When I was recommended Ghost Stories as my next dub that needed coverage, I was incredibly skeptical. My gut kept telling me this was some elaborate trap (the last time my gullibility got the better of me, I was defenseless) that always fooled people with a horrible show. As it would turn out, I was as much right as I was wrong. Studio Pierrot (Naruto, Bleach, Tokyo Ghoul, etc.) no doubt crapped the bed with something even messier than most anime of the early 2000s. Where I was wrong, however, was the delightful dubbing that came about what ADV Films (Neon Genesis Evangelion [TV], Elfen Lied) took upon themselves to do five years later. The greatest part? An obviously serious natured show was turned into a comedy with a combination of great writing and clever improv.
Director: Steven Foster
Being the leadoff actor in an improv act has all sorts of challenges, as it can very well complicate a comedy routine beyond the point of no return. The notion couldn’t be any truer in this particular project, and Haag performs one of the safest roles in the entire show that serves as a muscle relaxer for the rest of the cast to do their thing. A lot of the themes and running jokes are started with her, and even when they aren’t the funniest, they run to an impressive flow. Whenever she changes pace, it is almost always spot on and perfect for either what is on screen or just how the rest of the cast is moving things. Recognizing the synergy is a must in improv, and there is so much more to Haag’s performance than just being the first name listed.
The most impressive weapons in Haag’s arsenal are her dry wit in line delivery and awareness to the nonverbals of her character. Pop culture references relevant to 2005 or crude observations really stick better sounding like they’re really being slain by someone who is using them for a reason. Whenever Satsuki gives a (tragically) offbeat facial expression in the middle of what is a “serious” scene, most of the time these would just have to be ignored (I imagine it would be an ADR nightmare too!) but Haag makes the catch and takes it to the house with these. Easily one of the more memorable laughing fits I had watching the series was when she made a loud sound akin to what a baby might usher seeing a new toy when Satsuki goes cross eyed and wide mouthed smack dab in the middle of someone else talking about defeating a spirit. It was such a perfect situational move that felt like what it was: a creative surge.
Adding his own layer to the comedy, Patton takes the angle of a self-aware main male protagonist in anime to a humorous effect. Feeding off the concept of pop culture references and wisecracks previously established with the rest of the cast, this clever aura works well to fill gaps in difficult scenes for the staff to derive jokes from. It’ll be elaborated on later, but the show doesn’t do the cast any favors with how it positions them for content creation out of the material given. On screen, Hajime pulls the others together as a pseudo leader of sorts (even though that much is difficult to establish from what we see), allowing a tiny bit of elbow room for Patton to spin the plot along. The punchline might not fall to him to do, or even the build up, but he takes what is given and sets segues in the fun to keep the well from running dry in most of the cases. Such an asset is an unsung talent in all comedy.
The star of the show for all who recommend it, Monica Rial turns the oddly centric character of Momoko into a bible thumping, memorable line machine wreck of a teenager. On paper, this role feels hard to get right: a character who makes everything about salvation and how everyone else is sinners at every opportunity. Maybe a one or two time trick, but besides that it is likely to be a stale act. No such issues here with Rial, as she makes every fake proverb and judgement just as funny as the last. Murmuring concerns for the filth that her friends are or just going on about the light of her savior, there is such an out of place feeling to the sermons that manifests into the perfect punchline every single time. Surely YouTube clips and recited jokes of the series are littered with Rial’s handiwork.
What I appreciated most from Rial wasn’t even the hilarious religious blasts, but rather the dark and troubled past she establishes for her character in contrast to the rest of her act. The more the audience “learns” of who Momoko is/was as a person, the funnier the preaching bits get. By the end of it, the question comes up in a comedic fashion in not only the viewer but the other characters as well: “Do you really think you should be the one telling this?”
There’s an idiom that comes to mind when I think about how I felt about Ayres’ performance here: you see someone different when you get to see them with their hair down. While I doubt I’ve been on the record saying it before, to call me bearish to Ayres’ roles would be an understatement. Maybe it was just rotten luck and I found tough roles, but there was a certain personality missing from his stuff I saw that I was yearning to see. Thankfully, I found it in his outing as Leo in this crazy ride. One of the only characters to almost get an entire episode or two to himself, Ayres carries the load here with a very keen awareness to how awkward a scene is (namely because his character is the product of awkward). Little things like shouting “this is the fastest lip reading I’ve ever had to do!” mid sentence really went a long way with me opening up to him as an actor more.
A lite version of the buzz Rial’s role gave, Auten delivers hysterical babbling fits that make everyone’s favorite little brother character Keiichirou. Crying out the current event jabs and hyperventilating into wild intelligible run on sentences. While the character is referred to as things that might be considered a little insensitive in a new era of Internet impressions, Auten makes a really silly performance ooze with chances for more jokes in the rest of the cast. Even without much else to the character, that is all that is needed.
For everything said about the main cast, there is a charm that this dub has from top to bottom that is epitomized in the supporting voice actors here. Everyone who lends their talents is having a boatload of fun spouting insanities almost to the point the show doesn’t feel like it was organized and the audience was just listening in on a silly back and forth between actors. Everything from David Matranga (Tomoya Okazaki in Clannad) rambling as a cab driver with questionable views to lesser known names like Rob Mungle doing his best anime version of the cat from Sabrina the Teenage Witch. Without really needing some giant shoes to fill, it allows these folks to have stress free, genuinely humorous moments. Personally, the most noteable moments had to be the few one-episode characters Sentai Filmworks mega star Brittney Karbowski (Mikoto Misaka in A Certain Scientific Railgun) did impromptu with the most unexpected statements and swearing.
Chemistry usually is the kind of category that can be gauged on how the energy an actor brings to their characters fitting together with the others (or even just feeding off differences). Here in such an unorthodox project, the chemistry is just in how successful the cast manages to turn dry material into an interesting spurt of a low-key comedy gem. Trying to get top tier talents for a super popular role isn’t a factor, and the friction of picking who deserves to take on a role gets wiped off the plate to allow room for something much tastier: selfless group acting. Typically the shows handcuff casts with limitations in dialogue and unfortunately the name of the game is always execution because of it. With no serious compass, we get these blue moon situations that feature the “acting” in “voice acting”.
In a YouTube era, something like this dub is completely outsourced by abridged series and comedy routines that can become viral hits in a flash of lightning. Given the fact this was released a year shy of the invention of said platform, this is the freshest dub I have experienced made on a professional level, and actually would be very interested to see the worst shows have absolutely absurd dubs to them. Something like Bloodivores begs to be given this treatment for an endearing change of events. While fans of this kind of comedy will probably feel a bit underwhelmed compared to the high quantity of content for free online, there are plenty of jokes worth hearing and sharing that give Ghost Stories that second chance at life.
Got a dub you wanna see on Dubs w/ Dil? Throw me a line and I’ll look into it. Have yourself an awesome day!
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