Ghost Stories: A Dub by Any Other Name

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I’m a fan of anime dubs. It’s actually surprising more people from my generation aren’t actually, considering all the anime we were exposed to was dubbed into English. That dubbing did range the gamut of quality. From the excellent Yu Yu Hakusho, to the oddly suitable and quality Digimon series, or the over dramatic kids fare of Pokémon, Beyblade, and Yu-Gi-Oh!, and the down right terrible One Piece or Cardcaptors my generation grew up on them. So, going into the future it makes sense that I want to watch shows with dubs (I will go back and watch shows I know were edited like the different Yu-Gi-Oh! Series, or One Piece. The One Piece sub is some of my favorite voices for a cast). Well that, and the fact I usually multitask when watching TV, so if it’s in Japanese I won’t be able to do that (I’m busy… shut up!)

That makes it all the stranger when a show like Ghost Stories comes out and has an… interesting dub to say the least.

For those that don’t know Ghost Stories is an anime famous for its eclectic dub. By eclectic I mean that it is an officially licensed “Abridged” series.

For those that don’t know, an abridged anime series is a fan work where fandubs come in and make the script a joke, edit down episodes, and sometimes rewrite whole stories in the name of comedy. The best/most famous of these being the Yu-Gi-Oh! And Dragon Ball Z series.

If you would like a plot description of the show it is pretty simple. It follows an elementary school girl named Satski as she and her brother move back to her mom’s home town after she died. Along the way they find an old haunted school house and meet up with ghost hunting students Leo and Hajime, along with their born again Christian Momoko must hunt down the spirits of the town every episode.

Of the many things the show is, the biggest is how it is a time capsule of 2000s American humor. If the fact one of the characters went from a generic best friends to a God-fearing, bible-thumping Evangelical who wants to go to Joel Olsteen’s church for a vacation, and is also secretly a lesbian then I don’t know what does.

Well I do. On top of the jabs at Christianity comes constant 3rd wall breaks, inside jokes, racist jokes, gay jokes, sex jokes, and cracks at the exceptional. If there is something envelope pushing for 2004 and seen as edgy the show does it a lot.

With that said it is pretty easy to write the show off as incredibly dated and does not hold up to modern standards of what’s considered envelope-pushing or transgressive (though it’s pretty easy, I imagine, to get a response from others who see this as the “You can’t make Blazing Saddles today,” but for this show argument).

I see the series, though, as a good time capsule of what edgy 2000s comedy was like in a crystallized form, and without the knowledge that similar series like Family Guy and South Park changed as the decade past. This dub of the anime shows exactly what that transgressive comedy was like in all its strength and flaws.

This all sounds very forgiving considering the show uses the fa-word, as well as much worse, but I found it oddly refreshing. It really isn’t something that would be made today. Included with that is how it feels like it spices up a rather generic monster of the week show with children. Instead, the dub gives every character one defining trait that makes them stand out more than they would if it were played straight.

On top of that, the main cast is made up of children. This makes their racy jokes feel like they come from a place of ignorance than malice (most of the time). This doesn’t excused adults and grownups, but even then they are played as losers and not people you want to emulate.

This all sounds glowing, and for what the show is, it kind of deserves it. However, to be fair to the original story the dub changes just so much that when they make cracks at how the episode makes no sense, or they are ripping off The Ring (since a lot of the Japanese monsters they tackle have similar roots) it feels unfair because there might be key dialogue that would fill it in to make sense. If that’s not true I’d love to hear it.

Also, once the series increases in production quality and the threats get more serious it feels wrong in some ways to be poking fun. Wrong in the sense that it is clearly a serious situation in the original language, and they try to keep that tone but add comedy, and it does not work. It feels like too much. Comedy works when there is a balance of what’s going on. There is no balance. It’s just jab after jab after jab.

In the end, whether good or bad, like it or hate it, the fact a dub like this exists feels important. It shows what can be done in the slim margins of anime dubbing, and feels like if it were a bigger series, or didn’t focus just on the most offensive of comedy it could have really changed the dubbing game.

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