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Kaaya the Demon Kitty
Kaaya the Demon Kitty
Kaaya the Demon Kitty
Kaaya the Demon Kitty
GAKKOU NO KAIDAN - School Ghost Stories
Reviewed in October, 2001 by Mark Vallen, Jeannine Thorpe, and John Lentini . Screen shots generously provided by John Lentini.

(Comments 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 well.

Five-grader 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! In 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 mom, anyway?
The whole gang of sleuths
The whole gang of sleuths

This 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 for adults!

My 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!"
Demon Girl
Demon Girl
Screaming Demon
Screaming Demon

(Comments by Mark Vallen) Wanna see something really scary?! Gakkou no Kaidan is the perfect series for anyone with an appetite for spooky supernatural 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.

The only thing I could compare "Kaidan" to would be Rod 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.

Momoko possessed
Momoko possessed

The "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 animation.

Ghostly Classical Pianist
Ghostly Classical Pianist

Episode 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!

(Comments by John Lentini) Maybe 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.

The 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.

Momoko and Satsuki
Momoko and Satsuki
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