Saturday, April 28, 2012

Resubbing Reconsidered

About a year ago, I took a look at resubbing, the use of existing fansubs with new video and audio source materials. That blog focused on the reusing soft fansubs of TV series to BluRay or DVD sources, and how often errors were not fixed or, worse yet, new problems were introduced. Well, a year is a long time, and the practice of resubbing has continued to evolve, so it's time to look at this from a different perspective.

Refurbishing Old Hardsubs

A small minority of resubbers are refurbishing hardsubbed series by extracting the subtitles and timing and typesetting them against modern sources. This is hard work. The software for extracting subtitles via Optical Character Recognition (OCR) is finicky and unreliable, particularly when the subtitle font is small and/or the subtitles are colored; and hand transcription can be tedious and inaccurate. (See Zalis' excellent overview of options for obtaining subtitle scripts for old shows.) The resubber has to verify and correct the extracted script and then proceed through the whole resub process of editing, retiming, restyling, QC, and so on. In addition, the resubber has to cope with replacing hardsubbed typesetting and karaokes. This can be quite difficult, as hardsubbing allowed significantly more complex effects than today's softsubs can support.

To me, the "best in class" awards for this category go to Jumonji-Giri and Redone Fansubs. Jumonji-Giri has refurbished many older series, such as Canvas and Canvas 2, Futakoi and Futakoi Alternative, W Wish, and most recently Kagihime Monogatari Eikyuu Alice Rondo. The improvements in video quality are always substantial, and the fidelity to the original fansubs is evident. Jumonji-Giri often includes multiple fansub tracks, and the original fansub teams are always credited in the file names, a very nice touch.

Redone Fansubs does similar work. The "proprietor" knows Japanese, and that facilitates editing of shows where the subs are in need of improvement, such as the ongoing Rizelmine, or where added material in the DVDs needs original translation, such as Lime-Colored War Tales. Again, the reworked series offer substantial improvements in quality, across the board.

Both Jumonji-Giri and Redone are one-person shops, so their output is limited by the complexity of the process, starting with the OCR or transcription stage. A few disbanded fansub groups, such as C1 and Ureshii, have recognized the value of the refurbishment process and offered their script archives for reuse. (Lunar's entire script archive was published on the Internet, in a famous case of fansub "dorama" a few years ago.) However, many group archives have been lost to the vagaries of time, Internet FTP hacking, and other woes.

Other resubbers that used to do this kind of work, such as Polished and Retrofit, have moved onto working with softsubbed shows or gone inactive.

If anyone wants to work on restoring old hardsubs, I have a list of candidates for refurbishment, starting with Amatsuki, a wonderful short series that suffered from horrible quality TV raws, and Yume Tsukai, another short series that would benefit from the process. I just happen to have the original scripts for both... but I'm not an encoder and can't help with finding or encoding better source material.

Refurbishing Old Softsubs

Most resubbers work with softsubs, and the vast majority of resubbers working with softsubs focus on making BluRay releases of recent TV shows. However, a small minority of "soft" resubbers work on the back catalog. For example, Jinsei Fansubs is redoing the original fansubs of Nana, one of the greatest shoujo series of all time, with DVD sources. The team has both an editor and a translation checker, so they're able to correct errors in the original material. Skip Beat could use the same treatment, as the current DVD version is a hodge-podge of fansub sources, several of them quite sketchy.

Resubbing Contemporary Series

This is where most of the action is, at the moment. The anime industry's practice of spiffing up the BluRay releases of TV series with uncensored content, or at least correction of obvious animation mistakes, makes the BluRay release the "definitive" version of most shows. Further, the widespread use of softsubbing for everything - dialog, signs, and karaokes - makes the production process for BluRay releases much easier.

Surprisingly, most fansub groups don't make their own BluRay releases, or only do so sporadically. UTW does BluRay releases of many of its series, but not all; Hiryuu has started (but not finished) several; WhyNot has done a couple. By and large, BluRay resubs come from independent teams, such as DmonHiro, Zurako, Rizlim, Final8, mudabone, Coalgirls, Atsui, Kira, tlacatl6, Thora, and so on.

A year ago, there were noticeable differences in quality, particularly in editing, timing, and typesetting, among the various resubbers, but these days, the survivors are fairly competent at the basics. The real difference lies in their attitude to file sizes. Some, such as DmonHiro, Atsui, and mudabone, are quite careful about file sizes and try to make pragmatic tradeoffs between quality and bits. Others, such as Rizlim, Coalgirls, and Thora, believe that bigger files equate to higher quality. (I had thought that Coalgirl's Seitokai Yakuindomo, requiring 11GB for 13 720p episodes, was the most bloated encode I had ever seen, but Rizlim's Softenni, with 17GB for 12 720p episodes, is the new exemplar.) The rest fall in the middle.

I don't propose to rehash the arguments on each side. I am sympathetic to DmonHiro's reasoning - that the differences between FLAC and AAC are inaudible, and the differences in file size matter to people who have bandwidth quotas, or who pay for Internet usage by the GB, or who live in countries with less than stellar infrastructure. Neither side is likely to budge, and there's often a choice from competing camps. For example, Rizlim's Softenni will face competition from Dual Duality, at less than half the file size. And someday, perhaps, there will be a reasonably-sized encode of Seitokai Yakuindomo that's also competently timed and typeset.

The Fansub Value Chain

The resubbing phenomenon illustrates how complex and diversified the fansub "value chain" has become. If you're not familiar with the term, value chain denotes all the steps in the process of producing a product or service, with emphasis on the value added at each step. For fansubbing, this used to be a fairly simple, two-step process:

  • Rip the raws, typically directly from TV.
  • Do everything else, from translation through finished encode.
Today, the steps are more numerous and more complicated. Rips, encodes, translation, translation checking, timing, editing, and post-production may all come from different sources, using different techniques. The raws may be transport streams or on-air encoded captures. The encodes may be done by third parties. Translations may be original, from original fansubs, from streaming sources, or from DVDs or BluRays. Post-production steps may be done by one team or several.

Fansubbing has evolved continuously under the influence of changes in the technology and business models, and that evolution shows no signs of stopping. If I show some bias towards shows that are neglected or forgotten, and towards technology use that is sensibly balanced, that's just one point of view in a highly diversified landscape of hobbyists, enthusiasts, and fanatics. The more, the merrier.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Winter Wrap-Up

It's hard to wrap up Winter when it never really happened. In New England, we had a snowstorm before Halloween, and another one in March, and that was it. True, the October storm brought down a large number of trees and knocked out power for days, but it hardly seemed like a winter event.

My summary of the Winter Season doesn't differ much from my assessment four weeks in. Back then, I thought Natsume Yuujinchou Shi was the best show of the winter season, and I still do, with Ano Natsu de Matteru a close second. I hope that Natsume gets a fifth season sometime, and that Ano Natsu gets a sequel.

However, I have changed my opinion about two shows, Another and High School DxD. Another started as a stylish horror show with a soupcon of violence for flavoring; it ended in a series of repetitious, bloody, and unnecessary massacres. (It's important to remember that grandparents typically don't like movies, TV shows, or games where children are killed in large numbers; that's why we don't buy first-person shooters.) I'll finish out my obligation to edit the show but without much enthusiasm.

High School DxD, on the other hand, started out as mindless fanservice and ended up as good, guilty fun. It had plenty of mindless fanservice to the very end, but it also had a plot, appealing characters, and lots of energy. The perverted hero remained true to his essential character even as he grew into a certified Action Hero, complete with a very unique secret talent.

Poyopoyo, Recorder to Randoseru, and Mouretsu Pirates are all continuing into the Spring season, and I look forward to following them.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Orphans Rejoice!

I deliberately held off on posting this until April 2, so it would not been construed as an April Fools' joke.

Love GetChu is finished at last, on the sixth anniversary of its initial broadcast.

Actually, I expected Love GetChu to be finished last year, when Oyatsu began releasing at a steady pace, starting with episode 16. But after December 15... silence. Their translator had vanished. The series was back on hiatus, yet again.

In sheer frustration, I went into the vaults of the now-dormant Yoroshiku Fansubs. In its second incarnation, Yoroshiku had intended to complete Love GetChu, and C1 Anime had generously given permission to use its script styling, karaoke, and workraws. However, Yoroshiku disbanded — for the second time — before the project really got off the ground, leaving behind unfinished scripts for episodes 14 and 15. I dug those out and began pestering my friends to pitch in. Former Yoroshiku colleagues helped with timing and QC, I did the editing and typesetting, and fairly soon I had watchable versions, providing a bridge between C1 (which stopped at episode 13) and Oyatsu (which began at episode 16). That still left episode 25.

For the next development, I have to detour briefly to another orphan project, Yawara. As I mentioned in a previous blog, the Yawara team has great chemistry and is making steady progress. The project took a hit in February when I was traveling for almost a month, but once again the episodes are progressing quickly. I appealed to my "Frozen-Evil" colleagues for help with the last episode of Love GetChu, and they graciously provided both translation and timing. So it's done. And there was much rejoicing.

In another promising development, Licca Fansubs and I decided to revive C1's incomplete fansub of Perrine Monogatari. It's a joint project between Licca, Kiteseekers, and Wasurenai. Perrine had been completely translated, but nothing was released after episode 34. Once again, C1 generously gave permission to use its translations and styles, which will preserve continuity through the 53 episodes. When Perrine is done, we may look at other incomplete projects in the C1 archives.

In yet another promising development, GotWoot and Doutei followed up the completion of Souten Kouro by adopting an orphan that many fansubbers regard as even more boring: Showa Monogatari. To call the series slow-paced is to insult snails and tortoises everywhere, but it's full of fascinating facts. Did you know, for example, that Japanese parents punished their children with moxibustion, i.e., placing burning pieces of mugwort on their bare bottoms? Opportunities for cross-cultural understanding lurk everywhere in anime.

In other news, BlueFixer released the final two OVAs for Black Jack and completed Aim for the Ace! ARR released a complete Hell Teacher Nube, both TV and OVAs, as well as many other rarities. Tipota released all of Groove Adventure Rave and Hakugei: The Legend of Moby Dick. There's no progress to report on Lime-iro Ryuukitan X, but Redone redid the first series (as Lime-Colored War Tales) from DVD sources. The DVD-only material puts a new spin on the hero and his harem: it's no longer possible to say that he's the usual, ah, ineffective male harem lead.

I've still got a long list of projects needing rescuing, so if you're delving into the back catalog, don't hesitate to give me a shout.

Next up: further reflections on the Hi10P transition; a look back at the Winter 2012 anime season.