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City of Ghosts

Entry updated 20 April 2021. Tagged: TV.

US animated online tv series (2021). Netflix. Created by Elizabeth Ito. Directors include Ako Castuera and Elizabeth Ito. Writers include Ako Castuera, Elizabeth Ito and Joanne Shen. Voice cast includes Blue Chapman, Angel Chipagua, Kirikou S'hai Muldrow, August Nuñez and Michael Ren. Six 19-minute episodes. Colour.

In Los Angeles (see California), Eva (Muldrow), Peter (Ren), Thomas (Chapman) and their leader Zelda (Nuñez) – all aged 5-7 years – have formed the Ghost Team to investigate reports of hauntings. Filmed by Jordan (Chipagua), Zelda's elder brother, they interview the ghosts responsible (see Supernatural Creatures) and their victims. These hauntings are usually low-key affairs – such as stealing someone's coffee or moving objects – and those affected are often a small businessperson or artist. Once each party's story is heard the disruption ceases.

The ghosts tell of cultures sidelined or lost to gentrification (see Sociology), the history which popular accounts of the City gloss over or ignore. These range from a Tongvan ancestor who speaks of changes over the centuries, to a skateboarder who recalls a district's comparatively recent bohemian culture. Another ghost is the real-life "Atomic" Nancy Sekizawa, a Japanese punk who, as a child, had been put in an internment camp during World War Two – Zelda: "You went to camp?" "Well, it wasn't like summer camp." Betty goes on to explain the racism she had to endure at school.

The "ghosts" are not always ghosts: one is a Supernatural Creature from Mexican folklore, in the form of a living Alebrije (or sculpture); another is a Tongvan ancestor (that is, one of California's indigenous people) and, strictly speaking, not a ghost (the Tongva consider Time to be non-linear, so allowing communication with ancestors). The series might also be considered an Alternate History, as "Atomic" Nancy is still alive and plays her own ghost. Serious topics are gently broached in a manner children will not find distressing; the tone is laid-back, polite and very middle-class. The voice actors who play the adults and ghosts are usually members of the public who have discussed their lives with the show's production team, whereupon a script is produced, which they voice, playing either themselves or a fictionalized version.

The genre element is primarily to make the interviews more interesting to children; death is barely mentioned. There is much light Humour, such as Zelda's insistence on using a clothes brush when interviewing, despite a microphone being available. Created by Ito of Adventure Time (2007; 2010-2018; 2020-current), the animation style is pleasing and imaginative; though it targets children, adults will find this a charming, positive and informative look at Los Angeles' multicultural history. [SP]

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