Friday, September 22, 2017

Aoki Honoo (Blue Flames)

Aoki Honoo is a one-shot OVA from 1989, based on a six-volume manga by Yanagasawa Kimio, a prolific mangaka who is almost unknown in the West. It was translated by Random Masters and released by ACR (Anime Classics Review), but the encode was hardsubbed and subsized (240p), which made it difficult to watch. Because Orphan has recently acquired the ability to encode VHS tapes, M74 and I decided to do a new version at full resolution (480p), with softsubs.

Aoki Honoo makes for uncomfortable viewing, at least for me. It is the story of a heel (viewed kindly) or a sociopath (viewed clinically) who claws his way toward the top over the bodies of his friends, particularly his girlfriends. The main character, Kaizu Ryuuichi, is a high-school senior determined to escape from his small-town upbringing and achieve independence from his family. He systematically seduces and extorts money from a series of women, starting with a local hostess, Sayuka, and then the local rich girl, Naito Emi. However, he promptly abandons or two-times his current girlfriend, whoever she is, when a more promising opportunity appears. Because Ryuuichi is so cold and calculating, it's difficult to understand why women fall under his spell. Perhaps this screencap offers an explanation:


He has big hands, too.

Ryuiichi was voiced by Horuichi Kenyu, who played Nest in Eien no Filena, and Emi was voiced by Andou Arisa, who played Filena herself. Another of Ryuuichi's victims, Kuroeda Keiko, was voiced by Ikura Kazue, who had leading roles in the City Hunter and All-Purpose Cultural Cat Girl Nuku-Nuku franchises. The director, the late Ishikuro Noboru, had an extensive resume with a focus on sci-fi. His projects included Legend of the Galactic Heroes, Megazone 23, and Tytania.

The original script was by Random Masters and has not been checked, although a few obvious issues have been fixed. M74 transcribed and timed the subtitles from the ACR release. I edited and typeset. bananadoyouwanna and M74 did QC. M74 encoded from gamnark's uncompressed VHS rip. (The show has never been released on Laserdisc, let alone DVD.) This is a joint Orphan-M74 release.

Aoki Honoo is competently made and focuses on a character type that is rare in modern anime. There's a lot of nudity and sex, so it's definitely NSFW. If you're interested in spite of that (or because of that), you can get it from the usual torrent sites or from IRC bot Orphan|Arutha in channels #nibl or #news on irc.rizon.net


Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Best of Times, Worst of Times

Streaming has transformed the hobby of fansubbing. Traditional fansubbing, that is, the creation of amateur translations for current series, has almost completely disappeared, because almost all series are streamed with professional (or near professional) English translations. The most active and popular "fansubbing" group is HorribleSubs, which uses automated processing to package up anime streams for computer playback. For most people, that's good enough.

At the same time, interest in the anime back catalog has increased, but nowhere near as much as traditional fansubbing has declined. Orphan has been able to increase its output substantially (from a low starting point), but that is precariously balanced on the availability of a small number of contributors, particularly translators. The community of back-catalog enthusiasts, split across groups like Orphan, Soldado, Saizen, Live-eviL, etc., is pretty much the same as it was a few years ago. And I see no evidence that the fan base for old shows is getting much bigger.

That's a shame, really, because for back-catalog enthusiasts, this is the Best of Times. More and more material is becoming available. There are a number of factors at work:
  1. Used laserdiscs and VHS tapes are flowing into the second-hand markets, particularly in Japan, as owners and collectors age and try to dispose of bulky physical artifacts. This has been Orphan's best source for material that was stranded on the wrong side of the Digital Divide. We've occasionally found shows that have never appeared in Western online references like AniDB, ANN, and MAL.
  2. Japanese media companies are remastering and releasing Blu-Ray editions of shows that were hits when shown. Most of these are from the 21st century and are awful-looking upscales from the 480p digital animation era. However, a few are beloved shows from the cel-animation era, like Yawara!, Oishinbo, and the Tezuka Osamu "Love Will Save the World" specials; and after remastering, they look wonderful. I'm hard pressed to understand the market for a $1000 complete edition of Yawara! in hi-def, but I'm grateful nonetheless that it exists.
  3. Most recently, Japanese streaming companies are putting older anime online to beef up their offerings. Amazon Japan is the leader, but NetFlix Japan, Hulu Japan, and UNEXT all have substantial catalogs of older shows and movies.
This third development is relatively recent and rather unexpected, but it makes economic sense for the media companies. Digitization of cel-based animation is only one step, and not necessarily the most expensive step, in preparing a physical release. Blu-Rays typically require remastering as well as creation of extra content to entice buyers. After digitization, Blu-Ray production requires mastering of physical media, design and manufacture of a physical enclosure, creation of marketing campaigns and material, predicting and managing inventory, and so on. In contrast, streaming only requires digitization and a licensing agreement with a streaming company. While a few of the streaming offerings have clearly been remastered, most have not.

So if you love older anime and you live in Japan, this is a Golden Era. But as Arthur Clarke pointed out in Childhood's End, gold is the color of autumn, and winter will follow. The analog-only releases will become unreadable as tapes and discs age and playback equipment breaks. It's a race against time to get VHS tapes and laserdiscs digitized, and success depends on the continuing efforts of a handful of collectors. Remastering old show as Blu-Rays is a hit-or-miss proposition economically. Once the major hits are done, the media companies will have little incentive to continue. And finally, the streaming model has unproven payback and longevity. Content disappears as licenses expire or streaming companies need to reclaim storage space. And if you don't live in Japan, you're SOOL.
 

Monday, September 18, 2017

Dragon Fist, Take 2

When Orphan released Dragon Fist last year, we used an Internet raw based on a VHS tape; it was the only raw available at the time. Subsequently, the team's ongoing shopping spree for second-hand Japanese laserdiscs turned up a copy of Dragon Fist. After some delay, it was shipped to Erik of Piyo Piyo Productions; after further delay, he released a new encode; and after even further delay, we retrofited the original script to the Erik's encode, producing a new version of the show.

The new encode is a significant improvement in video quality over the original; however, the show is the same old Dragon Fist - mystical Chinese martial arts crossed with high-school drama crossed with sci-fi cloning experiments. You can read the original blog entry for more details and the original credits. For this version, ninjacloud tweaked the timing, I tweaked the typesetting, and banandoyouwanna did a release check.

This new version supercedes the previous version, which will be deleted. You can get it from the usual torrent sites or from IRC bot Orphan|Arutha in channels #nibl or #news on irc.rizon.net.



Sunday, September 10, 2017

Recruiting Translators!

Lack of translation resources have stopped a few more projects in their tracks: Chameleon, Condition Green, Every Day Is Sunday, and Smash Hit are shelved. Here's a status report on what's left:
  • Stop!! Hibari-kun. All episodes encoded, translated, timed, typeset, and through QC. Episodes 1-6 released. This project desperately needs a dedicated translation checker. Awaiting translation check on episodes 9+.
  • Kasei Yakyoku. A joint project with Iquix. Episodes 1-4 in translation. We have new VHS raws for episodes 1-2, and laserdisc raws for episodes 3-4. We would really like to find a laserdisc of episodes 1-2. Awaiting translation.
  • Kindaichi movie 2. Laserdisc encode done. Awaiting translation.
As you can see, translation and translation checking are the bottlenecks. Lack of translation resources has led to putting a number of other projects on the shelf for now, including Boyfriend, Chameleon, Condition Green, Dokushin Apartment, Every Day Is Sunday, Greed, MapleStory, Marginal Prince, Sanada 10, Smash Hit,and Techno Police 21C. New, interesting raws are arriving all the time; in particular, we have a full set of raws for Hidamari no Ki, at last.

If you'd like to help with translation, please let me know.

[Updated 10-Sep-2017]
 

Friday, September 8, 2017

Alice in Dreamland

Lewis Carroll's classic Alice in Wonderland has inspired several Japanese anime projects, including a 1983 World Masterpiece Theater adaptation and the more modern Heart no Kuni no Alice. Alice in Dreamland is the latest, a 2015 independent anime movie by Kentaro Hachisuka. It appears to be be his first movie (he's done three more since), and it's quite strange: a stop-motion animation done with dolls created by Mari Shimizu. The dolls perform against backdrops that are part Hieronymus Bosch and part Yellow Submarine:



The expressionless dolls and the strange backgrounds impart a nightmare-like feeling to the movie, which is probably what the director intended.

The plot is suitably meta, as befits a modern retelling. Alice is summoned by the White Rabbit to save Wonderland from spreading Darkness. However, she knows Alice in Wonderland is a story and that this must be a dream. And so it proves, but at the end, the now grown-up Alice sees the events of her dream begin to unfold for real. Shades of 1953's Invaders from Mars, a sci-fi movie that colored my nightmares for years. (There's also a little homage to a famous scene from The Seventh Seal; see if you can spot it.)

The two leads are played by well known seiyuu:
  • Uchida Aya (Alice) has had featured roles in many recent series, including Ai Mai Mi, Izetta the Last Witch, Kemono Friends, and Trinity Seven. She played Ascoeur, one of the co-leads, in Kiddy Girl And.
  • Shimono Hiro (White Rabbit) burst on the anime scene as the lead in RahXephon and has had major roles ever since, including the leads in 30-sai no Hoken Taiku, ACCA, the BakaTest franchise, The World God Only Knows properties, and my personal favorite, Nagasarete Airantou.
The other voice actors are less famous. The songs are by a group called Black Violets and are suitably weird.

So how did the thoroughly modern production end up as an Orphan release? Sometimes, projects are the result of long, painstaking planning; and sometimes, they just fall on you unexpectedly. A BakaBT member who goes by the handle of Champstice messaged me out of the blue. He had commissioned a script of Alice in Dreamland and done preliminary work on it, but he needed help in making it a finished production, so off we went. Heatmetal, who usually works in J-drama, did the translation. Champstice did the preliminary timing, editing, and styling. Yogicat did fine timing, I did final editing and typesetting, and Calyrica and Nemesis QCed. M74 encoded from the R2J DVD. (There's a Blu-Ray release too, but we haven't found it.) Alice in Dreamland is a joint release between Orphan and Champstice's J-drama group MegaBeast Empire (MBE).

So let me invite you to another trip down the rabbit hole. You may not find it to be your cup of tea, but if you're interested in leaving the well-trodden paths of typical anime, take the Cheshire Cat's advice and "Follow me." You can get Alice in Dreamland from the usual torrent sites or from IRC bot Orphan|Arutha in channels #nibl or #news on irc.rizon.net. Because of a mistake in the credits, the files have been updated to v2. A patch to go from the v1 files to the v2 files can be found here.

By coincidence, today (September 8) is the second anniversary of the passing of our wonderful colleague, CP, QC extraordinaire and passionate anime devotee. A lot of time has passed, but our loss remains undiminished.
 

 

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Nozomi Witches

Nozomi Witches is 1992 three-part OVA about the astonishing rise of Shiba Ryoutarou from happy-go-lucky first-year high school student to championship boxer. It is based on a 48-volume (!) manga by Nobe Toshio and was released before the mid-point of the manga's ten year run. Drawing on the early volumes, the OVA tells a complete story, through the conclusion of the Olympic tryouts. It's not just a teaser for the manga.

When Shiba moves into a new housing development, his next door neighbor is another high-school student, Egawa Nozomi, who has just returned to Japan from New Zealand. She spots potential in Shiba that no one else, including Shiba himself, sees and tricks him into taking up boxing. Before long, Shiba is winning fights, always by a knock-out, and attracting the attention of professional trainers and scouts. His rise is so fast and so unexpected that he half-believes Nozomi has bewitched him. In a way she has; before every fight, she gives Shiba her "good luck charm" in the form of a classic shounen mantra: "Don't worry. Have confidence. If you set your mind to it, you can do anything." Shiba fights for her and her dream as much as anything else.

The title, Nozomi Witches, is an unfortunate bit of Engrish. At first glance, it appears to be an adjective and a plural noun, but that can't be right, because Nozomi is a name. Actually, "witches" is being used as a verb, in the archaic meaning of "casts a spell." Modern English would use "bewitches," and indeed, the first translator of the show titled it Bewitching Nozomi. I've stayed with the usual title because the show is listed as Nozomi Witches in all the anime databases.

When I started on the show, I thought Nozomi was an Adachi Mitsuri work, because of the similarity of the character designs to Hiatari Ryoukou:


This is not a coincidence. Nozomi Witches has the same director, composer, character designer, art designer, and production company as Hiatari Ryoukou.

Although Nozomi adheres closely to classic sports shounen tropes, it's a very enjoyable show, with appealing characters, a lot of comedy, and some modest rom-com undertones. I'm rather skeptical about Shiba's ability to "power up" and find some new punch or counter just when he needs it, but shounen is shounen. Also, many of Shiba's opponents look too big and heavily muscled. In 1992, the weight spread in the Olympic lightweight boxing division was only four kilograms (nine pounds). However, these are minor quibbles.

Shiba was played by Hayashi Nobutoshi, whose best known role was Guts in Berserk. He also played the title role in Generator Gawl and the antagonist Nanbara in Hand Maid May. Nozomi was played by Tsuru Hiromi, whose storied career includes the title roles in Ghost Sweeper Mikami and Perrine Monogatari, Kajima Miyuki in Miyuki and Keiko in Hiatari Ryoukou (both Adachi Mitsuri shows), as well as Madoka in Kimagure Orange Road. Morikawa Toshiyuki (Nanjou) played the lead role in Gallery Fake and Inugami Akira in Wolf Guy, which Orphan translated. He has also appeared in hundreds of video games. The late Miyauchi Kohei (Eddie) played the grandfather in Tsuki ga Noboru made ni, which Orphan translated. The director, Sugii Gisaburou, started as an animator on the first color Japanese cartoon, Hakujaden, worked on all of Tezuka Osamu's Anirama movies, and went on to direct such classics as Night on the Galactic Railway.

The impetus for the project came from Erik of Piyo Piyo Productions. Back in the VHS-fansubbing era, Erik had worked on one of the early subtitled version of Nozomi Witches, created by Lupin Gang Anime. He had always hankered for a better version. Fortunately, he had the original scripts, the laserdiscs, and the Orphan team. Iri checked the dialog, and convexity translated the songs from official lyrics. ninjacloud retimed the dialog, and Yogicat did the songs. I edited and typeset, and Juggen styled the OP and ED, which are terrific. banandoyouwanna and Nemesis did QC. Erik encoded from his own laserdiscs.

Orphan is quite proud to present this version of Nozomi Witches. Sports anime is not my thing, and neither is shounen, but I enjoyed the show from start to finish. I hope you will too. You can get it from the usual torrent sites or from IRC bot Orphan|Arutha in channels #nibl or #news on irc.rizon.net. We'll be uploading the original soundtrack as well.


Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Orphan Fansubs Labor Day Clearance!

Yes, our inventory is overflowing here at Orphan Fansubs, so it's time for a big back-to-school sale to clear the backlog. We're literally giving things away here, folks, so don't hesitate to pick something up for your PC or Mac. Everything must go!

Seriously, the team has been accumulating materials far beyond its limited bandwidth for translation and translation checking. Accordingly, we'll be doing two things:
  1. Torrenting unique raws for which there is no translator, in hopes of inspiring a Japanese translator to help. (Erik of Piyo Piyo Productions has always torrented his raws, so those are already available.)
  2. Releasing shows that need translation checking but have no resources as "works in progress," again in hopes of inspiring a translator.
So let's get the party rolling!

Our first release under this policy is the raws of Dokushin Apartment Dokudami-sou, a 1989 three-part ecchi OVA. (Finding translators for ecchi materials is even harder than normal shows.) It has languished in our raw archive for close to two years. M74 encoded these raws from a laserdisc rip provided by ics-. The only other raws available are VHS rips, so this is a noticeable improvement.

This release is available from the usual torrent sites or from IRC bot Orphan|Arutha in channels #nibl or #news on irc.rizon.net.

Stay tuned for more bargains from Orphan Fansubs!