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Subbed or Dubbed? The Best Way to Watch Anime Is Up For Debate

ghost stories anime eng dub

To start a debate at any anime convention, you just need three little words: Subbed or dubbed? Fans in subbed shows — anime in its original Japanese-language form with English subtitles — believe it’s the truest way to watch. On the other hand, those who watch English dubs believe it’s a perfectly fine means of adapting something — and you don’t need the added step of reading subtitles. So, would you rather watch subbed or dubbed Naruto ? 

As for me, I may be putting myself in the line of fire here, but both sides of the subbed vs. dubbed debate have a point. Wait — put your torch and pitchfork down. I can explain. 

The Subbed or Dubbed Debate: The Case for Subtitles

There’s nothing quite like watching an anime in its original Japanese, and reading the subtitles as they pop up. As Oscar-winning Parasite (2019) director Bong Joon-ho said in his Golden Globes acceptance speech , “Once you overcome the one-inch-tall barrier of subtitles, you will be introduced to so many more amazing films.”

The same could be said for watching anime. Watching with subtitles is my default method for most anime — unless I really love the dubbed version for some specific reason. It’s not that it’s objectively “better,” but it offers what dubbed anime can’t. So, what are those unique offerings? 

Original Casting Choices

The Japanese version of an anime has the original voice actors — the people the creators cast in each role. The director chose these voices for a reason. They have a certain tone and personality. Even if you don’t understand the words, you can get the nuance you need from just listening to their voices.

ghost stories anime eng dub

Take Demon Slayer/Kimetsu No Yaiba , one of my favorite anime . The casting is simply perfect. In one scene in the show’s second episode, Trainer Sakonji Urokodaki confronts the young slayer Tanjiro Kamado. As a mentor’s voice should be, his voice is crisp and sharp — it’s forceful like a slap at the end of each sentence. The dubbed version, on the other hand, doesn’t quite get there. The English-language voice actor’s voice is low and grumbly. He’s the grizzled old mentor who’s seen it all — a completely different tone.

The Sound Is the Meaning

Japanese is a pitch-accent language . It emphasizes syllables of a word by making them high or low. If you change the pattern of highs and lows, you can change the meaning of the word entirely.

You might not understand those meanings — I don’t — but the pitch fluctuation is part of the experience. To hear the difference for yourself, listen to the subbed and dubbed versions of the same anime. The experience is richer when you can hear the high-low/low-high pattern of speech.

Script Accuracy

If you watch dubbed Naruto and then the same episode but subbed, you’ll notice something: the translation isn’t always accurate. While small changes might seem insignificant on the surface, it can change things quite dramatically — believe it . 

ghost stories anime eng dub

Take the second episode of Demon Slayer , for example. Protagonist Tanjiro is traveling with his sister, who was turned into a demon in Tanjiro’s absence. His trainer doesn’t mince words about the situation, saying, “There are two things to do if our sister devours a human. Kill your sister! And slit your own belly and die! That’s what it means to travel with your sister who became a demon!”

However, in the English dub, things are a bit different. The English script reads: “There are two things you must do if your sister eats a human. First, you kill her. Then slit your own belly and die. That’s what traveling alongside a demon like your sister means.” 

Eats versus devours. “A demon like your sister” versus “your sister who became a demon.” They’re small changes, yes, but they alter the original intent. 

But Don’t Judge Team Dubbed in the Subbed or Dubbed Debate

Subbed anime may be the original version, but that doesn’t mean it’s always the way to go. Before you give Team Dubbed the side-eye, let’s take a look at why adapting a script into another language might not be all bad.

Voice Cast Variety

Yes, the voice cast in dubbed anime is different, but that’s not always a bad thing. One of my all-time favorite anime, Erased , is about 29-year-old Satoru, a pizza delivery person who has a unique ability, “Revival”. This skill allows him to go back in time, moments before life-altering tragedies struck. 

Both casts are talented, but, in this case, the English-language casting is perfect. Satoru’s adult voice is grumbly and pained. You can hear his struggle to find his way in the sound of his voice; when you hear this adult’s inner monologue contrasted against the face of his younger self, it’s incredibly effective.  

ghost stories anime eng dub

Satoru’s coworker, Airi, is light and perky — a nice balance to our main character’s jaded and monotone sound. His mom, meanwhile, is charmingly flippant and fun, while Little Kayo, the girl who disappears, is quiet and subdued — and for good reason. The characters’ voices are why I almost always re-watch the dubbed version of Erased. Thanks to these wholly convincing performances, I find it easier to lose myself in the story.

The Original Experience

Anime isn’t manga, which is meant to be read — it’s an audiovisual format that’s meant to be watched and heard. When you watch the subbed version, reading the subtitles takes part of your mind out of that experience. Technically, you’re multitasking, which is challenging, to say the least .

When you watch the dubbed version, your brain doesn’t tire so much; there’s no switching back and forth between tasks. Therefore, it’s easier to have a connected emotional experience. It’s the closest you can come to experiencing anime like a native Japanese speaker, in some ways. 

Better Accessibility

This is the most important argument for dubbed anime. Not everyone can read subtitles or read them quickly enough to keep up with a show’s pace. And it’s no one’s place to judge what’s accessible or not for another person.

ghost stories anime eng dub

I don’t think “purity” should get in the way of anyone enjoying anime. Plenty of people — children and adults — would never get into anime if dubbed versions of shows weren’t available. Making something more accessible shouldn’t be frowned upon. After all, you never know which stories and characters will profoundly influence someone. 

So, How Should I Decide to Watch Anime?

Anime is art — not organic chemistry. There’s no one right answer, no matter what that Deku cosplayer at that con told you. That said, you still have to make a choice — subbed or dubbed? If I have the time, I love to watch the first episode in both formats.

If not, I’ll tend toward subbed versions. Not only do you hear it in the way the director envisioned it, with a script as intact as possible, but it’s the original sound and art working together — and I think that combination can matter.


ghost stories anime eng dub

The Most Offensive Anime Dub Ever Has to Be Heard to Be Believed

Ghost Stories failed in Japan only to became larger than ever after it was dubbed in America. Why? Because it was so (deliberately) offensive.

Anime dubs are usually criticized if they're unfaithful. Though certain artistic license must be taken due to localization concerns (and to match timing of lip-flaps), hardcore fans have been known to find fault with minute changes -- even if the line remains accurate to the spirit of the original. Miss Kobayashi's Dragon Maid and Zombieland Saga both encountered controversy years ago for either localizing some lines or more accurately translating material, thus making it different to how fans of the previous version remembered. It seems there's no universally correct way to localize anime scripts.

Except, in one very memorable case in 2000, when one studio tossed out the entire script of an anime and re-wrote it into one of the greatest gag dubs of all time. Before Yu-Gi-Oh! The Abridged Series or Dragon Ball Z Abridged popularized gag dubs of beloved anime, a not-so-popular anime received its own parody dub and, in the process, became something of a cult classic. Considering the self-referencing and level of offensiveness in its humor, it would be easy to assume it is a fan-made work, as the other aforementioned series are. Shockingly, though, the English-language Ghost Stories dub is an official release . How on Earth does something like this get made?

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Ghost Stories Was Originally Aimed at Children

Ghost Stories , also known as Gakkou no Kaidan, is an adaptation of the books of the same name, written by Toru Tsunemitsu. The intention was to produce a series aimed at younger children that introduced them to classic Japanese folklore in a new way. Keep in mind, at this time Japanese horror was a big deal . Ringu , Ju-On and Audition were hitting screens, so kids would've been hearing about these popular adult scary movies they weren't allowed to watch. In theory, Ghost Stories may have sounded like an easy hit to capitalize on the trend.

Unfortunately, this was not the case. No one watched Ghost Stories and the show became a financial failure. The studio Animax, which at this time was looking to put content on its North American television station and produce content that could turn this dud into gold, attempted to dub the anime , creating a faithful script and dub that, ultimately, was tossed out. Animax then turned to dub studio ADV Films.

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ADV Attempted to Dub an Acceptable Version of Ghost Stories

ADV is a household name among older anime fans, having produced successful dubs for Neon Genesis Evangelion , Excel Saga and Azumanga Daioh . Even at the time, ADV had attracted controversy for changing elements of the dub to make it more acceptable for an English-speaking audience. A great example of this would be how, in Evangelion , Tiffany Grant's portrayal of Asuka replaced tons of her lines with German . This led to a lot of controversy among fans, some of whom felt that disloyalty to the original script hurt the overall product, while others argued that it actually added and enriched Asuka's character.

Regardless, as one of the then-biggest names in anime, ADV Films was a natural pick to dub Ghost Stories . However, it was given a particularly interesting -- and possibly unique -- deal. Animax would let ADV do almost anything it wanted, so long as it made sure this show was a hit. The only three conditions were: don't change the character names (including the ghosts); don't change the way the ghosts are slain (a reference to Japanese folklore) and, finally, don't change the core meaning of each episode. Beyond that, ADV had free rein to do whatever it wanted. And it took a mile from that inch.

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Even the Studio's Voice Actors Contributed to the Script

The ADR script for Ghost Stories is written by its ADR Director, Steven Foster, its translator, Lucan Duran, and all the dub actors cast in the role (which included Greg Ayres, Monica Rial, Chris Patton, among many others). The actors added their own suggestions to what their characters would say or what running gags would be recited throughout the series. The writing process was decided with the following tactic: whoever showed up to the recording studio first for a given episode would make stuff up, and everyone who came in later had to build upon the tone and jokes established in the first place. Yes, really -- that's how this official dub was written.

In addition, the actors found many workarounds to the three rules they were given. Greg Ayres, at a convention Q&A , said of Animax's terms: "We could not change how that person was killed, so if it was killed by rubbing two sticks together and chanting a phrase, that's how we had to kill it. That being said, we could change the magical phrase."

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While they couldn't change the core of each episode, they could make any raunchy and inappropriate joke possible. And that's how a children's anime quickly turned into an R-Rated, raunchy love letter to bad taste. The good-natured children from the original story were replaced by a vulgar, swearing teenager; a child with a severe learning disability; a hypocritical, Jesus-obsessed evangelist ; a constant victim of antisemitism and an arrogant brat who, quite frankly, is possibly the least maladjusted of the whole cast.

With every writer coming up with their own thoughts about what jokes to make, the writers' room got meta. On top of inappropriate humor, the writer-actor coalition started making pop culture jokes, poking fun at then-noteworthy celebrities (Christian Slater, for some reason known only to Greg Ayres, is a particular target), anime clichés and tropes , as well as the frankly poor animation and character models in the series itself. The fact that these writers came up with these gags is of itself not remarkable. What is remarkable is that Animax, the studio licensing out a children's show to this studio, would sign off on whatever they were sent. If anything, they actually liked the changes.

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The Humor in the Ghost Stories Anime Dub Is Subjective

Today, people regularly upload clips from Ghost Stories as montages of the greatest, most outrageous anime dubs ever. It's often hailed as the forebear to the Abridging craze that ran wild over YouTube . But, tell that to the people who hated it upon release. Ghost Stories was not originally received with unanimous acclaim. Purists hated the changes and deviations, viewing it as overtly disrespectful to Japanese culture. Many others just thought it disrespectful to human decency and morality, which only proved that the jokes -- intentionally written to be as offensive as possible -- were working.

In retrospect, Ghost Stories ' humor is still highly subjective. Some might not appreciate the offensive humor, but for anime fans, it was a big deal. Yes, the pop culture jokes have aged poorly -- as topical humor often does -- but this really was one of the first real big productions to make fun of inconsistent animation, awkward tropes, and, of course, how anime itself sometimes doesn't make any sense. Rather than be mean spirited about it, the show reveled in it. It celebrated every silly anime thing out there. And Animax got just what they wanted -- a total flop turned into gold.

The Weird and Misunderstood History of the English Ghost Stories Dub

Ghost Stories Anime Dub

Translation, localization, and dubbing are arguably some of the toughest jobs in the anime industry. Anime has a long history of puns and double entendre that only work in the original Japanese, so translators need to either rewrite the dialogue or add explanatory notes for the viewer’s benefit. Other times, an anime might have extra text like chalkboard writing or street signs, which begs the question of how much could (or should) be translated. Dubbing also poses its own set of problems, since the translated script and voice actors need to fit new dialogue into the existing mouth movements and try to match the timing. Of course, no matter what a company decides on, it won’t please everybody, and some series, like Komi Can’t Communicate from last fall, seemed almost tailor-made for controversy due to its abundance of on-screen text. However the translation and localization process goes, though, it’s generally assumed that the adaptation should strive to be as faithful to the original as possible.

The folks over at ADV Films who did the 2005 English dub of Ghost Stories clearly did not get that memo.

In an era when shows like South Park and Family Guy were pushing the boundaries of political incorrectness in animation, one team of dubbers decided to take a relatively harmless anime about ghost-hunting preteens and turn it into a raunchy comedy brimming with pop-culture references and pitch-black humor. It may be too distasteful for some viewers, and some of the humor is definitely outdated, but the fact that people are still watching it, talking about it, and even posting reaction videos to it nearly 20 years later is a testament to its longevity. The story of how a popular children’s book series turned into one of the most infamous anime adaptations of all time, however, is almost as bizarre as the actual ghost stories the series was based on.

Ghost Stories originated as an anthology of children’s novels by Toru Tsunemitsu that ran throughout the 1990s. Tsunemitsu drew inspiration for the books while working as a middle school teacher, where he would regularly hear his students gossiping about urban legends and rumors. The initial 1990 publication, School Ghost Stories , was successful enough to spawn nine follow-up volumes, a live-action television adaptation, several films, and finally, an anime series. Loosely based on the books and films, the anime version follows Satsuki and her friends as they deal with various ghosts haunting their middle school. The anime ran for twenty episodes and two specials from the Fall of 2000 to the Spring of 2001. What happened after the anime finished airing, though, has become an urban legend of its own.

Ghost Stories Anime Dub

Today, the popular consensus is that the Ghost Stories anime flopped so badly in Japan that the studio, Pierrot, was desperate to release it overseas to recoup their losses, but as it turns out, this might not have been the case at all. The series actually had a successful initial run , even outperforming shows like Pokemon and Doraemon at times, and it acquired a devoted fanbase that still looks back on it favorably. It also received dubbed adaptations in several other countries, and Animax produced its own English dub for distribution in Singapore. Soon afterward, though, Animax turned Ghost Stories over to ADV Films in 2005 for a North American English release, and this moment seems to be the origin of a lot of the confusion. For some reason, the staff and voice actors at ADV Films came to believe that the original script was so bad it wasn’t worth saving, and that a rewrite was desperately needed in order to make the show saleable to audiences.

It’s difficult to know if ADV’s decision resulted from some misunderstanding between Animax and ADV, or if the ADV localizers simply disliked the original series. Another possibility is that Steven Foster, the dialogue director for ADV at the time, was simply going about his usual business. When localizing an anime, Foster had a reputation for making significant changes to storylines and dialogue when he didn’t like the original source material. He apparently did this so often that fans even came up with the term “ fosterize ” just to have a specific word to describe it. Foster, for his part, has stated in a recent interview that the attorney for ADV who negotiated the licensing deal was the one who originally told him the Japanese companies “weren’t really happy with [Ghost Stories],” and that Foster was allowed to do “anything [he] could do to make money.” It also might not have helped that Animax seems to have placed almost no specific restrictions on how much ADV Films could alter the content of the original show. Instead, they gave ADV only a few vague stipulations to follow when producing their adaptation: don’t change the characters’ names, don’t change the way the ghosts are defeated, and don’t change the basic plot of each episode.

An attorney and a dialogue director’s misunderstanding over the show’s failure. Only a handful of loose guidelines for ADV to adhere to when translating and localizing it. Steven Foster’s own “fosterizing” tendencies. This might have been all that was necessary for ADV Films to conclude that Ghost Stories was inherently flawed and that they had free rein to do whatever they thought was necessary to “improve” it.

Whatever the case may be, in the ensuing years, the people who worked on the ADV dub spread some version of this jumbled history around. Greg Ayres, who voiced Leo, recounted in 2007 that the original anime was “a turd of a show,” and that “[the Japanese distributors] told ADV, ‘look, this didn’t do well on TV, you may have to work with this show a little bit.’” Similarly, Monica Rial, who voiced Momoko, stated at Anime USA 2011 that Ghost Stories “did not do very well in Japan,” and that Animax told them, “We don’t care what you do, we just need to recoup some of the money we lost on this show. Have fun!” Over the last decade or so, some variation of this messy narrative has become the standard, with no shortage of blog posts , reviews , and YouTube commentators recounting it. And although some critics have recently debunked the myth of Ghost Stories’ initial failure, even they can’t definitively explain why so many people at ADV Films concluded the show was a complete bust before they even began working on it.

Ghost Stories Anime Dub

Like any good urban legend, we may never learn the whole truth of why ADV decided to overhaul Ghost Stories’ original script so thoroughly, but in some ways, it doesn’t even matter. Once Foster and the voice actors got it in their heads that they could “have fun,” they proceeded to create one of the most bizarre, unconventional, and hilarious official anime dubs in the history of the industry. Foster himself, along with translator Lucan Duran, received credit for the new English script, but the voice actors did so much ad-libbing that they were given writing credits as well. According to Monica Rial, the first person to record on any given day would set the tone for everyone else to play off of , and eventually, it became a game of one-upmanship to see who could be the funniest person in the booth. No one seemed too concerned about crossing the line, either. As Greg Ayres put it , “We tried to have a joke for everybody.”

The fact that Vic Mignogna insisted on being credited as “Obi Frostips” for his bit role in a single episode says a lot about the script ADV Films ultimately came up with. For starters, the backstories and personalities of several characters are completely changed. Satsuki’s friend Momoko, for instance, is transformed into a born-again Christian who tries to convert everybody, while her teacher Mr. Sakata becomes a sex-obsessed pervert with a reputation for spying on the girls’ locker room. Meanwhile, the dialogue is consistently and unabashedly offensive, with frequent jokes about abortion, domestic abuse, mental disability, bestiality, and other sensitive topics. Not all of it has aged well, and some of the more dated pop-culture references will likely go over younger viewers’ heads, but there are also some clever fourth-wall jokes that poke fun at the anime tropes, animation mistakes, and stereotypical plots of the original show. With such a grab-bag of different styles and tones, the humor of Ghost Stories is bound to be hit-or-miss for some people, but on the flip side, it does mean that many different audiences can get some laughs from it, especially if you’re into offensive comedy.

Ghost Stories Anime Dub

From the moment it was released, ADV’s unconventional dub of Ghost Stories has been one of the most polarizing adaptations the anime industry has ever seen—it was booed at its Otakon 2005 premiere , only to rebound just one year later and beat out Fullmetal Alchemist to win Anime Insider’s 2006 “Dub of the Year” award. At the heart of many criticisms of the dub is the issue of whether or not a divergent or parody adaptation of an existing work somehow disrespects the original. But to claim that the ADV dub is problematic because it fails to faithfully adapt the source material is perhaps, in this case, the wrong approach. Because it adds so much original content and reinvents the characters and dialogue so frequently, ADV’s Ghost Stories can be considered an almost entirely new show, rather than a simple localization or alternate-language version of the same series. In many ways, it more closely resembles parody genres like spoofs, overdubs, and “abridged” series, with some even crediting it as a forerunner of the 2010s anime abridging craze . Love it or hate it, there’s no denying that ADV’s take on Ghost Stories was a singularly unique and special event. Unless a Japanese company somehow allows a dubbing studio to produce an officially-licensed abridged series, we may never see anything like it ever again.

You can watch the ADV Films’ English dub of Ghost Stories on Retrocrush , Crunchyroll , and Amazon Prime . © KODANSHA / FUJI TV / Aniplex Inc. / PIERROT

ghost stories anime eng dub

A professional music historian by day, Matt Lyons has been an anime lover for almost 30 years. He is active in several Discord anime communities, an avid con-goer, and the host of the comedy show "Anime FAILS!" at American anime conventions. You can find him on Twitter and Instagram.

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  • Studio Pierrot
  • Dubs from the 2000's
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Ghost Stories

  • View history
  • 1 Dubbing History
  • 2.1.1 Episodic Characters
  • 2.1.2 Additional Voices
  • 2.2 Animax Dub
  • 4 Video Releases
  • 5 External Links

Dubbing History [ ]

Ghost Stories was picked up for dubbing by ADV Studios in 2005. According to voice actor Greg Ayres , they were told to "do whatever it took to sell the show." The only condition was that the basic story and names of major characters and ghosts had to remain intact, but everything else was fair game. To that end, director Steven Foster reworked the show into a pure Gag Dub by throwing out nearly all of the original script. When the voice actors were called in to record scenes, whoever got there first would set the tone and subject for the scene, which meant the other cast members had to follow in those footsteps. This approach produced a dub full of random characterization, fourth-wall-breaking jokes, political and cultural references.

An alternative dub was previously produced by the anime television network Animax , which stayed true to the original, retaining all of the original Japanese plot, character and dialog details, broadcasting the series uncensored and unedited within its respective networks across the world, including Southeast Asia and the Indian Subcontinent.

ADV Dub [ ]

Episodic characters [ ], additional voices [ ], animax dub [ ].

  • Greg Ayres expressed regret that the Mel Gibson Jew rant had happened just a few weeks after production wrapped, as he would have loved to have incorporated it into the final episode.

Video Releases [ ]

External links [ ].

  • Ghost Stories at the Internet Movie Database
  • Ghost Stories (anime) at Anime News Network's encyclopedia
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  • 2 Pokémon Horizons: The Series
  • 3 Master Detective Archives: Rain Code
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When nearby construction disturbs a spiritual resting place, it's disgruntled denizens do what any supernatural being would do after a rude awaking - they terrorize the local school. And that means it's up to a scruffy band of young ghost hunters to expel their satanic schoolmates before everyone gets sent to permanent detention! Meet 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, scariest school you've ever enrolled in. Join the most hysterical group of SCOOBY-DON'TS you've ever seen in the most GLEEFULLY CONTROVERSIAL and GUT-BUSTINGLY FUNNY anime of the last 10 years! This complete collection contains all 20 episodes, and includes the hilarious English dub and the original Japanese language with English subtitles.

Product details

  • Is Discontinued By Manufacturer ‏ : ‎ No
  • Product Dimensions ‏ : ‎ 0.7 x 7.5 x 5.4 inches; 2.72 Ounces
  • Item model number ‏ : ‎ ESTR70100DVD
  • Director ‏ : ‎ Noriyuki Abe
  • Media Format ‏ : ‎ Multiple Formats, Color, NTSC, Box set, Animated
  • Run time ‏ : ‎ 9 hours and 10 minutes
  • Release date ‏ : ‎ March 25, 2014
  • Subtitles: ‏ : ‎ English
  • Studio ‏ : ‎ Eastern Star
  • ASIN ‏ : ‎ B00HVFA2XC
  • Country of Origin ‏ : ‎ USA
  • Number of discs ‏ : ‎ 3
  • #138 in Anime (Movies & TV)

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ghost stories anime eng dub


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