Sunday, December 22, 2013

2013 in Review

No, I'm not going to burden you with my Deep Thoughts on anime in 2013. I watched some shows, but mostly I was busy with editing work. The highlights of this year include:

Orphan Fansubs

Thanks to the return of a long-lost translator, and despite her much-lamented departure back to Real Life, this was a banner year for Orphan Fansubs. The team released fifteen projects, more than in its entire prior history.
In addition, the team reissued Space Neko Theatre with improved translation and sign.

The burst of activity was made possible by a very small team: laalg mostly, and also convexity and macros74, for translation; archdeco for timing; me for editing and typesetting; and CP and Saji for QC. Thanks, everyone, for working so hard on such an eclectic set of forgotten or mistreated shows!

Work for Other Groups

I've continued to edit and QC for other groups, as time permits. Sometimes I'm trading favors; other times, I'm genuinely interested.
  • Kiteseekers. Another group that pursues completing orphan series, when they aren't subbing loli shows. Lime-iro Ryuukitan X made substantial progress, although it's not yet finished; and Hanaukyo Maid Tai got started from BluRay encodes. Lime-iro is not as good as the original series, but Hanaukyo has the innocent ecchi charm of most of the half-length M.O.E. (Masters of Entertainment) shows.
  • FroZen-Evil. The three-way collaboration polished off Yawara! with two movie-length extras: Go Get 'em, Wimpy Kids! and the Atlanta Special. What a special team that was! Miyuki is continuing, but it's very slow going.
  • ray=out. Hiatari Ryoukou continues to move along, although episodes are not being released. I also edited a couple of ganime OVAs for them.
  • WhyNot? I edited the Yondemasu Azazel-san Z series: good, dirty fun, and a favorite of 2013.
  • Anime-Koi. I edited the last seven episodes of Genshiken Nidaime, another series I liked.
  • Dgz. I edited the ultimate episode of Hellsing Ultimate. I didn't care for it; too many Nazis.
  • Saizen. I edited the most recent Prince of Tennis movie, and I really wish I hadn't.
  • m74. I worked with macros74 on a few of his projects for subbing forgotten 80s and 90s OVAs.
  • FFF. I started by helping them with QC, to get some of the lagging OVAs out the door (Nekogami, Tasogare, Ika Musume). Then archdeco asked me to work on some of his favorites, so I QC'd the BluRays of Senran Kagura and the TV release of Sekai de Ichiban (see a theme?). I volunteered to do Golden Time, which has not been as good as I had hoped, but it's still reasonably enjoyable. As I've written before, my philosophy on simulcast shows is editorial minimalism, except for glaring mistakes.
I won't be taking on any new shows this winter, because of travel plans.

Finally, I did a fair amount of "anonymous" editing, on shows that I didn't want to be associated with publicly. Most of them were clean-ups of subs for personal use, although I've done a few projects that should probably be classified as trolling.

Looking Ahead

I don't expect to be as busy in 2014. Without a full-time translator, Orphan will revert to its prior leisurely pace. I hope to clean up my backlog of scripts during the holidays and enter the New Year with a clean slate.

I'd like to wish my readers (all four of them) a happy holiday break and a joyous New Year. On with the shows!

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Love, Actually (Usagi Drop Live Action)

Now here's an Orphan project I can recommend wholeheartedly: Usagi Drop, the live action movie. As readers of this blog know, I loved the anime and was fervently glad it stopped when it did. (Yes, that's a manga spoiler.) Then it was made into a live action movie and given an initial translation by zdzdz. I wasn't satisfied with that version, both because of the small video size (SD at 2:35:1 doesn't provide a lot of viewing area) and the usual suspects - translation, timing, and editing. So Orphan Fansubs has done a new, HD version, starting with the original translation. As usual, translation checking by laalg, with help from convexity; timing by archdeco; editing by Collectr; QC by CP. The song translations are crowd-sourced from the Internet. A big shout out of thanks to RHExcellion at Commie Fansubs, who graciously encoded the BDMV into a usable 720p raw. Commie declined the offer of joint credit, although I think "Orphan Commie" would have been a great addition to the collection of joint fansub group names. [He also made a 1080p raw, if someone with a lot of disk space wants to mux these subs into an even bigger version.]

Usagi Drop is a deceptively simple family story. The Kaga clan gathers at the funeral of their grandfather, only to find out that the old gent had secretly fathered (at age 73!) an illegitimate daughter, Rin, who is now six. Most of the family reacts in horror to this news and can only think of placing the girl in an orphanage or institution. This disgusts the bachelor grandson, Kawachi Daikichi, and he impulsively volunteers to take care of Rin. Only when he gets home and realizes how hopelessly unprepared he is to be a single parent does the enormity of his undertaking sink in.

Usagi Drop is not a dramatic story; indeed, it's more a comedy than anything else, albeit a gentle one. It's filled with the small events that by and large comprise parenthood: coping with the enormous drains on one's time; arranging for childcare; juggling parenting and work; dealing with bedwetting or illness; helping children adjust, make friends, and grow. There's nary a villain, superhero, mahou shoujo, loli, or teenager in sight. Even the initially cold reaction of the Kaga family warms over time, as they come to terms with Daikichi's decision and learn to support him.

The acting is good, and the child-actress playing Rin (Ashida Mana) is outstanding. Some viewers complain that Rin is preternaturally mature as well as overwhelmingly cute, but I think it's plausible that a child raised by a reclusive, elderly parent (more a grandparent, really) would be unusually reserved and self-reliant. The actor playing Daikichi (Matsuyama Kenichi) is conventionally good-looking but rather opaque; the script doesn't provide much insight into his thinking. (In fairness, the manga and anime didn't either.) Most of the other characters are merely sketched, but Rin's friend Kouki (Satou Roiki) and his mother (Nitani Yukari) both excel.

The film includes two musical numbers. The first is a fantasy interlude set to the hard-driving rhythms of "Die Konkurrenz" by the German rock group Wir Sind Helden. It doesn't seem very relevant to the film, except to prefigure Daikichi's eventual meeting with Kouki's mother, but it's a great song. The second is the ending credits, which use the full version of the Usagi Drop anime opening song, "Sweet Drops" by the Japanese duo Puffy. Be warned: it's an earworm, as so many J-pop songs are.

The film is not without flaws. According to Wikipedia, Max Schilling, the critic for The Japan Times, thought it relied too much on tear-jerking cliches. He's certainly right about the climactic scene, where Kouki and Rin run away from daycare to visit the grave of Kouki's father. This results in scenes of frantic searching through the streets, an encounter with an enigmatic young man on a bicycle, and other tension-heightening devices that are completely at variance with the tone of the film. Although it leads to an appropriate emotional catharsis, the payoff would, in fact, have been more impactful without the forced melodrama.

Still, that's a minor quibble. Usagi Drop is a live action film that doesn't look or play like a comic book or cartoon. It takes a positive but not Pollyana view of parents, children, and human nature. The ending is inconclusive, as it should be. Parenting doesn't stop with some conveniently climactic event. The story goes onward because, as the film concludes, "There are mothers and fathers everywhere. Actually, love is all around us."

Sunday, November 10, 2013

One Last "Hachiyoushou"

This has been in the back projects pile since March: the "special chapter" of the TV series Haruka Naru Toki no Nake de "Hachiyoushou". Back then, Orphan's translator, laalg, was on a roll and always looking for more episodes. I wanted to do this special as a way of putting C1's fansub version, which had been one of my earliest projects, on a modern encode. I found the R1 subs rather unsatisfactory, because they changed a lot of the names, titles, and mythology, but redoing all 26 episodes was, well, too much effort for an otome show. Subbing this special seemed like a happy compromise.

Alas, it didn't quite turn out that way. laalg's translation check showed that the original fansubs had issues, including consistency, phrasing, and in places, accuracy. I was able to use the C1 scripts as guides, but as often as not, I had to change the actual lines. This wasn't a case of what topf so pointedly called "editor's remorse": I didn't edit the original scripts, and I only got involved as a QC for the final third of the series. Rather, it's more a case of applying my current level of experience to older scripts. What passed muster in 2006 doesn't these days.

The "special chapter" is a recap of the first half of the TV series. It focuses on the heroine's (Akane's) first encounters with her eight guardians, the Hachiyou (i.e., the bishies). The original subs and karaokes are by C1. laalg checked the translation and translated any new dialog. I timed and edited, and CP did the QC. The encode is by ZaZa raws. As an added bonus, the torrent includes the no-credits OP. The DVD rip did not have a no-credits ED.

If you've watched the TV series, there's no need to watch this. Conversely, if you have some passing interest in the TV series, watching this will let you know if the series if for you, in 30 minutes instead of six hours.

This is my last gasp on Haruka Naru Toki no Nake de "Hachiyoushou". I had thought of redoing the remaining specials ("Ten" OVA, the eight alternative endings) in order to have a consistent set at DVD resolution, but the existing versions by Kuruizaki are good enough. The DVD rip has a number of other specials, including live-action cast interviews and a highlights reel for each Hachiyou, but no one is sufficiently interested (including me) to translate them.

Monday, October 28, 2013

A Season without Fansubs

The fall 2013 anime season has seen the culmination of a trend that's been building for several years: every new, full-length show not intended for children is simulcast. The only exception is Yozakura Quartet (Kyousogiga showed up on CrunchyRoll's schedule four weeks into the season). Further, the quality of CrunchyRoll's video encoding and subtitle presentations continue to improve: more signs, improved styling, good-looking video. Indeed, some groups are using CrunchyRoll's video streams in preference to transport streams captured off Japanese TV, because the quality is better.

In the past, there have been complaints about the quality of simulcast translation and editing, but I think those are unfounded. Spot checks of Sekai no Ichiban, Arpeggio of Blue Steel, and Golden Time by experienced translators show no significant errors.The editing is fluent and well-localized. If I have a few quibbles, they wouldn't be enough to make me re-edit an episode for my own enjoyment. Some shows, like Golden Time, are even preserving honorifics. All that's missing are the songs (Funimation even includes them).

A few groups are taking advantage of delayed simulcasts to rush out original translations. Other groups continue to do full translation checks on simulcast scripts. But by and large, fansub groups are repackagers of simulcasts, with songs, better styling and typesetting, and minor tweaks. Fansubbing of current shows, as I used to know it, is dead.

Personally, I don't mind. As I've noted before, most current anime is throwaway stuff (dreck, in fact), and the less effort put into it, the better. I help out some of the repackagers by looking over simulcast scripts and tweaking minor errors. Most of this falls into the category of personal preferences - fewer ellipses, cleaner punctuation, less of use of passive voice and impersonals. It takes less than an hour for a script, half of it spent watching the show. There's no research to do, no stylistic decisions, no deep pondering over ambiguous phrases, no interactions with the translator. It's really more QC than editing, and gross errors in simulcast scripts are few and far between.

So whither fansubbing now, given that it is withering away? Some groups are focusing more on BluRays, because of the increased use of censoring in original broadcasts as a gimmick to get otakus to buy discs. (If there's any point to watching Sekai no Ichiban, about which I have my doubts, that point won't be reached until the BluRays are out.) Some have embraced the repackaging ethic, with an emphasis on the parts that are too labor-intensive for simulcasts (for example, the elaborate signs in NouKome, Arpeggio, or Monogatari). Many have simply cut back on their activities or disappeared entirely.

If fansubbing has a future, I believe it lies in the past - in the back catalog. Although Japanese anime companies show a healthy interest in remastering old, classic shows for BluRay, they're not typically investing in English subtitles for the older titles. In addition, many worthwhile series and OVAs were never translated. With the release of new box sets, whether on BluRay or DVD, the opportunity is there to bring these shows to an English-speaking audience. LaserDisc collections are also interesting sources of older, never-before-seen shows.

Of course, fansubbing the back catalog requires effort, particularly compared to repackaging simulcasts or releasing BluRays. To start, a back catalog project needs a Japanese-English translator. They're becoming harder to find, and many of the younger ones depend on closed-captions, which are not usually available for older shows. Further, the project needs a dedicated team, because many of the interesting older series are very long. Kabocha Wine is 95 episodes plus a movie; Attack No. 1, 104 episodes. Even if a team can maintain a weekly cadence, we're looking at a 2+ year commitment. (The back catalog projects to sub Hiatari Ryouko and Miyuki are both stalled because key team members have effectively dropped out mid-way.) And the project needs raws. Japanese DVDs and BluRays are expensive and usually beyond the personal means of a fansub team or individual team member, and LaserDisc transcription requires specialized equipment and skills.

Nonetheless, I'm encouraged about the number of teams investigating the back catalog. Live-Evil has come roaring back to life recently and is undertaking some very ambitious new projects, as well as reviving older projects that had stalled out. Kiteseekers mixes back catalog projects with contemporary projects. My own Orphan Fansubs has grown from a one-man band to a small collective. The Skaro Hunting Society continues to work on classic black-and-white shows. And other teams focus on older shows that they like, particularly in the giant robot and mecha categories.

A different model is to "modernize" older fansubbed shows to modern video and subtitle standards. With the advent of better technology for extracting hardsubs, this has become a bit easier, but it still requires major work to correct questionable translations and editing, extract and reproduce hardsubbed signs and karaokes, and fix other deficiencies. Jumonji-giri and Redone continue to do great work in this area. Kiteseekers is redoing the original Hanuakyo Maid Tai from BluRays (the fansub translations are very questionable), and I want to redo Ureshii's Amatsuki from DVDs. I'd also like to do a DVD version of Yume Tsukai, but DVDs don't seem to be available online, although they're still sold in Japan. Script archives are becoming more available as fansub groups disband, and that helps quite a lot in resubbing efforts.

Back catalog work doesn't appeal to a lot of fansubbers. For one thing, the audience for older shows is much smaller than for current series. (That's why simulcasters don't do back catalog shows.) But it's the only province - other than h-anime ;) - where fansubbing can still thrive. So, fellow fansubbers, in the immortal words of the Veterans Tapdance Administration and the Firesign Theatre, it's forward - into the past!

Friday, October 11, 2013

In 2058...

So here's another undistinguished 90s OVA rescued from deserved obscurity: Sonic Solider Borgman 2: New Century 2058. This three-episode show is a sort of pendant to the 80s Borgman series and its sequels. It features a new set of Sentai Rangers... oops, Borgmen, fighting a new enemy. The only carryover from the prior series is Chuck Sweager, who has graduated from Borgman fighter to civilian team leader.

This release uses the QTS BluRay rip of the Borgman series and OVAs. Episodes 1 and 2 were originally translated by DOMO. They have been extensively checked and corrected. As usual, laalg did the translation checking, and the translation of episode 3 and the songs; archdeco did the timing; I edited and typeset; CP and Saji QC'd. (A special word of thanks to Macros74, who encoded a workraw for the third episode and did the rough timing.) As an extra fillip, Juggen provided styled karaokes for the opening and ending songs, which accordingly look rather better than the typical Orphan release. BTW, the opening song "Soldier in 2058" is an earworm. You've been warned.

Even though this is a BluRay rip, the video quality is not stellar. For example, pans are jerky. (This seems to be a problem in the QTS rip; DOMO's original SD release was fine). The animation is crude. Therefore, Orphan is only releasing a 720p version. Anyone who wants to mux the subs into the QTS 1080p rips is welcome to do so. If you want to use DOMO's SD raws for ep1 and 2 instead, you'll have to deal with the impact of the anamorphic raw on the typesetting.

Sonic Soldier Borgman 2 shows all the hallmarks of classic 80s anime cheese. The plot makes little or no sense. The "Borg, get on" transformation sequences are used over and over again to pad the anime. (And why do the villains always stand around passively while the heroes waste 30 to 45 seconds transforming and preening?) The background music is essentially an endless recycling of the OP and ED themes. There's even a moody insert song. Fortunately, the scripts were short.

The translation is straightforward. The term "youma," used for the villains, literally means "ghost" or "apparation." DOMO translated it as "demon." That's been retained, because, well, the villains look like demons, and leaving the term untranslated would just be too weeaboo. On the other hand, the Borgmen's power suits are left untranslated as Baltectors, because the term is completely made up.

Enjoy this release. Borg, get on!

Monday, October 7, 2013

Editorial Minimalism

Over the past week, I've helped two groups that are resubbing simulcast shows to tidy up the scripts. The changes I made were pretty minor: removing surplus ellipses, joining sentences that were unnecessarily separated, removing or adding commas, dealing with the occasional infelicity. There wasn't much to do, because the simulcast scripts were fluent and, according to an experienced translator, quite accurate. I also edited the songs. Again, the changes were minor.

With so few changes from the simulcast, it's a legitimate question to ask, "Why bother?" Personally, I prefer resubbed versions of simulcasts to the originals, even if the changes are relatively minor. I like having lyrics to the songs. I like having proper typesetting and having more signs typeset. I like the timing to be clean. I like the occasional translation or editing mistakes to be corrected. I like a good encode from a better source than a webcast. In all, it adds up to a better viewing experience.

You could dub my philosophy in these situations as "editorial minimalism." When the underlying script is good, I try not to change wording or phrasing gratuitously. My translation colleague on Yawara! produced brilliant scripts which hardly needed editing at all. I saw no reason to "correct" his language; and if I did without good cause, he made his displeasure abundantly clear. Editing is not about ego or imposing one's style on a script. It's about flow, correctness, and continuity. Meddling with a good script is disrespectful to the translator and (in the case of a resub) the original editor. Just as I don't want a QC to "back-seat edit" my scripts, I don't feel I should second-guess a competent translation-editing team.

This may not sit well with everyone. Some may prefer edits that produce a distinctive tone or edge, add honorifics, or localize more (or less, for that matter). I do not. Unless a resub has errors in translation or in editing, I'll abide by the belief that "if it ain't broke, don't fix it." In this fall anime season, where essentially everything is simulcast, that's the only appropriate course of action. Besides, it leaves more time to work on the back catalog.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Doukyuusei Climax

Okay, this time we're really, really done with the Doukyuusei series.

Doukyuusei (Classmates) Climax is a sequel to the first Doukyuusei OVA set,  Doukyuusei: Natsu no Owari ni (in English, Classmates: The End of Summer). It has nothing to do with Doukyuusei 2/Sotsugyusei, although the heroine of the second series, Narusawa Yui, makes a cameo appearance in Climax. Like all the Doukyuusei's, Climax is a soft-core h-anime, with sex scenes that require no censoring due to careful camera angles and convenient sheets and blankets. It continues the story of Mooroka Wataru and his harem of girls (Miho, Misa, Kurumi, and Satomi) from The End of Summer. It also provides a side story about the sidekick character, Sakagami Kuzuya. As with Sotsugyusei, Climax makes very little sense if you haven't watched the prequel. Fortunately, The End of Summer was distributed on R1 DVD and is widely available.

Why did we bother with Climax? Primarily because several of the team members are fanatics about completing series. Raws were available, and so was a translation, so why not? As with Doukyuusei 2, the translation is by anonymous, retiming by archdeco, editing and typesetting by me, and QC by CP and Saji. Climax is set at a school festival, so there's a ton of signs. I tried to typeset as many as I could. However, there's a limit to how much frame-by-frame work I'm willing to do, so {\an8}Sign: style signs abound. The raws are from the Internet and are fairly terrible, with lots of interlacing and frame blending. There's even video corruption in episode 1 (around 14:33) to make the mess complete.

As I've written before, if anyone has better raws for the Doukyuusei series, the team would be willing to retime and re-release. Orphan does not have a resident encoder; accordingly, finished raws are preferable to DVD ISOs.

This is the end, for now, of Orphan's foray into h-anime. I'd still like to do the legendary 26th episode of Maze, if I can find a raw (I lost the one I had in a disk crash), but that's definitely on the ecchi side of the line.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Blazing Transfer Student (Honoo no Tenkousei)

So here's Blazing Transfer Student, another oldie with a checkered history. A set of external subs by PJS, credited to "Howard Kawaii," has been floating around for a while, but they were incomplete and in need of work. Al_Sleeper, "Mr. Never Satisfied" on BakaBT, brought this show to my attention and provided raws and the original subtitles. The Orphan team agreed to pick it up. As usual, laalg translation checked, archdeco retimed it, I edited, styled and typeset, and CP and Saji found (most of) my errors or omission and commission.

Blazing Transfer Student is a parody of 70s fight anime, particularly Ashita no Joe (Tomorrow's Joe). Based on a manga by Shimamoto Kazuhiko, it features, as Wikipedia notes, "intentionally jerky animation, dirty-looking cels, thick black lines, and retro character designs, much like Shimamoto's drawing style." There's lots of sly, self-referential comedy, including the "color commentator" for the fights being named Shimamoto, after the author of the manga, and the "deathblow punches" having names that take longer to pronounce than to deliver (a serious problem, by the way). The fight announcer, Mikami, sounds just like the announcer in Yawara!, but I can't find any overlap in the casts.

The plot is as simple as possible. Takizawa Noboru has transferred to Jyakuniku Private High School, where any disagreement can be settled with (near mortal) combat. His initial encounter with "god on duty" Jounouchi Kouichi almost ends in disaster before he is rescued by the timely intervention of the lovely and flat-chested Yukari-chan. Instantly smitten, Noboru attempts to defend Yukari-chan from the nefarious attentions of the school delinquent, Ibuki Saburou. Mayhem ensues as Noboru tries to wrest Yurari-chan from Ibuki's grasp. Many manly poses are struck and deathblows attempted before the completely predictable denouement. It goes by in two breezy episodes, leaving nary a trace behind.

The raws that we used are from a LaserDisc source, by an unknown group. They have fairly terrible frame-blending problems, particularly in the action sequences, but they're the best available.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Midori no Neko (The Green Cat)

This is another "commission" from Al_Sleeper in the BakaBT community. All he had to say was, "It's by Tezuka Osamu," and I was sold. Midori no Neko is part of an anthology series called "The Lion Book Series." It consists of six standalone episodes:

1 The Green Cat 1983
2 Rain Boy 1983
3 Lunn Flies into the Wind 1985
4 Yamataro Comes Back 1986
5 Adachi-ga Hara 1991
6 Akuemon 1993

1-5 have been translated; 6 has not, although it's available on R2J DVD. Midori predates Dallos and might have been the first OVA ever, but there's no evidence that it was actually offered for sale when it was first created.

The original subtitles for Midori no Neko were by Viki, a Russian group that works on old shows. The subtitles weren't bad, but some lines were missing. In addition, the script needed retiming and general polishing. So the usual Orphan crew worked on it: laalg checked the translation, archdeco redid the timing, I edited and styled, and CP and Saji performed QC. The raw is from onidragon.

Midori no Neko is science fiction. It tells the story of mysterious green cats "from outer space" that prey on vulnerable children and make them into accomplices for... world conquest? local gain? fun? It's hard to say what the cats are after, other than creating chaos. But the show is still fun, and it doesn't overstay its welcome. Just don't ask too many questions.

Enjoy another Tezuka Osamu show!

P.S. I'm looking for good raws for Hidimari no Ki, one of the last Osamu TV series. Please contact me if have them or know where to find them.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Doukyuusei 2, or, One Thing Leads to Another

Orphan has just released a soft-core h-anime OVA series, Doukyuusei (Classmates) 2. This is not as far afield as it might seem: one of Orphan's very first projects was Kage (Shadow), a beautiful and very violent h-anime that was abandoned midway. However, Doukyuusei 2 is not technically an orphan project; no English fansub group ever started on it. So how come?

The best answer I can offer is that one thing leads to another. In this case, Orphan redid the subs for a three-episode OVA called Sotsugyusei, which is a sequel to Doukyuusei 2. The former made very little sense, because the episodes were interwoven with events and characters from the latter. So it seemed like a reasonable idea to translate the prequel and thus have the entire series in English. Raws were available, and notwithstanding the subject matter, the project got underway.

Doukyuusei 2 has an interesting history. Made initially as a set of hentai OVAs, in 1988 it was turned into a series for broadcast TV by the simple expedient of excising the sex scenes. This was easy to do, as there was no more than one scene per episode, typically at the end. According to Anime News Network, Doukyuusei 2 was the first eroge to be turned into a broadcast TV series. If it seems utterly generic today, that's because the eroge genre has been plundered repeatedly for harem and moe series over the last fifteen years.

Doukyuusei 2 features a single male protagonist, Kondou Makoto, and a bevy of females. One, Narusawa Yui, is Kondou's childhood friend and the main female character. There are a host of other girls, as well as several male sidekicks - the perverted photographer Yoshiki, the rich snob Aritomo, the tongue-tied athlete Ayako - who are there solely for comic relief. The story starts out in "girl of the week" mode, with Makoto providing help, consolation, and sexual healing to a different girl in each episode, but it eventually settles down into a semi-coherent plot about Makoto's pursuit of Izumi the archer and Yui's brokenhearted reaction. After the usual manufactured crises, and some flashback padding to stretch the series to twelve episodes, (spoiler alert) true love triumphs.

Technically, Doukyuusei 2 is uncensored because, as is typical of h-anime of that era, all of the "naughty bits" are concealed by blankets or obscured by careful angles. Not a single scene is pixellated or needs to be. Orgasms are shown symbolically, with a scattering of sakura petals, lightning flashes, breaking waves, or rain showers. If Yosuga no Sora is not considered hentai, then this isn't either.

There's one more set of OVAs in this series, Doukyuusei Climax. We're in the process of finishing it up.

P.S. All the Internet raws for the Doukyuusei series are terrible. If you have better raws, please let me know.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Final Yawara! Bits and Bobs

FroZen-Evil had had a last Yawara! fling by subtitling the 15 minute extra that came with the R2J DVDs. It's a documentary/promotion, combining live action footage of the voice actors in the studio with a couple of commercials, an interview with the mangaka, an episode preview, and the wonderful first OP "Miracle Girl" and ED "Stand by Me."

I've also put up a torrent of the four original soundtrack albums from the TV series:
  • Yawara! Original Soundtrack (1990)
  • Yawara! Sound Selection (1991)
  • Yawara! Songs (1992)
  • Yawara! Memories (1992)
I want to thank my fellow fansubber doll_licca for obtaining and ripping these wonderful souvenirs of the show.

And that, I think, is it for Yawara! and me. There's more audio material out there - the soundtrack from the "Wimpy Kids" movie, for example - but I'll let others take up the chase at this point. It's been great fun, but now it's time to move on to other shows. Sayonara, Yawara-chan, and arigatou.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Nagasarete Airantou

I don't know why I (and many other fansubbers) feel such affection for Nagasarete Airantou, a 2007 comedy series. It's a harem show, and it conforms to almost every cliche of the genre, from the clueless hero to the wholesome female lead to the connivers and naifs who make up the rest of the cast. Its premise is as simple as can be. A teenage boy (Ikuto) is stranded on an island full of girls, from which he can't escape due to whirlpools, tornados, sea dragons, and other convenient topographic features. Said boy reacts like every harem lead, harboring no impure thoughts and getting nosebleeds whenever any of the girls shows an inch too much skin. Stir and repeat for 26 episodes. Still, I like it.

The show plays it straight. There are no knowing asides or winks to the audience. The fanservice is frequent, but there's no more skin on display in the DVDs than in the original TV broadcast. The comedy is character-driven, with each of the main female characters (Suzu, Ayane, Machi, Rin, Chikage, Mei Mei, and Shinobu) given at least one episode devoted to them. The Serious Development that all anime comedies must display in their last three episodes is kept fairly light-hearted. And although the show ends as it starts - with Ikuto being pursued by every nubile girl on the island - there has been some progress: Ikuto and Suzu (the wholesome one) realize that they have formed a bond. Now they'll have to defend it from a hundred other girls and the village elder, who is exceedingly keen to have lots of grandchildren.

The voice cast is stellar. Shimono Hiro first demonstrated as Ikuto the near-hysterical teen-aged boy voice he would bring to Baka to Test and The World God Only Knows, not to mention Momoo the masochistic dog-god in Binbougami ga. Horie Yui, as Suzu, played another of the numerous good girls who have dotted her career. I find Shiraishi Ryoko's turn as Rin very appealing; she's better known for her role as Kaede in the Negima series and a string of male roles, including Hayate the Combat Butler and Kyousuke in My Sister is an Osaka Mama. Takahashi Mikako, as the sinister Machi, Chiba Saeko as the hysterical Ayane, and many others contribute to making the tropes in the harem come to life.

Nagasarete Airantou has been on my list of shows to redo for a very simple reason: the original subtitles, by Ayako, are dismal. The original editor believed that every new line should start with a capital letter, even if the previous one ended in a comma or nothing at all. The DVD version by Polished Fansubs used the Ayako subtitles pretty much unchanged.  The cumulative impact of all the errors made the show unwatchable for me; I never got past episode 7 during the original TV run.

I started on the premise that I would just redo the editing, but when I started, I found that the timing was badly off as well. Timing is not my forte, so the project languished for three years. Then my heartfelt plea for a real timer brought archdeco, from FFF, onto the team. At the same time, laalg had returned to translating, and she agreed to translation check. Finally, CP and Saji from the Yawara! project signed up to do QC, and things really started to move.

The actual flow, starting from the Polished scripts, was as follows:
  • Re-timing, including karaoke retiming (archdeco).
  • Translation check (laalg).
  • Re-editing and additional typesetting (Collectr)
  • QC (CP, Saji)
The colored subtitles have been retained, mostly because the team thought of going over to a more modern scheme of Main, Overlap, Thought, Flashback too late in the process. They lend a distinctly 2007 feel to the result.

The translation changes have not been extensive, but some serious errors were found and corrected. For example, when Rin, the bashful and ultra-strong island carpenter, is introduced, there's an onscreen sign that Ayako translated as "bisexual type." Actually, it says, "Popular with girls." Rin is not attracted to other women. In fact, she's quite bothered by the attention she gets from the other girls on the island.

Another change has been the treatment of "danna," which is the word Rin uses to refer to Ikuto. This can mean mister, guest, or husband, but it doesn't mean "master," which is how Ayako translated it when it first appeared. (Carpenters would call their master 棟梁, touryou.) Because Ikuto doesn't react to the word until Rin explains what she means (at which point he has a nosebleed), it is translated as "mister" before that point, and "Hubby" thereafter.

Some other points:
  • Ep4 - Ooshigearu is actually Ushigaeru, the great American bullfrog.
  • Ep9 - "Is this a comedy sketch?" A classic comedy trope where a metal tub falls on the head of a comedian after he says or does something funny or stupid.
  • Ep10 - Soumen are very thin wheat noodles. Hiyashi Udon is a type of cold udon noodles topped with various ingredients (mostly vegetables). Yakisoba are fried noodles. Onigiri are rice balls.
  • Ep15 - "I've got a feeling I've seen this before." Mei Mei's title page is a parody of Toei Animation's standard opening screen.
  • Ep17 - Shinobu's cow mascot is "Bifuteki," which is slang for beefsteak. Ayako had rendered it as Beef Jerky.
  • Ep21 - A tanuki is a raccoon dog. In Japanese folklore, tanuki are believed to have shape-shifting abilities.
  • Ep23 - Suiheiri etc. A mnemonic for memorizing chemcal elements: 水兵リーベ僕の船 (I'm a sailor, Libe is my ship.) Sui{hydrogen} hei{He} ri{Li} be{Be} bo {B} ku{C} n{N} o{O} fu{F} ne{Ne}.
The editing changes have been extensive. Aside from cleaning up the grammar and punctuation, I've attempted to remove the overuse of impersonals and passive voice. I also corrected a number of inconsistencies in the use of the colored styles, particularly for minor characters, and in names. Some of the episode titles have been changed, and the romanization has been made consistent. Most of Ayako's translation notes were removed by Polished, and I've only added a few back that make essential plot points or cultural references.

There's a fair amount of additional typesetting. Signs have been added in almost every episode, but the really difficult ones are done "Yawara" style with {\an8}Sign: typesetting. The main title screen has been typeset, and fansub credits have been added as well.

Nagasarete Airantou is the longest project Orphan Fansubs has ever attempted, and the time and effort it took makes me even more appreciative of the "one-man band" shops, like Polished, ReDone, and Jumonji-giri. I could not have done it without the help of archdeco, laalg, CP, and Saji. After this, Orphan has one more twelve episode series to finish, and then it's back to shorter shows. Life's too short, alas, to rescue every bad set of subtitles that are out there.

Saturday, April 27, 2013


Dallos is a four-part science-fiction show often called the first OVA (original video animation, or direct-to-DVD release) in history. Orphan Fansubs retranslated the show at the request of BakaBT's Al_Sleeper. His request was entirely justified; the existing subs are pretty inaccurate. The new translation is by laalg; I did the editing, retiming, and typesetting (not much); CP and Saji QC'd. The raws are by AFR. The aspect ratio is  712:480 anamorphic; on playback, it shows as 712:528 (4:3). (Thanks to Tyroz for pointing out that the aspect ratio is correct.)

Like most of the shows that Orphan works on, Dallos is no neglected masterpiece. Other reviewers have pointed out its faults - the low-budget animation, the cheesy background music, the stock characters, the derivative plot. Accordingly, I don't see any reason to re-iterate them. Instead, I'd like to focus on other aspects.

Japanese science fiction is often a commentary on contemporary Japanese society. Dallos posits not only a conflict between the oppressed settlers on the Moon and the Earth government, but also between the original generation of settlers, who came from Earth and still see it as their home, and the third generation, who were born on the Moon and know no other home. The "ojii-sans" (old-timers) worship the mysterious machine Dallos as a god; the youngsters consider it useless. While the old-timers will, if pushed hard enough, resist with traditional means (slowdowns, strikes), they will not resort to violence against "mother Earth" - their ties and their sense of indebtedness are too strong. On the other hand, the youngsters (called guerrillas in the show) see only the injustices in their lives and are determined to fight back. Is this, perhaps, a reflection of the conflict in Japanese society between the generation that fought and lost World War II in the name of a god-Emperor, and the post-war generation that knew nothing of it, regarded the Emperor as an irrelevant symbol, and began rebelling in the 60s?

This interesting dynamic is undermined by several major problems, though. The first is the title "character", the god-machine Dallos. As long as it remains inert, it works effectively as a means of contrasting the attitudes between the generations, and Dallos maintains a remarkably even-handed view of the generational conflict. However, when it begins to function as a deus-ex-machina, its value as a symbol is lost, and it becomes just a mechanical plot contrivance.

Second, the story stops just when it seems ready to start. Dallos only covers the first clash between the guerrillas and the government. It ends in a temporary truce forced by Dallos's nick-of-time intervention. The guerrillas intend to continue fighting. The Earth government concludes it must use greater force. And the show just stops. Perhaps Dallos was intended as a precursor of a TV series that would continue the storyline, but in its present state, the ending is a major letdown, and the final shot as much a nuisance as a mystery.

Dallos needs to be viewed in the context of early 1980s science-fiction, before the creative explosion started by Akira and other anime sci-fi masterpieces. As with Submarine 707R (another Orphan project), don't expect too much of it. It's intermittently entertaining. That's really the ultimate verdict.

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Second-System Syndrome

Close to 40 years ago, Fred Brooks wrote one of the classic tomes about managing computer projects, The Mythical Man Month. His best-known observation was that communications cost in a project rises exponentially with the number of people, so that adding additional people to a project doesn't speed it up as much as one might expect, and that beyond a certain point, adding people will actually slow a project down. This is best summed up in his pithy saying, "Adding more people to a late project makes it later." It's the reason that startups can outperform big companies, and it's as true today as it was in the 1970s.

But Brooks had other telling observations, and one of my favorites is about "Second System Effect." Brooks noted that teams which had been successful with their first project often failed spectacularly at the second. He hypothesized that during the first project, a teams would proceed cautiously and put aside most suggestions for frills and enhancements. Then during the second project, all these stored-up geegaws got piled into the design, resulting in, as he put it, "a big pile."

I'm seeing this at work in an entirely different arena, namely anime fansubbing. As I've noted before, the FroZen-EviL team that did Yawara defied the odds (and the lackadaisical tendencies of all three parent groups) by finishing 66 episodes in little over a year. The team did this by keeping the staff constant and small, and by maintaining a ruthlessly simple workflow.

FroZen-EviL was supposed to be a one-and-done for Yawara, but the experience was so enjoyable that almost everyone wanted to try another project. After some debate, the team chose Miyuki, a slice-of-life show from a decade ago that had been dropped by several different groups. Yawara's translator had to bow out for real-life responsibilities, but the team found another translator, who ripped through all 37 episodes in under a month. Further, the original Miyuki Fansubs scripts were available as a reference for the first eight episodes. Everything seemed good to go... and then, dreaded second-system syndrome appeared.

It turned out that everyone on the team (except me) had been harboring deep thoughts about improvements in the process and the outcome. So many things in Yawara could have been done better: real karaokes instead of line-timing; real typesetting instead of "{\an8}Sign:"; more QCs to get every last nuance correct and error out. So more people were brought to implement all these improvements. The results were just what you might expect. Whereas a typical Yawara script went through three revisions (original edit, QC applied, RC applied) and required less than a week from translation to release, the first Miyuki script went through at least twenty revisions and required close to two months. A textbook example of Second System Effect.

I think everyone is a bit chastened by what happened on the first episode. I believe that the workflow for subsequent episodes will be more disciplined. After all, the purpose of life is to develop good judgment; and good judgment is a result of bad experiences. At least I hope so.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Goodbye, Yawara-chan (For Now)

FroZen-Evil has just released Yawara! The Atlanta Special. This actually wraps up the entire storyline, showing Yawara competing at the Atlanta Olympics in 1992. (Yes, the TV show said she was going to the Barcelona Olympics in 1988, but the TV show didn't finish until those Olympics were over.) It also brings conclusions, of sorts, for all the characters in the show.

This release has a complicated history. The previously available raw was just terrible - a VHS rip that had been brightened far too much and showed obvious signs of tape stretch. The team's attempts to find a better source turned up nothing for a long time, until finally a copy of the LaserDisc release was offered at an auction in Japan, at an incredibly exorbitant price. Despite the cost, one of the team members bought it. Getting it shipped required working through a third-party broker, which added further delays and costs. Finally, the disc was shipped from Japan via Europe to the US, where Suzaku from Live-Evil has a working LaserDisc setup based on an industrial-grade player. Then came further problems with ripping the disc. Most video capture cards these days apply compression in hardware, but Suzaku wanted a pure, uncompressed rip, so that filtering, if any, could be done in software. The rip looked rather dark, but any attempt to brighten it resulted in the sort of wash-out that plagues the VHS raw floating around the Internet. So the encode is, so to speak, sweet and unfiltered.

Our intrepid translator, kokujin-kun, translated the script. In addition, to honor the project's status as the final Yawara release, he fully typeset all the signs, with motion tracking. The results look very nice indeed.

All the usual suspects worked on this release; I won't repeat their names. I would like to thank the newest member of the team, Suzaku, for encoding. I also must thank CP for engineering the acquisition of the source material, which required coordinating buyers and shippers on three continents.

So that's it for now. Apparently there's an omake on the DVDs that's never been subbed before; perhaps it will get done at some point. The original soundtracks will show up one of these days, and we'll release them as well. Meanwhile, the team is moving on to another project, but that will have to wait for another blog post.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Coming "Soon" from Orphan Fansubs

Thanks to a lot of help from translator colleagues, notably laalg, my old friend from Yoroshiku Fansub days, convexity, from the Tezuka Osamu projects, archdeco, from FFF, and macros74, another fan of old and mistreated anime, Orphan Fansubs will be releasing some new, never before subtitled shows, as well as proper subtitles for several others. Shows in the queue include:
  • Haruka Naru Toki no Naka de "Hachiyoushou" special, "Where the Heart Belongs." The DVD release of Haruka Naru included many specials: eight alternate endings or omake (one for each bishie in the show), two extra episodes (the so-called "Ten" OVA and this one), and a recap. The alternate endings and the "Ten" OVA were subtitled by Kuruizaki way back when, but this is the first English translation of "Where the Heart Belongs." The subtitles are from Orphan Fansubs; the raw is from ZaZa raws; the karaokes are from the original C1 Anime fansub of the TV series. I don't plan on subbing the recap. RELEASED.
  • Haruka Naru Toki no Naka de 2 OVA. This three episode OVA is based on a later game in the Haruka Naru series and has a different set of characters from the TV show. However, both the heroine and the eight Hachiyou are interchangeable with the TV characters, and the plot premise is identical. The subtitles were translated from the AnimeFreakz German DVD rip by macros74 and then checked, retimed, edited, and styled by Orphan Fansubs. The raw is from AnimeFreakz and unfortunately has a single broken frame in both episodes 2 and 3. If anyone has access to a better source, please let me know. RELEASED.
  • Urusei Yatsura OVA, "The Obstacle Course Swim Meet". This recent OVA, issued in honor of the 50th anniversary of Shounen Jump Sunday, has been translation checked, retimed, styled, and typeset. Raw from dmonhiro. RELEASED.
  • Sotsugyousei. When this three episode OVA was released by ARR, it included unintelligible English subtitles that were apparently machine translated from Chinese as well as a Russian audio track. The Orphan version will include a new translation that has been retimed, edited, styled, and typeset. The raw is from DestroyKing. RELEASED.
  • Dallos. A request from a colleague on BakaBT. The existing subtitles are inaccurate and badly timed. The Orphan version will include a new translation that has been retimed, edited, styled, and typeset. The raw is from the existing BakaBT torrent. RELEASED.
  • Nagasarete Airantou. Probably the oldest project I have. Polished Subs put the Ayako subs to DVD raws, but the flaws in the original subtitles remain: bad timing and editing. The subs are being translation checked, retimed, and re-edited. This will be credited as Orphan-Polished. RELEASED.
  • D4 Princess. This utterly forgettable short (8 minute episode) series has been abandoned several times, and the VHS(!) fansubs are not very accurate. The Orphan version will include a checked translation of the first six episodes, and new translations of the others. The raw is being encoded from R2J DVDs. Status: Translation: done; encoding: 1-6. We might use tipota's excellent raws for this.
  • Usagi Drop Live Action. The existing subtitles are inaccurate in spots and badly timed and edited. The Orphan version will include a checked translation that has been retimed, edited, typeset, and styled. The raw is from the existing BakaBT torrrent. (If you have a better raw, please let me know.) ON HOLD: Commie says they're going to do it.
macros74 and I are dreaming of ways to finish out Borgman 2058 and Yamato 2520, both of which have one untranslated episode.

(Updated 16-Jun-2013)

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

More Yawara-chan!

FroZen-EviL just released the Yawara movie, Yawara! Sore Yuke Koshinuke Kids!!, loosely translated as Yawara! Go Get 'Em, Wimpy Kids!! (The last word is often misrendered as Kiss, by the way, which puts a wholly incorrect spin on the content.) This is a side story that occurs somewhere in the middle of the TV series. Hanazono asks Yawara for help coaching a pickup team of judo losers who are up against an elite judo club sponsored by none other than arch oujo-sama Honami. It follows almost the same arc as the one of the Mitsuba Women's Junior College matches in the TV series, but Yawara has never been known for the originality of its plot arcs. If there's any defect, it's that the spotlight is on the wimpy kids and their dysfunctional families rather than Yawara-chan and her friends and her dysfunctional family.

This version was done directly from a VHS tape that the team found online. It's considerably better than the Internet raw that has been floating around, but it's still a VHS tape rather than a DVD or LaserDisc. If anyone has a better original source, the team would be very interested.

Meanwhile, the team has successfully found the Atlanta special on LaserDisc, and our intrepid encoder is trying to wrestle this antique medium into a workable encode. I've also found the original soundtrack albums, and they're on their way here from Japan too. More Yawara-chan in the offing!

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Anne Frank

doll_licca and I have just finished working on The Diary of Anne Frank, and it should be available through the usual distribution sources soon. This is another project from the back catalog. C1 Anime was in the final stages of QCing the movie when the group effectively disbanded in mid 2009. After doll_licca and I successfully finished C1's incomplete Perrine, we decided to finish this project as well. We're very grateful to C1 Anime for permission to use their script. Moho Kareshi did the original translation, and nameraka the original edit, for C1. doll_licca did the translation checking and rough timing to the new raw, I did the styling, final editing, and fine timing, doll typeset and encoded, I QC'd. Accordingly, we're calling the result an Orphan Fansubs/Licca Fansubs coproduction.

This was an extraordinarily difficult project to work on. For most fansubbers, World War II and the Holocaust are remote subjects from history class, but I was born just after World War II and studied that era extensively in college. It seemed unrelievedly depressing to me back then, and it still does. While the movie tries to place an uplifting spin on the story, the facts are grim, and the ending is undeniably tragic. I had to work on the movie in small sprints, as it was too overwhelming to watch continuously.

More information on Anne Frank and her diary can be found on Wikipedia.

Note: doll_licca just released a revised version of the Hi10P encode, using a raw provided by Revo. This clears up some aspect ratio concerns with the original encode. Many thanks to Revo for his help.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

In Praise of Nodame Cantabile

I've never made a secret of my fondness for Nodame Cantabile; in fact, I listed it as one of my ten favorite anime shows in an early blog entry. The recent availability of a DVD box set with the first (and only) English dub caused me to go back and look at the show again, and it holds up very well.

Nodame Cantabile is more than just an anime series; it's a media franchise. It's been wildly popular in Japan in all its incarnations. The 23-volume manga series, written by Tomoko Ninomiya, received the 2004 Kodansha Prize for best shoujo manga and is a perpetual best-seller.  The manga spawned three anime series (the original, Paris Hen, and Finale), a live action TV series, two live action TV specials, and two live action movies. The debut of the first anime broke viewership records for its time slot, and the DVDs sold well. The live action TV series received 2007 Japanese Drama Academy Awards for Best Drama, Best Lead Actress, Best Direction, Best Music, and Best Title Song. There are numerous CD collections of music from the various shows.

So why isn't the anime licensed in the US? It's a fan favorite, and multiple groups competed to subtitle all three series. Yet the only available English-language DVD edition is a Korean box set, even though the dub was done more than three years ago. Why?

I have a couple of theories. First, Nodame is labeled as shoujo anime, and the target demographic for mainstream US anime companies is, overwhelmingly, teen-aged males. The classification is actually misleading. Nodame Cantabile is as much about the hero, Chiaki, as about the heroine, Nodame, and it would be more accurate to call it a romantic comedy. Second, the characters are all college students and then graduate students, rather than the more popular high-school or junior-high students, and there's not a trace of moe. But the killer issue, I believe, is that the show is about classical music, and that's a deal-breaker from a US commercial point of view.

Classical music is alive and well in Japan, which hosts multiple orchestras in its major cities. Here in the US, it's dying, viewed as elitist "art" for "old folks." Music classes - whether for music appreciation or study - have disappeared from public schools. The audiences at classical music concerts are skewing older and older. Mainstream US anime companies want "to appeal to the kids," and they clearly believe classical music has no appeal.

Can Nodame Cantabile be appreciated without understanding of or interest in classical music? Perhaps, but it really helps to know at least something about it. The show doesn't demand deep knowledge of classical music - almost all the pieces are repertory warhorses, like Beethoven's 7th Symphony, Brahm's 1st Symphony, Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue, and Stravinsky's Petrushka. However, if you've never heard the finale of Beethoven's 7th, then Stresemann's outburst about Chiaki's inappropriate approach won't make any sense. If you've not listened to Brahms 1st, then Chiaki's struggles to convey the overwhelming mood change in the last movement will be boring. If you've missed Petrushka, then Nodame's disaster in her competition concert, and her semi-inspired if ultimately unsatisfactory recovery, will lack context.

Still, I think the show can be appreciated as pure character-driven comedy. Chiaki and Nodame make an eccentric pair of mismatched lovers, each driven by childhood events that have scarred and shaped them. Chiaki's issues are rather melodramatic in origin, and the deus ex machina resolution of them is one of the weaker aspects of the show; but Nodame's problems stem from realistic encounters with bad teachers, and her struggles to overcome them are quite moving. Still, the problem-solving and drama take a back seat to the comedy, which derives from the clash of Chiaki's obsessive, type-A perfectionist personality with Nodame's disorganized and messy lifestyle. Both are given their due, though. The series make it clear that Chiaki is an excellent and methodical musician, while Nodame is an intuitive stylistic genius.

The leads are supplemented by a fine cast of supporting characters who have interesting stories in their own right and are allowed to make some progress on them; they don't just serve as foils for the leds. And then there's Stresemann, the European maestro, a hilarious take on the debauched, eccentric ojii-san. He steals every scene he's in, but he also acts as a goad to drive both Chiaki and Nodame beyond their limits and towards potential success in music. His domineering secretary/agent/manager, Elise, is a great comic turn. Finally, there's an anime within the anime: Puri Gorota, a typical kid's "let's all work together" show that Nodame is addicted to. It was so popular that eventually it got its own OVA, like Kujibiki Unbalance inside Genshiken.

Because Nodame Cantabile is about music, it's not surprising that the music in the series is terrific. The opening song, Allegro Cantabile, by Suemitsu and the Suemith, is a driving piano-based rocker that sets the tone for the whole show. It inspired some elegant work by karaoke artists in various fansub groups. The series includes extensive excerpts from classical pieces that are competently, if not spectacularly, performed by a pick-up Japanese orchestra.

The voice acting is great too. Kawasumi Ayako (Lafiel in Crest of the Stars; Saber in Fate/Stay Night; Mahoro in Mahoromatic) portrays all of Nodame's moods, from mania to depression, from ruthless focus to utter spaciness, with great expression and aplomb. Seki Tomokazu (Sosuke in Full Metal Panic; Shuichi in Gravitation; the title roles in Kenichi and Maze) conveys Chiaki's buttoned-down, control-freak personality with precision. He also makes Chiaki's gradual warming to Nodame (and other people) very believable.

And that brings me back to the newly available English dub. I'm not a great fan of dubs, but this one is pretty good. The cast is American and professional. They use a decent, if compressed, translation. (The Japanese cast speaks at 90 miles an hour, which causes readability problems with faithful subtitles.) On the other hand, the release suffers the usual defects of most DVD releases: the subtitles are poor (mostly dubtitles and way too compressed), the subtitle timing is terrible, and the typesetting is non-existent. This really matters in Nodame, where many of the jokes are conveyed through signs. The last four minutes of the final episode are a comic book that bridges to the next anime series set in Europe and also closes the stories of the characters who will be left behind in Japan. The fansubbers went through great pains to put the translations into the dialog balloons. On the DVD, all the captions are at the bottom of the screen, clashing with dialog and song lyrics and making reading almost impossible.

The fansubs hold up fairly well in comparison, even though they were done more than five years ago. Yes, video standards and styling standards have improved since then, but all three versions (Anime-Keep, Froth-Bite, C1) are quite watchable. If someone absolutely feels they must have a modern softsubbed version and has access to R2J DVDs (no BluRays yet), I have the C1 scripts and most of the typesetting, and I'll make them available to any serious resubber. There are some things I'd like to fix, of course...

As for a US license, I'm not holding my breath. I think the show is too old now, and the classical music theme probably remains a deal-breaker for any mainstream US anime company. But if RightStuf can license Rose of Versailles and Victorian Maid Emma, and a mainstream company can license Tonari no Kaibutsu-kun (another romcom that pairs a type-A control freak with an out-of-control intuitive), then perhaps there's hope for Nodame. I'd like to see her and her friends get the audience they deserve.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Yawara! Completed!!

The entire team's been waiting years for this:

11 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1... done!

124 episodes to the ultimate, inevitable conclusion.

This is the longest series I've ever worked on — 66 episodes from the point where the project restarted as a joint effort between Frostii, Saizen, and Live-Evil. (Chi's Sweet Home had more episodes, but they were three minutes each.) It would not have been possible without the dedication of a small core team that stayed with the project from start to finish:
  • Translation: kokujin-kun (most episodes), blakbunnie27
  • Timing: Juggen (most episodes), sangofe
  • Editing: Collectr
  • QC: CP (all episodes), Mamo-chan (most episodes), Saji, Rosti, sangofe, kokujin-kun, retro, Skr, tlynnec, it06128
  • RC: Juggen
  • Muxing and release: Sqall, Juggen
  • Encoding: Skr (most episodes), toster
  • Raws: CP (R2J DVDs)
The project has some lessons for any group that wants to sub a long back-catalog series:
  1. Find a dedicated and proficient translator. The project never lost steam because kokujin-kun stayed well ahead of everyone else. This kept the pressure on the rest of us. The translations were almost finished products, requiring very little in the way of editing and thereby smoothing the QC process as well.
  2. Maintain staff continuity. By having the same editor, lead QC, and RC throughout, and mostly the same translator and timer, the team was able to maintain continuity on a show with lots of characters and arcane terminology. The team compiled an editing guide and a judo terminology guide to help with that.
  3. Keep it simple. The entire series was softsubbed. Typesetting was kept to a minimum, with most signs simply done as \an8 notes. (Occasionally, Juggen or I would show off a bit and try something more complex.) The encode was straightforward; no attempt was made to correct the numerous defects in the source, which was clearly just a transcription of the original VHS tapes.
  4. Stick to a regular cadence. The project took 15 months to do 66 shows. This was basically a weekly cadence, although the releases tended to occur in bunches, with pauses around vacations, exams, and the like. The steady pace meant that everyone on the team could see ongoing progress and maintain interest. Long breaks allow team members to get involved with other projects.
As for Yawara! itself... well, it's not a masterpiece, but it's quite a lot of fun. Yawara herself is a most appealing heroine. Her judo triumphs, while amazing, are not beyond the realm of possibility: at the Barcelona Olympics, Ryoko Tamura, a Japanese female judo player, won the silver medal. All of the judo moves are real. The plot structure is circular (see this blog entry), so it's easy to anticipate what will happen in any given story arc, but that's fairly typical for a shounen-like sports anime. The biggest weakness, in my view, is that most of the supporting characters are tropes: the haughty ojou-sama Honami, the conniving jii-san Jigoro, the clueless male protagonist Matsuda, and the scheming would-be suitor Kazamatsuri.

The team isn't quite done yet. The "Wimpy Kids" movie in in prepartion, based on a new encode taken directly from a relatively good VHS tape. We'd also like to do the "Atlanta Olympics" TV special, but the available source is a bad tape transcription. We're trying to get a LaserDisc of the special, but it's still an open question whether we can transcribe it once found.We're also looking for the four soundtrack albums:
  • Yawara! Original Soundtrack
  • Yawara! Sound Collection
  • Yawara! Songs!!
  • Yawara! Memories
We're not planning to do the Live Action series.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Space Neko Theater Revisited

Finally, and just in time for New Year, an accurate version of Space Neko Theater. The v2 Orphan release, now up on nyaatorrents, corrects some translation errors in v1, which was itself a significant improvement on the original ARR release. And therein lies a tale.

The ARR version of Space Neko Theater was a simple rip of Aoki Jun's YouTube posting, which included English subtitles that had been created, apparently, by a member of the animation crew. There were a number of problems, including bad timing and no signs, but the killer issue was the subtitles themselves: inaccurate and garbled. So Theater went on my wish list of shows to improve, not because of great artistic merit (it's a silly comedy), but because it was about cats.

I didn't making much progress on the wish list, because translators are rare, and in my frustration I decided to commission a paid translation of Theater. A few bucks later I had a script that at least seemed to make sense, and that became the basis of v1. After that, I decided to let sleeping cats lie.

Convexity's superb work on Senya Ichiya Monogatari and Cleopatra opened my eyes to just how wrong a seemingly sensible translation can be. I persuaded him to check v1 of Theater, and he found a number of errors. Looking through it again, I also found some timing problems, as well as signs that had been missed. So I put together convexity's corrections and other fixes to create v2, which I certainly hope is final.

The experience with Theater has taught me a valuable lesson: you can't judge a translation on plausibility. This makes it hazardous for non-Japanese speakers like me to commission paid translations. I can't check the quality of the result: I can't tell gold from dross. So I have to rely on the "kindness of strangers" in the fansub community, that is, on translators with proven capabilities and an interest in old shows, to move my projects forward.

I'll be much more wary, in the future, about translation sources. In commissioning translations, as in every other form of commerce, the old adage still holds: caveat emptor.

Late-breaking news: BakaBT, in a fit of self-purification, decided that "self-published" anime like Space Neko Theater, which appeared on YouTube, should be excluded. So the only place to find this is nyaatorrents.

Even later-breaking news: BakaBT has revised its policies again, and Space Neko Theater is back up. Yay!

And even more late news: As 12laus points out, BakaBT didn't actually revise its policies. Instead, Aoki Jun has built a body of professional-enough work to qualify under current policies. It's all good!

[Updated 3-Dec-2015]