Thursday, December 31, 2015

2015 in Review

Time to look back on 2015. At a personal level, there were quite a few changes: I retired after 50 years in the computer industry and also welcomed a third grandchild. And then there was anime...

Orphan Fansubs

This has been a year of staff changes as well. Orphan lost a wonderful colleague, CP, to illness; other staffers retired due to personal priorities. But the team also welcomed new members, including two Laserdisc collectors, ics- and Erik, who have provided pristine sources for rare OVAs; an encoder, bananadoyouwanna, who has created original encodes when source material is available; and a jack-of-all-trades, Skr, who has been my colleague in several groups.

Projects completed this year:
  • D4 Princess. This short-episode comedy series was no world-beater, but it deserved better than being abandoned three times.
  • Kakyuusei (1995). This soft-core hentai never made it to DVD, and only the first two episodes were ever subtitled in English. Later in the year, we were able to get better raws, ripped directly by ics- from his own laserdisc, and released a second version.
  • Tomoe ga Yuko. The first release based on Erik's collection. This early 90s OVA is a terrific example of the genre and a good watch.
  • Polar Bear Cafe. Orphan's "great white whale," a 50-episode Blu-Ray resub that required extensive typesetting. It remains as funny and sly as it was on first viewing in 2012.
  • Parol no Miraijima. This "orphan" of the Anime Mirai 2014 class is a charming and colorful OVA about innocent creatures confronted with human civilization in all its complexity. In addition to the 720p release based on an Internet raw, bananadoyouwanna encoded a 1080p release from a BDMV. A joint project with M74.
  • Sei Michaela Gakuen Hyouryuuki, version 2. This release was also based on Erik's laserdisc collection.
  • Oz. Yet another release based on Erik's collection. This unjustly neglected sci-fi OVA from the early 90s was one of the best shows I worked on this  year.
  • Hi-Speed Jecy. This orphan rescue featured new encodes directly from Erik's laserdiscs. It's a sci-fi OVA series set in a dark and violent universe and is another good watch.
  • Bavi Stock I and II. Orphan's luck with 80s and 90s OVAs ran out with this pair from the mid 80s. The less said by me, the better.
  • Tokimeki Tonight. The completion of this orphaned 80s comedy series took rather longer than expected, primarily in order to get better raws, but it's good, clean fun.
  • Sanctuary. This 1996 extremely noir OVA was also based on a new encode from Erik's laserdisc collection. It is a "must watch" for any fan of the genre.
So that's eleven projects finished - twelve if you count both versions of Kakyuusei. Not bad!

Work for Other Groups
  •  FFF. I edited Akatsuki no Yona (and its OAD), Juuou Mujin no Fafnir, Shokugeki no Souma, Ore Monogatari, the Hoozuki OADs, Sakurako-san no Ashimoto ni wa Shitai ga Umatteiru, and Noragami Aragato. I QCd the Blu-Ray releases of Dakara Boku wa, H ga Dekinai and Petit Gargantia.
  • FroZen-Evil. I timed and typeset the Miyuki music video. I continued to edit Laughing Salesman and the Yawara! Blu-Rays and to QC Psycho Armor Govarian. I also did some fill-in typesetting. All these projects are on slow-roll.
  • Kiteseekers. I did some fill-in typesetting on Milky Holmes S4 and Eriko.
  • M74. I collaborated with M74 on Parol no Miraijima and High School Agent.
  • Magai. I QC'd several short films for Morellet's group.
  • Kaitou. I edited Young Black Jack.
  • C1. I continued to edit Kakyuusei (1999), which is moving slowly.
  • OddJob. I edited an as-yet-unreleased OVA series.
Akatsuki no Yona was, hands down, the best current series I worked on all year (although I like Noragami quite a lot). I hope for a second season, but I'm not holding my breath. In general, I find current anime uninteresting, but you know that already. Still, I'm usually willing to help other teams out - particularly if I can get some help in return.

Looking Ahead

There's no shortage of raws for unsubbed shows; I think I have more than 30 stashed away at the moment. Translation and translation checking are the greatest bottleneck, as it is for most groups, and then QC. So we'll continue to do a mixture of original translations and resubs, focusing on the obscure, the incomplete, and the neglected.

If you'd like to help, give me a shout. Please note, however, that experience is required.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Sanctuary

Sanctuary is as close to the quintessential 90s OVA as you can get. It has yakuza, corrupt politicians, nudity, sex, and violence. It moves along at a breakneck pace for an hour, with nary a dull moment. That makes its fate inexplicable. The OVAs were abandoned after one episode, and the one that was released never made it to DVD.

Sanctuary is based on a ten-volume manga of the same name by Ichigami Ryouichi and Fumimura Sho. It chronicles the parallel stories of two Japanese school friends, Hojo Akira and Asami Chiaki, who as youngsters survived the killing fields of Cambodia. The two are determined to create a safe haven for themselves - the "sanctuary" of the title - in the treacherous terrain of late 20th century Japan. Based on a game of rock-paper-scissors, Hojo takes the "dark path" and becomes a yakuza, while Chiaki takes the "light path" and goes into politics. They covertly support each other as each attempts to rise to the top of his chosen field.

The OVA is unsparingly bleak in its portrait of Japanese society. Politicians are shown as thoroughly corrupt: reptilian old men only interested in money and much younger women. The yakuza don't fare any better: they're portrayed as greedy, cowardly, and backstabbing. Hojo and Chiaki are ruthless in their pursuit of their aims, manipulating others and themselves to acquire power. Only the Deputy Chief of Police, Ishihara Kyoko, seems to stand above the fray, but that changes in later volumes of the manga. The sex is explicit for a non-hentai anime, and the violence is quite graphic. This OVA is NSFW and most definitely not family-friendly.

The voice acting is very good. The leads are played by Hayami Sho (Hojo Akira) and Nakata Kazuhiro (Asami Chiaki), who are still active in the industry twenty years later. Tsuru Hiromi (Ishihara Kyoko) has had recurring roles in the Ranma and Dragon Ball franchises. The background music is a jazzy score well-suited to such a noir OVA. The ending song, A Baby's Born, is sung by American jazz vocalist Chris Connor. It suits the mood perfectly. The soundtrack is very rare; if anyone has it in digital form, please let me know.

Orphan's version of Sanctuary is technically a resub. The script is based on the original US VHS subtitle. It has been completely translation checked, because the original subs were a bit loose in places, retimed, and fully typeset. In addition, the Laserdisc contains an extra and a few minutes of promotional material not present on the VHS version. The extra is an illustration gallery of Ichigami Ryouichi's color drawings and demonstrates the subtlety and vitality of his work on Sanctuary.

M74 transcribed the original subtitles from HansDampf's VHS rip and then timed them. kokujin-kun translation checked the whole show and translated the signs and promotional material. convexity translated the manga captions in the Image Gallery. I edited and typeset. Calyrica, Juggen, and Skr did QC. Erik encoded from his own Japanese Laserdisc. 
 
Is Sanctuary an example of a show discontinued because it was too critical of the Japanese establishment? It is unsparing in its portrait of Japanese politics and its criticism of the ruling LDP (lightly disguised as the DLP in the original Japanese). In this century, Japanese anime has tended to be much more indirect in its criticism or satire of Japanese society; the kind of direct critique featured in Sanctuary no longer happens. (Japan's press has been muzzled by restrictive laws in the last few years; Japan now ranks 61st on a world-wide index of press freedom.) While American cartoons have gained a biting edge with shows like The Simpsons and South Park, Japanese anime has lost its sting. The satiric intent may still be there, in shows like Un-Go and One-Punch Man, but it's disguised. It makes me nostalgic for shows like Sanctuary.






Saturday, December 12, 2015

High School Agent

Continuing our exploration of 1980s OVAs "left behind" on old media, here is M74's High School Agent. This cheerfully loopy action show features Kanamori Kosuke as a high school student who is dragooned by the UN into being a secret agent. Kosuke apparently made the mistake of hacking into the UN's network and accessing secret files, so they offered him a choice: be an agent or be killed. Now Kosuke spends his weekends taking orders from Ms. Ishii and pursuing criminals and terrorists world-wide, instead of going on a date to Tokyo Disneyland with his crush, Satonaka.

High School Agent never made it past VHS, and that's sort of understandable. The premise and plot are completely bonkers. In the first episode, Kosuke confronts an evil colonel who stole an ancient gypsy stone that possesses amazing properties (Temple of Doom, anyone?). The second is even more over-the-top, involving a dastardly plot by neo-Nazis in South America to seize power again. Nonetheless, the show is a hoot. The action moves along swiftly, there are satirical salutes to other shows, and Kosuke remains true to his adolescent self, constantly whining that he wants to be somewhere else even as he battles the bad guys and saves the day.

The translation was done by an anonymous contributor. M74 timed and QC'd, while I edited and typeset. The raws are from ARR and are about as good as a VHS source is likely to be.

Enjoy another forgotten OVA from the 1980s!


Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Tokimeki Tonight, Take 2

Eight months ago, I wrote:
Tokimeki Tonight has been on my list of orphan series for a long time, but I didn't think there was much chance to do anything about it. Then, in fairly short order, I found raws, a translator, and best of all, a member of the original Saitei team who had access to the scripts, karas, styles, etc. konnakude made it possible to revive this show, and Orphan is proud to present the next episode. It's an Orphan-Saitei joint project and has the approval of the Saitei group leader, who had to give up fansubbing due to real life issues.
Well, I was premature in thinking that Tokimeki Tonight would be finished quickly. It has taken far longer than I expected to complete the series. The tragic death of our colleague CP blew an irreparable hole in the QC team; Tokimeki is the last Orphan series he worked on. Then the project leader, konnakude, was out for several months between family vacation and real-life issues. Finally, the availability of new raws from the Animax rebroadcast led us to delay further work until September.

The new raws are a significant improvement on the Internet raws we had been using. They have more vibrant colors, better detail definition, and improved image stability. (Perhaps they presage a future remastered DVD or even Blu-Ray release? That certainly proved true for Yawara!) That in turn has led to some changes in the scripts. Eternal_Blizzard redid the karaokes for improved legibility and more accurate timing. The typesetting has been redone to match the colors and stability of the new raws. And of course, the additional time has allowed for further QC. The styling remains unchanged, to match the Saitei releases, although vertical and horizontal margins have been increased.

Tokimeki Tonight is a harmless early 80s comedy series about a high school girl, Ranze Eto, who happens to be the daughter of a vampire and a werewolf. She really just wants to be just a normal girl, pursue her high-school crush, Makabe-kun, and fend off her rival, Kamiya, who's from a yakuza family, but she has these powers - which are sometimes great to have and sometimes not so great. There's not much plot continuity, so each episode can be taken on its own, once you understand the basic premise.

This is the first Orphan project for which I was not the project leader and the editor. konnakude fulfilled both roles admirably. Moho Kareshi translated the scripts, and kokujin-kun graciously agreed to check them. Ephemere timed the first episode, ninjacloud the other seven. I did the typesetting and shared QC with CP, pheon18, and Eternal_Blizzard. Eternal_Blizzard redid the karaokes; Juggen timed the additional ending verses in episode 34. bananadoyouwanna encoded the raws from the Animax transport streams.

So at last Tokimeki Tonight is no longer an orphan series and can be appreciated in its complete and unadulterated silliness. Sit back, relax, and don't let the vampires bite.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Bavi Stock

With some OVAs, like Oz, Hi-Speed Jecy, and Sanctuary, I'm baffled about why they were left behind on Laserdisc or VHS and never released on DVD. For others, though, the reasons are kind of obvious. Bavi Stock falls into the latter category.

Bavi Stock I and II are mid 80s sci-fi OVAs. They have the same characters and universe but were done by different studios. As a result, they are qualitatively very different, with different character designs and stories. Bavi Stock I is barely passable, if you're feeling generous. Bavi Stock II is utterly lame. Bavi Stock I never made it past Laserdisc. Bavi Stock II didn't even get that far and languished on VHS. I don't propose to rehearse all the deficits of these two shows; there's a very complete and utterly damning analysis here

Bavi Stock I is set in a group of floating islands known as the Bentika Empire. The only opposition comes from the GPP (Global Police Patrol?), whose symbol is a friendly-looking turtle in a police uniform. The story begins with GPP officer Kate freeing Princess Mooma and convicted murderer Bavi Stock, both of whom hold information vital to defeating the Empire. By accident, she also rescues another prisoner, Bavi's scheming cellmate Sammy. However, the whole "defeat the Empire" Macguffin is promptly lost in an incoherent chase plot, as the Empire's psychokinetic villainess Lus Mila and her android assassin Eyesman pursue the good guys through and around a high-stakes hovercraft race. Bavi's crime, Sammy's scheme, and Mooma's power are never explained or even explored.

Perhaps the loose plot threads were supposed to be resolved in Bavi Stock II, but it was done by a different studio and went off in a totally different direction. The good guys are now galactic treasure hunters, and beyond the floating islands of the Bentika Empire is a normal-looking universe. The episode starts out on a comic note. Then Our Heroes fly to a heavily forested planet that is stolen from Return of the Jedi, right down to a goofy-but-competent R2D2 ripoff and forest-loving pseudo-Ewoks. There they again encounter Lus Mila and Eyesman and, in scenes inspired perhaps by Raiders of the Lost Ark, unlock the secrets of Mooma, Bavi, and the Sacred Vessel, whatever that is.

Then why did Orphan do these shows? Well, it seemed like a good idea at the time. Bavi Stock I has been on the BakaBT list of "old shows needing subtitles" for ages. Orphan has generally had good luck with 80s OVAs, so we went ahead with the project. But our luck ran out with this pair.

Moho Kareshi translated, macros74 timed, I edited and typeset, and Calyrica did QC. Bavi Stock I was encoded by macros74 from a Laserdisc rip by an anonymous collector. Bavi Stock II was encoded by Erik of Piyo Piyo Productions from a VHS rip by the same anonymous collector. There is some VHS tracking error at the bottom, but on the whole it looks fairly good.

So as Yogi Berra said, some days you win, some days you lose, and some days it rains. I'm still excited about OVAs from the 80s and the 90s. Sometimes even the bad ones, like Ear of the Golden Dragon, have enough laugh-out-loud value to make working on them worthwhile. Unfortunately, there aren't many yucks in the Bavi Stock OVAs, unless you give them the full Mystery Science Theater 3000 treatment, which they richly deserve.






Saturday, October 31, 2015

Hi-Speed Jecy

As I've said before, I'm really fond of OVAs from the 80s and 90s. Orphan Fansubs has been very lucky to get help from two Laserdisc collectors, Erik of Piyo Piyo Productions, and ics- of lamonae. That has given us access to all sorts of rare shows that never made the transition to DVD. Hi-Speed Jecy has been on my wish list for a long time. Thanks to favorable circumstances, Orphan can bring you the entire series.

Like many Orphan projects, Hi-Speed Jecy has a rather checkered history. Anime Classic Rips (ACR) did the first three episodes and then dropped the show. Erik did four more on his own but ultimately grew dissatisfied with the quality of his initial encodes and stopped. The project lay dormant for three years after that.

Earlier this year, ninjacloud, Orphan's raw-hunter extraordinaire and part-time timer, found a complete set of Jecy raws on the Internet. That led me to reach out to Erik to see if I could use his scripts for episodes one to seven. To my surprise, he had scripts for all twelve episodes. Further, the news that Orphan was restarting the project gave him the impetus to go back and do new encodes of Jecy with an improved setup. Finally, the original translator volunteered to polish up the scripts. So this version of Jecy is translated by Ametuchi, timed or retimed by macros74 and ninjacloud, edited and typeset by me, QCed by Calyrica and konnakude, and encoded by Erik from his own Laserdiscs. Yay!

Hi-Speed Jecy is another OVA set from Studio Pierrot (they also did Dallos and Gosenzosama Banbanzai, among many others). It's based on a series of light novels and has a considerable backstory that the anime doesn't really flesh out. The hero is a young man named Jecy Moore. (It should be Jesse, of course, but the name is hardsubbed in the title.) His parents were killed by the evil Bismarck criminal gang when he was a youngster, and he has vowed revenge. Jecy hates weapons of all kinds. His only advantages are super-human speed and an organic, sentient spaceship named Paolon, which was created by an ancient, long-vanished alien civilization. Paolon can warp faster than light, absorb energy beam attacks (they act as food), beam people in and out, and otherwise dig Jecy out of the numerous scrapes he gets into. Jecy's closest friend is a beautiful young girl, Tiana. She's actually an artificial life form, created by Paolon as a companion. Jecy loves her but treats her more like a little sister.Tiana aspires to rather more than that, like any normal young woman, but Jecy is too guilt-ridden about the events that led to Tiana's creation.

Another major character is Falk Green, a priest of the Heartland Order, which is more fully fleshed out in the source novels than in the series. The Order believes that the universe is actually Hell, and that redemption must come through suffering. Accordingly, the Order's priests go around "saving" criminals by killing them painfully with a specialized weapon called a nerve gun. Falk is a classic "worldly priest" trope. He drinks, smokes, womanizes, fights, and generally enjoys himself, while always staying aligned to his mission. (German in the more recent Garo is another example of this kind of character.) Jecy is much more of a straightarrow and deeply opposes Heartland's murderous ideas, but he recognizes Falk's value in a fight.

The villains are the usual one-dimensonal cartoons. The patriarch, Lou Bismarck, seeks immortality and mastery of the universe. The eldest daughter, Jera, is a murderous strategist who has a yen for Falk. The only son, Cross, is a psychopath who just wants to blow things up and kill people, particularly Jecy. Only the younger daughter, Telaine, shows any depth, caught between family loyalties and her feelings for Jecy, which she never quite acts on. The Bismarck family seems able to run rings around the galactic military and police with ease, so why they act as criminals, rather than buying up politicians wholesale as in current times, is a bit of mystery.

Like many space operas from 25 years ago, Jecy has its weaknesses. Although the opening and ending songs are enjoyable, the background music is one cliche after another. (The "tension" music in episode 11 stands out as particularly hackneyed.) The plot is full of improbable coincidences and devices, many of which serve to get Jecy or Falk out of impossible jams. And Tiana simply doesn't have enough to do. She mostly stands around, looking pretty or being a damsel in distress. The other female characters, in contrast, are bold and active, whether for good or evil.

Despite these issues, Hi-Speed Jecy is a good watch. It provides glimpses of an interesting and rather dark alternate universe, populates it with an action-packed plot, and wraps up conclusively. I'm really puzzled why it was "left behind" on Laserdisc, when so many less deserving shows have been reissued on DVD or even Blu-Ray. It has action, explosions, heroes, villains, and even a little fanservice (equal opportunity, I might add). What more do you need?

Orphan is proud indeed to bring you Hi-Speed Jecy. As Miss Sasako always said, enjoy!









Monday, September 28, 2015

We're Off to See the Wizard...

When I got my hands on Piyo Piyo Production's (that is, Erik's) first version of Oz, a 1992 two-part sci-fi OVA, I knew that Orphan had to sub it. Here was one of the better early 90s OVAs, and no one seemed to know it existed because it was marooned on Laserdisc.

The original encode didn't meet Erik's exacting standards, so he encoded it anew from his own Laserdiscs.The rest of the Orphan team was equally enthusiastic about the project. convexity translated it from scratch, m74 timed it, I edited and styled (there's very little typesetting), and Calyrica and Eternal_Blizzard did quality checking. Orphan Fansubs now proudly presents the results.

Oz is set in a post-apocalyptic near-future, following World War III. Much of the world has been reduced to desert. The surviving population has fragmented into many nations, and they're all fighting over the planet's declining resources. The only hope seems to be the legendary Oz, a lost laboratory founded by eminent scientists. Filicia Epstein, the surviving daughter of a family of prominent scientists, sets out with a mercenary named Yo Muto on a quest to find Oz and, she hopes, her missing brother Lyon, who is rumored to be there. Filicia and Muto get a lot more than they bargained for.

The scientists at Oz - well, Lyon at least - have been developing androids (called cybernoids or bioroids in the show), patterning their brains on Filicia's and Lyon's mother, Pamela, who (it turns out) was a homicidal maniac. Her murderous tendencies have been inherited not just by the androids but by Lyon, who wants to rule the world (of course). Lyon controls not only the Oz androids but a laser-based space weapon that can destroy anything on earth. With the odds heavily stacked against them, Filicia and Muto must find a way not just to survive but to stop Lyon and destroy the technology of Oz.

Oz is far from perfect, of course. It suffers from any number of improbable coincidences and deus ex machina plot twists, which are needed to rescue the main characters from the predicaments they get into. For example, the neutralizing of the space laser occurs far too quickly and easily (although if Lyon had watched Akira, he would've realized that controlling a space weapon is not all it's cracked up to be). None of the characters has much depth. The main android, 1019 is probably the most complex character, which says something. Still, it's well animated and very entertaining, and it does pose some interesting questions on what it means to be alive versus a machine, and human versus an artificial intelligence.

Oz was made just as Yawara! was wrapping up, so it's not surprising to see some overlap in the voice cast. Matsumoto Yasunori (Yu Muto) had a non-featured role in Yawara!, but he's all over OVAs of that era; for example, he plays the lead role in Starship Troopers. Fujita Toshiko, who shows great versatility as 1019, played Inukuma Tamao, Yawara's mother. Mitsuja Yuji (Lyon) had a bit part as Yawara's crush in the first episode. And Minaguchi Yuko (Filicia) was Yawara-chan herself. For me, it's a bit startling to hear Filicia Epstein, girl genius, talking in Yawara's nasal cadences.

Enjoy Oz in this first English edition!





Friday, September 25, 2015

Sei Michaela Gakuen Hyouryuuki, Take 2

The Orphan Fansubs nostalgia tour continues with a new version of Sei Michaela Gakuen Hyouryuuki (St. Michaela School Drifting Story). In the original release post more than a year ago, I said, "If a better source turns up, I'll release a new version." Well, it did, so here's the new version.

This release is part of Orphan's ongoing collaboration with Piyo Piyo Productions. Erik has an extensive collection of Laserdiscs, many of which have never been released on DVD or Blu-Ray. He also has a setup for near-lossless ripping, which facilitates encoding of these sometimes recalcitrant media. Tomoe's Run and Sei Michaela are just the first of what I hope will be many releases from this treasure trove.

In the original release post, I described, as best I could, the intricate and convoluted plot of Sei Michaela. It didn't make much sense then, and on repeated viewing, it made even less sense. To start with, it's not clear when the anime takes place. Because of the Japanese military uniforms and the World War II fighter planes, I thought it was set during World War II, but that has proved incorrect. In one exchange, the girls talk enviously about visiting the "discos in Roppongi," which implies at least the 1980s. In another, they talk about needing to train in martial arts in order to play "Oscar in the French Revolution"; Rose of Versailles began publication in 1982. So the anime is clearly taking place in "contemporary" times, e.g., the 1980s... except when it isn't. Let's try to straighten out the timeline.

The roots of the plot start during World War II, with the romance between a Japanese office, Karino Daisuke, and a well-born woman and mother named Yuko, who is mostly notable for having a star under her left breast. Yuko's daughter Yumiko falls in love with Daisuke. When she discovers that he is her mother's lover, she is heartbroken and becomes a nun.

Fast forward to the 1980s. Yumiko yearns to be seventeen again and in the arms of Daisuke. Somehow this summons him through time. He seduces her, and together they set in motion the "Michaela project." This involves setting up a strict Catholic school for girls that teaches singing, dancing, and martial arts to create a "Girls Crusade." The girls think they are training to become members of the Takarazuka Review. In fact, Daisuke intends to take them back in time to become "comfort women" for the Japanese Army in the Second World War. This will somehow inspire the soldiers to greater heights of valor and turn the tide of battle.

Daisuke's and Yumiko's nefarious plot in turn summons the attention of fallen angel (and intersexual) Hans Heilner, leader of the failed 13th century Children's Crusade. Hans travels through time and enrolls at the school disguised as a girl, Mimura Aiko. Hans wants to take the Girls Crusade back in time to defeat both the Church and God. It also attracts the attention of ninjas from the 17th century Shimabara Rebellion. They want to take the Girls Crusade back in time to fight the Tokugawa Shogunate. So there are three sets of time travelers -  Karino Daisuke, Hans Heilner, and the Shimabara ninjas - all of whom want to use the Girls Crusade for their particular cause.

At least, I think that's what's going on. There's quite a bit that's unclear. When Hans Heilner and the Girls Crusade reach the Shimabara Rebellion, they actually fight against the rebellion's leader, Amakusa Shiro. Yet in the concluding scene, a new timeline covering the World War II era has come into effect. Yuki is now the loving wife of Gonza, who was her servant in the original (historical) timeline. Gonza says that Hans and Amakusa created the peaceful, religion-free, nationalism-free world that now exists. So what was the outcome of the Shimabara Rebellion? What did Hans and the Girls Crusade supposedly do back in the 17th century, or even earlier? These questions are answered in the sequel, Sins of the Sisters... maybe. Or maybe not.

I'd like to again thank all the folks involved with this:
  • Translation: anonymous
  • Spot translation check: convexity
  • Timing: Eternal_Blizzard
  • Editing: Collectr
  • QC: Calyrica, CP
  • Raws and Encoding: Piyo Piyo Productions
This new version has allowed for additional QC, and there are numerous small changes and fixes throughout. This release is in two episodes, reflecting the organization of the Laserdisc.

Enjoy the improved video of this new encode. And if you figure out what's actually going on, be sure to let me know, okay?


Saturday, September 19, 2015

Orphan Fansubs Status Update

Here's the latest status report.

Projects underway:

Falcom Gakuen S2 - at QC.

Code:Breaker OVAs 2-3 - at QC.

Bite Me! Chameleon - at editing and typesetting.

Stop!! Hibari-kun - translated, 1-7 at edit.

Projects under consideration:

Alakazam the Great - English subtitles with Japanese audio, instead of English dub. Needs translation check.

Maple Story completion - needs transcription of hardsubs (OCR has failed).

Cosprayers DVD - needs encoding from DVD ISOs.

Hashire Melos - encoded. Needs transcription of hardsubs (OCR has failed).

Yume Tsukai - DVD softsub from existing hardsubs (C1, Ayu-AonE, and/or Arienai-Ureshii). DVDs on order from Japan.

Sanada 10 - abandoned by AonE-dp after episode 9. Needs translator. DVDs on order from Japan. 

I have raws for lots of other interesting shows like Tenkousei, Kyoukujitsu no Kantai, Ear of the Yellow Dragon, Dokushin Apartment Dokudami, Nora 1 and 2, and so on, but no resources to pursue them. The most critical need, at the moment, is for a translator/translation checker - just like every other back catalog group.

[Updated 13-Jan-2016]


Thursday, September 17, 2015

Kakyuusei (1995), Take 2

When Orphan first released Kakyuusei (1995) back in March, I wrote that if a better source turned up, Orphan would redo the show. Well, it did, and we have. Orphan now presents take 2 of Kakyuusei (1995), based on rips done directly from LaserDisc, at "full" 480p resolution.

Orphan is benefiting significantly from the help of several Laserdisc collectors. Erik of Piyo Piyo Productions started the ball rolling. Now ics- from Lamonae has joined the team, and his collection is the source for this version of Kakyuusei (1995). ics- has several other unique titles that I'd like to do, such as Dokushin Apartment Dokudami, but it needs a translator.

Working with LaserDiscs has proved interesting and frustrating. Ripping requires a high-quality LaserDisc player, and they are becoming increasingly scarce. Then the video output has to be captured for encoding. After much experimentation, various encoders have concluded that the best method is to capture the uncompressed RGB or S-video and do fixups and filtering in software, before compression. But that's not always possible. A modern lossless capture unit costs a fair amount of money, and the inexpensive no-compression ATI All-in-Wonder TV card is no longer made, requires a PCI system, and only works with XP.

As a result, capture is usually done with a DV recorder set to its highest quality level, but it does compression on the fly. That's what happened with Kakyuusei. It took several different encoders, and lots of experiments, to get reasonable raws. Erik eventually modified his filter chain, developed for lossless captures, and that did the trick.

Here are the credits for this version:
  • Subs and timing: Anime-Hentai (episodes 1, 2) and Zalis (episodes 3, 4)
  • Translation checking: Zalis and convexity
  • Editing and typesetting: Collectr
  • QC: CP, konnakude, and Eternal_Blizzard
  • Encoding: Piyo Piyo Productions
  • Raws: ics-
Revisiting Kakyuusei (1995) has not improved my opinion of the show. It's still a standard eroge adaptation, predictable and devoid of novelty. (Or mostly so: as Zalis pointed out, the nude sketching scene is episode 3 precedes Titanic by two years and is "gender-reciprocal.") This second pass has allowed for further QC, which found errors in various places. The main benefit, though, is 56% more pixels and correspondingly less eyestrain viewing the eye candy.

Orphan has raws for yet another show in this series, Tenkousei (1997), in which the protagonist presumably scores with transfer students rather than classmates (Doukyuusei) or first-years (Kakyuusei), but you probably understand how these shows work by now.


Friday, September 11, 2015

Polar Bear Cafe Batch

Here's my "last word" on Polar Bear Cafe. The batch includes the fifty episodes, the three non-credit OPs, the twelve non-credit EDs, the "picture drama" special, and three archives of scans from the original Ruell-Next torrent. Episodes 1-13, 26, 32, and NCED01 received v2's, for font problems (1-13, NCED01) and typos (26, 32). All episodes can be patched; the patch file can be downloaded from here.The entire series can be burned to four DVDs, with room left over for the two soundtrack albums.

The picture drama is just a storyboard version of episode 26; there is no new content. However, its two skits are among the best. "The New Panda" follows the chaos that ensues when Mr. Temp Panda is hired to supplement the regulars at the zoo's Panda Corner, and the zoo runs a popularity contest to select the "central" panda. "Reunion at the Grizzly Bar" introduces us to the "fierce beasts" - Lion and Tiger and Wolf (oh my!) - and muses lightly on what happens as we grow older and settle into our lives. "Reunion" features a guest appearance by the mysterious rapper MC 469MA, who is none other than Polar Bear in shades. 469MA is a pun, of course. In Japanese, four is "shi", six is "ro", and nine is "ku", so 469MA is "shiro kuma" (polar bear). Who knew?

So it's time to say goodbye to the gang. Here they all, all together under the blossoming cherry trees in episode 50 (even Mr. Shoebill and Ms. Donkey)



while the core quartet does what it does best - work together to make their friends happy.


I want to thank ninjacloud and Calyrica for timing and QCing the entire series; convexity, deltakei, and Moho for translating the songs and untranslated signs; and Juggen for the ending karaoke in episodes 23-26. I also want to thank the other team members in Orphan Fansubs, who have waited patiently while their projects got slow-tracked behind Polar Bear Cafe. And of course I want to thank the original subbers (HorribleSubs from the online streaming release) and encoder (Ruell-Next).

Thanks for watching Polar Bear Cafe.



Wednesday, September 9, 2015

In Memoriam: CP

Internet fansubbing is a funny thing. You rarely meet the people you work with in person, and yet you get to know them and even be friends with them anyway. And when they leave, it hurts.

I learned this week that my colleague CP (ConsiderPhlebas) died after a prolonged battle with cancer. CP worked primarily on quality control, for Orphan and many other groups, but his contributions to his teams was far out of proportion to his nominal role. He was a sparkplug, a cheerleader, and a steadying force. He started fansub projects for overlooked series like Queen Millennia and D4 Princess. He bought raw materials (DVDs and Blu-Rays) so that projects had decent sources to work from. He studied Japanese so that his QC reports could check translation as well as grammar, timing, and styling. And his reports were models of organization and accuracy. Any QC point he raised needed to taken seriously.

CP loved anime, and he loved working on unsubbed shows. The content almost didn't matter. Whatever the project, he approach it with dedication and professionalism. He was the most dependable of colleagues, until mortal illness placed its cold hands upon him. To the very end, he wanted to help in any way he could. He will be missed.

RIP, CP. Your tribulations are over. Your contributions live on.
 

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Polar Bear Cafe, Part 4

And now we're done with the main series. For the last time, we've seen Polar Bear devastate a conversation with his puns, Panda reflect contentedly on his cuteness, Penguin quaff his body-weight in caffe mochas, Miss Sasako deal patiently with all comers, Mr. Handa flounder helplessly in her presence, Mei Mei go bananas (go bamboo?) in his presence, Grizzly get awakened from hibernation, Llama get overlooked by all and sundry, Sloth aspire to a more accelerated way of life, the penguin-card sales penguins be Penguin Power Rangers, Rin Rin moon over pandas in general and Panda in particular, and so on and so forth. Hail and farewell, Shirokuma-san.

Polar Bear Cafe has been the largest project in the history of Orphan Fansubs, and it was done with one of the smallest teams: ninjacloud for timing, Calyrica for QC, and me for editing and typesetting. convexity, deltakei, and Moho Kareshi all contributed to translating the fifteen songs and innumerable signs. The original subtitles are from HorribleSubs, the encodes from Ruell-Next. The project took about six months, a pace of two episodes per week, or double the pace at which it originally aired.

This batch of episodes is not materially different from any of the prior sets, with episodes devoted to the major and minor characters, holidays, and just ordinary life. Perhaps these episodes go more for heart and less for sarcasm than previous ones, but that's just an impression. Polar Bear Cafe has always known how to be sincere; a fine early example is the B-part of episode 13, "Panda's Wish." And Panda is at the center of a lot of the appeals to the heart, including the two parts of episode 44, which are probably the most serious of the entire series. We get to see that Panda is a good kid, but first and last a kid. When real life impinges on his daily routine of laying about, lazing about, and eating bamboo, the results are pretty shattering.

Penguin continues to lead an erratic and questing life, veering off from rakugo into ventriloquism, much to the consternation of his fellow cafe regulars. Although Penguin is regularly the butt of jokes from Polar Bear and blissfully tactless remarks by Panda, he shows his devotion to his friends in "The Zoo in the Rain," and theirs is on display in "Cherry Blossom Viewing in Spring." Polar Bear remains an arch-troll, but he too has his moments of sincerity.

The secondary characters are not ignored either. Miss Sasako's and Llama's idle conversation about their hometown in "The Cafe in the Afternoon" leads into "Llama's Time Capsule" and an actual return to that town and its local wonders, such as the bakery and the park. Grizzly is woken up by Polar Bear numerous times before Grizzly's mother (who calls him "Gri-chan") shows up to get him out of bed permanently in "Grizzly's Reunion." Mr. Handa, having received obligation chocolates on Valentine's Day, goes through agonies of indecision about what to give Miss Sasako for White Day and receives the usual useless advice from the regulars. Sloth has one last attempt at life in the fast(er) lane in "Sloth's Journey," but only makes it to a local bathhouse instead of a distant hot springs. Few of the various threads in the series, such as Mr. Handa's inarticulate longing for Miss Sasako, are resolved, but at least Masaki finally finishes his apprenticeship with Mr. Tree Kangaroo and is invited to roast some coffee officially.

There are some amusing minor revelations. Almost all the characters, except Panda (who's too young), enjoy having a drink. Polar Bear is partial to scotch, Wolf and Grizzly to bourbon, Tiger to martinis, Otter to gimlets (gin-and-lime), Miss Sasako to White Russians (Kahlua-and-milk), and Crocodile to tequila. Grandpa Panda and Chinstrap Penguin like sake. Penguin, Full-Time Panda, and Llama all drink beer, although Penguin also likes Shandygaffs and just about anything else. Some of the characters behave like Japanese salarymen and drink too much after work. When they do, their behavior changes. Full-time Panda becomes maudlin, Llama becomes brave, Anteater eats anything, and Sloth talks at normal speed. This aspect of Japanese life, which would lead to endless finger-wagging in the US, is just accepted as normal.

On the other hand, we never do learn how Penguin gets onto a bar stool, or what's in the parts of the Cafe yard that are better left unvisited.

The music for this concluding segment doesn't seem to me as inventive as in preceding segments, but perhaps I'm saturated. The third OP, You & Me, is unbearably upbeat and collectivist. It seems to talk down to the audience, and the animation behind it is uninspired. The last three EDs run the gamut from mediocre to terrific:
  • ED10, Bamboo Rendezvous, is a relentless bouncy love note from Mei Mei to her Prince Han.
  • ED11, Pandaholic!!, is a relentless bouncy love note from Rin Rin to his Panda.
  • ED12, My Dear, is a soulful ballad in which Polar Bear expresses his affection for his cafe and its customers.
The last ED is by far the best of the three, although the live-action story behind Pandaholic!! is amusing, illustrating how Rin Rin's obsession with pandas undermines his relationships with human women. 

Speaking of Rin Rin, he's a problematic character for US audiences. His constant pursuit of Panda makes him seem like a dangerous stalker, particularly because Panda is clearly a child. However, perhaps we're reading too much into the show. Rin Rin just loves pandas. In episode 9's "Rin Rin Deeply Moved! Panda's House," he ends up playing hide-and-seek with Mei Mei, getting accidentally pounded into unconsciousness by Grandpa Panda, and getting gnawed and clawed by the infant panda twins. Panda Mama isn't perturbed in the least. Her only comment is, "Mr. Rin Rin is quite tough." And he helps Panda out of a predicament in "Panda Mama's Gardening," asking nothing in return other than to be of assistance.

When Polar Bear Cafe ended in the spring of 2013, the cast closed with the words "See you again!" Most of us fans interpreted that as a promise of future episodes or OVAs, perhaps after a break. But there's been nothing since, except for a few drama CDs and web radio broadcasts, and even those have ceased. The voice actors have all gone on to other shows. Will we ever get to visit Polar Bear's Cafe again? Each passing season makes it less likely. Perhaps these fifty episodes are all we'll get. If so, it's enough.

The project team has a bit more to do. There's a storyboard version of episode 26 to sub, corrections to a few episodes, and a final batch. Then the team can rest from its labors, kick back, and enjoy a fresh caffe mocha, without too much chocolate syrup. Until then, as Miss Sasako says, enjoy!





Friday, August 28, 2015

Polar Bear Cafe, Part 3

With this batch of twelve Polar Bear Cafe episodes, we pass the halfway mark and start heading for home. The third quarter brings a number of subtle changes and a clear rise in the general level of absurdity.

First, there's a new OP, Rough & Laugh, and it marks the emergence, both literally and figuratively, of Miss Sasako into greater prominence. She's the central figure of the new OP, with her daily bicycle ride through town to get to her job at the cafe providing an opportunity to observe many of the other characters in their "natural" habitats - Rin Rin chasing Panda, Panda running away, Anteater trying to intimidate, Baby Emperor Penguin and Baby King Penguin playing choo-choo train, Grizzly riding his hog, Panda Mama obsessing over Yama Arashi, Mei Mei obsessing over Prince Han(da), and so on. At the end, Miss Sasako joins the lead trio as part of the caffe mocha art - quite a promotion from the first half of the show - and in a wide shot of the cafe that reflects the changes from summer to winter as the shows progress. Miss Sasako also (eventually) gets her own paper cutout in the previews, instead of being just a disembodied voice.

Miss Sasako gets more air time in the episodes too, and she's allowed to show the feistier side of her personality, instead of being a background yamato nadeshiko. In particular, she becomes more of a foil for Penguin and a frequent deflater of his endless quest for ego-reinforcement. This exchange from episode 36 is pretty typical:
Mr. Penguin (flapping his wings): When I flap like this, or when I flap like this... Which is cuter?
Miss Sasako: Could I treat this as a take-home quiz?
Even Polar Bear is driven to remark, "You've started butting into conversations, Miss Sasako," before tempering this seeming rebuke by adding, "You've grown quite a bit this past year."

Was Miss Sasako's role expanded because the series lacked role models for girls? Panda Mama and Ms. King Penguin are stay-at-home moms - and are played by men in any case. Did the series work better with the four cafe regulars bantering, instead of just three? Whatever the reason, it's nice to see.

The new opening song itself marks a change from the hard driving rhythms of Boku no Invitation to the gentle whimsy of a children's genki song. Personally, I think it's a letdown. The first OP made no concessions to the unreality of the premise. The second OP admits it's a "colorful parallel" world and a bit of a miracle. It includes the usual exhortations to Japanese children to be part of the collective and not stand out ("let's form a great big ring"). All I can say in its defense is that the animation behind it is wonderful, and that the third OP is even more saccharine.

On the other hand, the three new ending songs continue to entertain:
  • ED7: Panda Mama sings Kimama ni Panda Mama, a self-deprecating ode to her ordinary life as an ordinary housewife.
  • ED8: Llama struts his stuff in Llama-san no Llama Mambo, a catchy dance number that belies his placid exterior as a herbivore.
  • ED9: Sloth soothes in Largo, a peaceful, not to say lethargic, ballad about life in the slow lane.
Largo plays over a live-action clip of adorable Japanese children dressed up in costumes as Panda, Polar Bear, Penguin, and Sloth.

The episodes combine absurdity, snark, and sincerity in a nicely balanced blend. For absurdity, it's hard to top "Panda's New Part-Time Job," in which he rises from an internship at a car dealership to CEO of his own company through no fault or effort of his own. Another laugh-out-loud episode is "The Cafe Yard," in which Polar Bear discloses that the cafe property includes, among other things, a vegetable garden and an herb garden staffed by kangaroos and a prairie dog, respectively; an artisan cheese factory run by lemurs, who make genuine buffalo mozzarella from genuine water buffaloes; a basketball court, a driving range, and a fishing pond; and areas best left unvisited for safety.

Then there's "Sales Penguin's Sales," in which the desperate penguin-card sales penguins convince Mr. Handa to let them put on a Penguin action hero show, Penguinger. This drains visitors from the Panda Corner, so Panda and his friends collaborate on the "Panda Corner Project," a live-action "family drama" that features the entire Panda family, Polar Bear as their long-lost brother (sister) Stojkovich, and Penguin as a new baby in the family.

"Panda Corner Project" also contains one of the few cases where I changed the original subtitles for more than minor editing nits. Stojkovich/Polar Bear has returned home to resume the family business as a Heoi Bikuni - a maid in Heian period homes whose job was to take the blame if a woman of the family farted. The original translation was "flatus patsy," which was a bit too obscure. I've gone with "flatulence fall-guy," because it's clearer, and it fits in better with Mei Mei's retort, "It's not a job for a guy." Of course, Stojkovich is actually a girl, but let's not sweat the small stuff.

Mr. Penguin's love life continues to lurch from bad to worse. The seven Miss Penko's force a showdown in "Mr. Penguin's Dilemma," which ends in the worst possible way (for him). But Mr. Penguin never learns, and in "Mr. Penguin's New Love," he's off mooning over another pretty girl penguin, even if this means quaffing endless caffe mocha's made with too much chocolate syrup at a different cafe. Mr Penguin's obsession with "traditional comedic storytelling" (rakugo) emerges at the end of episode 32 and proves to be a running gag for the rest of the series. His "slightly idiotic tales" bore all the other regulars to tears. Polar Bear never tires of cutting him off in mid-flow, or Panda of writing off the whole idea as unbearably dull. It's not until Christmas Eve, when he tries his hand in front of the mellowed denizens of Grizzly's Bar, that he succeeds in completing a story. Fortunately, perhaps, we don't have to sit through it.

Continuing the theme of hopeless love, Mr. Handa's unexpressed longing for Miss Sasako continues to make no progress in "Mr. Handa's Present," although at least they do discover a mutual interest in potatoes. Polar Bear's endless trolling of Grizzly is on full display in a series of skits about Grizzly's attempt to hibernate for the winter, and Polar Bear's non-stop efforts to disturb him and get him to come out and play. Finally, this set of episodes cuts across a number of holidays, including Halloween, Christmas, and New Years, and each gets its due. New Years Eve start out with just the core characters, until one by one everyone else, except the seven Miss Penkos, comes by to celebrate with what is, in fact, their family and to take an end of year bow.

Enjoy another dozen visits with Polar Bear and the gang!

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Parol no Miraijima

Here's a little charmer from the 2014 Anime Mirai set of OVAs: Parol no Miraijima (Parol's Island of the Future). This is the last of the four OVAs to be available in English. macros74 translated the French subtitles into English. Moho checked the translation against the original Japanese, and convexity checked the song. macros74 timed the script and typeset it, I edited, and we both QC'd with help from Eternal_Blizzard. The raw is from Sunsub, a Czech fansub group. The result is an Orphan-M74 coproduction, joining such classics as Submarine 707.

The story in Parol no Miraijima is simple. A group of fur-covered humanoid creatures (with protruding bellybuttons) live in innocent isolation on an island far from civilization. A girl on the island named Rikotto becomes intrigued with a picture of the human world that washes up on the shore. She persuades her two best friends, Parol and Zuzu, to set off with her in a rickety boat to find the world corresponding to the photograph. They reach human civilization during a festival, so their fur-covered skin is mistaken for costumes. They are befriended, betrayed, and captured. They barely escape with their hides intact, having witnessed at first hand the wonders and terrors of civilization as we humans know it.

The animation is gorgeous, with smooth action shots, vibrant colors, and a great sense of slapstick timing. Just watch the opening sequence where Rikotto and Parol set off to visit Zuzu, swimming through a stream, body surfing through rapids, and ultimately taking a suspended cable car across a vertiginous landscape to reach the island's shore. It has an exuberance and originality that puts most contemporary anime to shame. The director, Imai Kazuaki, and animation director, Kameda Yoshimichi, are veteran animators, but this is one of their first assignments at the top level.

So here's the "orphan" of Anime Mirai 2014. Enjoy!

Update: thanks to the generosity of Commie Subs, we were able to encode a 1080p version directly from the Blu-Ray source. Many thanks to bananadoyouwanna for the encode and herkz for the original source material.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Typesetting Polar Bear Cafe



That which doesn't kill us makes us stronger.
                                Friedrich Nietzsche

If Nietzsche is to be believed, I'm a stronger typesetter than I used to be, but it was a near-run thing. It's taken about three months to typeset the whole show, and there were many times I was ready to throw in the towel and go back to Yawara!-style {\an8} signage.

Polar Bear Café is a very sign-heavy show. I think this is a direct consequence of its low budget. Stationary characters talking against static backgrounds don't give the eye much to do. (That's why the show works so well as a radio drama, once you’ve internalized the characters' images.) Adding signs is an inexpensive way to make the backgrounds more interesting. In addition, signs provide a way to add some humor for the adults watching the show, as I'll describe later. Accordingly, the signs are a vital part of the show's visual style; at least, some of them are.

Which Signs Matter?

In a show that's using signs as enrichment for backgrounds, not all signs are going to be important. In fact, most of them won't be.  The problem, of course, is how to know which ones do matter. The only real option is to translate them all and then decide.

The original translators provided the first clues. They translated about half the signs, and the ones that they translated are generally significant, usually for underlining a joke. (The endless puns are often reinforced with signs.) Unfortunately, the untranslated half can also matter.

When I started, I had to take a screenshot of every untranslated sign and then pester a translator to tell me what it meant. (Many thanks to convexity, deltakei, and Moho for putting up with this.) However, as I went along, I realized that the vast majority of the signs were in hiragana or katakana rather than kanji, so that the target audience of children could read them. Decoding the secondary alphabets is not a slam dunk, but it's much easier to deal with 40-odd characters than 4000. With the help of online sites like Nihongodict, I became more proficient at decoding hiragana and katakana and translated some signs myself.

The vast majority of the untranslated signs don't matter, and after a while, I started to omit signs with no relevance. For example, in episode 13, I typeset every menu item in the yakitori bar, complete with movement. In later episodes, I ignored those sorts of restaurant placards. In episode 20, I did as many of the festival booth signs as I could. Later, I didn't bother with most street signs.

But despite all the irrelevancies, every now and then an untranslated sign turned out to be significant. In episode 15, the "Dodo Bird" store sign is the punch line for the second half skit, and the joke simply isn't as good without it.

Insert or Overwrite?

When a sign is typeset, there's a fundamental choice to be made: insert the English into the scene, leaving the Japanese intact, or mask out the Japanese and overwrite it with the English. I ended up doing both, with very little consistency. Usually, though, I prefer to insert the English. My main reason is that the backgrounds for signs are rarely flat. They're often textured or shaded. Overwriting with a fixed color mask can produce a fake-looking result. However, if the background is uniform, the sign doesn't fade in or out, and there's no space for the English otherwise, I will overwrite the Japanese. The yakitori bar menu signs in episode 13 are all masked and overwritten.

Font Matching for Fun and Profit

If English in inserted into a sign, it really helps if the English font resembles the Japanese lettering. Thus, font matching is one of basic first steps in setting a sign. Polar Bear Café's signs are mostly done with a single font family. When I discovered this and realized that I had all the fonts, I sort of went overboard. Every sign was scrupulously matched for character shape, character weight, and so on. As a result, I ended up using more than 130 fonts.

Experienced typesetters don't do that. They realize that the subtle differences among Japanese fonts are rarely carried over into distinguishable differences in the English letters. Accordingly, they tend to typeset with a small repertory of fonts able to represent entire font families: gothics, minchos, etc. By the end of the series, I was able to see font families, but I still fell into the trap of trying to match fonts exactly.

One side effect of this is that each episode may contain eight or ten massive CJK (Chinese-Japanese-Korean) fonts, bloating the episode’s footprint and even breaking certain players.  Accordingly, I started compressing the CJK fonts, either by stripping OTF subfonts to create a "small" OTF, or by converting just the ISO-Latin characters into a really small TTF. Converting to TTF is more reliable, but it can have the undesirable side effect of changing character sizes. Accordingly, remember to compress fonts before use, not afterwards.

Compression had another undesirable side effect: elimination of special characters used in signs. As a result, many of the key fonts had to be compressed a second time, retaining specific special characters, and the episodes that used them redone. This is why episodes 1-13 and NCED01 will get v2s.

Color Matching

In addition to font matching, inserted English needs to match the color of the Japanese sign. Aegisub makes this easy with its color picker, but there are subtleties. As my wife the quilter points out, colors are not absolute; their appearance is changed by what surrounds them. I was constantly frustrated about this. An exact color match would appear faded if I added blur (and \blur1 is almost mandatory), or it would appear brighter if I added a dark border. I found I was often overriding the “exact” match for something that pleased my eye better. And that's a slippery slope, because my color sense is poor, at best. The yellow in OP1 doesn't really match well, for example. I made it too pale, and I still can't find a value of yellow that I like.

Movement

While some signs are static, many appear to move. Computer-based animation tools make it trivial to pan, zoom, or rotate a scene or sign to add some dynamism to a static background. If a sign moves, the English must move too (and if the sign is overwritten, the mask as well).

In the Dark Ages, the typesetter had to approximate movement with subtitle tags like \move, which assumed that motion was linear. This rarely looked good. Nowadays, motion capture software allows object movement to be tracked precisely, and Aegisub macros can translate the capture data into frame-by-frame typesetting. This bloats scripts enormously but provides very satisfying pans and scaling. (Motion capture is described in great detail in unanimated’s tutorial on typesetting.)

The motion capture software does have its limits, however. It's not terribly good at capturing rotation, particularly if that's combined with other forms of movement. In the first opening to Polar Bear Café, the circular show logo rotates and then begins to tilt down, eventually becoming a roadway. I had to fade the show title out a few frames into this sequence because tracking was lost as the circle began to deform. In episode 36, Grizzly’s door sign rotates on a pivot. The tracking software gradually lost the angle of the sign, and the sequence was ultimately set by hand.

Another limitation is that the motion-tracking software can't deal with true hand-drawn animation or deformations. Irregular changes between frames, particularly in object shapes, cause the software to goes off the rails. This was most evident in the Tanabata wish sequence in episode 13, where the paper tags containing the Tanabata wishes blow, twist, and curl in the wind. Every position in that sequence had to be set by hand. Fortunately, the animators were pressed for budget, and there are only 16 distinct configurations of the most critical sign, Panda's wish. However, the sequence also zooms in, so when a configuration repeated, the English had to be scaled and repositioned. That sequence took a week to do, mostly because I'd start to tear my hair out every few frames.

I’m fairly dissatisfied with the Tanabata signs. The English doesn’t appear to move correctly. This is because hand-drawn animation is not accurate. Angles and character sizes change from frame to frame, often incorrectly, but the eye forgives because it has no other reference point. However, when English is introduced, the discordance is obvious. The Japanese is moving "consistently," and so is the English, but they are not moving consistently with respect to each other.

Stock Signs

One interesting aspect of typesetting a long series with a low budget is getting to see how much animation (and signage) is reused.  Polar Bear Café uses stock shots, like the front of the zoo, the front of the café, and the front of Panda’s house, as a cheap way of indicating scene changes. If these stock shots contain signs, then the typesetting can be reused, with minor changes for coloration or zoom. I ended up compiling a "stock shot" index for the series, so that I could simply cut and paste the base typesetting for any stock sign.

The show also has standardized sets. Two of the most frequently used are the interior of the zoo office and the street in front of Rin Rin's florist shop. The zoo office has a whiteboard with the monthly schedule, always labeled "Schedule for the Month." Rin Rin’s shop has standard signs and is adjacent to a bookstore (just Books) and a gallery (Gallery Morita). Across the street is an antiques shop (just Antiques Shop). All of those signs were reused frequently.

Animation Errors

Another aspect of typesetting a long series in getting to see how often there are animation errors. Scenes are farmed out to different teams of animators, and sometimes details are inconsistent. For example, in the drive-thru restaurant sequence in episode 4, the microphone for ordering disappears and is replaced by a piece of horizontal trim as Polar Bear's car passes through. In various hand-animated sequences of Grizzly’s door sign in episode 36, the margins around the Japanese word vary wildly from frame to frame. BluRay editions often correct animation errors found in TV releases, but not in Polar Bear Café.

Summary

I'm still not a proficient typesetter. I stand in awe of how easy some of my colleagues make it look. However, I think Polar Bear Café looks better with typesetting, even if it's far from perfect. I hope you’ll agree. And if there are any highly experienced typesetters out there who are interested in the show… there are still some signs I have no idea how to do.