Ghost Stories Vol. #1 - Mania.com



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Mania Grade: B-

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Info:

  • Audio Rating: B+
  • Video Rating: B+
  • Packaging Rating: B
  • Menus Rating: C+
  • Extras Rating: B
  • Age Rating: 13 & Up
  • Region: 1 - North America
  • Released By: ADV Films
  • MSRP: 29.98
  • Running time: 100
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
  • Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
  • Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
  • Series: Ghost Stories

Ghost Stories Vol. #1

By Chris Beveridge     October 15, 2005
Release Date: October 25, 2005


Ghost Stories Vol. #1
© ADV Films


What They Say
When nearby construction disturbs a spiritual resting place, kids aren’t the only ones starting classes at this school. And that means it’s up to a scruffy band of young ghostbusters to expel their satanic schoolmates before everyone goes into permanent detention! So join Satsuki, her crybaby brother, the resident class stud, the school nerd and “psychical researcher”, a born-again beauty, and a resentful, demon-possessed cat in the funniest, most ghoulish grade school you’ve ever enrolled in!


The Review!
When doing horror stories for a younger set you always have the chance to be really cheesy but Ghost Stories manages to ride the line nicely and provide goose bumps without being full of cheese.

Audio:
For our primary viewing session, we listened to this series in its original language of Japanese. This series has a pretty standard stereo mix which has both dialogue and sound effects being well used across both channels and in a full sense. Right from the start the dialogue has some good placement in order to be scary and it moves across the forward soundstage in a good manner. This is the kind of mix that would have been better in 5.1 from the start so it could move things around better but the stereo mix does a good job overall. In listening to both tracks, we didn't have any problems with dropouts or distortions during regular playback.

Video:
Originally airing back in 2000, the transfer for this series is presented in its original full frame aspect ratio. For a show of this time period where a lot of studios were in a transitional phase from standard to CG productions still, it looks remarkably good and avoids a lot of the problems some of the studios had at the time. Most of the obvious CG work is relegated to camera movements such as fast handy-cam shakiness movements down hallways and the like. Other areas are some of the more supernatural elements which should look otherworldly so they fit in nicely as well. There's a bit of aliasing in some of the usual places but cross coloration is a non issue. Colors are mostly solid, though some of the darker colors show a bit of breakup at times, and while not a terribly vibrant looking show it maintains a good consistent feel. This isn't a show that would knock one out of the park in terms of visuals but the transfer here does a solid job overall.

Packaging:
The cover artwork for the series utilizes the Japanese cover art but reworks it a fair bit. There are two main elements to this one; one is the three human characters which is taken and shrunken from the third Japanese cover while the background is from the fourth volume cover background. While the character art could fit for any volume you have to wonder at using artwork from a volume with a creature that doesn't appear here at all. Regardless, it does produce that creepy feel you'd expect from a title called Ghost Stories and they do mesh nicely overall. The back cover goes for a standard school approach with a lined paper background that has several shots from the show and a pretty decent snarky summary of what to expect from the dubbed version. The discs production and extras information is pretty cleanly listed while the technical grid continues to list all the important information in a very effective manner.

Menu:
The menu layout is pretty simple across the board with one of the ghost images with the white cloak flowing from it making up a portion of the left half and the white spreading through the bottom half while a basic blue background is along the top. The selections are all lined along the white area and it has a very quick and simple feel to it that's a step or two above some of the older ADV releases that didn't even have artwork in the menu. Access times are nice and fast but the disc has a problem in doing up the player presets properly. In terms of presets, my player is setup for Japanese language and English subtitles. On this release, the first English subtitle track that it grabs is the script for the dub/close captions. Normally this is the full subtitle track so if you have it set to pull the first English track, you'll end up with the close captioned script. If you don't have any player preset settings working, the disc will play by English language as the default along with sign/song subtitles.

Extras:
The extras section is a bit deceptive here since it looks so minimal. The basics are here in having the clean opening and closing sequences and there's a ghost profiles section as well. Normally these are either spoilerific or simply useless but for this show they're actually useful. A few short screens cover the way ghost story movies were huge in Japan throughout the nineties and it talks about them and the kinds of characters that populated it, things inspired by it such as Haunted Junction, and how when this show arrived in 2000 the kinds of characters would be things that anyone would know just based on advertising of those movies alone. The profiles cover each of the ghosts in this volume a short but interesting bit.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Watching the public discourse on this title has been fascinating. When it was first announced as licensed, it barely registered a blip on most peoples radar. A bit of research into it showed that of those that had seen it and had anything to say about it, it was a show that had rather impressed them in general. Then when the news came out about there being a snarky script created for the dub that would keep the spirit and general plot of the episodes but would have more fun with itself, suddenly the original was labeled as boring, dull or even complete garbage in some quarters.

What interested me in the show during that initial phase of research into it was some of the people behind it, or primarily, the director, Noriyuki Abe. Abe's been responsible for some of the more interesting shows that I've seen over the years in a few different ways, such as being the primary director behind Yu Yu Hakusho, Flame of Recca and GTO. He was even one of the storyboard folks behind the two Banner of the Stars series so seeing his name attached to something, particularly from Pierrot, would definitely warrant some attention. His lengthy experience with Yu Yu Hakusho and all of its demons, ghost and other creatures along the way certainly makes him fit the bill for Ghost Stories.

Ghost Stories takes a fairly standard story and moves it out of the usual realm of freshman high school leads and moves the main cast down to the fifth grade level. We're introduced to Satsuki and her younger brother Keiichirou Miyanoshita as they've come to a new town with their father. Their mother passed away not that long ago and their father has decided to move into the girls grandmothers house in order to bring them a bit closer to their mother but also to give them something of a fresh start. Satsuki has fun right from the start when she's introduced to her next door neighbor Hajime, a fellow fifth grader who manages to catch a glimpse at her panties right from the start and has no problem in continuing that trend.

When they make it to school the next day, Satsuki has to talk down to her brother a bit as he brought their cat Kaya to school since he had no friends. Before she can do anything else though the cat takes off and finds its way into the old abandoned school building. You know, the one that every school keeps out of superstition. When they go in to search, they're teased and tormented by Hajime and his friend Leo. They refuse to help find the cat but when attractive and shy sixth grader Momoko shows up looking for her hat that blew into the second floor, they're all eager to help out and find it. Their search throughout the dusty and dirty dilapidated old school leads them into something less than fun though as they find themselves coming across or being chased by various standard spooks and ghouls, from the Hanako toilet creature to one of the stone statues. The one that really gets after them though is an impish character at first but grows into a big ugly demon named Amanojakou.

Though the coincidences pile up, the setup that they use for this is that Satsuki's grandmother, who looks identical to Satsuki's dead mother at the same age, used to be a principal at the school and they come across her picture during their flight from Amanjakou. Behind it they find a diary of sorts that was written by Satsuki's mother when she was Satsuki's age and it describes how to bind and capture spirits. A lucky break to be sure but the coincidences run higher when we find out that Momoko was in the same hospital as Satsuki's mother some time before for a different illness and the two had gotten to know each other a bit. But with this book in hand, the group is able to bind Amanojakou to the tree behind the school where he was originally and seemingly save the day.

Only the tree was cut down not long ago and when you bind someone to something that doesn't exist, the find something else. So when Kaya suddenly starts spouting world dominating language it's easy to figure out where the demon went. They want their cat back to normal since the cat is heavily tied to Satsuki's mother but they learn that until they bind all the other spirits in the school they can't do anything to Amanojakou. And they have a big job ahead of them as the place where Satsuki's mother had bound all of the old spirits is being torn down for a new housing development and highway which is why they're all free now. So they have a mission ahead of them which they all try working together to do, though only Satsuki and Keiichirou actually have with the possessed Kaya, which is amusing in itself.

While Ghost Stories is clearly aimed at a younger set with the leads being as young as they are, the show doesn't talk down to the audience and the ghost that they deal with manage to be sufficiently creepy and at times actually spooky with how they do stuff. The show opens up in a way that wouldn't be all that surprising to see with older leads and it plays true in general to the mythos behind the ghosts that it brings into play. The cast of characters is interesting since they don't fall into the usual mold of stereotypes that you'd get in a high school setting and romance itself isn't a main focus though there's some obvious fun that goes on even at the fifth grade level. What surprised me most is that with the character of Keiichirou being so young, it isn't done in a way that makes him the kind of character you truly hate and want to see get eaten up by the ghosts.

And for the record, no, I did not like the dub script.

In Summary:
Looking at Ghost Stories in the larger picture, this is the kind of series that you get for kids graduating from their fairy tales and books so that they can have a visual basis for some of the more common ghost stories that are told in Japanese culture. When they hit their teen years and start seeing the always being made movies and TV shows that touch upon the old tales, they'll have that basis already. It's the kind of show that you can see parents sitting down with their kids to watch in the evening, jokingly going "ooo, scary" and enjoying it with them. The show is very competently done and it flows nicely which makes it accessible across the board as well. While this doesn't exactly light my fire it was a fun way to pass an evening that has some neat twists, fun characters and the always enjoyable kinds of ghost stories that I've seen in many forms in the last twenty years of exploring Japanese culture.

Features
Japanese 2.0 Language,English 5.1 Language,English Subtitles,Ghost Profiles with background on the traditional Japanese folktales,Clean opening animation,Clean closing animation

Review Equipment
Panasonic PT50LC13 50" LCD RP HDTV, Zenith DVB-318 RP-82 Progressive Scan codefree DVD player via DVI with upconversion set to 720p, Sony STR-DE835 DD/DTS receiver, Monster component cable and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.

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