“It’s that frosted Vic Mignogna look-alike isn’t it?! I knew it! GOD I thought you had better taste than that! ‘Fullmetal Disgusting’ is what that is!”
– Hajime (“Ghost Stories” Episode Nine)
A butch exorcist…a horny next door neighbor…a younger brother in special ed…a Jewish expert in psychological phenomena…and a recovering drug addicted Evangelical Christian. This is main cast of “Ghost Stories”…or at least, the main cast as portrayed by the English voice actors. What was once a boring “monster-0f-the-week” style anime involving elementary school students has been transformed into one of the funniest shows to ever grace a DVD player…or one of the biggest arguments against dubbed anime currently in existence. Distributed by ADV Films, and directed by Steven Foster [a director known for taking hilarious liberties with a script–often to hilarious results], “Ghost Stories” was licensed with the instructions that, except for the names of the ghosts and their manner of exorcism, they can do in and everything to make the show sell in the US. And that they did, stripping the show down to its barest of plots and rewriting the entire show to put emphasis on comedy rather than horror. Does it work? Can the acting and writing styles of Chris Patton, Christine Auten, Monica Rial, Rob Mungle, Greg Ayres and Hilary Haag turn around this lackluster series?
Who Is This Series For? – This series is absolutely for you if you are a fan of comedy. This show gives you as much of it as you can handle. Also, this series might be for you if you have an interest in Japanese horror stories and Japanese mythological ghosts, monsters and spirits.
Who Is This Series NOT For? – This series is not for those under twelve years old. With its raunchy tongue-in-cheek humor [which only gets raunchier as the episodes go on] and its high level of profanity, “Ghost Stories”, at least the English dub by ADV, would not be something you would want to scope out. This story is also not for you if you do not take religious, sexuality or racial jokes to well as the English dub makes quite a few, and the character of Momoko is seen as being a pushy, overbearing Evangelical Christian.
Lets jump right into it then:
Story and Premise – “Ghost Stories” twenty episode story is relatively simple. A group of five kids, Satsuki, Keiichirou, Momoko, Hajime and Leo, fight to put spirits and demons, released by construction in the neighborhood around their school, back to spiritual sleep with the help of a ghost diary written by Satsuki and Keiichirou’s deceased mother and Amanojaku, an evil spirit possessing the body of the family cat. Pretty much, this is your typical monster-of-the-week series with nothing new brought to the party. Every episode is pretty much laid out the same way; a spirit appears, kids wonder whats going on, someone gives Satsuki the bright idea to check the ghost diary, ghost is dispatched, everyone is happy. Only two or three episodes break from this pattern slightly, but for the most part, there is no change from episode to episode. The only difference is the ghosts and spirits the team encounters, which are, for the most part, pulled from Japanese mythology. The ending is uninspired and summed up with, of all things, a photo montage. (13/25)
Characters – The leader of our rag-tag group of young exorcists is Satsuki Miyanoshita. Strong willed and protective of her younger brother and resident crybaby Keiichirou since their mother’s death, she uses her mothers ghost diary to place spirits and demons sealed away by her mother back to spiritual sleep. Joining them is Hajime Aoyama, their next-door neighbor and classmate. Hajime is your typical hot-blooded adolescent male lead, more interested in teasing and peeking up skirts than actually doing anything productive, yet he genuinely cares for his friends. Also joining the group is Hajime’s friend and “resident psychical researcher” Leo Kakinoki who is heavy into anything dealing with the supernatural. Pretty much, the obligatory team nerd. Rounding out the cast is Momoko Koigakubo, an upperclassman who befriends the group and can serve as a temporary medium of sorts for Satsuki and Keiichirou’s mother. Overall, the characters are your typical anime kid-group; the nerd, the tomboy, the hotheads, the pretty girl and the younger brother. It reminds me of “Digimon Adventure”; you could easily replace Satsuki, Keiichirou, Momoko, Hajime and Leo with Sora, TK, Tai, Mimi and Izzy respectively…and maybe improve the story a bit in the process as those characters actually mature and grow from their experiences in the digital world. [in fact, in the first season of “Digimon Adventure”, the above mentioned characters are in Elementary school just like the “Ghost Stories” cast, so it really COULD work…hmm…] In the English dub, this is pretty much thrown out the window. Hajime is now ten times more perverted than the norm, Leo is now Jewish and way more nerdy than in the original, Momoko is now a witnessing Evangelical Christian who is a recovering drug addict, Keiichirou is now a special ed student, and Satsuki is now way more butch than the soft-spoken version in the original. (17/25)
Animation and Music – Not much can be said about the animation. It’s good, but not outstanding. There are moments when it shines, and there are moments when you can tell the creators kinda got lazy. This is joked about several times in the dub along with the fact that the creators, at times, didn’t bother to give the characters new clothes. The spirits and demons, however, are really well rendered and believable scary. On the music side, the opening theme, “Growup”, is undeniably catchy and upbeat and matches the opening sequence animation perfectly, though I must admit the first five seconds looks like something that was put together in Windows Movie Maker. It’s everything AFTERWARDS that sucks. The incidental music played in the background is uninspired and is either your typical hokey “after school goofing off with friends” music, creepy “something is going on” music, sentimental “talking about dead mother” music, overly dramatic “DUN-DUNNNNNN!!!” music [parodied by Satsuki in episode 18], the “hey, let’s formulate a plan” music, and the stirring “heroes standing in formation at episode end” music. It’s all predictable and all forgettable except for the sheer corniness. But what really takes the cake is the ending theme song “Sexy, Sexy”. After twenty episodes, I still have not been able to figure out what the heck possessed the sound engineers to pick a song called “Sexy, Sexy” to end a show about ELEMENTARY SCHOOL AGE ghost hunters. The lyrics are about as inappropriate as you can get….”Hey, won’t you come to my room? I’ll let you in on a secret…” Yeah…SURE you will…(15/25)
Performances – “Ghost Stories” comes in two flavors: The first being the original Japanese with Satsuki, Keiichirou, Hajime, Leo and Momoko played by Tomoko Kawakami, Kurumi Mamiya, Takako Honda, Makoto Tsumura and Kumi Sakuma respectively with a standard script. On the English side, the characters are played by Hilary Haag, Christine M. Auten, Chris Patton, Greg Ayres, and Monica Rial. To say that the English and Japanese performances are as different as night and day is speaking mildly. Peppered with numerous instances of breaking the fourth wall, rapid-fire profanity, American pop-culture references and racy ad-libs, “Ghost Stories” is like getting two shows for the price of one. However, in some weird way, it works! The American actors and writers do an outstanding job matching the jokes with the action on-screen. If one didn’t know better, one would think the show was animated just for the humor used. (25/25)
Story and Premise – 13 out of 25
Characters – 17 out of 25
Animation and Music – 15 out of 25
Performances – 25 out of 25
Final Grade: 70/100 = 70% (D)
Availability – “Ghost Stories” is currently available at Best Buy as a “Complete Collection” set, which contains all twenty episodes for around $45-50. You can also check out sites like Amazon and eBay for either the Complete Collection or the five original individual volumes. The DVD’s themselves are relatively lackluster, with your typical “Clean Opening and Closing”, and trailers. There is a section marked “Ghost Profiles” on the original DVDs that gives you information about the ghosts seen in the series which is interesting to read. For those who don’t want to bother with physical media, the series is available currently for streaming on YouTube. I would have LOVED to have had a commentary track for this series, but sadly, we can’t all get what we want.
Lagniappe (A Little Something Extra)
- The English Dub of the series makes several references to the evacuation of Hurricane Katrina survivors to Houston, Texas. ADV’s recording studios was located in Houston at the time.
- In episode 13 “The Picture That Swallows People: Da Vinci”, the character of DaVinci was played by Vic Mignogna under the pseudonym “Obi Frostips”. This was teased about three episodes later when Hajime continued his joke about the father of Satsuki’s “baby” being a “frosted Vic Mignogna look-alike”.
- The series was eventually re-dubbed by Animax under the title “Ghosts at School” with a script that remained true to the original Japanese.
- Ironically [for me anyway] this is the second series that features the late Tomoko Kawakami. If you remember, she played the speaking role of Athena Glory in the “Aria” series.
- In the opening title sequence, we see our main characters jump from a bridge into a stream of water. We then see the group standing in same stream with the water only coming up about two or three feet. So this means that the group jumped from a high point into a shallow stream of water and emerged without a scratch…I’ll let you think about that one.
So where does that leave us? Well…that all depends on what language you pick. If you settle on the original Japanese, you get a boring, ho-hum, everyday “monster of the week” series that is easily forgettable with few redeeming characteristics and characters that have been seen over and over again in many different series…and done way better too, I might add. If you settle on the English version, you get a show that you will not soon forget. The comedic timing of the actors is what makes this show work in English, and it’s what saved it from getting a completely failing grade.
And that’s review number two in the can! Next up on the review list is, of course, the series I was going to review in the first place! So come back next week as we walk a thousand miles [or twenty-six episodes] through the world of…
“Mushi-Shi: The Cure Lies in the Curse”