Most of the anime series that I’ve watched come from anime-related forums. One of these examples, as stated in last week, is Cardcaptor Sakura where a girl’s cover of said series’ intro song got me into this series, in 2018. This year, another anime series that I was introduced to was Gakkou No Kaidan – translated to English, reads “Ghosts At School”. Having heard countless stories about the hilarious origins of this series, I decided to take a peek into it. I should note too that, even though I’m a hardcore supporter of watching anime in its original, Japanese subbed form, for this series I made an exception and decided to take a look at the English version. In fact, this is probably the only time I’ll ever put this card into action.
GAKKOU NO KAIDAN
This anime has a very… interesting history. Originally created in 2000, this series tells the story of five children who confront a group of vicious ghosts, spirits and paranormal creatures that plague their local elementary school. Basically, “Ghost Hunters” for kids.
The interesting part of this series is not based on how much of a lasting impact it had on audiences on a global scale (think the levels of Naruto, One Piece, or Pokemon), nor its plot (which was for all means and intents, pretty basic); rather, the real majesty behind this is the origins and development of this series. Following its release in 2000, which was met with rather mixed reviews, the series was shelved, and would remain largely unknown in the United States until around 2004-05. Like most other dubbed anime of the time, the producers who were behind its production decided to take a unique approach; rather than producing a near-faithful reproduction of the series and playing around with its OST, they were told to retain the original OST and the storyline, but at the same time were given full liberty to do whatever they wanted with it – even if it meant turning the series’ paranormal background into a full-blown parody of pop culture, broken fourth walls and nonsensical subplots abound.
And that’s exactly why I started watching the series.
Now moving on to the plot. The story focuses on Satsuki, a hot-headed, intelligent girl and her younger, (purportedly retarded) brother Keichirou who begin their first day of classes at Amanogawa Elementary School along with classmates Hajime, a wisecracking boy who has a penchant for sexual perversity; Leo, a Jewish boy who claims to be knowledgeable about the paranormal; and Momoko, a sixth-grader whose sole obsession in life is Jesus Christ (I’m not making this up). After beginning classes, the quintet begin to realize a slew of paranormal activity coming from the nearby abandoned schoolhouse, which has become home to numerous angry spirits that have moved in ever since the rapid urbanization developing around the area. After capturing one of the spirits, named Amanojaku who immediately possesses Satsuki’s pet cat, and reluctantly aids them in their 20-episode quest to rid some of Amanogawa Elementary’s haunted residents; such as a bathroom-dwelling ghost, a demon schoolgirl named Yamime, Ludwig Van Beethoven, a rabbit with werewolf-like tendencies and an evil Internet web server.
WHAT I LIKED
- Despite the basic-sounding plot, this dubbed series was entertaining as hell. From the numerous fourth-wall references made by Satsuki, Hajime and Leo’s numerous callbacks to popular culture figures, or Momoko’s hyper-religious tendencies (she references religion every other line), this series definitely jumped the gun with trying to one-up the original Japanese version.
- Every episode featured a new ghost, which I looked forward to hearing about. Some of the more favorite ones that I had in mind included the episode involving Mary-san the doll, which itself is based on a popular Japanese urban legend, Yamime the demonic schoolgirl, and Shizuko, a vengeful female spirit reminiscent of Sadako from the popular Japanese film, Ringu. Special mention goes to episode 12’s ghost, a nurse with a kind heart and turns the tables on Satsuki and company.
- Voice-acting wise, names such as Monica Rial and Chris Patton of Excel Saga and Neon Genesis Evangelion fame, and Greg Ayres of Full Metal Alchemist make an appearance, and they did a pretty decent job of voicing the cast, even despite the fact that they ad-libbed most of the script to fit the “do whatever you want” instructions.
WHAT I DIDN’T LIKE
- The episode format gets pretty bland after a while; something paranormal happens, the kids figure out about it, confront it, seal it, and life goes back to normal for a while. There’s literally no sign of plot until the last episode. That being said, this series had very little to offer aside from ghost-catching antics; I’m willing to let this slide however, seeing how it was a series designed for kids.
For the most part, this series is a parody of the original, so of course the characterization will appear goofy, aloof and overboard with the humor at times (for an example, see the rather sexually explicit conversation in the Shirotabi episode). But even when you strip away the fact that it’s a parody, and look at it with respect to the original storyline, there’s little to no variation to the characterization. They’re mostly bland, one-dimensional and boring personalities; each character is given a distinctive personality, which they retain largely for the rest of the entire series. I know it’s a series meant for a young audience, but even series like Digimon Adventure and Cardcaptor Sakura, barring their long episode lengths, were able to change the characters in a way that they still retain their personalities, but as characters, they undergo a drastic change that makes them better than what they were in the beginning. Gakkou No Kaidan doesn’t do that. And even when they do that (with Amanojaku the cat), it’s sudden and uninspired, and largely nonsensically executed.
With regards to the episode’s OST… pretty forgettable if you ask me. The background music was pretty generic-sounding, and although it did its best to give a creepy flavor to the series, it just didn’t cut it well for me.
The only thing that I’m willing to give this series credit for in terms of its musical production, is its opening song, “Grow Up” by Hysteric Blue. I liked this song – it’s adventurous, has a bright tune to it, and for some reason reminds me of just wanting to go out in the summer sun, and get ready to rock out and have fun.
Favorite character: You know, if it weren’t for me discovering Homura Akemi first, Momoko Koigakubo most definitely can be my waifu (and favorite character of this series).
Favorite quote: “The Internet was a blessing from the Lord Jesus to spread God’s Word to the world, but pedophiles (Novus Ordo priests) and Muslims stole it and now use it to seduce little children like you into sins!”
Favorite episode: I liked episode 14. The ghost, Shizuko, was a legitimately frightening force to deal with, and the series itself even reflected closely one of my favorite horror films of all time, Ringu. Also points because Momoko’s a central figure in this episode.
This series was an overall interesting experience, but unfortunately it falls flat as an actual story because of its generic, uninspired plot, its unexplainable twists and turns, and not to mention, the cliche format of each episode. As a parody, my assessment is quite mixed; there are times when the jokes are decent, but at the same time the parody part is so over-emphasized that it often overlaps with the actual storyline and rather distorts it to a certain extent. Conclusively, Gakkou No Kaidan is an enigma of anime series in general; watching the English dub alone will make you question “Why am I watching this”, and not to mention, “How did this come to existence”. If you want a good show centered around ghosts, try something like Grave Encounters or my personal favorite, Ringu.