Feline Friday: Amanojaku (Ghost Stories)

Ghost Stories Amanojaku

Feline Friday is my chance to celebrate famous cats across the arts, whether their origins are in gaming, film, anime, literature or anywhere else.

If you have a request for a future feline, please let me know on Twitter.

天邪鬼 (Amanojaku)

First Appearance: School Ghost Stories Episode 1 (2000)

Ghost Stories is a 2000 anime from Pierrot, based on a series of children’s books by author Toru Tsunemitsu. The original stories were intended as a means of teaching the next generation about Japan’s wealth of yokai legends, while the anime follows the adventures of Satsuki Miyanoshita, a girl whose school is pestered by a variety of wicked spirits.

But that’s probably not why you know about it.

In the first episode, Satsuki and her friends come face to face with Amanojaku, a hulking demon who pursues them through the hallways while they are searching for their pet cat, Kaya. In an attempt to banish Amanojaku, they inadvertently end up transplanting the oni’s soul into the body of the hapless kitty.

Ghost Stories Amanojaku

From there, Amanojaku and Satsuki become frenemies, with both sides eager to find a way to release the entity from the cat. Though antagonistic at first, Amanojaku slowly begins to warm up to the Miyanoshita family, even going so far as to lend them aid or offer advice. In the original Japanese version, he is voiced by Ryusei Nakao, the man who most famously brought Dragon Ball Z’s wicked tyrant Frieza to life.

But that’s probably not why you know about it, either.

Purportedly, the anime failed to register with Japanese audiences, receiving only minor interest and ultimately ending up in the possession of ADV Studios. Tasked with dubbing it into English, the studio was apparently given free rein to throw the original script out and “do whatever it took to sell the show.” This would go so far as to even let whichever actor started recording first for the day dictate the pace.

What resulted was the most bizarre, raunchy and wildly inappropriate dub in the history of the business (well, at least when compared to the source material). One of the kids now had an intellectual disability, another was suddenly Jewish, a third became a born-again Christian, and almost all of them were just completely horrible people in general.

And that is probably why you know about it.

The English Amanojaku, courtesy of Rob Mungle, ramped up the spirit’s spiteful side, now resembling an amalgam of the original character and a foulmouthed stand-up comedian, with just a hint of Salem the Cat — albeit a version of Salem who had had one too many whisky sours.

In ADR sessions where the entire cast was constantly trying to one-up each other, Mungle’s Amanojaku remains a stand-out; devilishly cruel, consistently irreverent and self-aware, and simply hypnotic whenever he is on-screen.

Sometimes in the dubbing process, creative choices lead to alterations both big and small, spawning two distinctly different interpretations of the same blueprint. It’s a controversial process that can prove divisive, but I think in this case, it absolutely paid dividends. How can you hate on anything that yields one of the best lines ever uttered in anime history?

Ghost Stories Amanojaku

Ghost Stories toes something of an interesting line, wherein the intention of the original is all but gone, replaced by vulgar innuendo and fourth wall breaking pop culture references. If you were a particular fan of the Japanese version, you might even be disgusted by the direction it took, usurping the plot line in all but the most rudimentary ways and birthing a product that would ultimately outlast its predecessor.

Frankly, I probably wouldn’t have ever heard of it had scenes from the dub not popped up on my timeline, and for anyone not into the Americanised one-liners, the subtitled version is of course still there for your enjoyment. I’ll keep my hepatitis eyes and ears locked right on the chicanery of Mr. Mungle and company.

Admittedly, this Feline Friday entry only made tangential reference to the cat itself. Most times I would consider this to be something of a failing on my part, but I think in this case, I’m just honouring the source material by throwing the script out.

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