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

P**** B*** Cafe Batch

This blog entry has been DMCAed by some bloody robot three times. I have no idea what words or phrases it's picking up, so everything suspect has been replaced with asterisks. If this doesn't work, I'll ROT13 encode the whole thing.

Media companies, if you're going to use robots, at least use intelligent ones!

Here's my "last word" on P**** B*** 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 P**** B*** in shades. 469MA is a pun, of course. In Japanese, four is "shi", six is "ro", and nine is "ku", so 469MA is "sh*ro kIma" (p**** b***). 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 P**** B*** Cafe. And of course I want to thank the original subbers and encoder (Ruell-Next).

Thanks for watching P**** B*** 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!