Friday, January 23, 2015

The One(s) That Got Away

All cultural media suffer from artifact loss, as a result of time or changes in taste. Time causes books to decay, photographs to fade, movies to disintegrate, etc. Changes in taste relegate yesterday's popular art to the status of curiosities or embarrassments, best forgotten.

Another source of loss, though, is technology change and the costs it imposes. As media change over time, some works get left on the wrong side of the technology divide and become increasingly difficult to find or, if found, to play. For example, quite a few obscure folk music records or cassettes never made it to CD, because the economic justification for remastering was lacking. One of the goals of my retirement is to digitize my remaining LP and cassette collections, while I still have equipment to play them.

The world of anime is filled with examples of works that were stranded on VHS or at best Laserdisc and never made it to DVD or streaming digital format. Indeed, several of Orphan's projects have been directed at marooned shows. For example, the Maze special never made it beyond VHS; Sei Michela Gakuen Hyouryuuki and Yamato 2520 never made it beyond Laserdisc. Of course, there's a temporal component to this too. Orphan subbed Blazing Transfer Student off a Laserdisc rip, because that was the only version available, and then a BluRay version was released. FroZen-EviL subbed the two Yawara! specials off VHS and Laserdisc (obtained at considerable expense, I might add), only to see both included in the final Yawara! BluRay box set. Even Gosenzosama Banbanzai has been released on DVD. As long as masters exist, there's reason to hope.

Still, some shows seem doomed to be Left Behind. When Maze was released on DVD, its ecchiness was toned down considerably. The special doesn't fit with the current DVD release. Yamato 2520 is probably irretrievably tangled in legal difficulties about ownership and copyrights. Bakumatsu no Spasibo, a 1997 feature length film originally recommended by the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, may have been a casualty of deteriorating relations between Russia and Japan. Other shows suffer from lack of demand. Is anyone really waiting for DVD versions of Hi-Speed Jecy or Hashire Melos or An Adventure in the Otaku Galaxy or AWOL, to name just a few shows available only on VHS or Laserdisc?

However, there are some items whose fate is mysterious: they simply never showed up on any medium. One example is the Maze movie. It certainly existed and played in theaters, but it has never been released on any consumer medium: not VHS, not LaserDisc, not DVD. Another is the long version of the Elfen Lied opening, Lilium. A full-length version must have existed, because excerpts from beyond the opening are quoted in other places in the series, but it was never released. And in both cases, no one seems to know why. Damaged masters? Rights conflicts? The mystery remains unsolved.

What anime shows are on your list of "the ones that got away"?

[Updated 24-Apr-2015]

Thursday, January 1, 2015

D4 Princess (Take Four)

Starting off 2015 with a bang, Orphan Fansubs presents D4 Princess. This short-episode series has a long and checkered history. It was subbed back in the VHS days, but numerous attempts to do a DVD version came to grief. Anime SkyScraper (the aptly named ASS) did six episodes and stopped. DmonHiro did six episodes and stopped. Animeyoshi started a project but gave up before releasing anything. tipota encoded all 24 episodes and put together softsubs from the original VHS fansubs, but the subs were inaccurate, lacked previews, and had no typesetting to speak of.

Most of these projects got underway because CP, QC extraordinaire, owned the R2J DVDs and offered them to any serious-sounding team, with little luck. Accordingly, Orphan decided in early 2013 to sub the show. Our highly prolific translator, laalg, ripped through all 24 episodes in a matter of weeks, translation-checking DmonHiro's version of the first six episodes and translating the last eighteen from scratch. Skr encoded the first six episodes, and by the summer of 2013, those episodes were in relatively good shape. And then, the curse of D4 Princess struck, and everything just stopped.

There were a couple of problems. First, laalg had worked from the VHS encode, which lacked previews, so there were no previews for episodes 7-24. Second, tipota released his version, which took a lot of the urgency out of the project. Third, the series required  general translation checking as well as translation of additional signs and the previews, and no one had the bandwidth. And most importantly, the series proved to be a typesetting nightmare, far beyond my capabilities at the time. As a result, the project stalled out for eighteen months.

Then, in early November, 2014, the stars suddenly aligned. tipota's encode included the previews. convexity translated all the previews and missing signs, and then translation checked the last eighteen episodes, in a matter of weeks. ninjacloud joined the group and timed all the episodes in rapid succession. Through practice on the Lion Books series and Hanaukyo Maid Tai, I had acquired just enough understanding of motion capture typesetting to handle the signs; I edited the scripts as well. Juggen supplied a suitably bouncy karaoke for the bouncy ending song. CP, Calyrica, and konnakude QCd the episodes in rapid succession. In less than two months, all 24 episodes were finished, in time for a New Year's release.

So what of the show itself? Well, like many Orphan projects, it's no masterpiece. (Collectr's Law of Orphaned Anime: If a show has been abandoned by multiple subbing groups, it's probably for a good reason.) Ruridou Doris is a spoiled 13-year-old, the third Princess of the Rasen Empire. She's also a panzer, a person who can transform a household appliance or tool into a personal mecha. She's about to start attending Teito Toho Academy, a prestigious private school for the ultra-wealthy (the dorm rooms are bigger than most apartments, and it has a private subway), where she will be able to practice her panzer skills freely. Unfortunately, Doris is unaware that real life doesn't come with butlers and maids and that her panzer form, which includes a drill on her head and a mahou-shoujo outfit, is rather lame.

The series starts out as a fish-out-of-water comedy about a spoiled rich girl but transforms pretty rapidly into a girl-battles-girl mecha combat show. Doris's older sister, Doria, a famous panzer, shows up to train Doris for combat. Doris, called "The Drill Princess" because her panzer weapon is a drill, fights set-piece battles against Takaeda Hasami, aka "The Longhorn Beetle" (scissors based), Kurina Nozuru, aka "The Tornado Motor" (vacuum cleaner based), and Gaou Nejiru, aka "The Bloody Drill" (also drill based). The usual Serious Development sets in at episode 21 and is resolved by the end of the show.

D4 Princess suffers from a variety of problems. The animation is not great, with lots of chibis, still-frames, repeat sequences, and even some stick figures to stretch the budget. The tone varies wildly between slapstick comedy, mecha combat, and of course the dreaded Serious Development. The ending song is an earworm, particularly after 24 (or more) repetitions.

However, I see two more serious defects. First, the viewer is invited, rather too often, to ogle Doris's 13-year-old form (and those of her friends) in states of undress. Further, as Doris perfects her panzer skills, each stage of advancement endows her with bigger oppai and more revealing d├ęcolletage. I realize that the show was made 15 years ago, and that the Japanese have (or had) a different attitude about sexualizing young girls in anime, but I find it distasteful. Perhaps I've reached the same stage as the Danny Glover character in Lethal Weapon: I'm too old for this shit.

Second, the Serious Development is handled with a superficiality that is breathtaking. Doris undergoes a serious psychological trauma and is then magically cured by a single letter. I know 13-year-olds are resilient, but that is just ridiculous.

Well, as one team member remarked, if it wasn't the best show, at least it was short.

A couple of translation notes.
  • The title, D4 Princess, references that Doris has the fourth Kaiser Drill in her family. The anime completely ignores the other three.
  • Takaeda Hasami's panzer name is literally "The Longicorn Beetle." It has been rendered here as the more familiar "Longhorn Beetle."
  • The interjection "mou" is rendered as "gee" rather than the more usual "geez" or "jeez," because that's how laalg preferred it - totally G-rated.
So here, at last, is an accurate, complete (and typeset) D4 Princess. In the end, CP didn't get to use his R2J DVDs for the project, unless his ISOs found their way to tipota, but he says he's satisfied with the result. More seriously, this release depletes the very last of the reservoir of scripts from laalg, whose extraordinary productivity fueled many of our projects for the past two years. Now we are truly Orphans.