Do you guys know about the hilarious and sorted history of the Ghost Stories dub? I feel like a lot of people have at least heard of it by reputation.
In short, the Ghost Stories anime is a boring series that was supposed to be a huge hit but ended up as a flop. The source had been very successful and the adaptation went to Pierrot while the studio was in its heyday. They hired a fairly prestigious cast and were banking on huge numbers. When the ratings ended up rather poor, it was a huge embarrassment instead. As such, once the adaptation rights were sold for the English dub, the studio basically said they didn’t really care how it was handled as long as the basic story and names stayed the same (so people could still find and buy the manga…)
That’s when writer director Steven Foster decided to basically rework the entire script and it ended up very different.
Now I have seen the dubbed version and from the little I have seen of the original, the dub really is more entertaining in my opinion. However, it’s not anime. It sort of feels like an early 2000s “edgy” adult swim comedy. The type of humour, narrative beats and structure is very much Americanized. And that was fascinating to me.
You see, I watched this entire series, and it never felt like I was watching an anime. Despite the fact that the art, names, events and plot remained unchanged, it still came off as a very US work. And I mean specifically US, Canadian comedies are a bit different and British ones are unmistakable.
Although, as I said, I do think the Ghost Stories dub was an improvement on the original, and hilarious (although the humour did get pretty repetitive), it did remind me that for the most part, I just prefer anime. But why?
What really made it confusing for me is that I really like 50% off as well as DBZ abridged. In theory, both those series should be the same. They are also anime with scripts that have been reworked by American authors and recreated with an American cast for a primarily American audience. In fact the feeling of something foreign should be even greater since those series are also heavily edited from the originals. And yet, I never got that same impact as I did with the Ghost Stories dub.
In hindsight, I think one of the things that hit me about the Ghost Stories dub but I couldn’t quite put into words, is that it was completely separated from the original. Not just the original Ghost Stories but from the original medium of anime as a whole. It was its own thing. It didn’t follow genre convention, anime tropes or classic anime themes at all. It could easily have been made by a team that has not seen the original before adapting it.
If you told me the US production just had a general outline of the series on which to go by and created everything else from scratch to sell to a North American audience, I would believe you. And that is exactly what they were hired to do so it’s not a bad thing. If anything, the Ghost Stories dub has lived down in history as one of the most notable and beloved dubs out there.
But when you look at projects like DBZ Abridged and 50% Off, they really feel like they were created by fans of the series. And they were. You can see that they are playfully making fun of the original in a loving way, like when you throw insults around among friends. As a result, the end product is probably best appreciated by fans of the original as well, or at least people who are familiar enough with anime to pick up of the sarcasm and subversion. Rather than by a wide general audience.
I want to stress that I certainly don’t mean one style, or approach is better than the other. A lot of it depends on what you want to achieve. And if you want to achieve broad appeal, which you probably do if you’re trying to sell dvds or something, creating an end product that feels more familiar to your target audience, makes a lot of sense.
And it’s not like 50% didn’t throw a few jabs in there as well.
The other impression I was left with is that, whoa… American (and this time I am definitely including Canadian) humour sure is cynical. We do enjoy playing on outrageously inappropriate material and adding in a lot of blue and black comedy. (I don’t know if anyone else uses those terms, from what I know blue humour is sexual while black humour is morbid). There were so many jokes that essentially played on completely unacceptable racism, implications of bestiality the inclusion of a borderline frightening religious extremist element. Honestly 90% of the humour was that.
On the other hand, most comedy animes I have seen tend to draw the laughs from absurdist situation, non sequitur, repetitive punch lines and situational jokes while generally staying away from broader social commentary and pretty much never playing on more serious subjects of inequality or tragedy.
Personally, I do like a bit of bite to my comedy now and then. After all, one of the great things about comedy is the fact that you can make really unpleasant subjects a bit more palatable. But while watching Ghost Stories, I also realized that for me, there might be such a things as too cynical and pessimistic. The optimistic and, for lack of a better word, often more innocent approach to comedy that I have found in a lot of animes, is a welcomed distraction.
These days, I watch almost no sitcoms or American TV at all. But I do watch a lot of YouTube and stand up comics. I get my does of of the meaner stuff from there and by the time I tune in to a show like Saiki K, I can just enjoy the lighthearted laughs and nonsense. Now that doesn’t mean there aren’t serious themes under neath, but they aren’t treated in the same way.
Well this got off track.
OK, how about we go with: isn’t it amazing that an anime dub so perfectly illustrates the different cultural approaches to humour. If I was a better blogger, I would now extrapolate what those different approaches can tell us about both the cultures that created them and the audiences that enjoy them. Maybe I will at some point! For now though, I’ll leave you with a question: have you watched the Ghost Stories dub? Did you notice the same thing? Is it my experience that’s limited and there are plenty of super cynical anime comedies?