Ghost Stories is a 20 episode long anime that was created in 2000, and that adapts Tōru Tsunemitsu's books of the same name. The premise is simple: a group of preteens (and their evil cat sidekick) investigate and fight ghosts in their town, with the help of a book left by the protagonist's dead mother.
After the anime turned out to be a complete flop on Japanese TV, Animax approached ADV Films to create the Ghost Stories English dub. When the contract was made, Animax did not expect the series to fare much better with the American market. The company was under huge financial pressure, so the dubbing team was given a unique amount of creative freedom. The first English dub of Ghost Stories has since become a cult classic, as an obscure, sub-par anime series for kids became a hilarious, self-aware, and highly offensive fan favorite.
ADV Films Was Told To 'Do Whatever' They Wanted To Make The Show A Hit
Feeling the financial strain from the anime's failure in Japan, Animax had very few rules for ADV Films when it came time to dub Ghost Stories:
"1. Do not change the names of any character, including the ghosts.
2. Do not change the way any ghost is killed as it is based on Asian ghost legends.
3. Do not change the meaning of the episode."
Additionally, the Japanese company included a desperate plea: "4. Do whatever else you want to make the show successful." Animax had no idea what they'd signed themselves up for.
The Dubbing Team Gave The Characters New, Politically Incorrect Personalities
Working under the "do whatever you want" remit, the ADV team threw out the original, more faithfully adapted script, and imbued the Ghost Stories characters with comedic personalities.
Satsuki — the 10-year-old protagonist — drops F-bombs, and frets over the size of her bra cups. Her best friend Momoko is an Evangelical Christian fanatic, her love interest Hajime is super arrogant and has a lewd sense of humor, and her little brother Keichiiro has a learning disability. When he becomes hysterical, no one but his sister can understand what he's saying.
This all leads to some very (semi-deliberate) offensive gags relating to each character's adaptational changes. Everyone makes fun of Momoko's hypocritical beliefs, Leo, the Jewish character, is regularly the victim of antisemitic jabs, and Keichiiro is described in horrifically ableist terms.
It's Arguably The First Ever 'Abridged' Anime Series
The Ghost Stories dub is one of the most famous "gag dubs" in anime history, but some also argue that it might qualify as the first "abridged" anime series, due to its self-parodic nature.
The series predates LittleKuriboh's Abridged Yu-Gi-Oh! series by a year and TeamFourStar's DragonBall Z Abridged by three years. However, whether an official dub of a show can truly count as "abridged" (despite being a parody of itself) is debatable.
A Lot Of The Gags Were Ad-Libbed
Voice actor Greg Ayers (who voices Leo in Ghost Stories) confirmed the improvisational nature of the show at a Q&A in 2007.
Apparently, the tone for a scene was set by whichever actor got to the studio first, and the others would just follow their lead. The scenarios were based on vaguely general notes about what was supposed to be happening in the scene, and there was little fully-scripted dialog.