Friday, September 21, 2012

Rescuing "Rescue Wings" Redux

It should be no secret to readers of this blog that Rescue Wings (Yomigaeru Sora) is one of my favorite anime series. It's a terrific story about the Japanese Air Rescue Service and the people who serve in it. It's a show about and for grown-ups, but it should appeal to younger viewers as well. It has a great balance of action and character development, and the stories blend tragedy and hope in equal measure.

Rescue Wings was one of the first series I worked on when I joined the Ureshii fansub team. The project had a checkered history, with almost as many near-death experiences as in the stories it tells. Ureshii started subbing the TV broadcasts but fell further and further behind. The project was restarted from DVD sources, but after a great start it suddenly stalled out after the sixth episode. The core problem was that the translator didn't like doing songs, and there were a lot of them. Long gaps occurred between episodes six and seven, and seven and eight, and then nothing.

Almost two years later, I persuaded some friends from another group — in particular, a new translator — to help Ureshii finish the series. This required rebuilding the team from scratch, in particular for typesetting. The karaokes were done by cut and paste until the team got to episode 12. There we were stymied by inclusion of verses that had never been used before. Because the original karaoke typesetter was long gone, I ultimately wrote a C (!) program to build the typesetting for the missing section, and the project came to a successful conclusion. It look more than two years to finish a 13-week series.

There matters rested for four years. Three weeks ago, a resubber decided to redo Rescue Wings from the DVDs in modern encoding technology at larger file sizes. However, all he had to go by was the dialog script in the Ureshii releases, so he omitted every single sign in the release. Someone promptly offered this version on BakaBT.

At this point, I went ballistic and posted a bit of a diatribe on the BakaBT forums. It pointed out that the signs carried much of the story and were critical to understanding the timeline of the rescues. Further, I had offered the Ureshii script archives to anyone who wanted to make a legitimate effort at redoing a series with better video, as Jinsei did with Nana. (That offer still stands, by the way.)

Well, sometimes things do work out. toph (or tophf), who did the terrific rips of the Tezaka Osamu "adult" anime films I'm working on, saw my note and volunteered to typeset the signs — including the ones that were originally done with AFX. Within a matter of days he had new and very complete scripts for me to check.

I went back to look at Rescue Wings for the first time in four years. With fresh eyes, the cracks in the edifice were very obvious. Rescue Wings had been done over a long period of time, with two or three different translators, and at least four editors. There were numerous consistency errors in spelling and terminology as well as some stylistic variations in tone. toph(f) gave me stern advice on avoiding "editor's remorse," so I focused on only the most essential changes.

I should mention that toph(f) not only preserved the complex Ureshii karaokes, he fixed an issue that had nagged me for a long time. The ED was done without official lyrics, because the scanned booklet was missing the lyrics page for that song. As a result, the last "Engrish" phrase (Eternal Wing) was rendered as "Eternally" in most of the episodes. I thought the karaoke too complex to alter, but toph(f) fixed them all, seamlessly. So this new version of Rescue Wings, although not definitive, is a significant improvement on the original subs.

(I'm amazed that these complex karaokes play so smoothly in softsub. Viewers will probably need xy-filter and a decent multi-core processor to avoid significant lagging.)

Viewing Rescue Wings again for the first time in four years renewed my admiration. This is not a typical shounen series about a young man's journey from nerd to superhero. The protagonist, Kazuhiro Uchida, starts out full of doubt about his vocation and slowly builds his competence, and confidence, through hard work and harsh lessons. At the end, he's not a superstar but rather an accepted member of a highly professional team. The "antagonist," an older and somewhat embittered veteran pilot named Shuujiro Honda, is shown as a fully rounded character, with a convincing back story to explain his hard-bitten attitude. He doesn't mellow into a father figure but remains true to himself, while gradually accepting that Kazuhiro is mastering the job. The rescues are exciting but not uniformly successful, just as in real life.

I also want to note the exceptionally effective use of music in the series.  The ending song is an emotionally overwrought ballad that, despite its histrionics, fits the tone of the series well. There are several different versions, using different verses, a fact that gave the translator and the karaoke artist fits. The OP and the insert songs are appropriate. However, the most interesting use of music is in the central arc (episodes 6 and 7), which provide Hongo's back story. The episode 6 OP is an irrepressibly bouncy piece of j-pop called "Madcap Island" — but it plays over a black-and-white flashback of a funeral, where it seems totally out of place. By the end of episode 7, where it is used in the story and also over the credits, the song has come to symbolize the spirit of the rescue squadron: to never give up in the face of adversity.

If you haven't watched Rescue Wings, I urge you to give it a try. It's available in a variety of formats: Froth-Bite's hardsubbed mp4 version, compatible with mobile devices, and this new, entirely softsubbed version with state of the art video. You won't go wrong with either of them. I still have a soft spot for the original Ureshii version, and if the softsubbed karaokes and signs won't play on your computer, you can still see how they looked.

1 comment:

  1. I share your disapproval of lazy resubbing like fong's original release. He claimed that reproducing hardsubs is "doable in theory but too much work in reality," and yet somehow people like kaishakunin, toybox, me, and others have defied reality to re-release shows whose TV-rips were 100% hardsubbed. But "no songs or signs translated cause they don't matter" type of release fits with much of today's viewerbase, who care more about visual quality and irrelevant background details (the kind you can only see in screenshot comparisons) than about good subtitle scripts or even having all relevant content translated.

    I'll probably stick to the F-B release or the original Ureshii rips with hardsubbed karaoke and signs -- I tend to get lag even at 480p with complex softsubbed TS or kara, most recently seen with Shini's Nisemonogatari. In fact, I've actively simplified kara/TS on some of my releases where I've had access to them.