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. Part of the Gakkou no Kaidan franchise of children's novels and films, the series was directed by Noriyuki Abe, who also directed Yu Yu 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.
Upon release, the anime was considered generally mediocre by reviewers and audiences, and ended up a commercial flop. When ADV Films acquired the license four years later, they were given free reign with the script, being asked to do whatever it took to make sure the series sold in the States, so long as the character names and basic plotlines remained intact. The end result, recorded and released in 2005, was a highly irreverent and even more topical Gag Dub that satirized as many elements of early-to-mid-2000s politics and pop culture as possible, ranging from simple jabs at well-known celebrities to extended commentary on the prominence of the religious right during the George W. Bush administration. 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 and is now considered one of the most iconic anime dubs ever made, if only for just how different it still is compared to the industry norm. If you're curious as to what society was like in 2005, this series acts as a vivid time capsule of that era.
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.
Ghost Stories contains the following tropes:
- 2D Visuals, 3D Effects: 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Be Careful What You Wish For: This is the main plot of episode 3, and it is also explored in episode 15.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Deal with the Devil: Episode 15 is entirely about this.
- 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.
- Eerie Anatomy Model:
- An anatomy doll appears in the second episode, where it's encountered in the hallways of the old school building by Satsuki and Hajime. Instead of running, it does a Ghostly Glide. While trying to escape, Hajime knocks over a broom that hits the anatomy doll and smashes it to pieces. This isn't the end of the doll, as its flayed hand wanders off, but at least it leaves them alone.
- The ending credits depict a Hyakki Yagyou in which an anatomy figure participates. It is drawn to resemble one of the human muscle figures in the De humani corporis fabrica.
- 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.
- Game Face: Played with some ghosts, particularly Datsueba, 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?
- Haunted Headquarters: The whole series revolves around the haunted old schoolhouse, which the current schoolhouse that the children attend was built right next to.
- Heroic Sacrifice:
- 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
- Manipulative Bastard: Shinobu and Yuki.
- 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.
- Off-Model: This is done deliberately with the mirror people in episode 7 to make them look creepier.
- 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 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:
- 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.
- 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.
- Stringy-Haired Ghost Girl: Episodes 14 and 18 feature one.
- The Taxi: Episode 10 is about a deceased taxi driver.
- Tragic Villain: The Railway Ghost and Yuki.
- 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.
- 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".
- Bilingual Bonus: The Hispanic nurse in Episode 12 calls Momoko and Satsuki "cabronas" ("bitches").
- 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!"
- 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.
- Cultural Translation: The dub is filled with references to American culture and politics that obviously were not in the original dub. Practically the only references to the characters actually living in Japan come in the form of jokes lampshading this cultural translation.
- 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".
- Filling the Silence: 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.
- 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 cast 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.
- 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.
- Limited Wardrobe: This is lampshaded 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.
- Lip Lock: This one is deliberately invoked in Episode 5:Leo: (running at the camera in a panic) 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.
- 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's actually happening onscreen.
- 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 always thinks it's cute to cross his eyes in pictures. See? See? He... look, 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.
- Real Life Writes the Plot: The ADV dub was recorded around the time when Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans and displaced practically the entire city, resulting in many residents taking refuge in Houston, where the dub was being recorded. The end result was a large number of very scathing jokes against the George W. Bush administration that reflected the feelings of anger many New Orleans residents felt towards the administration's diffident response to the disaster.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 "[Keiichirou Sob]."
- Troubling Unchildlike Behaviour: It can be hard remembering that all the main characters are in elementary school, what with their constant swearing, references to sex, and off-color jokes. Background dialog implies all the kids are like this, such as one student mentioning another having an abortion.