NO KAIDAN - School Ghost Stories
in October, 2001 by Mark Vallen, Jeannine Thorpe, and John Lentini
Screen shots generously provided by John Lentini.
by Jeannine Thorpe) Black cats, haunted houses,
and things that go bump in the night... it's too bad Japan
doesn't celebrate Halloween, because Gakkou no Kaidan
would be the perfect anime to scare your favorite Trick-or-Treator
with! This wonderful series combines the rich Japanese heritage
of ghost stories (Kaidan or Kwaidan) and the
medium of children's anime to create something entirely unique....
a cartoon that would completely terrify anyone under the age
of ten, and give older viewers a good case of the creeps as
Satsuki Miyanoshita and her younger brother Kei-ichiro
move from Tokyo to their mother's hometown after she dies
of a long illness. But the kids' adjustment to country life
is immediately interrupted when they discover that the old
abandoned school near their new school is plagued by every
kind of demon, spirit, and monster imaginable! They are immediately
thrust into the struggle personally when the family cat, Kaaya,
is taken over by a nasty demon which allows him to talk, but
can never be trusted. To save the town as well as their own
lives, the siblings and new friends Hajime, Reo,
and Momoko must form a ragtag team of
sleuths and ghost fighters, getting help from Satsuki's
mom's old diary, a bit of white magic, and their own wits!
addition, Satsuki and Hajime's budding
relationship may be teasing now, but hints of possible affection
in the future... reminding one even of a young Miaka
and Tamahome of Fushigi Yuugi fame. And
exactly what is Momoko's connection to Satsuki's
series is a unique delight in so many ways.... the solid animation
by Studio Pierrot, creepy CGI effects, wonderful music,
and of course, all of your nightmares come to life! This is
a series where your brain tells you, "I know this is
a show designed for children", but your eyes tell you
"This can't be for little kids!" And if the toilet-dwelling
demon isn't enough to convince you of this, then of course
there's the ending theme song, "Sexy Sexy"
by Cascade. This series rises far above any
such fare designed for American audiences of the same age,
with its superior animation, thoughtful storylines, and rich
visual references. I'll even go as far to say that it's scarier
than a lot of current television series and movies designed
favorite episode is one in which Reo is pulled into
a haunted website... an infamous domain which every web-surfer
has heard about. He finds himself in a surreal landscape of
blood-red sky and river of human bodies... with rows of the
walking dead awaiting passage to the netherworld! But what
makes the scene even more amazing is its references to classic
Japanese horror films such as Onibaba and Jigoku
(Hell) to which many modern Japanese horror films owe some
inspiration. It's wonderful imagery like this that makes the
series worth discovering, because I'm sure you'll never see
it on American airwaves. And
last but not least: Music fans take note, the popular group
Hysteric Blue performed the very catchy opening theme
song, "Grow Up!"
by Mark Vallen)
Wanna see something really scary?! Gakkou no Kaidan
is the perfect series for anyone with an appetite for
stories. One of
the truly remarkable things about this series is that it has
a preteen target audience in Japan. Nevertheless, "Kaidan"
is one of the most sophisticated Horror narratives I've ever
seen produced for television... there is simply no equivalent
of this anime in the West. The show, as much for adults as
it is for kids, possesses a good-natured approach to its mission
of scaring the living daylights out of you. There's little
violence and no bloodletting... but the stories succeed in
making you break out in a cold sweat.
only thing I could compare "Kaidan" to would be
Serling and his infamous Twilight Zone series.
While certainly not an equal to Serling's solid writing and
production values (after all, this is a kid's show),
Kaidan scripts are well thought out and written, beautifully
animated, and are guaranteed to make your heart pound faster!
Kaidan draws inspiration from Japan's treasure trove of traditional
ghost stories, but it also brilliantly updates the genre by
placing the stories in a modern context.
"haunted computer" episode Jeannine writes about
in the preceding review owes as much to Nobuo Nakagawa's
vision of Hell, Jigoku (1960) as it does to Hideo
Nakata's 1999 Gothic Horror tale, Ring (both of
which are reviewed elsewhere on this site). The fact that
I would point to two modern Masters of Japanese Horror films
as the inspirational basis for the Gakkou no Kaidan
series should amply illustrate the power of this anime. Yet
the show is for kids, and as such it's full of comedic relief,
visual gags, and touching portrayals of friendship and loyalty.
The children's accidental sidekick, a demon possessed, talking
black cat by the name Kaaya, is a far cry from the
pleasant Luna of Sailormoon or Salem
of the ridiculous Sabrina the Teenaged Witch. Kaaya
is aloof, mysterious, sullen, and cranky. His malevolent cackling
laughter and "leave me alone" attitude is a welcome
relief from all the cute and happy furry creatures found in
4 of the series concerned a haunted piano. It's ghostly player
(pictured left) terrorized the living by appearing out of
thin air to softly perform a Beethoven piano sonata.
Not only was I impressed by this anime's marvelous storyline,
but I was knocked out by the fact that the entire Beethoven
piece was left intact and unaltered. When was the last time
you saw an American cartoon use Classical music without mocking
it? I'm telling you, Gakkou no Kaidan ain't just for
kids. This is wonderfully sophisticated stuff that SOMEONE
should be fan subbing or acquiring the rights to!
by John Lentini)
you're looking for an anime series to fit the bill of Halloween.
Of course Vampire Hunter D, Vampire Princess Miyu,
and Haunted Junction would be good choices. Though
if blood makes you queasy, and you're looking for something
completely new, may we suggest Gakkou no Kaidan.
animation and the music aren't going to blow you away here,
but sit back, turn out the lights, and enjoy this cute but
frightening show. The closest anime series you can compare
to here would be Haunted Junction, just add some more
serious tones along with more spooky moments. The
fearsome five in this series, as far as characters go, will
grow on you. Whether they are pitting themselves against an
evil demon or even a toilet, yes, I said a toilet. Of course
it couldn't be Halloween if this series didn't feature a talking
black cat. So relax, don't be too scared and be careful on
your next trip to the bathroom.
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