Monday, September 22, 2014

S****kuma Cafe, An Overview (and DMCA Magnet)

(Update, 2017). I've had to rewrite this innocuous article twice because some automated robot is sending DCMA notices about it to Google. I have no clue what attracted the robot's notice, but I'm removing the Japanese title, any mention of where it was streamed, and so on, even though this is basically a review of the series. Baka!

S****kuma Cafe (Polar Bear Cafe) was one of the bright spots in anime for a full year (April 2012 to March 2013) and also one of the more neglected series of the time. It was streamed in English, but no fansub group picked it up. Fansubbers now hold the series in great affection, but at the time it aired, they were put off by its "family anime" status and by the formidable number of puns in the dialog, which seemed beyond localization. As a result, the streaming version remains the only subtitled version, and as usual, it has no song translations and primitive typesetting.

Why is S****kuma Cafe so good? First of all, it has great characters. The four leads (Polar Bear, Panda, Penguin, and the human waitress Sasako) are all well-characterized, idiosyncratic, and endearing. Polar Bear is a calm and level-headed café master who can troll with the best. Panda is the classic self-absorbed teenager.  Penguin is an endlessly talkative bore.  Sasako is sweet but a bit dim. They are supplemented by an entire menagerie of animal and human sidekicks who have recurring roles and are all voiced by brilliant seiryuu: Llama, Grizzly, Tortoise, Wolf, Tiger, Sloth, Panda Mama and Sister Mei Mei, Mr. Full-Time Panda, Hanada the zookeeper (who has a crush on Sasako), the seven female  penguins inadvertently courted by Penguin, Mr. Tree Kangaroo the master coffee roaster and his red squirrel assistants, and on and on.

Second, the humor and the stories are all character-driven. The characters bounce off each other in endless combinations. While there are themes (Panda’s desire to find a job with no work; Penguin’s disastrous quest for a mate), there is no plot to speak of. If I have a sneaking fondness for the episodes set at Grizzly’s Bar (known, of course, as Bar Grizzly) and its carnivorous habitués, those are just some of the many fine sketches that the show offers.

For a long time, I’ve wanted to do a BluRay version of S****kuma Cafe. Ruell has done a decent set of encodes for that. However, there are still formidable obstacles. To me, the problem is not the puns – I thought streaming version handled them the right way, with no attempt at localization – but the scale of the project. All fifty episodes need to be retimed and then typeset.  There are three OPs and twelve EDs to be translated, as well as a special. That’s as many episodes as Orphan has done in the last three years.

So in truth, this blog entry is a recruiting ad. If you loved S****kuma Cafe as much as I did, would like to see a subtitled BluRay version, and can help with the key work items (particularly retiming the episodes), drop me a note or contact me on IRC. Polar Bear, Penguin, Panda and the whole menagerie need your help.  You’ll get a chance to revisit one of the best anime comedies of the past few years, do a good deed, and brush up your coffee-making skills too.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Adachi Mitsuru Overload

I've been working on Adachi Mitsuri series for a long time, seemingly forever. Hiatari Ryoukou started up more than two-and-a-half years ago; Miyuki, more than 18 months ago. Frankly, I didn't expect them to take all that long, based on Yawara, but for "reasons," the projects have stalled out repeatedly. Working on them in parallel has introduced a sense of perpetual deja vu, because one Adachi series looks very much like another, and nowhere is this more true than Hiatari Ryoukou and Miyuki.

Both shows are slice-of-life comedies, at the center of which is a love triangle. In Hiatari Ryoukou, the heroine, Kishimoto Kasumi, is torn between her long-term boyfriend, Muraki Katsuhiko, now a college student, and a boy who lives at her boarding house and attends her high school, Takasugi Yuusaku. In Miyuki, the hero, Wakamatsu Masoto, is torn between his high-school crush, Kashima Miyuki, and his newly returned step-sister, Wakamatsu Miyuki, to whom he is conveniently not related by blood. The character designs are interchangeable, with Yuusaku a dead ringer for Masoto, and Kasumi a dead ringer for Wakamatsu Miyuki. (That's a big spoiler for who will end up with whom, by the way.) Both shows feature some amount of high-school baseball, Hiatari Ryoukou fairly seriously, Miyuki just as incidental color. In both shows, the comic sidekick (Mikimoto Shin in Hiatari, Muraki Yoshio in Miyuki) is played by the same seiryuu, Shiozata Kaneto. Hiatari even makes a cameo appearance on a TV screen in episode 30 of Miyuki. See why I'm confused? By the way, so is the mangaka: in a recent interview, Adachi was unable to tell his own heroes apart.

One difference is that Hiatari Ryoukou is actually a complete version of the manga (when the movie is thrown in), but Miyuki stops about two-thirds of the way through. (The manga is completely scanlated, if you want to find out how it all ends.) Perhaps the 1983 audience wouldn't support five cours of Adachi Mitsuri, but after the smashing success of Touch in 1985, there was enough interest to see Hiatari Ryoukou through until the end. Besides, the characters in Hiatari are indistinguishable visually from the characters in Touch, so perhaps the audience thought they were watching the same show. Adachi would revisit the themes of baseball and a love triangle in Slow Step and H2, before moving on to other patterns.

I'd like to move on as well; I've had enough of Adachi for a while. (No, I'm not going to marathon Touch any time soon.) For one thing, Yawara! is out on BluRay, an event which cries out for a pristine new version. If I have to spend close to three years on a series, I'd rather spend it with Yawara-chan and Jigoro, Sayaka and Shinnosuke, Jody, Fujiko, Matsuda and the rest than a cast of characters neither I nor the author can tell apart. I'm sure both Hiatari and Miyuki are enjoyable in their own way, but long acquaintance has stamped out all the fun for me.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Horus (BluRay)

After expounding at some length on why I'd never give credit to more than two groups in a file name, how do I explain [tubesoda&neo1024-tipota-Orphan] Taiyou no Ouji -Horus no Daibouken-? All I can say in my defense is that every rule has exceptions, and this needs to be one.

First, though, the movie. Horus no Daibouken (The Great Adventures of Horus, Prince of the Sun, 1968) is one of the early great anime movies from Japan. Directed by the legendary Takahata Isao, it took more than three years to complete and launched the career of Miyazaki Hayao, among others. The project ran so late and so far over budget that the production studio, Toei, allowed it to play in theaters for only ten days and demoted Takahata from directing. He left Toei, as did Miyazaki. After some years working on World Masterpiece Theater adaptations, Takahata joined Ghibli, where he directed the classic Grave of the Fireflies, as well as Only Yesterday, Pom Poko, and My Neighbors the Yamadas. His latest film, Kaguya Hime no Monogatari, has not been subtitled in English.

Horus no Daibouken is an "all-ages" adventure tale set in Scandinavia. The young hero, Horus (anglicized as Hols in some translations), leaves his adopted home and returns to the village of his people to confront the evil demon Grunwald, who is determined to wipe the population from the face of the earth. Horus encounters people good and bad, as well as an enigmatic young girl named Hilda, (spoilers ahead) who despite her beautiful singing is a lot more dangerous than she appears. After thrilling adventures, Horus redeems Hilda, unites the village population to face danger head on, and leads the good guys to victory.

Horus is very much a film of its time. The hero is plucky, brave, and one dimensional. He has a comic animal sidekick. The villain is a black-and-white baddie (literally). There are lots of adorably cute children and lots of songs. Even so, it's terrific. The plot moves along briskly, the action sequences are very well animated, and the musical interludes (like the fish harvest and the wedding celebration) burst with energy. Hilda's songs are beautiful, sad, and more than a touch ambiguous. The ultimate message ("united we stand") is inoffensive and not thrown in the audience's face, but it resonated with the young Japanese of the era. Miyazaki is often called "the Walt Disney of Japan," but that's more about his towering stature in the animation scene than about his style. Horus no Daibouken feels like a classic Disney film, and it leaves you smiling the same way. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Now, back to the file naming. The DVD version of Horus no Daibouken was encoded and subtitled with great care by neo1024 and tubesoda. (Information on the DVD edition, along with a lot of background about the film itself, can be found in the BakaBT torrent.) The subtitles from that version have been used here. tipota encoded the newly-released BluRay. That encode is used here. Orphan retimed the subtitles completely, restyled them, retypeset them (particularly the trailer), and did additional QC. So how can any of these groups be omitted? tubesoda&neo1024's subtitles needed very little work. A few missing lines have been added, and the grammar tweaked here and there, but no more than 30 lines have been modified. tipota's encode is unchanged. On the Orphan side, convexity filled in the few missing lines, I retimed the script, Eternal_Blizzard and I did the typsetting, and CP and Saji provided additional QC. So [tubesoda&neo1024-tipota-Orphan] it is. Consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds. Or would you prefer [mashup]?

Enjoy Horus no Daibouken in this beautiful BluRay edition!