Saturday, December 31, 2011

The Best of 2011

Let's see 2011 out in the traditional way, with a Ten Best list for the year's anime series.  I make no apologies for my favoritism towards slice-of-life, mysteries, and screwball comedies, or my distaste for mahou shoujo, harem, and shounen. The selections are in alphabetical order.
  • Fireball Charming. This dialog-driven series of shorts, a sequel to last year's Fireball, won me over with its deadpan humor and sensational voice acting. gg did a great job translating this show.
  • Ikoku Meiro no Croisee. A very gentle, character-centric slice-of-life show.  The visuals were stunning, the characters appealing, the situations not melodramatic. Guardian Enzo rated Ikoku as his #1 show of 2011, and it's certainly among my favorites.
  • Hourou Musuko. A delicate exploration of sexual identity issues. From its unique watercolor art style, to the great sensitivity shown to the characters, this show excelled in almost every way.
  • Kamisama Dolls. A shounen show that broke the mold by combining quirky humor and unprecitable plot twists with great action sequences and the usual character types.
  • Mitsudomoe Zouryouchuu. No show this year was a greater danger to one's personal hygiene if you happened to be eating or drinking while you were watching. It's quota of laugh-out-loud, snort-through-the-nose moments was very high.
  • Natsume Yuujinchou San. Even in its third season, this show retains its distinct appeal. The explorations of human-to-youkai interactions and, this time around, human-to-human relationships, were deep and moving. Some commentators have criticized the increasing focus on the human world, but I think that reflects the protagonist's personal growth.
  • Nichijou. This quirky slice-of-life comedy was consistently interesting; the second half was even better than the first. Maybe I'm just a sucker for the Professor, Nano, and the talking cat.
  • UN-GO. This mystery series started slowly but built to a climax that explored not just the characters, but some basic philosophical issues about politics and society.  The best mystery of the year.
  • Usagi Drop. Another very gentle, character-centric slice-of-life show. As a father, Usagi rang true for me. I particularly liked its exploration of the dilemmas of parenthood in terms of everyday events and minor crises.
  • Yondemasu Yo, Azazel-san. A foul-mouthed, foul-thinking screwball comedy that led all others in sheer outrageousness. With hardly a redeeming character in sight, even including the angels, Azazel-san ran gleefully amok week after week, striving for ever-higher levels of offensiveness, and usually succeeding.
Honorable mentions: Ano Hi Mita Hana (emotionally compelling, but saddled with an Idiot Plot device); Hanasaku Iroho (great visuals, good characters, but uneven); Tiger and Bunny (because you have to appreciate commercial shounen tropes when they're done so well); Shinryaku S2 and Working S2 (good sequels, but broke no new ground).

And the best show of the year (drum roll please)? For me, it was Usagi Drop. The exploration of an important area of life that's usually ignored in anime - parenthood; the careful development of the characters; the simplicity (and flawlessness) of the execution; and the lack of teenagers :); made this the best show of the year. The BluRay specials have been coming out for the last few weeks, and it's been a pleasure to drop in on Daikichi’s and Rin's world again, even if it's just for five minutes at a time.

Wishing everyone a happy and peaceful 2011. Thanks for listening!

Monday, December 26, 2011

Catching Up on Orphans

Rather than bore everyone with my opinions on the fall anime season - which can be summarized by, "Watch UN-GO if you missed it" - I'm going to return to my perpetual hobbyhorse, orphaned series.

Things are looking up on a number of them:
  • Love Get CHU. Oyatsu has finished episodes 16-24. With the original Ayu-C1 episodes (1-13) and PracticeSub's (14-15), it's possible to construct a relatively complete torrent. I hope that Oyatsu will finish ep 25 soon. (I might go back and redo ep 14-15 using scripts that Yoroshiku prepared but never released.)
  • Cutie Honey (1973). The estimable Nanto at The Skaro Hunting Society finished this series. A batch torrent may or may not be in the works.
  • Ultraviolet Code 44. Kiteseekers finished this series. They continue to work on Mizu Iro Jidai and Mermaid Melody Pitchi Pitchi Pure. Lime-iro Ryuukitan X is in the queue. Unfortunately, it's a rather long queue, and Pretty Rhythm Aurora Dream seems to have priority, but I have hope.
  • Kiss Dum. Doutei has started in on this series. In addition, Hadena has picked up from the last subbed episode. Personally, I'll wait for Doutei.
  • Yoshimune. ARR released a full torrent. I'll keep the first nine episodes from Frostii-Scramble, which are done better.
  • Jang Geum's Dream. Another full torrent from ARR. Sketchy subs, but complete.
  • Prism Ark. Redone by Blazenar at BitchSubs, and rather nicely too.
  • Perrine Monogatari. Ripped from an HK DVD by Neo1024 and available on BakaBT. The subs aren't the best quality, but they're better than nothing.
  • Souten Kouro. Gotwoot just finished this. If they're really masochists, maybe they'll do Romance of the Three Kingdoms (2010) next.
  • Amuri Star Ocean. A complete torrent was cobbled together from various sources and is available on BakaBT.
  • Saint October. Finished by AOG. The complete series spans several groups: Ryo to start, then mbt and friends, Dyslexic, and finally AoG. Because of the mix of groups (and quality), a complete torrent hasn't been offered yet.
  • Shinshaku Sengoku Eiyuu Densetsu Sanada. After a very long break, digitalpanic and AonE released episode seven. I'm told that more scripts exist, but neither group is known for speed.
  • Porphy no Nagai Tabi. This World Masterpiece Theatre series was started by Seiki Subs, which stalled out two years ago at episode five.  Now Licca fansubs has picked it up and is releasing episodes almost weekly.
Still, there are plenty of shows left from my original list: Hidimari no Ki, Maple StoryGokujou, Charady's Daily Joke (raws available!), Jewel Pet, and Dash! Kappei all remain in limbo.  In addition, new orphans are created all the time in fansubbing's own version of Mawaru Penguindrum's Child Broiler. Ninku has been abandoned at the 40% mark. D4 Princess is stalled at the 25% mark, Lady Georgie at 50%, Patalliro and Maple Story at 60%. Shouwa Monogatari seems like it won't get finished; it's not even listed on Hatsuyuki's site anymore. There hasn't been a new episode of Maicchingu is almost a year. Fighting Beauty Wulong and its sequel Rebirth are available only in awful HK rips.

So, in the spirit of the season, think of the orphans out there and help rescue an abandoned series! You'll feel better for it.

    Wednesday, October 26, 2011

    Never Time to Do It Right, Always Time to Do It Over

    So I was looking at TokyoTosho, and I saw [Doki] UN-GO - 01v3, and then [Hadena] C3 - 01v3. The close proximity of a pair of v3's made me realize that I've been seeing an awful lot of amended offerings lately. Batch torrents are routinely filled with v2's, v3's, and the occasional v4. It made be wonder what was going on.

    When I started in fansubbing (not so long ago, really), a v2 release was a bit of a disgrace. It indicated that the team had not taken QC seriously and had let some seriously awful gaff get through. For example, one group I was in had to rerelease an OVA because the encoder had gratuitously used both ordered chapters and compressed headers at a time when these features were poorly supported, and the release simply wouldn't play on Mac/OS or Linux. There was considerable soul-searching and gnashing of teeth in the team, to make sure an error like that wouldn't recur.

    Well, that was then, and this is now. If you look at initial releases, batch releases, and BD releases, v2's, v3's, and even v4's are the norm. There are some legitimate reasons for this. Japanese songs (the OP and ED) are difficult to get right, and the versions translated from the first episode's audio stream are often just approximately correct. Official lyrics show up sometime later, and the team will typically correct its translation based on the official lyrics. In the days of hardsubbed karaokes, the old episodes were set in concrete, but with softsubs, it's possible to fix the early episodes at low cost. Names may also be rendered incorrectly, and the error found only in later episodes. Preview dialog has to be translated without context and may need to be changed based on the following week's episode. However, the vast majority of these updates are correcting careless errors that got through the fansub (or Crunchysub) process.

    I Feel the Need for Speed
    My analysis: the explosion of revisions is a consequence of simultaneous streaming. Streaming has accustomed the anime audience to instant gratification, and fansub teams feel compelled to offer similarly fast service on shows that aren't streamed. Teams also feel competitive pressure because the few shows that aren't streamed are massively oversubbed. The otaku fansub audience is fickle; they'll watch the first sub that's out there. If a team is in it for the glory of leecher adoration, rather than the satisfaction of doing a good job, they need to get their version out there first.

    So how can a team get an episode done faster? They can work insane hours and pull all-nighters; this happens all the time. They can set up a pipeline of people in different timezones, so that the work follows the sun; this requires a lot of luck about where team members are located. And finally, they can abandon or shortchange critical steps in the fansubbing process, such as editing and QC; and that's what's been happening.

    gg (always a trendsetter) was among the first to do this, formally announcing that they were abandoning QC altogether (and it shows). Speedsub groups often leave out the feedback loop from editing back to translation, or QC back to editing, and put the editing and QC changes through without review; that's a fruitful source of errors. I did one show with a speedsub team (I didn't know it was a speedsub when I started); my post-mortem cleanup of all the "QC" changes resulted in 11 of 12 episodes requiring v2's, and not for minor blemishes either.

    The Editor Who Was Left Out in the Cold
    I find this trend understandable. Because so many shows are dreck (see prior blogs), the distinction between the version that gets watched initially, and the version that gets archived, has become meaningless - most of today's shows are not worth keeping and will only be watched once. The desire to have your work appreciated is quintessentially human. If there's only one shot at the anime audience, then you have to be first.

    So while I find all this understandable, I don't find it congenial. I'm built for comfort, not for speed. My editing and QC workflows take time and are frequently interrupted by real-world constraints, such as a full-time job, extensive business travel, and a family. As a result, I haven't been really worked on weekly series very much since CrunchyRoll changed the rules of the game. I'm pretty much a back catalog/OVA/movie guy now.

    Is the day of the "quality" fansub dead and gone? While I hope not, I'm frankly not sure. Some groups are trying to find a compromise between the conflicting pressures of speed and quality; for example, GotWoot is releasing both a throw-away version of Mirai Nikki (under the "GotSpeed" label) and a higher-quality archival version. But this is exceptional. Most groups throw together whatever they can get done in a finite amount of time, with the promise of fixing it up later in the batch or the BluRays. There's never time to do it right, but there's always time to do it over.

    Late-breaking update: GotWoot v2'd every episode of its "archival" Mirai Nikki in the mid-point batch. Case closed.

    Tuesday, October 25, 2011

    Dreck II: The Revenge of Yawn

    The fall anime season is here, and I find it disappointing.  After a summer of original shows like Usagi Drop and Ikoku Meiro no Croisée, and highly watchable shows like Kamisama Dolls and Kamisama no Memo-chou, the fall is a vast wasteland of pointless sequels, routine shounen, boring slice-of-life shows, and mindless harem and jiggle.  Over the summer, I could hardly find time to watch all the shows I was interested in; this fall, I can barely stand to watch anything.

    The immediately dismissable category includes Maken-ki (harem jiggle), Maji de Watashi ni Koi Shinasai!! (harem jiggle with a siscon), Mashiroiro (eroge without the ero), Phi Brain (cliched shounen), Persona 4 (cliched shounen for kids), Hunter x Hunter (a shounen remake), Mirai Nikki (the Deadman Wonderland of this season, and equally repellent), and C-Cubed (violent and uninteresting).  The pointless sequel category includes Last Exile: Fam, The Silver Wing (why did they bother?), Shakugan S3 (I didn't like the original), Fate/Zero (ditto), Bakuman S2 (didn't watch the original), and Mobile Suit Gundam Age (recycled mecha for kiddies).  The boring slice-of-life group features Tamayura (yawn) and Kimi to Boku (bigger yawn).

    So what's left?

    • Chihayafuru. This show has interesting characters and an interesting background premise (karuta).  The characters are changing as they get older and developing in unexpected directions.  My favorite so far.
    • Boku wa Tomodachi ga Sukunai. (Full disclosure: I'm editing this for a group so slow that we'll probably finish in 2013.)  Again, the premise and characters are a little out of the ordinary.  The introduction of the rest of the ensemble in the fourth episode has brightened the tone and made the show considerably funnier.
    • Un-Go. I generally like mystery stories, but the first two episodes were not engaging.  The third and fourth, however, had a great premise and hook.  I'll keep watching.
    • Shinryaku Ika Musume S2. More Ika-chan is always welcome. The episodes to date have been more or less on par with last season.
    • Working S2.  The basic shticks (Souta's obsession with all things small, Inami's reactive decking of any man within reach, Yachiyo's obsession with the manager, the manager's obsession with parfaits, etc, etc) were done to death in S1, and nothing has changed.
    • Ben-To. I like the pseudo-samurai hokum, and the expansion of the circle of characters adds interest.  However, the humor is inconsistent, and the level of violence appears to be escalating, as a "serious" plot is introduced.
    • Guilty Crown. A sci-fi extravaganza that's one gigantic cliche. Post-apocalyptic Japan? Check. Nebish hero with superpowers? Check. Beautiful damsels in distress? Check. Crazed villains? Check. Beautiful eye candy, but it's all empty calories.
    • Kyoukai Senjou no Horizon. This show must have a point; it must. They wouldn't introduce all those characters, and all those plot points, and never explain them, would they? Oh wait, isn't that what happened in No.6?
      I guess I'll have to hold out until winter, when Natsume returns.

      Wednesday, September 21, 2011

      Looking Back At Summer 2011

      Here in New England, autumn is already here.  The air is crisp during the day, there’s a touch of frost at night to the west and north, the Red Sox are collapsing, and the Patriots are running amok (in a good way).  Soon the leaves will turn red and gold, for the all-too-brief climax of the area’s famous “four seasons” climate (Cold, Mud, Bugs, and Fall).

      Accordingly, it’s time to look back on the summer 2011 anime season and reflect.  Summer is supposed to be the weakest season of the year for anime, but I found a surprising number of watchable shows.  Herein I’ll offer my capsule summaries and thoughts on the best of the lot.

      First, my top three.  They are ordered alphabetically, because giving them absolute rankings would be too difficult.  They were all excellent:

      Ikoku Meiro no Croisée – This lovely slice-of-life show offered engaging characters and impeccable animation.  While the 10-year-old Japanese heroine, Yune, was impossibly cute, the story was driven less by moe, or even plot, than by character development and happenstance.  The initial emphasis was on cultural discovery (Yune about France, and Claude about Japan).  Over time, the focus shifted to character discovery.  The revelations were not melodramatic or forced.  Claude had a troubled, unresolved relationship with his father.  Yune felt residual guilt about leaving her older sister.  The characters learned to trust and confide in each other, and that was about the entire extent of the story.  If the subordinate characters seemed less interesting – Alice functioned almost entirely as comic relief, and Oscar seemed like a deus ex machina too often – that did not detract from the tone, for at least not for long.

      Natsume Yuujinchou San – “Sequel-itis” is the bane of anime and movies, but this is that rare case where a sequel (actually, a second sequel) was as good as or better than the original.  This set of episodes moved the spotlight much more squarely to Natsume, and to his integration with the human community in spite of his uniqueness (the ability to see youkai).  Natsume gradually came to trust and interact with his foster parents and his friends at school, even reaching the point of confiding his secret to some of the latter.  The episodes retained both the gentleness and touch of melancholy of the first two seasons, while focusing more on Natsume’s growth as a human being than on the plot device of the “Book of Friends.”  Although Nyanko-sensei played a diminished role this time, he remained an important touchstone: the first real friend Natsume made, whose quirky constancy allows Natsume to take greater risks with humans.  A fourth season has been green-lit for January, and I’m already looking forward to it.

      Usagi Drop – A noitaminA show that justified the segment’s reputation for quality.  I must confess a strong partiality for Usagi Drop simply because it was about a grown-up, which I am, and parenting, which I’ve done (and still do).  True, the six-year-old Rin was way too mature and cute; real six-year-olds are considerably more challenging in their behavior, and how cute they are depends on both the eye of the beholder and how they’re behaving.  Nonetheless, the show’s focus on Daikichi and the adjustments he has to make to be a parent, as well as his interactions with Kouki and Kouki’s mother, Yukari,  was spot on.  Parenting is difficult.  It changes everything.  The sense of responsibility it imposes, the time it requires, the rewards and the frustrations, were all portrayed simply and, by and large, accurately.  The show resisted melodrama to tell stories of small challenges and small rewards, with consistent tone and simple artwork.  Further, it stopped at just the right point – before the manga’s time skip that shifts the story to Rin as a teen-ager.  Raising a teen-ager is a whole different kettle of fish, and if they ever animate that part of the manga, they’ll need a different approach to the material.

      If you’re seeing a pattern in these choices, you’re not mistaken.  They’re all slice-of-life, they’re all gentle and consistent in tone, and they’re all focused on character development and growth.  I’m not a total sucker for the slice-of-life genre – Yuru Yuri left me absolutely cold – but these three were the shows I awaited with the greatest eagerness.  If you haven’t watched them, you should.

      As for the others, again in alphabetic order:

      Ao no Exorcist – An utterly predictable shounen show, but at least it had the good sense not to overstay its welcome.  I’m finding the anime original ending to be interesting, if rushed – much more so than the tedious extended combat plot in the manga.

      Hanasaku Iroha – This series has a lot of detractors, who seem to believe it  betrayed some sort of serious premise in the course of its meandering development.  Personally, I saw the show not as a slice-of-life comedy but as a multi-generational family saga, like the novels of Trollope or Dickens (at a lower quality level).  Viewed in those terms, its meandering exposition, artificial crises, and arbitrary confrontations make sense, and that context makes it easier to enjoy what the show has to offer: superb animation, interesting characters, and the occasional insight into human nature.  The ending was spot-on.

      Kamisama Dolls – As I admitted in a previous column, this show has grown on me, simply because of its unpredictability.  Despite the shounen trappings – Teenagers with magical power? Check. Big-breasted heroine? Check. Conspiracy to destroy the world? Check – it has a degree of humor and waywardness that makes Ao no Exorcist (not to mention Bleach or Beelzebub) look like a mechanical contrivance.  The flashbacks have been effective and powerful, providing a depth that wasn’t apparent at first.  Nor did the apparent premise of the series (madman Aki versus gentle Kyohei) prove to be the real one.  The characters are interesting, and with one episode left, I have no clue about the outcome.

      Kamisama no Memochou – I like mystery stories, and this one was no exception.  Other reviewers have railed against the nebishy, ineffective hero, the poorly fleshed-out side characters, and the general lack of mysteriousness to the mysteries, but I found Kamimemo interesting enough for a weekly diversion.  Narumi definitely changes and grows throughout the series, Alice and The Fourth are sharply delineated (if highly improbable), and the final “we-must-be-serious-because-the-show-is-ending” arc is a logical development on the show’s atmosphere, rather than an arbitrary twist thrown in to provide some sort of climax.

      Mawaru Penguindrum – I’m watching this series, but I’m pretty sure I don’t like it.  The deliberate obfuscation and artiness seems more a form of one-upsmanship by the series creator than a legitimate consequence of the material, content, or style.  Still, the penguins are pretty funny.

      Mayo Chiki – My guilty pleasure of the summer.  This harem show has no redeeming characteristics.  It doesn’t even have a cat.  The characters are clichés, the plot situations are trite, the gags are old-hat, and the outcome (which will be unresolved, with a slight Jirou x Subaru bias) is completely predictable.  Nonetheless, I watched it, enjoyed it as I watched, and forgot about it immediately thereafter.  Subaru was too hard to resist.

      Nichijou – The second half was a considerable improvement on the first.  Once Nano was formally inducted into the trio of high school friends, the randomness of the skits diminished, and the show became more focused.  The skits with the Professor and her talking cat, the science teacher fatally obsessed with Nano, the tongue-tied school teachers unable to express their feelings, and so on, all seemed to weave a coherent, light-hearted fabric.  There was still no real “point” to the series, but the increased focus made it funnier.

      No. 6 – If Usagi Drop was one of my favorite shows of the summer, its noitaminA companion was one of the greatest disappointments.  Grandiose, awkward, rushed, and incoherent, often all at the same time, it wasted the elaborate world of the No. 6 light novels in a slapdash mess that couldn’t be understood even once the series was over.  (If you read the Internet summaries of the light novels, everything will be a lot clearer.)  Apologists have pointed to the difficulty of compressing nine volumes into eleven episodes, but I don’t accept that.  There’s a simple way to do this right, namely, leave stuff out.  The eleven episodes contained a lot of material that neither advanced the story nor explained the plot.  If the adaptation had focused on getting the key points across, and spent less time on (for example) washing Dogloan’s mutts or watching Eve perform or other irrelevancies, the show would have been better.

      Tiger and Bunny – I have mixed feelings about T&B.  The original satirical take on the whole superhero business – that superheroes are now sponsored characters in an ongoing reality TV show – was wonderful, but eventually, the mechanical requirements of the plot swallowed the satire and humor.  Still, it was a bit unusual for a shounen show – its main character was a grown-up, with grown-up problems, such as raising a teenager.  Had there been more emphasis on the satire and the characters, and less on the Grand Overarching Conspiracy (still unresolved), it would have been a better show.

      So that’s the end up of my Deep Thoughts on the summer 2011 season.  I’m looking forward to the fall shows, to Dark Sage’s cutthroat reviews of the editing follies in various subs, to Guardian Enzo’s thoughtful insights into the shows he likes, and to rants and raves from my colleagues in the anime community.  Who knows?  I may even get to work on a show this season.

      Saturday, August 27, 2011

      Encoding Wars - The Return of the Revenge of the Sequel

      Over the past decade, the video compression technology used in fansubs has changed several times - from DivX to XviD, from XviD to H.264 - as has the preferred container format - from AVI to OGM to MKV and MP4.  Each of these transitions has been accompanied by bitter complaints and a fair amount of inconvenience.  The transition to H.264 was very painful for viewers with slow computers.  When MKV first appeared, the comment section of BoxTorrents (now BakaBT) was filled with jeremiads against the new format.  Even the DivX/XviD transition has left scars - some encodes from that period will not play correctly, because they were done with beta versions of the codecs and contain encoding bugs.

      Time has fixed most of these issues.  Today's multi-core PC's laugh off H.264.  The Combined Community Codec Project (CCCP) has provided a standardized playback kit for Windows, as well as a benchmark for testing the correctness of encodes.  Backward compatibility is quite good, barring only the occasional ancient, buggy encode.

      What time hasn't fixed is the problem of encode bloat.  Most encoding advances have been introduced with the claim that they would reduce the size of the video.  When H.264 was introduced, that was true initially: H.264 episodes were smaller than their XviD counterparts.  But fairly quickly, they became equal size, and then larger: the codec improvements were used to preserve more detail rather than reduce file size.  File sizes grew, and then grew some more.  The transition to HD resolutions exacerbated the problem.

      This is circuitous introduction (tl;dr) to the latest improvement in encoding - 10-bit H.264, sometimes called Hi10P.  I don't confess to understand the technical details, but the claim is that Hi10P reduces video encode size by 30%, at level quality.  Experiments with Hi10P began in the spring.  This summer, CCCP added formal support, and now the floodgates are open.

      Compared to previous transitions, this one is pretty painless.  CCCP seems to work correctly "out of the box."  Many groups are moving to Hi10P in a sensible way: shows that were started in 8-bit technology are being finished that way.  And as with previous transitions, the improved compression technology is being used to reduce file size.

      Would anyone care to take a bet on how long that will last?  My prediction is that by this time next year, Hi10P encodes will be as big as their 8-bit counterparts are today, and after that, the seemingly inexorable rise in file sizes will continue.  As a (near) senior citizen with so-so eyesight, this leaves me baffled.  I don't need to see every imperfection in the original film stock or cels.  Personally, I think this is a form of competition among encoders: mine is bigger than yours, so to speak.  The offers section of BakaBT is filled with new encodes claiming to produce the next minute improvement in visual quality (often at the expense of subtitle legibility, timing accuracy, or typesetting fluidity).  A few encoders buck this trend: for example, Atsui produces a fine balance between quality and size.  But for almost everyone else, it seems that bigger is better.

      One final note on the stampede to Hi10P.  An encoding colleague says that at the moment, there are mutually canceling bugs in the encoding and decoding software that produce slightly "tinted" encodes and then correct it in playback (something about color-space translation).  As a result, when the software is corrected, these early Hi10P encodes will look slightly tinted.  I won't notice it of course, but I wonder if we'll see a rash of "Hi10Pv2" encodes at some point?

      Thursday, July 28, 2011

      "It's Stuck in My Head..."

      In Alfred Bester’s award-winning science-fiction novel, The Demolished Man, the protagonist, Ben Reich, is trying to figure how to get away with murder in a society where the police can read minds. His solution is to be “accidentally” exposed to an “earworm,” a portion of a song that repeats compulsively within the mind. Thus, when a telepathic detective looks into Ben’s mind, all the detective hears is the endlessly repeating song.  Colloquially, we would that the song is “stuck in his head.”

      There are many different “hooks” that can turn songs into earworms. In The Demolished Man, it’s a repetitive, tongue-twisting lyric:

      Eight sir, seven sir, six sir, five sir, four sir, three sir, two sir, one.
      Tenser, said the Tensor, Tenser said the Tensor.
      Tension, apprehension, and dissension have begun.

      In many songs, it’s the music itself. An ostinato, known as a vamp in popular music, is a phrase or motif that’s repeated in the same rhythm and tonality. (A favorite example is the vamp at the start of “All That Jazz” in the musical Chicago.)  Regardless of the actual repetition, if the motif is memorable, the mind latches onto it and extends it indefinitely.

      Anime series and OVAs seem to be a particularly prolific source of earworms, and it’s an occupational hazard of fansubbing to be exposed, and over-exposed, to songs that get stuck in one’s head. A viewer can fast-forward past the OP or ED; the fansub team has to listen to the songs week-in and week-out, and quite possibly multiple times during the timing, editing, and QC phases. The results can be truly mind-wrecking.

      A couple of my favorite (or perhaps, least favorite) examples of anime earworms:

      • Love Getchu OP: “Nanairo Nadeshiko.” This incredibly bouncy example of bubblegum J-rock is a prime offender. It has repetitive lyrics (“Chu chu chu chu, chu chu churu ru ru…"), an extended vamp outro, and a catchy melody. Because of multiple abortive attempts to finish this series, this song is now irretrievably etched into my frontal lobes.
      • Happiness OP: “Happiness.” Another irrepressibly cheery bubblegum song that I hope never to hear again, because I’ll never be rid of it if I do.
      • Chi’s Sweet Home OP: “Ouchi ga Ichiban.”  It’s only 30 seconds long in the anime, but it’s simple, bouncy structure, repeated 104 times, turns it into an earworm.
      • Kekkaishi OP: “Sha la la -Ayakashi Night.”  I heard this song at least 51 times, because Kekkaishi only had one OP, and I had to retime it every week to fit the hardsubbed kanji. I actually like the song, but it too has repetitive lyrics and a recurring vamp and is very difficult to eradicate.
      • Nodame Cantabile OP: “Allegro Cantabile.”  Another good song turned insidious earworm, because of the structural similarity of all the musical lines in the verses. Koda’s terrific karaoke for C1’s version helps make it even more memorable.
      • Durarara!! OP1: “Uragiri no Yuuyake.”  This hard-driving J-rocker uses a simple, repeated two-note motif to hammer itself home in the mind.
      • Elfen Lied OP: “Lilium.”  This one is rather different. It’s haunting, rather than repetitive. The contrast between the serene beauty of the song, and the horrific subject matter of the anime, made the song particularly memorable. Monster’s ED2, “Make It Home,” posed a similar threat.
      Over the years, what anime earworms have bitten you?

      Monday, July 25, 2011


      I admire the ability of my editing colleague, Dark_Sage, to review multiple fansub versions of the same anime series, pointing out the errors of omission and commission in the subs and grading the overall effort.  I couldn’t bring myself to do those kinds of reviews, because so much anime these days is garbage – or to use the particularly redolent Yiddish term, dreck.

      I’m not going to claim that anime quality was higher in some mythical past.  Popular entertainment – TV, movies, anime, music – always contains only small amounts of gold surrounded by tons of dross.  While the clichés of today were once original ideas, they weren’t necessarily any better when first introduced, only fresher.  Harem is harem, whether it’s Love Hina or Nyan Koi.

      What has changed is my tolerance, or rather, my intolerance, for tired ideas presented in unchanged tropes.  Harem, moe, shounen, mecha, mahou shoujo, girls with guns – they’ve all been done to death.  As a result, my collector’s mania has started to fade.  I always knew I was collecting more anime than I could ever watch.  Now I’m limiting what I watch and keep.  There’s just too much dreck.

      The spring 2011 season, with its record number of shows, was the turning point.  It took just five minutes of Cardfight: Vanguard to convince me that further watching was a waste of time and bandwidth.  Toriko followed shortly thereafter, followed by Pretty Rhythm Aurora Dream.  I couldn’t bear to watch Dog Days (cutesy-poo), Deadman Wonderland (too violent – grandparents don’t like shows that feature mistreatment of children), Sengoku Otome (pointless), 30-Sai (witless), Softenni (useless), Hen Zemi (yuck), Oretachi (a confused mess), Sket Dance (shounen tripe), X-Men (superhero tripe), Gintama (I’m going to watch another 203 episodes of this?), Hidan no Aria (girls with guns clichés), Kaiji S2 (emo run riot), C (not engaging), or Steins;Gate (ditto).

      Many of the shows I did watch left me with mixed feelings.

      • Ano Hana.  This show’s promising premise was undone by clumsy execution and devices straight from the Idiot Plot handbook.  All the character development was left to the last episode, and the suspense was only sustained because the ghost refrained from demonstrating her presence – until she didn’t.
      • Doronron Enma-kun.  Dirty-minded fun, but it stopped being original after three or four episodes.
      • A Channel.  This slice of life comedy was harmless enough, but I can’t say it left a lasting impression.
      • Denpa Onna.  Another show with a strong premise, but it disintegrated as the episodes progressed and ended up as a boring and routine teenage comedy.
      • Astarotte Omocha.  The creators tried to have it both ways – heartwarming comedy and loli ecchi-fest – and succeeded only at leaving a distasteful impression.
      • Ao no Exorcist.  I keep hoping it will come to a clean, quick end.  However, the progression of the manga is not promising.
      So did I like anything at all?  Yes, a few shows.  As I said in a previous entry, Fireball Charming had terrific dialog and deadpan delivery to go along with its short, CG-based episodes.  Yondemasu yo, Azazel-san was an equal-opportunity offender, taking vicious potshots at everyone and everything.  Neither its plot nor its outcome was predictable.  Nichijou started randomly but grew into a really funny (if still incoherent) show, and besides, I liked the talking cat.  Hanasakaru Iroha was a shoujo show without bishounen or reverse harem overtones, a slice of life that wasn’t insistently heartwarming, and a warm comedy.

      But the summer 2011 season looks to be no better. I’ve already discarded Yuruyuri, Kaitou Tenshi Twin Angel, The Idolm@ster, R-15, Ro-kyu-bo, Uta no Prince-sama Maji LOVE 100%, and Manyuu Hikenchou, which range from the insipid to the disgusting.  Blade, Sacred Seven, Kamisama Dolls, Blood-C, and Itsuka Tenma no Kuro Usagi don’t have an original idea between them.   Nurarihyon is a sequel to a series I didn’t much like in the first place.  Nekogami Yaoyorozu is making me break my “I’ll watch anything with cats” rule.

      So what’s left?

      • Ikoku Meiro no Croisee.  This gentle slice of life show is very soothing.  Nothing much happens, or has happened so far, and that’s goodness.  The characters are developing slowly but visibly; there’s no melodrama or villainy.  I’d like it to stay that way and avoid the usual trap of “We must provide some dramatic tension for the climactic episodes.”
      • Usagi Drop.  Another gentle slice of life show.  Although fans are raving about how cute Rin is, the real draw for me is that the protagonist is actually an adult, confronting real-life adult problems, like balancing work and child care.  I’ve heard that the manga goes disastrously wrong at the end; I hope the anime can hold its balance.
      • Natsume Yuujinchou San.  Yeah, it’s a sequel to a sequel, but so what?  The episodes are showing more depth, even compared to previous seasons.  The protagonist has developed emotionally, and Sensei is better than ever.  This is a great show, possibly the best of the summer.
      • No. 6.  I’m afraid this series is going to strike too hard for “depth and profundity in eleven episodes,” like Fractale, and the boy(s)-against-the-system mantra is totally clichéd.  But I’ll give this another couple of episodes, because it’s the only science fiction show this season.
      • Dantalian no Shoka.  A good premise, but already showing signs of “monster of the week” syndrome.  Fewer specious mysteries and more character development, please!
      • Baka to Test to Shoukanjuu Ni.  I loved the first series for its utter goofiness.  This season seems to be “more of the same,” yet I’m finding the freshness to be lacking.
      • Kamisama no Memochou.  I’m editing this show for Monokage, so I’m watching it despite its flaws.  At least the spineless hero is showing signs of improvement.
      • Nyanpire the Animation.  Cats with fangs!  No need to say more.
      So there you have it: a capsule review of two anime seasons.  You may agree with my preferences, you may not, but I think you’ll agree with my starting premise – these days, you have to sift through an awful lot of dreck to find anime series that are worth watching.

      Updated 8/27/11. Zalis's comment prodded me to take a second look at this column, and I can see that I need to update a few shows.  I'm still watching the eight summer shows I listed, even though Monokage has dropped Kamisama no MemochouUsagi Drop continues to grow on me.  I've added back Kamisama Dolls, which has taken its "kids-with-superpowers" premise in different, and darker, directions than I had expected.  And I must confess to watching Mayo Chiki, which falls in the "guilty pleasure" category: I feel guilty for watching it and guilty for enjoying it, because of its harem tropes and blatant fanservice, but I watch it anyway.

      Tuesday, June 28, 2011

      The Best Show of the Spring 2011 Season is...

      The Spring 2011 anime season is winding down, and the inevitable debate has begun about the best show of the season.  Considering that the season had more than forty new series, the candidate list is surprisingly small: basically just Ano Hana and Hanasaku Iroha, both of which have vocal proponents.  Denpa Onna started out strong but petered out.  A few fans hold out for Deadman Wonderland, C, The World God Only Knows S2, or Steins;Gate.  However, they're all wrong.  The best show of the Spring 2011 season is... Fireball Charming.

      I can hear the cries of outrage already.  How can a two-minute CG-anime starring two very strange robots outshine the moe cuteness of Ano Hano or Hanasaku Iroha, the violence in Deadman Wonderland, or the complexity in Steins;Gate?  The answer is simple.  Fireball Charming is funny, side-splittingly funny.  Its humor isn't based on gross-outs, like Hen Zemi or Yondemasu yo, Azazel-san, or whimsy and nostalgia, like A Channel or Nichijou.  No, the humor is based on sharp dialog, great repartee, and inventive gags.  In short, Fireball Charming is verbally funny.  Each episode is like a miniature 1930's screwball comedy.  I'm an editor, after all, and nothing appeals to me more than great dialog.

      I can't comment on the accuracy of gg's translations, but the editing is tight, and the puns and references have been localized with great ingenuity.  The voice acting is superb.  The episodes look great, with high-def CG animation, and they're over in two minutes.  What's not to like?

      So if you haven't watched Fireball Charming yet, check it out. You can marathon the whole season in about the amount of time you'd waste on one episode of Naruto Shippuuden.  You have nothing to lose (except, perhaps, your mind).

      Monday, June 27, 2011

      Do You Need An Editor? I Need A Timer!

      Lately, I've been seeing a lot of "want ads" on fansub sites for editors.  This is unusual; editors used to be a dime a dozen.  Now they've become scarce.  Maybe all the English majors have full time jobs at McDonalds?  (Please, no hate mail from the Professional Organization of English Majors, aka POEM.)

      As an editor, I've usually worked only on shows I like, but I have my "wants" too.  In particular, I have a backlog of resubbing projects, all of which are characterized by poorly edited subtitles.  The backlog includes:
      • Polished Sub's Nagasarete Airantou.  Here the problem lies with the original fansub subtitles, which show a cheerful disregard for the rules of punctuation and capitalization.
      • ARR's Urusei Yatsura Special.  These subtitles also need substantial reworking.
      Unfortunately, bad editing seems to go hand-in-hand with bad timing, and I'm just awful at timing.  I can do it, but I'm slow, and whatever method I'm using must be wrong, because I end up with aching wrists and other ergonomic problems.  Consequently, these projects are proceeding at a snail's pace.  Indeed, my one successful effort at resubbing a series, Hand Maid Mai, only finished because I was able to enlist a real timer to help.

      So here's the deal, fansub groups. I'll edit your series, even if I don't like it.  But in return, you have to time my resub projects.  The "exchange rate" is one-for-one: one episode edited for one episode timed.

      I'm looking for other skills as well, particularly a translation checker for ARR's Sotsugyousei, which appears to be machine translated, and a translator for two specials from Haruka Naru Toki no Naka de: Hachiyoushou and the three OVAs from Harukanaru Toki no Naka de 2: Shiroki Ryuu no Miko.  But right now, I'll settle for a timer.

      Let's make a deal!

      Sunday, June 26, 2011

      Why Johnny Can't Edit

      In his blog, my colleague Dark Sage has dissected the editing errors in the Spring 2011 season with precision, humor, and an appropriate degree of outrage. His reviews have made me wonder why editing mistakes are so pervasive in fansubbing, and I’d like to toss out a few hypotheses for discussion.

      My first guess is that fansubbing, as a hobby, tends to attract people from technical disciplines rather than the liberal arts. Most of the people I fansub with are in software development, IT, engineering, and so on. Engineers are not known for the quality of their writing. (After all, if they liked writing and were good at it, they’d be English majors, wouldn’t they?) I’ve run many engineering teams over my career, and one of my jobs has always been to correct the written work of team members. However, this hypothesis isn’t sufficient. In my work, I’ve seen bad writing from communications specialists, technical writers, and other professionals. Something deeper is amiss.

      More broadly, I’d hazard that the priority of writing skills in the US educational system has declined. Education “reform” has turned our schools into factories for passing standardized tests, which focus on reading and math. The courses that promote good writing skills have been eliminated in budget cuts. The creative writing part of the SATs has become optional. Many colleges no longer require essays as part of the admissions process.

      Finally, belief that the rules of composition and grammar actually matter has disappeared. The usage essays of the late William Safire, or the indictment of modern compositional practice in a book such as “Eats Shoots and Leaves,” are treated as humor, irony, or curmudgeonly rants. One doesn’t need to look any further than the promotion of “alright” to acceptable usage to see that editorial laxness is ingrained. In short, no one gives a damn.

      I was lucky in my educational experience. Back in the Dark Ages when I went to high school, educators at least gave lip-service to developing students’ talents, as well as drilling them in the basics. As a result, a student with a good academic record had access to electives that were off the beaten track. I used that freedom to learn touch typing (on a manual typewriter – no PCs in those days); I was the only boy in the class. I studied Latin. And I took a class in journalism.

      Journalism class was far less about reporting than it was about composition. The focus was on writing: how to write articles that were organized well and easy to comprehend. Journalism taught me about parallel construction, use of the active voice, simplicity of vocabulary, clarity of references, and other techniques that are directly visible in my editing. Combined with the lessons from Latin – proper grammar, sentence parsing, vocabulary – journalism class gave me the foundation I needed for decent composition.

      Where will aspiring editors learn these lessons today? Journalism classes are vanishing; indeed, journalism as a profession is on the endangered list. Latin is regarded as a luxury and is rarely taught. I fully understand that Mandarin or Spanish will be more useful in real life than Latin, and that science is better preparation for a viable career than journalism. Still, as a species we depend on communication. How will we fare if understanding drowns in a sea of Internet memes, texting abbreviations, and written trash?

      [For those too young to understand the title reference, see this article: Why Johnny Can’t Read.]

      Saturday, April 9, 2011

      What Kind of Anime Do You Like?

      As my nickname implies, I collect all sorts of anime, but over the years, I’ve found that certain types appeal to me much more than others.  Rather than talk in generalities, I’ll list my favorite anime series.  My top ten, in alphabetical order (ranking them is too hard):

      • Chobits.  I find this particular combination of science fiction, romantic comedy, and slice-of-life irresistible.
      • Cowboy Bebop.  A show I can watch repeatedly.
      • Crest of the Stars (and its sequels, Banner of the Stars I, II, III).  My favorite “space opera.”
      • Genshiken (and its sequels).  This sharp-eyed but good-spirited send-up of the otaku world really tickles my funny bone.
      • Kino no Tabi.  The tone of this series is unique.  I can’t watch it end-to-end, but the individual episodes are compelling.
      • Monster.  A dark psychological drama that held me spellbound through all 74 episodes.
      • Nana.  This slice-of-life shoujo is part soap opera, part romantic comedy, and always interesting, with a terrific musical score.
      • Nodame Cantabile.  My favorite romantic comedy.  The sequels were not as good.
      • Planetes.  Science fiction and slice-of-life beautifully combined.
      • Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann.  My favorite mecha show; in fact, the only mecha show I’ve ever watched from start to finish.
      Actually, about all this list tells you is that I like science fiction anime, and perhaps romantic comedy/slice-of-life.  But I also like some low or ecchi comedies (like Hand Maid May, Usagichan de Cue, Inukami), certain children’s shows (Hanamaru Kindergarten, Chi’s Sweet Home), and shows that are off the beaten track (Kaiba, Gosenzosama, Fireball).  I don’t much care for sports anime, shounen, or mecha, but there are exceptions even to those generalizations (Kekkaishi, Tengen Toppa).  And I’m a sucker for any show with cats.  I’ll even watch or work on a harem show if it has cats (Nyan Koi).

      Which Anime Series Have You Liked Working On?

      That’s an entirely different question.  I’ll work on almost anything, if I like the team, or if it’s a rescue of an orphaned series.  But some stick out in my memory, so here’s another top ten list, again in alphabetical order:

      • Amatsuki (Ureshii).  I like shows set in historical times, and this was one of the better ones.  Regrettably, the TV raws were very poor, and no DVD version was ever done.  (Attention, resubbers!)
      • Chi’s Sweet Home (Yoroshiku).  A children’s series with an adorable kitten.  What else is there to say?  This show taught me that 104 episodes of anything can become tiring, even if the episodes are less than three minutes long, and that 104 repetitions of a catchy opening song will fry your brain.
      • Dennou Coil (Ureshii).  A good science fiction show about the possibilities, and dangers, of cyperspace.
      • Gosenzosama (Ureshii/Frostii).  Probably the hardest editing job I’ve done.  This show had an utterly unique style of meandering sentences, deadpan dialog, and the occasional mind-boggling joke.  Finding the right tone, and maintaining it consistently, was a challenge.
      • Hand Maid May (Orphan).  A foray into “resubbing.”  I really liked this early sci-fi harem show, and the R1 subs were poorly edited, timed, and typeset.  Redoing the subs taught me a lot about timing (e.g., I don’t like to do it) and typesetting.
      • Kekkaishi (Yoroshiku).  One of the longest shounen show I ever worked on.  It started out as a mix of comedy and action, and then turned into straight action.  I missed the comedy, but the show held my interest.  It had a great opening song.
      • Nana (Ureshii).  A difficult show to edit, because the characters spoke at a breakneck speed.  Compressing the subs to fit the timing of the dialog was hard.
      • Nodame Cantabile (C1).  My favorite romantic comedy, with a wonderful opening song.  Koda’s karaoke was brilliant.
      • Rescue Wings (Ureshii).  A seinen show, about grownups, and thus an almost automatic favorite.  The project went moribund midway through.   Restarting it was one of my few successes in rescuing a stalled series.
      • Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann (Black-Order).  This over-the-top mecha show was a hoot from start to stopping point.  It got licensed before it could be finished.
      Pretty much the same pattern as my favorites list.

      Which Anime Series Have You Disliked Working On?

      A couple of shows pushed me to the limit with clichés, bad writing, or stupid plots:

      • Angelique 2006 (C1).  I can tolerate neo-romance, just barely, but this one was stultifyingly sweet.  Haruka Naru Toki de Naku de looks like a work of genius in comparison.
      • D.Grayman (Black-Order).  A prime example of why I dislike shounen shows.  The project team abandoned it by mutual agreement after 61 episodes of mostly filler, to my relief.
      • H2O: Footprints in the Sand (Ureshii).  A show that helped give the harem genre a bad name, or at least, a worse one than it had to start.
      • Oishinbo: Japan-America Rice Wars (Yoroshiku).  The most boring anime movie ever, bar none.  90 minutes of policy debate about the pros and cons of liberalizing Japan’s rice import restrictions.  I’d rather go to the dentist.
      • Planzet (Orphan).  Another foray into resubbing.  I committed to hours of retiming, re-editing, typesetting, and QCing to this project, only to realize that the movie was junk.
      I did a couple of World Masterpiece Theater series and found them to be overly long and slow-paced, but at least they didn’t make me want to trash my computer or abandon anime altogether.

      So there it is: the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly of my anime experience.  Hopefully, this gives you a sense of my likes and dislikes, so that if you want to ask me about working on a project, I won’t just laugh at you.

      Thursday, March 24, 2011

      Rescuing Orphans

      As my nickname suggests, I'm an anime collector.  And like many collectors, I like my collection to be complete as well as inclusive.  Thus, nothing bothers me more than anime series that are started and then abandoned.

      I understand the reasons why this happens.  In fact, the groups I've been part of  have abandoned almost as many projects as they've completed.  The usual reason is loss of interest by a key project team member, like the translator.  Without a translator, a fansubbing project is dead in the water.  Another frequent cause is competition.  If another competent group is working on the same series (or if CrunchyRoll has picked up the series), it's easy for a project team to lose interest and decide to do something else, or nothing.  A group may disband or disintegrate without finishing its projects.  And there's a fourth reason: a team may discover that a series is utter garbage only after working on the first episode, or a couple of episodes.

      Usually, a fansubbing team's decision to abandon a project doesn't matter.  Popular series always have multiple groups working on them (or, these days, they're streamed); if one group gives up, another will see it through.  However, niche series often have only one group working on them.  If that group abandons the project, the series is orphaned: partially done, and possibly never to be completed.  In my five years in fansubbing, this has happened to many shows, including Hidimari no Ki, Maple Story, Perrine Monogatari, Love GetCHU, Kiss Dum: Engage Planet, Gokujou, Charady's Daily Joke, Jewel Pet, Yoshimune, Dash! Kappei, Saint October, Prism Ark, Souten Kouro, Amuri Star Ocean, Jang Geum's Dream,and the grand-daddy of them all, Lime-iro Ryuukitan X Cross, which was abandoned by no less than three groups.  There's also a long list of projects that have been stalled indefinitely but not formally abandoned.

      I originally got into fansubbing more or less by coincidence: I offered some mild criticism of a group's release in their IRC channel and was told to join the team if I thought I could do better.  (I did, and I did.)  But I stayed in fansubbing because I wanted to complete orphaned series.  Unfortunately, I lack the crucial skill needed for that task: I don't know Japanese.  Accordingly, I have to make myself useful to fansubbing teams and bargain for translation help in return for editing and QC.  I did this first with the third episode of Usagichan de Cue, a low ecchi comedy.  The price was editing and QCing 41 episodes of the World Masterpiece Theatre series Peter Pan no Boukan: a harsh exchange rate, but one I gladly paid.

      Over the last few years, I've managed to get a few more done.  Yoroshiku Fansubs picked up and finished Sisters of Wellber Zwei.  Frostii, under an alias, did the last episode of Mission E.  And my own "Orphan Fansubs" finished the last two episodes of Kage.

      I'm not the only fansubber interested in abandoned series.  While it was active, digitalpanic often stepped in to complete series, like Beet Excellion, the second season of Emma, and Sakura Taisen NY NY.  MBT finished Chocotto Sister and Moetan.  A number of groups did "one offs," like the previously mentioned Frostii project.  But these efforts were rare.

      Lately though, and perhaps as a consequence of simultaneous streaming, more groups are showing interest in the catalog of abandoned shows.  For example, Kiteseekers is working to finish both Ultraviolet Code 44 and Mizu Iro Jidai.  Gotwoot is 70% done with the incomplete second season of Moonlight Mile, while Dattebayo is almost halfway through Ninku.  ANBU has picked up Dragon Quest, Wasurenai Marie & Gali, and M.3.3.W Fighting Beauty Wulong.

      Yet the number of completed orphan shows remains low: MUJI's Gallery Fake and Wasurenai-Licca's Les Miserables Shoujo Cosette in the last few months, and that's about it.  Ninku seems to have stalled out.  A third attempt to finish Love GetCHU collapsed before it could off the ground.  Again, there are multiple reasons.  It's hard to find raws, let alone good raws, for old shows.  It remains difficult to keep staff engaged in orphan projects, because the audience for them is small compared to current series.  And unlike fine wine, these shows do not get better with age.

      Still, I remain optimistic that some of these series will find an interested translator, and if they do, I'll be the first to volunteer to do the editing or QC.  I'd really like to complete Love GetCHU, if it's at all possible.  Hell, I'd even work on Lime-iro Ryuukitan X Cross, a show that I wouldn't be caught dead watching.  Rescuing orphans is a noble cause.  If you want to help - that is, if you can translate - or if you have an "orphan" project that needs editing or QC help, give me a shout.

      Sunday, March 20, 2011

      Resubbing: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

      In my last blog, I discussed how simultaneous streaming has impacted anime fansubbing.  This time, I want to discuss another recent development, namely, resubbing.

      At its simplest, resubbing is the application of existing subtitles to new video and audio sources.  The initial impetus for resubbing arose from the availability of better sources, such as DVDs and BluRays, for shows that had been subbed in the early days of fansubbing, when video capture technology, video codecs, and subtitling tools were all quite primitive.  Initially, resubbing was quite hard to do.  Early fansubs had hard-coded subtitles that had to be extracted by hand or with more-or-less useless OCR tools, then restyled and retimed.  Those subs also had hard-coded signs and karaokes that had to be replicated as well.

      The recent shift to softsubs has made the resubbing process much easier.  Dialog, signs, and karaokes can be extracted from a softsubbed show easily, using the MKVtoolnix tool set.  Some groups, like gg, just publish their scripts, because there’s no way to keep them secret.

      As with “Crunchysubbing,” described in my last blog, there are many varieties of resubbers.  Here’s a rough classification:

      • Resubbing to improve on the video/audio quality of an early fansub.  The original fan-made subtitles are applied against a DVD or BluRay source.  Examples include Redone, Retrofit, and Jumonji-Giri.
      • Resubbing to improve on the video/audio quality of a current fansub, or to access material left out left out if, or censored from, a TV broadcast.  To boost DVD or BluRay sales, anime companies include extra material in the DVD or BluRay versions.  This can take the form of extra scenes (for example, in Lamune or DaCapo) or removal of censoring (all recent ecchi shows).  Again, the original fan-made subtitles are applied against a DVD or BluRay source.  Examples include Coalgirls, Polished, Mudabone, DmonHiro, Atsui, Kira, Tamashii, and Elysium.
      • Resubbing to improve on the video/audio quality of an R1 (US DVD release) by using an R2J (Japanese DVD) source.  Because the remastering process from the original Japanese source to US DVD format sometimes impacts video quality, groups apply official R1 DVD subtitles to an encoded R2J source.  Examples include Dual-Duality, OnDeed, and Gray Phantom.
      Many, but not all, resubbers in the first two categories use raws from other groups.  Resubbers in the third category, and some from the first two, encode their own.  Some resubbers clean up the original subtitles for editing, timing, or styling errors, but many do not.

      As an editor and QC, I tend to focus much more on the subtitles than the video and audio.  Arguments about banding, haloing, and grain, or the value of FLAC versus lossy audio codecs, tend to leave me unmoved.  My aging eyes can’t see details all that well, and my aging ears don’t have the range to hear the fine differences.  In addition, most anime is drawn very simply, with straightforward audio and clichéd music.  So I have two serious gripes about resubbing:
      • Lack of attention to the subtitles themselves.  While some groups put the subtitles through an editing, timing, and QC cycle, many do not.  Because DVDs and BluRays have different timing, and sometimes different aspect ratios, from the original TV broadcasts, this results in visible, obvious, and annoying subtitle and sign problems.  Every resubbed version of Seitokai Yakuindomo that I’ve downloaded (except Coalgirls) has obvious timing problems with signs; one version didn’t even include fonts.
      • File bloat.  This is a contentious issue, so please remember that I’ve already disclosed my bias towards the words rather than the video and audio.  I think that many resub encodes are bloated.  To me, FLAC audio is pointless, and most TV anime is blandly drawn and easily compressed.  Hard disk space is not the issue; rather, it’s the bandwidth caps that most ISPs are imposing.  I don’t want to spend 11GB of my monthly quota for a 13 episode series (as in Coalgirl’s aforementioned Seitokai Yakuindomo).
      Nonetheless, I usually investigate, and frequently archive, resubs.  Early fansubs were often done at 512x384, or even 320x240; the improvements in video quality can be impressive.  The additional material added to DVDs and BluRays means that a resub may be the only definitive version of some series.  And occasionally, a resub cleans up staggeringly bad editing or timing in the original fansub.  But I have a long and lengthening queue of resubs that need a lot of work on their scripts before I’d be willing to archive them in place of the original fansubs.

      So if you’re resubbing a show, particularly from a fansub script, and you need help cleaning up the subtitles, give me a shout on IRC.  I can’t help much with timing, but I’m happy to fold, spindle, and mutilate the words for the sake of improved quality – provided of course, the series interests me…