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Quirky gems


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POSTED: Sunday, September 27, 2009

Seventeen years might not seem like a long time in the grand scheme of things. But as far as the U.S. anime publishing industry was concerned, that length of time was good enough for one company to become one of the oldest publishers in the industry.

Sadly, there won't be an 18th anniversary coming for ADV Films, the anime publisher co-founded by John Ledford and Matt Greenfield in 1992. While ADV entered with a splash with its first VHS release, “;Devil Hunter Yohko,”; it exited with a whimper earlier this month, its pieces divvied up among four companies.

It was a depressing end to one of anime's most prolific, fan-friendly publishers. Anime News Network's online encyclopedia lists more than 300 TV series, OAVs (original animation videos) and movies that ADV either released or was involved with in its production at one time or another. But while it might be easy to look back at some of the acknowledged classics and hidden gems of the ADV catalog, perhaps it would be more fun to look at some of its more unorthodox releases. Some examples:

 

'Ghost Stories' (2005-2006)

“;Gakkou no Kaidan”; (”;School Ghost Stories”;) was a rather bland series that followed the adventures of a group of children: Satsuki; her best friend, Momoko; her younger brother, Keiichirou; her next-door neighbor Hajime; and his friend Reo. With the help of a diary written by Satsuki's mom and a spirit sealed in the body of a cat, they investigated paranormal activity at their school and exorcised ghosts threatening their town.

It was great for a Japanese audience, perhaps, but there was legitimate concern that it wouldn't go over all that well with U.S. audiences. So with the blessing of Japanese licensor Aniplex, ADV put director Steven Foster on the project, tossed out most of the original script and let him and his cast have free rein over what resulted.

And what resulted was “;Ghost Stories,”; which feels like a much stronger series even with the same animation. Satsuki, as voiced by Hilary Haag, became a sweet-sounding girl with an extra splash of sass. That sass came in handy when dealing with her much more well-fleshed-out counterparts: Hajime, now the resident class stud of the group; Reo (Greg Ayres), now with the Westernized name of Leo, is a heavily Jewish nerd who's far too interested in paranormal phenomena; Keiichirou (Christine Auten), who now whines and snivels so much that the subtitles actually read “;Gibberish!”; when he breaks down into a puddle of tears for the billionth time; and Momoko (Monica Rial), a strong evangelical Christian who manages to find religious meaning in every event.

The story also gets fleshed out with localized cultural references. At one point Satsuki reassures Keiichirou by saying, “;Monsters only get evil people like Republicans, and we're not old enough to vote.”; A construction site not only gets a bunch of condos, but also a monorail, 30 Starbucks and a Wal-Mart.

The problem with the series as presented in Japan was that it never really elevated itself beyond a “;spirit of the week”; roll call. There wasn't much to distinguish among the characters except that they got scared by the spirit of the week and screamed (a lot). The ADV rewrite added that missing spark, and fans were all the better for it.

 

'Najica Blitz Tactics' (2003)

The concept for this series seems compelling enough—Najica, a perfumer at a cosmetics company, leads a double life as a secret agent for said company's covert intelligence division, keeping the world safe from rogue battle androids known as humaritts. Yet no one in his or her right mind would put “;Najica Blitz Tactics”; on a list of the top 10 anime of all time unless he or she had only seen 10 or fewer series.

What this series was known for was its gratuitous fan service, scenes designed to titillate the more perverted viewers out there. Panty shots were everywhere; it's as if the production staff was being paid a bonus for every such shot they included.

As a way of paying homage to that dubious distinction, ADV offered a special edition of the first DVD. Sure, there was the customary box with special artwork that could hold the three DVDs in the series. But ADV also included what may have been one of the oddest, yet most appropriate, bonus items ever included with a domestic anime DVD release: a pair of bikini-cut, 100 percent cotton, white panties.

For the record, your friendly neighborhood anime columnist has never owned this special edition, nor has he ever really wanted to own it. But it does make one wonder: What does one do with a pair of complimentary one-size-fits-all panties, anyway?