A Sparkling Gem All Can Enjoy: The Uniqueness of “City of Ghosts”

City of Ghosts

On March 5, City of Ghosts, an animated series created by Elizabeth Ito, formerly a supervising director of Adventure Time, premiered on Netflix. This series was positively received for its pacing, humor, voice cast, and animation style. Even though it has been over a month since it premiered, the show continues to be relevant, tackling topics which expose uncomfortable truths about our society.

Set in Los Angeles, City of Ghosts is about four kids who are part of the Ghost Club: Zelda, Thomas, Eva, and Peter. All four travel across the city, interviewing ghosts about their lives, adding the recordings to something called the “Ectopedia.” Beginning in the first episode, the Ghost Club meets at a branch of the Los Angeles Public Library, sitting under a table, discussing how to find the ghosts.

Each episode focuses on a part of Los Angeles not often talked about, part of what Wired calls a “multicultural mélange.” This includes Jo, a Filipina chef who owns a café in Boyle Heights, Sonya, the owner of a vegan café who teaches children poetry in the evenings, and Yulissa, a teacher at a music school who is trying to teacher her kids Oaxacan music. The show, which is for those age 5 and up, proposes a new way of thinking about history, ethnicity, and cities, while remaining educational in an engaging way.

The series tackles cultural appropriation, gentrification, discrimination, and historical erasure, while remaining what some call a “lovely…vision for children’s entertainment” and a “gentle love letter” to L.A. itself. For example, in the third and fourth episodes, the Ghost Club learns about Leimert Park and the Indigenous people of L.A., the Tongva. In the latter case, there is discussion of colonization, extraction, development, and language erasure by White settlers of areas where the Tongva lived. The Ghost Club then expands their map of the city to include all the Indigenous names, while Jasper (voiced by Honor Calderon) connects with the land and their heritage, learning to speak Tonga in the process. Other episodes focus on skateboard culture, the horrors of Japanese incarceration in World War II, a marionette puppet theater, and a whistling ghost who speaks in Zapotec.

City of Ghosts

This “warm and huggable” series has subtle, but significant, LGBTQ representation. In the beginning of the second episode, Thomas, the artifact specialist of the Ghost Club, voiced by Blue Chapman, a transgender child actor, says they use they/them pronouns. In an interview with Vulture, Ito confirmed that Thomas is non-binary, saying she hoped to expand their story more in the future. She expressed her joy that Netflix was fine with Thomas being non-binary. She also revealed that some dialogue in the first episode were re-recorded so that fellow actors would be using the right pronouns for Thomas. Additionally, in the fourth episode, Jasper is shown with two moms.

Despite the diverse storytelling in this unique series, Ito has hinted that the show will not come back for a second season. She has written that people should not get their “hopes up for more City of Ghosts,” and that her “well of motivation is running low.” Even so, there has been calls on social media platforms, like Twitter, for the series to return, something which Ito supports. Whether Netflix picks up the series for a second season or not, it remains a sparkling gem that all can enjoy.

Author: Burkely Hermann

Burkely is an indexer of declassified documents by day and a fan fic writer by night. He recently earned a MLIS with a concentration in Digital Curation from the University of Maryland. He currently voraciously watches animated series and reads too many webcomics to count on Webtoon. He loves swimming, hiking, and searching his family roots in his spare time.


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