Friday, December 9, 2016

Kuro ga Ita Natsu (Summer with Kuro)

A single death is a tragedy; a million deaths are a statistic.
                    -- aphorism attributed (without much proof) to Josef Stalin

Throughout the 20th and 21st centuries, artists have grappled with the problem of presenting massive tragedies in ways that are neither overwhelming nor overly distancing. How do you present the Holocaust - or the genocides in Armenia, Bosnia, and Rwanda - or the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki - or what's happening in Syria right now, for that matter - in ways that allow people to relate to and comprehend the incomprehensible?

Nakazawa Kenji, a survivor of the bombing of Hiroshima, wrestled with this dilemma all his life, and he returned to the subject repeatedly. He was involved with four anime films about the bombing:
  • Hadashi no Gen (Barefoot Gen) - 1983 - available commercially
  • Kuroi Ame ni Utarete (Lashed by the Black Rain) - 1984 - subbed by Orphan
  • Hadashi no Gen 2 (Barefoot Gen 2) - 1986 - available commercially
  • Kuro ga Ita Natsu (Summer with Kuro) - 1990, and now subbed b Orphan
The first three reflected Nakazawa Kenji's bitter personal experiences - his family was killed in the bombing. They were tragic, angry, and often deeply anti-American. For the last, Kuro, Nakazawa wrote an original screenplay and took an entirely different approach.

Kuro ga Ita Natsu tells the story of a family living in Hiroshima near the end of the war: a father, a mother, and two elementary school students, Nobuko and her younger brother Makoto. Unlike in Barefoot Gen, the hardships of war - in particular, the lack of food and prevailing malnutrition among the poor - are not in evidence. Except for air raid drills and enforced patriotic salutes at school, Nobuko and Makoto lead fairly normal lives.

One day, Nobuko finds a black-and-white kitten that has been orphaned by a killer band of crows.


She brings the cat home and persuades her reluctant parents to let her keep it. Her younger brother Makoto names the kitten Kuro. Both children grow attached to the cat and try to scrounge food for their hungry pet without taking from the family's limited rations. They weather several mild adventures and watch their young kitten grow into a mature and intelligent cat. And then, on August 6, 1945... I can't say more without spoiling the plot, but the story uses a narrow focus to both convey and humanize the tragedy of the event.

Kuro ga Ita Natsu was co-written and directed by Shirato Takeshi, who directed the strikingly different Kuroi Ame ni Utarete. The music by Satou Mikio is mostly cheerful, reflecting the slice of life approach of the first three-quarters of the film, but turns doleful after the bombing. There is no information on the voice cast is public anime databases.

Iri translated the movie, and Yogicat timed it. I edited and typeset, and Nemesis and Calyrica did QC. M74 encoded from a Japanese DVD ISO, but the DVD is mastered horribly, with blended frames throughout. Despite that, the moving signs tracked reasonably well, so most signs are typeset.

A few translation notes:
  • Makoto pretends he is Tange Sazen, a fictional samurai featured in serials and movies. His stylized laugh, "Gah hah hah...", is intended to be like a samurai's.
  • Nobuko and Makoto attend a National People's School, the name given to elementary schools starting in 1941.
  • A ho-an-den was a small building that housed a portrait of the current Emperor and Empress. It was typically found at elementary schools.
  • The marsh in Kawaguchi-cho is between the Ota-gawa and Tenma-gawa rivers on this map.
  • Funairi-hon-machi is a tram stop in HIroshima. 
With this release of Kuro ga Ita Natsu, all of Nakazawa Kenji's animated films about the Hiroshima bombing are now available to an English-speaking audience. As different as they are in approach, they all serve as indelible warnings about the horrors of atomic warfare. Those reminders are as important today as they were when the films were made; perhaps more so.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Neko Nanka Yondemo Konai

Just in time for the holidays, here's another venture into contemporary short-form anime: 2015's Neko Nanka Yondemo Konai (Cats Don't Come When Called). The series has twelve ultra-short episodes (90 seconds each) about a pair of brothers who adopt a pair of kittens, Kuro and Chin, and soon find out, as all cat owners eventually do, that the critters rule the roost. In other words,

           You've made a basic error
           Now let me expound
           This master/servant thing's okay
           But no, not that way round

                         -- Les Barker, Guide Cats for the Blind
 
Although the animation is fairly minimal, it has cats, so what more do you need?



The anime is based on a manga of the same name by Sugisaku and seems to be autobiographical. Sugisaku graduated from a trade school in Niigata, went to Tokyo to become a boxer, had to give up after suffering a torn retina, and then worked for a flower shop and anime companies. When his brother went back to Niigata after getting married, he became a mangaka. The voice actors were chosen by auditions from a school called Nihon Kogakuin Creator's Carriage. The production company, Dub, seems to be associated with the same school.

Orphan must have a lot of cat lovers, because there was no problem staffing the project. Iri found the raws, translated, and did the research on the anime's creators; Yogicat timed the episodes; I edited and typeset; and Nemesis and Calyrica QCed. The series provided some good laughs during an otherwise grim stretch of time.

So have a happy Thanksgiving. We don't plan on subbing the live-action movie.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Dragon Fist

If I may paraphrase Forrest Gump, 80s and 90s OVAs are "like a box of chocolate. You never know what you're going to get." That's exactly the case with 1991's Dragon Fist. As one of the QCs fumed, "I've signed on for this OVA to see some martial arts and inhuman characters, not for a really stupid plot about teenagers playing with cloning." You never know.

Dragon Fist starts out on a promising note, introducing Ling Fei Long, heir to the White Dragon Clan. Its members carry the power of the White Dragon in their fists. (Sort of like Ear of the Golden Dragon, where the clan chief carries the power of the Golden Dragon in his left ear.) Normally, heirs to the clan chief are born holding a silver jewel, but Fei was born holding a transparent jewel. For this aberration, his kin regard him with suspicion. He is sent to Japan to be schooled and to finish his training. And suddenly, we have a high school drama with sci-fi overtones.


In Japan, Fei Long is an apparently normal high-school student who is bullied for being a foreigner. One day, he sees some thugs trying to kidnap a girl named Katano Fuyuka. He intervenes and saves her, only to learn that she is not Katano Fuyuka. Fuyuka is actually dead, and this girl is a clone. (Despite this, clone Fuyuka seems to have original Fuyuka's childhood memories.) When a subsequent kidnapping attempt succeeds, Fei tracks the baddies to their laboratory in the mountains. There he fights the villains, mostly unsuccessfully, until he suddenly comes into his special powers, easily trounces everyone, and rescues the girl. There follows a totally arbitrary and tragic development, and the OVA ends.

Sasaki Nozomu, who played Ling Fei Long, has had prominent roles in better shows, including Tetsuo in Akira and Mello in Death Note. Nishiwara Kumiko, who voiced Fuyuka, played Iris Chateaubriand in all the Sakura Wars franchise and numerous live musicals derived from it. She also had a lead role in Tenkousei, which Orphan subbed this year. Matsumodo Yasunori, who played the chief villain, Sugiura, has had many roles, including Rin, the confused young protagonist in Joker: Marginal City, and Muto, the stalwart hero of Oz. (Orphan has subbed both of those OVAs as well.) The director, Yamauchi Shigeyasu, has had a long career, including Boys Over Flowers, Crying Freeman, the Saint Seiya franchise, and more recently, Yumekui Merry and Kimi no Iru Machi. Dragon Fist doesn't add much to his resume. The music is by the peerless Kawai Kenji, whose accomplishments are too long to summarize, and works well.

Iri found the raw (a VHS or Laserdisc rip) and translated it. ninjacloud did the timing. I edited and typeset (there isn't much). Calyrica karaoked the OP and ED. Calyrica and Nemesis QCed. The OVA was never released on DVD, so this raw is probably as good as we're going to get.

Dragon Fist isn't top drawer anime, but it isn't Bavi Stock II or Twinkle Nora Rock Me! either. Enjoy.







Friday, November 4, 2016

Downhill (Twinkle Nora Rock Me!)

There's no way to soften this. Twinkle Nora Rock Me! (Nora 2) is to the original Nora as Bavi Stock II is to Bavi Stock I: a descent from the barely passable into the laughable. It's so bad that...

Audience: How bad is it, Collectr?

Collectr: It's so bad that Mike Toole, of Anime News Network, used it as a prime example in his panel, The Worst Anime of All Time.  He noted the almost total lack of in-between animation, the awkward jerkings that pass for dancing, and other failings. I could point to the absurd plot and the misspelled Engrish signs - DEPURTURE and AERIVAL - in the spaceport, but this just scratches the surface.



To start, the Nora Scholar of the sequel is a totally different character, even though she looks the same and is played by the same voice actress. In the original, Nora was an air-headed teenage space tourist who outsmarts an out-of-control AI by treating him as a naughty teenage boy. In the sequel, Nora is an interstellar bounty hunter with strong psychic powers. The universe is different too. In the original, the setting was the near-Earth planets and moons. In the sequel, the canvas is much broader.

Second, the plot is absurd. After defusing a hostage situation, bounty hunter Nora sets out for the "desolate mining planet" Dazzle. There she enters a rowdy bar and draws the unwanted attention of a huge bruiser named Touchino. She's actually after his older brother, Fuuchino, who has psychic powers too. In order to find Fuuchino, she must convince Max, a wannabe dancer, to disclose the brothers' hideaway. (She does this by playing air drums and convincing him to dance with her.) She then has a "wizards battle" with Fuuchino, defeats him, and joins Max in a concluding dance number at the same rowdy bar as before.

But above all, the animation is wretched. The first major scene - a hostage situation in a spaceport - has no in-between animation whatsoever. Nora's air drumming is completely out of sync with the background music. And the critical dancing scene between Nora and Max is animated at four frames per second. The dancing is awkwardly drawn and not very imaginative, but the jerky animation destroys any credibility.

With Bavi Stock II, at least, there's an explanation for the drastic changes between the first and second episodes: it was made by a totally different staff at a different company than Bavi Stock I. Twinkle Nora Rock Me!, on the other hand, is drawn from the same source material as the original and has the same director, character designer, voice cast, and production company. What happened?

Budget might be one explanation. It definitely looks as though money ran out at some point along the way, and the producers were unable to pay for in-between animation in many scenes. Lack of time - some sort of schedule crunch - might be another factor. Then again, perhaps the staff realized how bad this OVA was going to be and just threw in the towel.

Twinkle Nora Rock Me! has the same voice cast as Nora; see my blog entry on Nora for comments on the principal actors. The music is by a rock group called Vigilante and is entirely in English, most of which is incomprehensible. Fortunately, the soundtrack album has printed lyrics for the ending song.

gamnark translated the show, his first for Orphan, and Iri checked the translation. ninjacloud timed, I edited and styled, Calyrica and Nemesis did QC, and M74 encoded from a Laserdisc ISO provided by an anonymous donor. The ISO is missing the last thirty seconds due to uncorrectable damage on the original Laserdisc. Despite that, it is  better than the only other raw, which is from a VHS tape. To provide a complete version of the ending song, I've cut out the ending from the VHS raw and added the song lyrics. It's available as a separate file.

So here's the sequel to Nora. Don't all rush to thank us at once.



Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Backlogged

We're up to our necks in scripts at Orphan Fansubs; the backlog has never been so healthy (and so formidably challenging). Here's a status report on currently active projects.
  • Stop!! Hibari-kun. All episodes encoded, translated, timed, and typeset; episodes 1-29 through QC1. This project desperately needs a dedicated translation checker. It cannot be released without a translation check.
  • Cosprayers DVD. All episodes transcribed, encoded, edited, timed, and typeset. Awaiting translation check.
  • Cosmic Fantasy. Encoded; in translation.
  • Juliet (joint with M74). In QC. 
  • Mainichi ga Sunday (Every Day is Sunday). Episodes 1-6 encoded, timed, edited, and typeset. Awaiting translation check.
  • Kuro ga Ita Natsu. Encoded, translated, timed, and typeset; at RC.
  • Wolf Guy. Encoded, translated, timed, edited, and typeset. In QC. 
As you can see, translation and translation checking are the major bottlenecks. Translation issues have led to putting a number of other projects on the shelf for now, including Boyfriend, Chameleon, Condition Green, Dokushin Apartment, Greed, Marginal Prince, Sanada 10, and Techno Police 21C. More QCs are always welcome too.

As usual, if a project strikes your fancy and you'd like to help with translation, QC, or other parts of the process, please let me know.

[Updated 05-Dec-2016]
 

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Meisou-Ou Border

Orphan has done many forgotten 80s and 90s OVAs. Some have been stunningly good, like Oz, and some have been stunningly bad, like Bavi Stock II. But none have led to as much head-scratching as Meisou-Ou Border, a 1991 OVA from Artland. One of the QCs remarked after watching it, "Well, that was random." Nonetheless, it's quite an interesting show.

Meisou-Ou Border is the only anime to come from a 14 volume seinen manga (completely untranslated) by Marley Carib and Tanaka Akio. It tells the story of two drifters, Kubota and Hachitsuka, who return from the Middle East and choose to live on the "border" of conventional society in Tokyo. The anime relates one specific episode from the start of the manga. Kubota and Hachitsuka are lured down to Osaka by an unscrupulous documentary producer, who places them as "innocent bystanders" in the middle of a yakuza gang war. The two manage to hold their own, much to the producer's dismay, and then they drift back to Tokyo. The episode closes with a completely unrelated encounter between Hachitsuka and his former mentor, Jinno, now a homeless man down on his luck. And that's it. The tone is mostly comic - even the yakuza violence isn't very scary or bloody - but the ending is elegiac and very sad.

Kubota was voiced by Horiuchi Kenyuu, a veteran voice actor who is active today, often playing authoritative figures like Colonel Yuuki in this year's Joker Game. Hachitsuki was voiced by Yara Yuusaka, who also had a prolific career (for example, he played Kai in Tomoe ga Yuku!) but is now retired. The director, Ishiguro Noboru, was an industry veteran who directed several episodes of Animated Classics of Japanese Literature; he also worked on Mushishi (another Artland property) before his death in 2012.

Iri found the raw - a VHS rip, apparently - became intrigued by the show, and translated it. ninjacloud timed, I edited and typeset, and Calyrica and Nemesis did QC. The raw is marred by awful frame blending, in a pattern of three good frames followed by two bad frames. There's also a noticeable dropout just past the 4 minute mark. As a result, it's impossible to make moving signs look good, and they've all been set "Yawara style," i.e., as notes at the top of the screen. If a better raw surfaces, we'll do a second version.

My main feeling after watching Meisou-Ou Border is that I wanted to know more, but just like with Sanctuary, this one episode is the only animation we'll get from a much larger manga. At least with Sanctuary, the manga is completely translated into English. For Meisou-Ou Border, the OVA is the only tantalizing fragment available to an English-speaking audience. Enjoy.

 



Saturday, October 15, 2016

Yume Tsukai

Yume Tsukai, a contemporary fantasy series from 2006, was one of the first anime shows I worked on; I QCed the entire series for C1. It was quite popular with fansub groups at the time and was subbed to completion by Arienai and Ureshii, AonE and Ayu, and of course C1. However, it was never licensed in North America and, rather surprisingly, never resubbed in English from DVD sources. Accordingly, Orphan is proud to present Yume Tsukai in a softsubbed release based on the R2J DVDs.

Yume Tsukai tells the story of the Dream Masters (yume tsukai), who combat the effects of nightmares that cross the boundary between dreams and reality and erupt in the real world. Dream Masters are named after the seven stars in the Pleiades cluster, which in Japan are named for the seven days of the week.. The most experienced is the Sunday Star, Mishima Touko, age 17. She is a recluse and sleeps for 12 to 16 hours a day. Her younger sister is the Tuesday Star, Mishima Rinko, age 10. She is super genki and confident and calls herself the Super Elementary School Student. They are joined in some episodes by the Friday Star, Tachibana Hajime, a lolicon who regards anyone older than a teenager as ancient history; the Saturday Star, Sagawa Satoka, a relative newcomer who lives in Kyuushu; and Touko’s Aunt Misako, who is 29 years old and still a virgin.

The show is episodic, although there is an underlying background mystery about the fate of Touko’s father, who was killed while fighting a nightmare. In most episodes, Touko and Rinko are commissioned to investigate a baffling phenomenon which turns out to be a nightmare erupting in the real world. They must locate the dreamer, gain his or her consent to end the nightmare, and then fight its effects. They do this with shaman sticks known as Broom Gods, into which they place various toys. The toys transform into weapons to combat the nightmare, which is eventually returned to the world of dreams.

This summary makes Yume Tsukai sound formulaic and action-centric, but in fact, it's a series of character studies focusing on the troubled dreamers and their reasons for unleashing nightmares on the world. The dreamers include unhappy children, divorcing couples, bereaved lovers, and depressed teenagers – people who are experiencing real-life situations beyond their ability to cope. (In many ways, Yume Tsukai uses nightmares as a metaphor for the effects of mental illness.) The Dream Masters’ intervention can combat the effects of the nightmare, but the dreamer must choose whether or not to hold on to feelings that led to the nightmare. In some cases, the dreamer is able to resolve the underlying conflict, and there’s a happy ending; in other cases, not so much.

While the stories in Yume Tsukai are interesting, and the characters are engaging, the animation is problematic. Even though the show was produced by Madhouse in its prime (the same year as Nana and Death Note, among many others), it was clearly made on a low budget. As a result, whole scenes, particularly action sequences, are repeatedly recycled. The climactic battle in episode 3, using the Dream Cyclone, is reused more or less verbatim in episodes 4 and 5. The climactic battle in episode 8 is simply not animated at all. In medium shots, the characters' faces are often distorted beyond recognition. These shortcuts, combined with the wispy character designs, can be rather off-putting.

I had been looking for DVD sources for Yume Tsukai for years but never found any at full 480p resolution. Eventually, I bought a complete set on a Japanese auction site and had them shipped to the US (shipping was three times as much as the DVDs themselves). bananadoyouwanna encoded the show. The source was mostly progressive, but occasional scenes were interlaced, requiring careful attention to detail and multiple tries to get the encodes right. Yogicat hand-transcribed the Arienai-Ureshii subtitles, and I OCR’d the AonE-Ayu set. In addition, I had the C1 scripts from ten years ago. Orphan’s scripts are mostly Arienai-Ureshii, but I’ve used the other groups where the phrasing is better. I edited and typeset, Iri checked the translation, ninjacloud timed, Juggen contributed the karaokes (the OP and ED are terrific), and Calyrica and I did QC.

The fansub scripts date from an era when it was fashionable to leave Japanese terms untranslated and supply copious on-screen translation notes instead. After some discussion, the Orphan team decided to translate terms wherever possible, while still preserving honorifics. So yume tsukai is translated as "Dream Master," Nichousei as "Sunday Star," asobetatmatsuru as "play offering," ikai as "another world," tensou as "transform," Tsuburame Oo as "Round-Eyed King," 3-chome as "Third District," and so on. If you prefer untranslated terms, the original fansubs are readily available and quite watchable.

Some other translation notes, mostly from the original Ureshii-Conclave scripts:

  • Ep01 – The girls' school is Hanabirazaka Jogakyuin, so "Hana girls" is a nickname for the students.
  • Ep01 – Madoromichu means "Sleepy Town."
  • Ep01 – A Teru Teru Teru Bouzu is a paper charm shaped like a little ghost. When hung under a window or roof, it's supposed to keep rain away.
  • Ep01 (and others) – "Reality is but a dream! Our nightly dreams are the true world!" Based on a line from an Edogawa Ranpo story.
  • Ep03 – "Sway gently" is an ancient Shinto resurrection spell.
  • Ep03 (and others) – Clinamen bullet. Clinamen is the name Lucretius gave to the spontaneous microscopic swerving of atoms from a vertical path as they fall. According to Lucretius, without Clinamen, nature would never have created anything. This theory is a part of Epicurean physics. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clinamen)
  • Ep08 – The kanji for Wakaba means "young leaf."
  • Ep09 - The chant "Kuwabara, kuwabara" originated as a farmer's appeal to the god of lightning so that his fields would not be struck during a storm.
  • Ep09 – "Grief, happiness, they don't exist to me." A death poem for Ashikaga Yoshimasa (1436-1490), a Shogun of the Muromachi period.
  • Ep10 - "Pai Pai" is a play on oppai, the Japanese word for breasts.
The lead voice actors are well-known veterans. Kawasumi Ayako (Touko) has had a prolific career, including Lafiel in Crest/Banner of the Stars, Saber in Fate/Stay Night, Ohno in Genshiken, and my personal favorite, Nodame in Nodame Cantabile. Seki Tomokazu (Hajime) has overlapped with Kawasumi Ayako in many series, playing Gilgamesh in Fate/Stay Night, Tanaka in Genshiken, and of course, Chiaki in Nodame Cantabile. Shindou Kei (Rinko) has also appeared in many shows, most recently Boku no Hero Academia. Hisakawa Aya (Aunt Misako) has had an active career as well, including Sailor Mercury in the Sailor Moon franchise and Skuld in the Ah! My Goddess properties. The music is by Terashima Tamiya, who also wrote the opening song. It supports the show’s mood well, with a "spooky phenomenon" theme that seemingly riffs on the main Harry Potter movie theme.

So enjoy Yume Tsukai in this new softsubbed version, and sweet dreams.