese have tons of folk legends about ghosts, and Ghost Stories One introduces an anime series that sets them all in one abandoned school.
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. On the first day Keichiro brings the family cat, which wanders off into the old school, forcing the brother and sister to head inside. They are followed by their cocky neighbor Hajime, his nerdy Jewish friend Leo, and a snobby born-again Christian upper-class girl named Momoko. The school is abuzz with all sorts of paranormal activity, and one particularly vengeful demon seems to know Satsuki. Turns out her mother was the school principal, and has left a guide on which ghosts haunt the old school and how to fight them. 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 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. Just keep telling yourself "I ain't 'fraid of no ghosts!"
Ghost Stories wasn't a likely candidate for an American ADR house to buy and distribute. It wasn't flashy in its animation style, and revolved around a plot that incorporated light comedy and Japanese folk legends that few in the U.S. would know or care to learn about. But ADV decided to take some of their most popular voice actors and improvise large portions of the script, rather than doing a direct translation. Producer Steven Foster allowed the cast to make it funny for American audiences, and the result transforms the series into one long voice actor gag reel. Prior to its official release, they placed a clip of the show on an anime fansite called G4TV.com, and people seemed to like the idea. It's not as innovative as it sounds, given that fan dubs of anime have been around as long as the shows have been made, but this is a first for American ADR houses, which usually adhere pretty strictly to an almost direct translation of every line of dialogue. And let's face it—these voice actors are pretty twisted, and give the show a preoccupation with sexuality, scatological pop culture references, and political jabs at current American politics. Hilary Haag, Chris Patton, Greg Ayers, Monica Rial, Christine Auten, and Rob Mungle sound like they are having a blast getting to send up everything from right wing Christians to homosexuals. Their track has many inside jokes, but they're having such a good time you won't mind too much. They do have a tendency to crack jokes to amuse themselves, but that's part of the fun. The cast does manage to get the basic story from the Japanese script out there in addition to the improvised zippy one-liners.
If you are a purist you can always watch the show in its original Japanese with direct translation subtitles. Oddly enough, you can also play the show with the American improvised lines subtitled as well. The transfer makes the show look colorful, and avoids any problematic digital artifacts. Both audio tracks are in simple stereo, so both are on par with each other no matter which language you prefer. Extras are limited to a clean opening and closing, plus a text feature explaining the origin of each of this volume's ghosts. There are four episodes which serve as an introduction to the series, and feature the gang fighting ghosts from the bathroom to the music room.
Ghost Stories One just might be the most fun you're going to have with anime this year. It's fast and funny with a twisted take on pop culture. It may be one extended gag reel, but often those are my favorite features from ADV. Nice to see they are allowing their stable of voice talent the chance to let loose and have some fun with some material that otherwise would have been middling at best. This is one title that doesn't take itself seriously at all—and after scores of space operas that frankly were too somber, it's a nice change. Check this disc out if you want to giggle at poop and panty jokes. It's wicked fun, and worth seeking out.
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