Life on the Fringe

Reconstructing Anime

Funny Ghost Stories -- Woody Allen's Legacy Lives On!

by Patrick King

Lately, ADV has been generating some buzz around its controversial adaptation of Ghost Stories. If you've been out of the loop for a little bit, allow me to get you up to speed. Ghost Stories is a second or third tier release that likely would have sold a handful of copies before fading away without making a mark on the domestic anime scene. It wasn't exactly a breakaway hit in Japan, and seeing as there are literally hundreds of more appealing DVDs available -- even in America -- its chances of survival were even slimmer over here.

Many of us can't afford to buy as many shows as we want to, and so we tend to gravitate towards only the highest-rated series -- the ones we can't live without. This is an industry in which even well-made series are overshadowed by more popular shows. While it's wonderful that we have so many excellent shows from which to choose, it also means that we have to pass up some excellent shows, despite their merits. If a release is merely average, then it's not going to be on anyone's priority list.

Instead of just releasing the series to fulfill its destiny as a forgotten show, ADV decided to shake things up a little bit. Rather than writing a literal translation of the dub, they completely re-wrote the script, turning an average adventure show aimed at kids into a comedy geared for a more mature audience.

The more sarcastic readers out there are saying, "You mean to tell me that a domestic anime studio screwed up a dub? So what else is new?" While changes have been made to translations before, this type of complete rewrite is not too common in the anime industry, although Woody Allen did it once with a Japanese film; Allen's version was renamed What's Up, Tiger Lily?

In any case, ADV has little to lose from this experiment. After all, the disc wouldn't have sold well if it was given a regular dub and merely released. If it does better than expected, then it's a win for ADV. More importantly, if it does especially well, then the company might have stumbled upon a new road to profits.

I won't get into the success of their endeavor (or the lack thereof), since I haven't actually seen the series myself. There hasn't been much of a fan reaction yet from those who have seen the DVDs. Personally, I have to admit that I think that this is a very interesting idea.

When I was a kid, my siblings and I always preferred to have my dad read us bedtime stories because he would always screw them up -- on purpose. After years of watching Disney movies and reading stories that took themselves way too seriously, nothing was better than hearing my dad give us his version of a classic tale. Thanks to his influence on my life, as well as a great appreciation for National Lampoon and MAD magazine, there are few types of comedy that I enjoy more than parody. Nothing is as satisfying as taking something austere, stately, or in general overly full of itself and then turning it on its head. Perhaps it's the counterculture hippie living inside of me, some suppressed desire to escape the office programmer's life that I'm living, or maybe I just have a problem. All I know is that many other people have this same "problem," and ADV might be able to tap into that portion of the population with this release.

From what I understand, the Japanese track and subtitles are left unscathed by ADV's rewrite. Thus, if you want to see the show the way it was, sans changes, you can. You just won't get an English dub for it.

While acceptance of English dubs is gaining, it seems as if those who prefer dubs to the Japanese language tracks are more aligned with mainstream viewing habits than their sub-loving brethren. Most of the people who prefer dubs aren't necessarily the type to seek out fansubs of a show that's only on Japanese television.

That isn't to say that there aren't fanatics out there in the dub crowd; I'm confident that there are just as many dedicated dub fans as there are dedicated Japanese language fans. One's aural preference is in no way indicative of one's love of anime, so please don't take any of these arguments the wrong way. I don't prefer Japanese because I think that it's superior; I just happen to like it more than English. I like the color green, but that doesn't mean that it's the best color of the rainbow.

To my point, there are far more casual viewers of anime than there are otaku. The casual viewers are far more likely to see a series on the Cartoon Network or TechTV and enjoy it enough to buy that one series -- and only that one series. They aren't the type to go into a bookstore, pick up a copy of every new manga on the shelf, and then head to the cash register to check out.

Since it's usually the more popular stuff that ends up on TV, this kind of fan tends to be more likely to only seek out what he or she knows, and this kind of fan most likely comprises the majority of dub fans. More people watch a show on TV than buy it on DVD -- at least, this is the case over here so far. There's a good chance that most dub fans would not have given Ghost Stories a solitary glance as it sat in retail stores -- not if it was surrounded by the likes of Inu-Yasha, Fullmetal Alchemist, and Samurai Champloo.

In general, many people who watch dubs aren't as concerned about a translation's faithfulness to its source material as those who prefer the more "pure" Japanese language edition of a given show. After all, if they were such "purists," they'd be watching the Japanese language track. Dub fans know and accept the fact that character names are frequently changed, that cultural references are often altered, and that in general, the dub is a different beast than the subtitled version of a given release.

Of course, I'm not trying to claim that one version is necessarily better than the other. "Purity" certainly has a more positive connotation than its antonym, "corruption," but it's clear that a good number of people prefer the American "corrupted" version of a series to its pureblood Japanese incarnation, especially if it means that the show is made more relevant to them.

It's sort of like suggesting that since I prefer to drink "pure" water, those who'd rather drink tea (a "corrupted" form of water) are somehow in the wrong. They are two different objects, and they must be treated as such. That's one of the reasons that I try to refer to the original versions of a show as being more "authentic" instead of being more "pure." Even authenticity has various shades of gray, so forgive me for not fully diving into that touchy subject. That's a topic for another month.

Given the relative obscurity of this particular title, I'd wager that people who were actually seeking it out would prefer watching it in Japanese anyway. They would be the hardcore fans -- those who saw it as a fansub, who heard about it in a Japanese magazine, or watched it while they were in Japan. Sure, there aren't many representatives of this demographic, but they should be content as long as the Japanese version of the show is treated with the respect that they feel it deserves.

Thanks to the versatility of DVDs, ADV might be able to satisfy one half of the market with one version -- the true-to-the-source Japanese edition -- while generating interest in what would have been otherwise the indifferent other half. In the meantime, the whole event is doing nothing but gaining publicity for the release, far more publicity than it would have earned if it had just been silently released into the wilderness of the modern retail environment.

I can promise you that I'll pick this DVD up, but even with my love of comedy, I doubt I'll listen to the English dub of the show. But that's okay -- there's a happily authentic version of the same show on the disc that I can appreciate just as much. One way or the other, I'm sure that I'll be satisfied with the release. I just have to wonder when they're going to release their own special edition of Neon Genesis Evangelion. If this is successful, the dubbing world will never be the same. And hey, if they keep the subtitle tracks accurate and the show itself visually unedited, then I'm fine with that.

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