Ghost Stories (Gakkō no Kaidan, lit. "School Ghost Stories"), also known as Ghosts at School, is an anime series created in 2000 by Studio Pierrot and Aniplex for Fuji Television. Based on the School Ghost Stories franchise of children's novels and films, the series was directed by Noriyuki Abe, who also directed YuYu Hakusho for Pierrot, and would later go on to helm Bleach, with music by Kaoru Wada.
The series tells the story of Satsuki Miyanoshita, who moves with her family to the hometown of her deceased mother, Kayako. On her first day of school, Satsuki; her brother Keiichirou, a first-grader; their neighbor Hajime Aoyama; Momoko Koigakubo, an older schoolmate; and Leo Kakinoki, a classmate and friend of Hajime's with a penchant for the paranormal, visit the Old School Building adjacent to the current school complex—and discover that the building is haunted.
The kids discover that Satsuki's mother was responsible for sealing away several ghosts who haunted both the school and the surrounding town, and now the ghosts are being released by the urbanization taking place in the surrounding area. Kayako also left her descendants a tool for just such an occasion: a book that details how to exorcise the ghosts once and for all. In her first confrontation, Satsuki faces a demon called Amanojaku—and Amanojaku ends up sealed within Satsuki's pet cat, Kaya. Although Amanojaku does not want to help Satsuki at first, the danger posed by the freed spirits soon threatens to envelop the town. Satsuki, her friends, and Amanojaku eventually agree to work together and stop the threat before the ghosts do any real damage.
ADV Films acquired the license in 2004. While the basic story and names of the major characters and ghosts remained intact, ADV was given free reign with the script and turned the series into a Gag Dub. This is likely why you're here, at least for a North American audience. The gag dub is so well known that it's basically overshadowed the original Japanese version in the West.
In Southeast Asia, a different English dub of the series titled Ghosts at School aired in 2006 on Animax. This dub stays true to the original Japanese version.
Discotek Media saved the license and re-released the series in 2014; it made sure to say upfront that the ADV dub would be included.note The series is also viewable in both subbed and gag dubbed forms over on Crunchyroll, while Sony Crackle currently offers the gag dubbed version for free.
Ghost Stories contains the following tropes:
- Absentee Actor: Momoko doesn't appear in episode 15.
- Adults Are Useless: The only adults who help the protagonists are a night watchman, who turns to be another ghost, in episode 16 and a bumbling teacher in episode 18.
- Agent Mulder: Leo often takes interest in investigating the ghosts, sometimes even being the one who heard about the rumors surrounding the ghost in the first place.
- Agent Scully: Satsuki is a mild case; she believes in ghosts if they're really super-obvious, but when she hears about them second-hand she's usually dismissive even though she's seen dozens of ghosts before.
- Alien Geometries: The haunted apartment complex of episode 16 can change both its internal and external structure. This is taken Up to Eleven when the group thinks they are in a residential neighborhood, but are still inside the building.
- And I Must Scream: The Da Vinci wannabe ghost who paints women, trapping them inside the paintings.
- Animation Bump: The series has a lot of mediocre animation, but it does have its moments:
- Arbitrary Skepticism: Whenever Leo shares an urban legend that ends up being the Monster of the Week, Satsuki and Hajime handwave them off, calling them "fairy tales". This is despite the stories being little different from the crap they dealt with already.
- Ask a Stupid Question...: From episode 18:Momoko: Devil cat, did you give us this musical instrument to help us?
Amanojaku: No, I just gave it to you because I love the xylophone.
- Ax-Crazy: The Headless Biker goes on a chaotic rampage during the anniversary of his death, cutting off everything that resembles a head.
- Be Careful What You Wish For: This is the main plot of episode 3, and it is also explored in episode 15.
- Because You Were Nice to Me: In episode 11, Merry Mary decides not to kill Satsuki because the latter was nice enough to clean a smudge of dirt off of her face:Merry Mary: Okay, the spit thing was pretty gross. But it's the thought that counts.
- Beware of Hitchhiking Ghosts: Both variations show up, with a ghostly taxi driver in the first instance and a vengeful ghost attacking taxi drivers in the second.
- Body Horror: Shinobu, after she reveals to Satsuki her (more or less) true form.
- Bread, Eggs, Breaded Eggs: In episode 15, Amanojaku stops Satsuki from erasing her own existence under the impression that the ritual would free her from a curse. After hearing that someone put her up to it, Amanojaku suspects that whoever did "is either a ghost or a bitch". When the ghost, Yamime, shows her true form, Amanojaku finally figures it out: "She's a ghost and a bitch!"
- But Not Too Foreign: This is implied with Leo, given his name and his character design, which is a collage of "Gaijin" stereotypes.
- Butt-Monkey: Leo and Mr. Sakata in every version.
- Came Back Wrong: This is the whole premise of episode 9. A particular ritual can bring the dead back to life, but they will come back as berserk monsters—and somebody just had to go and try it anyway:Hajime: You stupid selfish slut! Does he look happy to be back? Huh?
- The Can Kicked Him: Akagami-Aogami's M.O. is to kill anyone who uses the toilets in the old schoolhouse.
- Cats Are Mean: Especially when they are possessed by a cynical demon with a sadistic sense of humor.
- Cats Are Snarkers: Amanojaku is easily the most sarcastic character.
- Cheeky Mouth: Always averted with Amanojaku. At other times, it's either a brief Animation Bump or someone, usually either Hajime or Leo, has an especially exaggerated expression.
- Cloudcuckoolander: Momoko is this in every version. Some of the things she says couldn't have come from a sane person, as she sometimes seems too oblivious to realize what is going on. For example, in one episode, she states that the sole reason she has a cell phone is due to her getting lost easily:Satsuki: Something about that boy from the other day is bugging me.
Hajime: You mean he was pale, almost transparent with red eyes?
Satsuki: (turns to Momoko) What do you think?
Momoko: What DOES "bootylicious" mean?note
- Comedic Underwear Exposure: Hajime subjects Satsuki to some skirt flipping in the early episodes; Amanojaku does it again with a gust of wind in the last episode as a way of saying goodbye.
- Conspicuous CG: This is somewhat averted. The CG models use textures that complement the hand-drawn backgrounds, but the more elaborate CG effects are still obvious due to the technological limitations of its time.
- Creepy Doll: Merry Mary is one.
- Cute Ghost Girl: Hanako. She doesn't like to scare people, but she wants to be friends with the living.
- Deal with the Devil: Episode 15 is entirely about this.
- Dem Bones: The ghost Da Vinci.
- Dub Name Change: In the Spanish dub:
- Satsuki becomes Claire.
- Hajime becomes Ned.
- Momoko becomes Nicole.
- Leo becomes Paul.
- Keiichirou becomes Ben.
- Kayako becomes Karen.
- Reiichirou, Satsuki and Keiichirou's father, becomes Richard.
- Eldritch Abomination: Yamime sounds to be one.
- Emotion Eater: Amanojaku in the first episode. He feeds on the kids' fear to become more powerful so he can attack them.
- Everybody Laughs Ending: Episode 9 has this.
- Exactly What It Says on the Tin: Gakkō no Kaidan translates to "School Ghost Stories". This series is about a school haunted by ghosts. It is also a collection of traditional Japanese school ghost stories culled from both folklore and Urban Legend. In the original ADV DVDs, a special feature explains the traditional stories; the Discotek re-release lacks this feature.
- Eye Scream: This almost happens to Satsuki when Merry Mary and a squad of possessed toys decide to "play" with her.
- Fate Worse than Death:
- Da Vinci's victims are trapped in paintings.
- This is practically what happened to Shinobu. She was once a normal girl before she was turned into the avatar of a malevolent trickster deity.
- Fiery Redhead: Satsuki.
- Four Is Death: Some of the earlier episodes use this idea on curses. It's also uses as a solution to a problem in Episode 18.
- The Fourth Wall Will Not Protect You: The outro ends with a ghost hand -presumably Akagami Aogami- reaching at towars the viewers, cracking the screen.
- Friendly Ghost: Hanako is one.
- Game Face: Played with some ghosts, particularly the girl who Leo meets in Episode 8 and Shinobu.
- Getting Crap Past the Radar: Pretend for a moment that the Gag Dub was never made. What's a song called "Sexy Sexy" doing in a children's anime?
- Hair-Raising Hare: After Mio performs a ritual to bring Shirotabi back to life, it quickly transforms into a monster.
- Haunted Headquarters: The whole series revolves around the haunted old schoolhouse, which the current schoolhouse that the children attend was built right next to.
- Headless Horseman: Episode 19 features a headless biker.
- Heel Realization: In Episode 5, Dattou stops his evil self from cutting off Keiichirou's legs when he realizes how Keiichirou reminds him of himself when he was alive.
- Heroic Sacrifice:
- Ill Girl: Momoko used to be very ill in the past. In fact, she met Kayako right before the latter died because both of them were in the same hospital. This is subverted later on: She becomes extremely sick, but this was because she was hit with a curse from an angry ghost girl, "courtesy" of Leo. He begs the ghost for forgiveness in order to keep her from killing Momoko.
- Implacable Man: Some of the ghosts qualify as this. Special mention to Babasare and the Merry Mary doll, who only stopped chasing the protagonists due to sheer luck.
- Intercourse with You: The ending theme. Believe it or not, this was not one of the changes made in the ADV dub:"Yurashite, yurashite, yurashite, yurashite! SEXY SEXY"note
- Invisible to Adults: Babasare.
- Killer Rabbit: Any creature resurrected by the ritual that raised Shirotabi from the dead comes back as a berserk monster, but this time it was a fluffy little rabbit. He does gradually turn into the most badass looking killer demon rabbit you would ever see, though.
- Limited Wardrobe: This is lampshaded in the Gag Dub when Leo tries to make Hajime wear a scarf as a way of preventing decapitation. Hajime refuses, then points out how Leo has comfortably worn the same shirt since the series started.
- Mama Bear: Kayako is this from beyond the grave.
- Manipulative Bastard: Shinobu and Yuki.
- The Millstone: Leo is occasionally the reason why the gang keeps being chased or cursed by the ghosts. A good example happens in episode 14: He almost kills Momoko because he thought it would be a fantastic idea to snap photos where a ghost had died, and said ghost cursed Momoko.
- Mind Control: One of Ohma's abilities. He tries to kill Satsuki and Keiichirou by making Satsuki's classmates attack them with knives.
- Mind Screw: The Headless Biker freaks out one of his would-be victims so badly that the poor bastard stabs his own neck so the Headless Biker wouldn't try to cut his head off again.
- Modesty Shorts: Satsuki wears them in one episode after she gets tired of Hajime flipping her skirt.
- Monster of the Week: Justified since the series features different ghosts.
- Mood Whiplash: The openings of several episodes cut from a screaming victim to the jaunty opening theme song.
- Murderous Mannequin: Episode 16 features an army of quite creepy mannequins.
- Noble Demon: Amanojaku is a total jerkass in the beginning, but starts helping Satsuki more and more as the series progresses, even though he still acts like he wants to see her in despair. In one episode, he says that he dislikes humans, but he hates ghosts who harm people on purpose even more.
- Off-Model: This is done deliberately with the mirror people in episode 7 to make them look creepier.
- Our Werewolves Are Different: Shirotabi's curse resembles a classic werewolf curse—she only turns into her demonic form at night, and the form itself somewhat looks a werewolf.
- Panty Shot: Multiple ones that are played for Comedic Underwear Exposure rather than Fanservice. It becomes a running gag until it gets subverted when Satsuki wears gym shorts in the "Bloody Sports Festival" episode.
- Potty Emergency: The whole school goes through it on episode 2—partly due to the sewage system breaking down, partly due to being afraid of Hanako-san in the toilet. But Sakata casually strolls out of class and walks to the old school's toilets. He ends up forced into the toilet by the episode's ghost.
- Potty Failure: Keiichirou suffers one in episode 2 due to the fear of going to the old school to pee.
- Product Placement: The PlayStation gets one in episode 7. A close-up of a controller, shown while Leo's mom is using it, show the names "SONY" and "PLAYSTATION", the Start and Select buttons, and the symbols on the buttons.
- Put on a Bus: This happens with the friendlier and more harmless ghosts of the old school building.
- Replicant Snatching: Episode 7 is about a group of evil spirits residing in a dimension beyond the mirror; their goal is to abduct everyone in town, imprison them in the mirror dimension, and impersonate the originals.
- Right on the Tick: In episode 5, the ghost being dealt with is said to always kill a runner at the sports festival at 4:44—because, as mentioned above, Four Is Death.
- Rule of Scary: The premise of the series deals with ghosts.
- Running Gag: Satsuki's accidental Panty Shots.
- Sealed Evil in a Can: All the ghosts who had been sealed away by Kayako are freed after construction destroys the places where they had been imprisoned.
- Sealed Evil in a Teddy Bear: In the first episode, the demon Amanojaku gets sealed inside the Satsuki and Keiichirou's pet cat, where he spends the remainder of the series.
- Shinigami: Death Nurse from episode 12 is implied to be one.
- Skirts and Ladders: Momoko did not stop to think about this before asking Hajime and Leo to boost her into a high window. From their expressions, neither did the boys.
- Smug Snake: Shinobu Matsuda/Yamime.
- Snarky Non-Human Sidekick: Amanojaku.
- Soul Jar: Momoko is this for Kayako's spirit.
- Stringy-Haired Ghost Girl: Episodes 14 and 18 feature one.
- The Taxi: Episode 10.
- Token Evil Teammate: Amanojaku helps the kids with the Monster of the Week, but only because it furthers his own goal of trying to escape from the cat he's trapped inside.
- Tragic Villain: The Railway Ghost and Yuki.
- Trickster Mentor: Amanojaku actually doesn't like it when the kids learn a lesson from him. He usually isn't trying to teach them anything.
- Uncanny Valley: This is purposely invoked with Animation Bumps that make unnatural movements look very fluid. The best example is Akane from episode 18.
- Urban Legend: This is the underlying source of the ghost stories used in the series.
- Weirdness Magnet: Satsuki is this to the point that Hajime even lampshades this in episode 11 by pointing out that if Satsuki attracts anything, it is definitely not human.
- What Happened to the Mouse?: Satsuki and Keiichirou's grandparents appear in one very brief scene in episode 1. Excluding a very brief appearance in the photo album in episode 12, they are never seen nor mentioned again, despite appearing in the intro◊ alongside the main characters and several other supporting characters.
ADV's Gag Dub exclusively includes the following tropes:
- A-Cup Angst:
- Satsuki has this despite being ten years old. The dub mentions it a few times throughout the series, but it is most notable in Episode 3.
- In Episode 14, Momoko, who does not suffer from this, writes off chest pains caused by a curse as just needing a bigger bra. She starts to ask Satsuki if she has one before answering her own question:
- Acquired Situational Narcissism: Leo when he gets the lead role in the school play becomes an egomaniac and expects to win a Tony.
- Actor Allusion:
- Satsuki comments that Leo's developed a bigger ego than Chris Patton, while Momoko mentions Greg Ayres.
- Satsuki answers a call with "Milk Chan here", even doing the same voice.
- The entire cast refers to Satsuki's father as "Illich" in one episode.
- In another episode, a ghost is voiced by Vic Mignogna, who is credited as "Obi Frostips". A few episodes later, Hajime mentions a "frosted Vic Mignogna lookalike" who is "Full Metal Disgusting".
- Ambiguous Disorder: Keiichirou is portrayed as being mentally stunted.
- Bilingual Bonus: The Hispanic nurse in Episode 12 calls Momoko and Satsuki "cabronas" ("bitches").
- Black Is Bigger in Bed: According to Yuki in episode 17:Black men have larger penises than either Asians or Mexicans do. And I'm a size queen from the word go, you know what I'm saying?
- Breaking the Fourth Wall: This happens a lot. The following instance from Episode 5 takes this and blends it together with Medium Awareness:Leo: I mean, have you heard about the sports festival?
Hajime: Yes, the sports festival... That's what this whole episode is about.
Leo: Okay, let's stop breaking the third wall, they're thinking about cancelling the sports festival!
- Breast Expansion: In Episode 3, Satsuki tries to get a wish granting ghost to give her huge breasts, but does it wrong so she's "still in a training bra".
- Casting Couch: This is specifically mentioned. According to Leo, this is how Keita beat him out for the lead part in the elementary school play.
- Cluster F-Bomb: A bleeped out example shows up in Episode 15 during a summoning spell:Shinobu: "F[bleep] me, Satan! F[bleep] me, Satan!! F[bleep] ME, SATAN!!!"
- Continuity Nod: There're a few in the dub at least:
- In Episode 2, Momoko mentions that she cast out Hanako in the last episode.
- In Episode 4, Leo gloats that the piano ghost chose to impersonate him on the phone, because he's the best actor in the group, calling back to his suddenly inflated ego in the previous episode when he got to play the lead in the school play.
- In Episode 15, the girls discuss a cheerleader who had an abortion. This references a throwaway gag in Episode 4 where Leo mentions that the school was at the time preoccupied with two stories: one is the piano ghost, the other is a cheerleader pregnant with twins.
- Donut Mess with a Cop: This is referenced by Hajime:"Drop the Krispy Kremes, Serpico!"
- Early Installment Weirdness: The first two episodes, save for a couple of gags, are a slightly straight dub with added humor. Episodes 3 and beyond introduce the black comedy and improv the dub would be known for.
- Equal-Opportunity Offender: The dub was said to "make everybody angry".
- Expy: The dub all but turned Amanojaku into one for Salem.
- The Fundamentalist: Momoko was turned into this.
- Gag Dub: One of the most famous in anime history, to the point that many mistake it for an abridged series. The story goes that after the series tanked in Japan, the rights were sold to ADV, who were told they could pretty much do whatever they wanted with it as long as the names and basic plot were the same. Taking this idea and running with it, director Steven Foster threw out most of the script, and encouraged the actors to improvise based on the lip flaps. Whoever got there first would set the tone and subject for the scene, which meant the other cast members had to follow in those footsteps. This unique approach produced random characterizations, fourth wall breaking jokes, tons of take thats, and as much silliness as the cast could manage, similar to what had happened with Samurai Pizza Cats and the Latin American dub of Dotto! Koni-chan.
- Girl-on-Girl Is Hot: Kayako is portrayed as being gay/bisexual. This is made even weirder in episode 13 when, after Satsuki goes back in time and meets her, the latter writes in her ghost diary that she found the former attractive, which really creeps Satsuki out.
- Gratuitous Japanese: This is invoked mostly in the later episodes. "NANIIIIII?"
- Hong Kong Dub: Inverted. If you forget about mouth shape, the dub matches the characters' lip flaps perfectly. The original Japanese version, on the other hand, often had lips moving long after a character finished speaking.
- Hypocritical Heartwarming:"Shut up, cat! And, listen, you don't know Leo well enough to be mean to him, just us!"
- Hypocritical Humour: The dub has tons of it throughout the series. For example, Momoko mentions that there are some crazy religious people out there when she's one herself.
- Improbable Age: In Episode 12, Momoko reveals that she found the Lord while in rehab for a drug and sex addiction. This was a few months before Satsuki's mother died, which means Momoko was 7 at best when this occurred.
- Interspecies Romance: There's one in Episode 9 between the ghost of Shirotabi and Mio. The latter breaks up with the former not because he's a rabbit, but because he's black.
- Lip Lock: This one is deliberately invoked in Episode 5:Leo: (running at the camera in a panic) Oh-my-god-oh-my-god-what-the-hell-is-happening-here-these-are-the-fastest-lip-flaps-I've-ever-had-to-sync!!!
- Lost in Translation: Inverted when it explains the xylophone; its keys play the musical notes often used to end broadcasts in Japan:Leo: The script so far isn't making sense to anyone working on this show so here's what we got... I think.
- Lull Destruction: This is often used to turn boring moments into successful humor. A good example is in Episode 15, where Yamime says "Wheeee!" while floating up the stairs, then casually hums a tune while removing the barricade from the bedroom door.
- Mood Whiplash:
- Some scenes features the cast laughing during dramatic moments.
- Some episodes end this way when the cast reacts and/or says something that contradicts what actually happens.
- My Eyes Are Up Here: Ouma says this to Satsuki.
- Not So Above It All: This exchange in episode 5:Satsuki: (sees Datto running) Nice ass.
Momoko: *gasp!* Do not lust in your heaJesus, you're right.
- Not-So-Innocent Whistle: This is inserted in the dub during Shizuko's flashback to Momoko. The taxi driver does it after hitting her with the cab.
- Off-Model: The dub pokes fun at this whenever it is unintentional:
- Satsuki: "Oh wow convulsion that was weird. Okay "
Satsuki: "What's going on? What happened to my leg?"
Kayako: "And your father thinks it's always cute to cross his eyes in picturesSEE!? Se-look, he did it there!"
Satsuki: "Oh, damn anime! Look what's happened to my eyes!"
Amanojaku: "God, you are four of the ugliest fucking kids I have ever had the misfortune of laying my eyes on, I can't wait for this bitch to kill you."
- Parental Incest: Episode 13:Satsuki: [My mother] thought I was attractive. That is so...grossing me out.
- Precision F-Strike: There are plenty of F-bombs before Episode 16, but they are bleeped out. Strangely, an utterance of "shit" was bleeped out literally two minutes before Satsuki's F-bomb wasn't.
- Psycho Lesbian: Akane.
- Race Fetish: Yuki explicitly states that she likes black men.
- Running Gag:
- Sassy Black Woman: Tomomi's mom is portrayed as one.
- She's a Man in Japan: This is Played for Laughs. In the original Japanese version of Episode 19, Momoko's hairstylist cousin Maki is a woman. In the dub, however, Maki is portrayed as a Camp Gay man.
- Sibling Murder: Implied. It seems that Satsuki and Keiichirou used to have a sister named Karen.
- Sitcom Arch-Nemesis: Hadley, to Sakata.
- Sound-Effect Bleep: In place until episode 16.
- Space Whale Aesop: An Aesop about paying child support on time is tacked on the Everybody Laughs Ending of episode 9.
- Spell My Name with an "S": Reo was changed to Leo. It's possible that his name was actually supposed to be Leo, considering that it's written in katakana.
- Suddenly SHOUTING!: "Oh, Satsuki, let's sing! Jesus loves me—COME ON, YOU KNOW THE WORDS!"
- Take That!: There are so many that it could have its own page. This is just one example:Leo: I'm all alone, forgotten, like a black family in Bush America.
- Teeny Weenie: It's heavily implied that this is the case for Hajime.
- Token Religious Teammate: Momoko becomes a born-again Christian, spouting references to God and Jesus in every other sentence. Leo is also this a certain extent, but nowhere near as much as Momoko.
- Too Dumb to Live:
Oh for god's sakes, you kids are so stupid, you both deserve to die.
- This is lampshaded several times, but most explicitly in episode 7:
- In episode 9:Hajime: Of all the places to run, why did we end up here [in the old schoolhouse]?
Leo: Because it was the only place and we're terminally stupid.
- Trade Snark: ADV's DVD release has a dubtitle track that does this with Keiichirou's random noises, usually rendered as "[Keiichiro Sob]."
- The Unintelligible: Keiichirou is capable of talking normally, but when he gets emotional, he reverts to unintelligible babbling:Keiichirou: AH...ABADABADA-
Amanojaku: Please! SPEAK!
- Verbal Tic: Leo saying yeah.
- You Gotta Have Blue Hair: This is lampshaded in Episode 13:Da Vinci: Hmm, let's see...purple, for your hair. *heh* Can't tell this is a goddamn anime.