Tuesday, August 23, 2016

How Orphan Chooses Projects

Orphan doesn't get a lot of comments on its releases, but along with the "thank yous" (always appreciated) are invariably requests of the form, "Can you translate XYZ?" Just as invariably, the answer is no, so perhaps I should explain how Orphan selects projects to work on. The process is different for original translations versus resubs, so I'll describe them separately. 

Original Translations 

Orphan was formed to translate series, OVAs, and movies that were never finished or unjustly neglected. That remains the group's core mission. However, it's not possible to do every untranslated show or incomplete series. A couple of severe filters get applied to any project idea.

The most important factor is the interest and availability of a translator. While translators can sometimes be coaxed into taking on other people's ideas, mostly they want to work on what interests them. The Orphan team includes a number of translators, but they all have real life commitments as well as projects they want to do. Like everyone on the team, they are volunteers, and like everyone on the team, their time is precious.

A second factor is the availability of source material. Some shows simply have no original source or existing encodes. Over the years, I've become more finicky about the quality of Orphan's encodes, so there's more emphasis on original encodes from primary sources, like LaserDiscs, DVDs, or BluRays.  (No one on the team has the facilities to rip a VHS tape.) But a viable source is no guarantee that a project can get done; Dokushin Apartment has been languishing for more than a year, despite the availability of a primary source. Ecchi is a hard sell.

A third factor is the interest of the team as a whole. If the team is not interested in a particular project, that project is unlikely to get finished in a timely fashion, if ever. And if I'm not interested, well… you can imagine.


While translation is much less of a factor in resub projects, it still matters. Whether the subtitles came from a fansub group, an R1 DVD or Blu-Ray, or a modern streaming source, they need to be checked. For fansubs, translation checking looks for errors in the original subtitles. For R1 and streaming sources, the focus is on overly clever localization or script simplification. Sanctuary and Hashire Melos illustrate the sort of problems translation checking will catch in R1 subs.

Source material is perhaps more important in resubs than in original translations. After all, there already is a subbed version; a new version needs to improve not just on the subtitles but also, if possible, on the video and audio quality. I'd be very reluctant to base a resub project on random Internet raws. This has led to some strange and expensive quests for rare LaserDiscs or DVD sets.

In addition, there has to be a compelling reason to do a resub. For Shirokuma Café, it was the lack of any Blu-Ray version of a favorite series. For Next Senki Ehrgeiz and Sanctuary, it was to improve the video and subtitle quality (LaserDisc softsub vs VHS hardsub). For Nagasarete Airantou, it was to have subtitles that were actually readable. For Princess Kaguya, I wanted a properly timed and edited version that would fit on a single DVD5.

Finally, the show has to interest me (or another project leader). I like comedy, slice-of-slice, historical, sci-fi, seinen, josei, shoujo, and cats. I don't like sports, mecha, or shounen. And I don't have the patience for really long series anymore.

Orphans and Orphan Fansubs 

I'll close by reminding my readers that the original purpose of Orphan Fansubs was to finish orphaned projects. These projects often mix resubs (the episodes that were completed) with original translations (the episodes that were never finished). True orphans must satisfy the criteria for both types of projects: a translator must be interested; there has to be source material (at least for the unfinished episodes); the team as a whole has to want to work on the show; and there has to be a compelling reason to complete the series. And there's one other critical factor: the project needs to have been formally abandoned by the original group, or the original group must have disbanded.

Many orphan series fail on one or more of these criteria. For example, Sanada 10 has source material but no translator for its three unfinished episodes. Hidimari no Ki has caught a translator's eye, but there's no decent source material. MapleStory doesn't interest the team very much. And Hiatari Ryouko has not been formally abandoned, even though group subbing it has not released a new episode in almost two years.

Thursday, August 18, 2016


Here's another project with a BakaBT connection, the 1985 sci-fi OVA Nora. I first learned about Nora in the long (and mostly unanswered) thread called "Old Anime for Subbing." It was one of the few shows listed that had a decent and accessible raw, so I downloaded it and eventually persuaded the Orphan translators to work on it. Iri did the bulk of the translation, but both gamnark and skypilot helped out in places. Accordingly, they decided that all three should be listed as translators. ninjacloud timed, I edited and typeset (the signs are minimal), and Redac and I did the QC. Rather late in the game, Erik of Piyo Piyo Productions made a new encode from his own LaserDisc, with much better color fidelity than the original raw, and that's what has been used in this release. 

Nora is very much a creature of its time. It is set on a space station named Frontier Spaceport. In the forgotten depths of its service areas, a disgruntled scientist, Professor Dohati (formerly of MIT, natch), programs an AI called Artifiend, or Artie for short, to think of itself as the demon king. He directs it to conquer the world, which it does by infiltrating every computer system on Earth and in space and threatening to set off a nuclear war.  (Is it a coincidence that Artifiend visually resembles WHOPPR, the AI at the heart of 1983's War Games?) Dohati and Artifiend are opposed by another scientist, Professor Zachariasen, and his chance acquaintance, a teenaged girl named Nora Scholar. As might be expected, high-speed computational ability and pure logic prove no match for a teenaged girl's randomness, and the world is saved after suitably hazardous but completely PG adventures. 

Despite its Doomsday sci-fi plot, Nora is essentially a comedy. Nora sees everything that happens – from the freak accidents caused as Artie seizes control of the space station's computers to the booby-trapped journey to find Dohati's basement lair – as a grand adventure. She assumes that Artie is basically a teenaged boy whom she can wrap around her little finger, as she has already done with Professor Zachariasen. And the threat of nuclear Armageddon doesn't faze her in the least; to her it's just the tantrum of a lonely boy who needs some loving. She fixes everything in a breezy and offhand manner, alternating MacGuyver-like ingenuity with adolescent illogic, and then returns home. It's a fun ride and a ringing endorsement of Grrrl Power in an entirely 80s sexist way. 

Nora was played by the voice actress Yamamoto Yuriko, who also had the title roles in Lady Georgie, Mahoutsukai Sally, and Hello Sandybell. She sang the ending song in Nora as well as other shows. (Orphan fans may know her as the voice of Tomoe in Tomoe ga Yuku! or Telenne in Hi-Speed Jecy.) Professor Dohati was played by the late Nagai Ichigrou, a go-to voice actor for elderly, if slightly off-kilter, authority figures. He dubbed the voice of Dumbledore in the Japanese versions of the Harry Potter movies and Yoda in the Star Wars prequels. In anime, he showed a more manic and comic side as Happousai in Ranma ½, and Inokuma Jigoro in Yawara! (Orphan fans may know him as the crazed narrator in Maroko/Gosenzosama Banbanzai! or the voice of Shima Togo in Yamato 2520.) Professor Zachariasen was played by the late Utsumi Kenji, who also had a highly varied career. He dubbed Apollo Creed in the Rocky movies and Gimli the Dwarf in Lord of the Rings. In anime, he voiced the title role in Don Dracula, Alex Louis Armstrong in Fullmetal Alchemist, and Norimaki Senbei in the Dr. Slump & Arale-chan franchise, as well as many other roles. (He appeared in Bavi Stock as well, but I don't know as which character.) 

Romanization of the "Engrish" names caused endless problems. Dohati should be Dougherty, but it's spelled out in a sign. Zachariasen is listed in the ANN credits as Zakariasen, and Artifiend as Artifind. Only Nora's name is without controversy. And when Nora calls Artie a "memekurage," it's a fictional jellyfish due to an editor's misreading of xxクラゲ (xx kurage, or random jellyfish) as メメクラゲ (memekurage). 

So enjoy this early OVA, now finally subbed in English. We'll do the sequel, Twinkle Twinkle Nora Rock Me, if the translators feel like taking another dip in the pool.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Satsujin Kippu wa Heart-iro

Satsujin Kippu wa Heart-iro (The Murder Ticket Is Heart-Colored) is a 1990 standalone OVA based on a series of young adult novels for women by Yamaura Hiroyasu. Iri translated the show and did the initial timing. Yogicat did the detailed timing, I edited and typeset, and Redac and Xenath3297 did QC. The raw is an anonymous Internet rip from a Laserdisc and is pretty good, with excellent image stability and relatively little frame-blending. 

Satsujin Kippu tells the story of Nagare Seiko, a teenaged girl who has been temporarily suspended from her private high school in Tokyo for defending a friend from bullies. She decides to take advantage of this involuntary vacation by taking a trip to Nagasaki with her black-and-white cat, Gonbei. On the train down, she meets a handsome young man, a guitarist name Takano Kyouichirou, only to learn that he had apparently been murdered days earlier. She also encounters Misora Chuuta, a brash youngster who is clearly interested in her – an interest she doesn't reciprocate – and an older man, unnamed, who helps her when she's in trouble. Seiko repeatedly crosses paths with Chuuta as she tours Nagasaki, despite repeated attempts to give him the brush off. Eventually, Seiko gets involved in a murder mystery concerning a prominent local family, the Totsugawas. Reluctantly accepting Chuuta's help, she works to unravel the twin mysteries of the ghostly guitarist and the Totsugawa family. 

Satsujin Kippu is not a particularly deep mystery, and the solution comes out of left field, but it observes the rules of classical mystery fiction. (This allows the viewer to guess who the criminal is long before the main characters do.) Seiko makes a spunky heroine, never falling into tropes such as the maiden in distress or the tsundere. Chuuta is sufficiently eccentric to make him both interesting and suspicious. There's a lot more comedy and ghostly doings than clues and gore, so the result is a pleasant diversion for all ages (one brief nude scene aside). And besides, it has Gonbei, a cat that's rather talented: at one point, he gives Chuuta the traditional Japanese raspberry, the akanbe (pulling down one's lower eyelid and sticking out one's tongue).

The director, Sugiyama Taku, started at Tezuka Osamu's Mushi Productions, where he was Art Director for Sen'ya Ichiya Monogatari. He directed a number of other movies and TV series, including Hi no Tori 2772 and Bosco Daibouken. Toshihiko Seki, who played Misora Chuuta, has an extensive voice acting and stage resume, including Alexander in Reign: The Conquerer and Matsuda Kousaku in the Yawara properties. Matsuoka Miyuki, who played Nagare Seiko, has a more modest resume, including Fa Yuiry in the Gundam franchise.

Some translation notes:
  • 3-kyu in Aikido. Aikido has two basic skill levels, kyu and dan. Within each level are grades, expressed by numbers. Kyu and dan are sometimes referred to as white belt and black belt, but other colors are used as well.
  • Urakami Cathedral (St. Mary's Cathedral in Urakami) was built in 1895, when the long-standing ban against Christianity in Japan was lifted. It was completely destroyed in the atomic bombing of Nagasaki in 1945 and rebuilt in 1959 on its original site.
  • The Nagasaki Peace Park abuts Urakami Cathedral. It contains a 10-meter tall sculpture, pictured in the anime, by local sculptor Seito Kitamura.
  • The Dutch Slope (oranda-zaka) is a hillside residential area of Nagasaki where Dutch merchants settled in the second half of the 19th century.
  • Hinoki cypress bath. Hinoki cypress is a slow-growing Japanese tree. Its high quality wood is lemon-scented, light pinkish-brown, with a rich, straight grain, and is highly rot-resistant.
  • Sannomaru means "third enclosure."
Enjoy this vintage mystery OVA.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Ginga Tansa 2100-nen: Border Planet

For me, bringing out a new or improved version of a Tezuka Osamu anime is always a thrill. Accordingly, M74 and Orphan are proud to present a new version of Ginga Tansa 2100-nen: Border Planet (Galaxy Investigation 2100: Border Planet), his 1986 movie-length TV special. 

Ginga Tansa has been available in English translation for some time, using VHS-based raws and reasonable English subtitles. This version uses an R2J DVD source, purchased and encoded by M74, and a revised translation, thoroughly checked by skypilot. M74 timed, M74 and I edited, I typeset, and Redac, M74, and I all did QC. The result is a version with better video and improved subtitles.Ginga Tansa is structured as an anthology of related shorter stories, a bit like Ray Bradbury's The Martian Chronicles. The touching prologue wordlessly shows how the childhood friendship of two boys, Prokion and Subaru, and a girl, Mira, slowly morphs into a love triangle. Prokion eventually wins Mira's hand, leaving Subaru heart-broken. However, Prokion's and Mira's love idyll is interrupted when he succumbs to a deadly space virus. Mira must be placed in suspended animation to prevent her from dying as well. Subaru, still very much in love with Mira, vows to search all of space for the source of the deadly virus, so that Mira can be treated and cured. This leads to the story proper.

The first short story is a classic haunted house story, in which the crew members of Subaru's spaceship are picked off one after another by some unknown force. The second story takes place on a ruined mining planet, where the inhabitants are desperate to depart but seem unable to do so. The third story is a vampire analogy, with depraved inhabitants preying on their own kind in a quest for immortality. In between each act are wordless interludes of Subaru visiting Mira as she sleeps inside a glass case: the Prince visiting Snow White or Sleeping Beauty.

In the end, Subaru's quest is successful, although how and where he finds the source of the virus is never shown. However, his success comes at a price, and the ending is not quite unalloyed joy. It's a fitting conclusion to a show that emphasizes Tezuka Osamu's classic themes: the power of love, the possibility of horror amid beauty and vice versa, and the indomitability of the human spirit.

The movie is filled with great touches. The wordless interludes of Subaru gazing at Mira in her suspended state are very poignant.  The second story opens with a homage to various scenes from Star Wars, including the "creature cantina" and Jabba the Hutt's sinuous, snake-like dancing girl; the background art includes a classic "RKO Radio Picture" poster from the 1940s. Various familiar characters from Tezuka Osamu's films and manga show up in bits parts, including Shunsaku Ban from The Green Cat and Metropolis and Astro Boy himself.

Tomiyama Kei, who played Subaru, had a very successful career in the last century, but his premature death more than twenty years ago means he is not well known to modern audiences. Katsuko Masako, who plays the maiden-in-distress Mira, has had a prolific career, but she is best known to me for her portrait of another female ingénue, Maroko from Gosenzo-sama Banbanzai. The musical score, by Haneda Kentarou, makes effective use of Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 23, second movement (Andante), for its contemplative moments.

Without further ado, Ginga Tansa 2100-nen: Border Planet.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Hashire Melos (1992)

Hashire Melos (Run, Melos) is a Japanese short story published by Osamu Dazai in 1940. It is a tale of friendship tested and proven. It appeals strongly to the Japanese and has been made into an anime on multiple occasions:

  • 1979, episode 20 of Nihon Meisaku Douwa Series: Akai Tori no Kokoro.
  • 1981, as a TV special.
  • 1992, as movie (this release).
  • 2009, as episodes 9-10 of Aoi Bungaku.
Hashire Melos is based on a ballad by Frederick Schiller and draws on the Greek legend of Damon and Pythias. It tells the story of Melos, a shepherd who crosses (either deliberately or inadvertently) the tyrant of Syracuse, Dionysius the Younger (called Dionysius II in the movie), and is condemned to death. He requests time to return home and settle his affairs, but the king refuses, believing that Melos will run off and never return. Melos' friend Selinuntius volunteers to take Melos' place. The king agrees but warns Melos that Selinuntius will be executed if Melos fails to return in three days. After numerous trials, Melos returns in the nick of time. The king is so astonished by this display of true friendship that he releases both men.

This was supposed to be a straightforward project – a soft-subbed version of a Laserdisc source using the R1 VHS subtitles from the ACR (Anime Classics Review) release. Encode, transcribe, time, edit, QC, release – easy, right? Somehow, it didn't turn out that way. It has taken more than a year from receipt of the initial LaserDisc rip to release for, well… reasons.

Let's start with the encode. To quote the current US presidential campaign, it's YUUUUUUGE: 2.3GB for a 106 minute movie that's not even full 480p resolution. Further, it's in two parts, with a totally arbitrary dividing line at the 52 minute mark. Why, you ask? First, the two parts of the source have different resolutions, or, more accurately, different sized black borders. The first part is 682 x 370, the second, 696 x 370. The encoder refused to put them together and have vertical bars in the first part or excess cropping in the second part. Second, the source is from film stock, and rather than risk losing or distoring details with filters and compression, the encoder ultimately just threw bits at the encode: 2200 kbps in the first part, 3000 kbps in the second. 

While transcription, timing, and editing went quickly, it took a long time to get the R1 subs translation-checked, and they really needed them. For example, many of the names in the R1 script were incorrect (the queen's name is Phryne, not Flooney, for example). Then QC stalled as well. Both TLC and QC required new resources; I've documented Orphan's translation and QC woes in other posts. But we're finally done.

Was it worth it? I find this version of Hashire Melos overstretched. There isn't enough content in the original short story to justify 100+ minutes of screen time. The first 24 minutes of the movie are an "anime original" prologue that shows Melos as a country bumpkin visiting the big city and meeting Selinuntius for the first time. There's a lot of other padding too: the sequence of events that ensnare Melos in an accusation of treason, the nefarious plot to stop Melos from returning in time, the backstory about Selinuntius and his father, and so on. The garrulous old fart Calippus and the young prostitute Raisa aren't in the original story either. Finally, the movie draws a direct link between the story of Melos and Selinuntius and the fall of Dionysius the Younger. In the short story, Melos' determination helps the king overcome his paranoia and become a better ruler. 

On the positive side, I really like the "look" of the movie and its character designs. The main characters have distinctive faces and body types, with real noses and realistic eyes. Melos looks like an overgrown lunk of a shepherd, Dionysius has the "lean and hungry" demeanor of a habitual schemer, and Selinuntius has a balanced appearance befitting a classical sculptor. The animation is fluid, set against very detailed backdrops of the city of Syracuse and the Sicilian countryside. The voice actors are good too. Yamadera Kouichi, who plays Melos, has had a distinguished voice-acting career, including Spike in Cowboy Bebop, Togusa in the Ghost in the Shell franchise, and Ryoga in Ranma ½. The other seiyuu have mostly been in featured roles. Osami Misaki directed and also did the storyboards and the screenplay. Hashire Melos was one of his last projects. Kazumasa Oda composed all the music, including the excellent ending ballad. The background music is subtle and used sparingly. 

M74 transcribed the ACR subtitles and did the initial timing; ninjacloud did timing cleanup. Iri translation checked, I edited and typeset, Juggen created the ending karaoke, and Calyrica, konnakude, and new staff member Xenath3297 did QC. bananadoyouwanna encoded the LD source, and the experience proved so traumatic that he has sworn never to touch a non-progressive source again. The LD rip itself is from an anonymous source.

Please enjoy this new release of Hashire Melos.