The sub vs. dub debate is timeless. While I staunchly fall on the sub side there’s one series for which the dub is undeniably the only good option: Ghost Stories.
For those unaware, Ghost Stories is a series that aired between 2000-2001 in Japan. It was pretty bad. In fact it was so bad that when ADV Films licensed the series in 2005 they were given the freedom to rewrite the series as a comedy for its dub. The only limitations were that they needed to retain the original character names and leave the footage unchanged.
It goes without saying that ADV let their imaginations run rampant. The result was a version of the series that is among the raunchiest, crudest and rudest anime has to offer. It relentlessly riffs on stereotypes and mid-oughts pop culture, as well as itself. And it’s hilarious… to a point.
Let’s get this out of the way: if you aren’t old enough to remember this era of pop culture then half of the humor is going to go straight over your head. This series gets more dated by the minute. However, for those who remember that time fondly (or not so fondly) it acts as a time portal, a genuine product of its era.
The original series is also a product of its era though, and not in a good way. The producers of Ghost Stories had quite obviously seen Scooby-Doo and decided to cash in by ripping it off in anime form. It completely misses the childlike charm of its inspiration, though. Ghost Stories is notably darker and less kid-friendly while being completely bland.
Most episodes of the series border on unintelligible, especially in the second half of its run. It generally goes like this: the kids end up in the rickety old schoolhouse that, surprise surprise, has been haunted by spirits. They putz around until the monster-of-the-week is established halfway through the episode and proceed to look it up in their magic monster encyclopedia. Then they do the required incantation and wa-lah, the spirit is gone. Roll credits.
At first the dub is able to look past this due to its juvenile novelty. It’s riotously funny watching these children cartoon character designs boast about their sex lives and play up their new traits (the born-again-Christian Momoko, the stereotypically Jewish Leo and the incoherently babbling Keiichiro). The voice acting is actively better than your typical dub which is ironic given how it’s clear the cast is goofing around. Their fun is contagious and it’s easy to get pulled in.
But comedy is an art of diminishing returns and, well, this is a 20 episode series. I remember back when the fourth season of Arrested Development first aired on Netflix. People who binged it in one sitting found themselves laughing less and less as it went along. We can only laugh for so long until jokes become commonplace and by the halfway point of Ghost Stories I was finding myself less consistently amused.
It doesn’t help that Ghost Stories becomes increasingly incoherent along its run. The dub script tries to make up for this with observational humor but it backfires by reminding you just how trite the source material is. For as funny as the dub can be it’s not actually elevating a bad show, just riffing over it.
One interesting takeaway from the dub is how it shows just how much exposition you can cut out without hurting the “integrity” of the story. All the time filled with jokes is drab exposition in the Japanese original. It’s yet another lesson in how exposition gives way to lazy writing. If the original had spent that time developing its episodes better it might have actually amounted to something at least watchable.
Oh, and you know what else is nice? Watching a show drawn entirely by hand. It’s not a visual masterpiece but the animation is generally half-decent and a refreshing break from modern trends alongside your over-a-decade-old pop culture guffaws.
I do think some extent of Ghost Stories is worthy of your time. It’s a unique nugget of anime history that was made possible by a time when the industry was a wild west. Chances are we’ll never see anything like it again, at least as an official release.
Episodes can be found on Crunchyroll and YouTube (although I can’t speak to the legality of the uploads). If you just want the highlights then this clip compilation will do the trick.
I feel no strong ways on this one other than it made me laugh a good bit. It exists. Roll credits.
Edit: check out humbleace’s great comment below where he suggests that this is a series best watch with friends, a sentiment I cosign. He also recommends a similar series (and a much shorter one) that has a similar dub.