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.