Monday, March 14, 2016

Samurai Spirits

Samurai Spirits: Haten Gouma no Shou is a 1994 movie-length TV special that, until now, has only been available in English as a dub. While many viewers prefer dubs to subtitles, I am always concerned that the Japanese script has been significantly altered or even completely rewritten. I like to see what the original creators intended, and quite a few members of the Orphan team agree. Hence, this first English subtitled version of Samurai Spirits.

This project is the brainchild of ninjacloud, one of Orphan's timers and its chief detective for finding obscure raws and OSTs. He acted as project leader throughout and recruited colleagues from Orphan and other groups. convexity translated, ninjacloud timed, I edited and typeset the signs, Juggen styled the dialog and did the ending karaoke, and Calyrica, Ironman, konnakude, and Juggen did QC. The raw was encoded by an anonymous helper from a DVD ISO provided by BoomerCE.

Samurai Spirits is based on a game. It's yet another quasi-science fiction take on the Shimabara Rebellion and its aftermath. However, unlike Orphan's previous venture into this territory, Sei Michaela Gakuen Hyouryuuki, Samurai Spirits is totally PG-rated. In this retelling, Amakusa Shirou escapes death after the failure of the rebellion in 1638 by allying himself with the "Evil God Ambrosia," who grants him supernatural powers to effectively rule the land. (Why an evil god is named after the mythical drink of the Greek gods is not explained.) He turns on and kills his fellow "Holy Swordsman," who have come to Japan from all over the planet to fight him. (One of them comes from San Francisco, which wasn't founded until 1776.)

Fast forward a hundred years to 1738, and the Holy Swordsmen have been reborn. One of them, Hoahmaru, is living in a small village in Japan, mostly loafing around but occasionally acting as a local hero. When Amakusa's forces attack and destroy Hoahmaru's village (because they are Bad Guys, after all), Hoahmaru is reunited with the other reincarnated Holy Swordsmen, and together they must confront the evil that destroyed them a hundred years previously. The outcome is predictable, of course, but there are lots of good sword fights and secret moves along the way.

Speaking of secret moves, the names (always spoken aloud, of course) have been mostly left in Japanese. Here is a magic decoder ring, for the interested:
  • Kogetsuzan - Crescent Slash
  • Senpuuretsuzan - Whirlwind Slash
  • Bakuen Ryuu - Exploding Fire Dragon
  • Tenpa Fuujinzan  - Heavenly Divine Slash
  • Chobi Jishi - Lion of Jumping Tail
 So enjoy Samurai Spirits in its first English-subtitled release!

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Preposterous! (Ear of the Golden Dragon)

As I was editing Ear of the Golden Dragon (Kouryu no Mimi), I was irresistibly reminded of a Monty Python sketch called Hell's Grannies, which features "gangs of old ladies attacking defenseless, fit young men". As the sketch goes increasingly off the rails, a by-the-book English colonel intervenes and shuts it down, saying, "Started off with a nice little idea about grannies attacking young men, but now it's got silly." That's how I feel about Golden Dragon. It started off with a nice little idea about a Romeo-and-Juliet romance across warring clans, but then it got silly.

How silly? Well, on one side is the ancient Natsume clan. The clan leader's left ear has the power of the "golden dragon." When this power is unleashed, the leader changes appearance from a boy to an action hero, and he becomes the luckiest man in creation, who "can make any woman submit to his will," according to the narrator. That's quite an ear(ful).On the other side, equally ancient, is the Mina clan of beautiful women, whose sole purpose is to destroy the men of the Natsume clan. They can hold dozens of poisonous needles in their mouths without getting nicked. They can seduce any man in creation, thereby attaining, among other things, a stranglehold on the Japanese government. And they are masters (mistresses?) of disguise.

Natsume Kiroemon, 45th leader of his clan, rescues Shijo Kanako, of the Mina clan, from the clutches of the ne'er-do-well son of a powerful politician. Of course, they fall in love and, by the end of the first episode, into bed. But Kanako recognizes that their Love Is Not To Be and returns to her family in Kyoto. Kiroemon is determined to rescue her and bravely charges into this nest of succubi, who make more progress with him than one might expect of a Virtuous Hero. After Kiroemon encounters and defeats various villains - including three ninjas who have kanji on their foreheads (so you can tell them apart) and a human-sized version of a Titan from Shokugei no Kyojin - Kiroemon and Kanoko are reunited, presumably to live passionately ever after.

In short, Ear of the Golden Dragon is the usual 90s OVA mix of sex, violence, and nonsense. The sex scenes are reasonably graphic for a non-hentai anime, there are buckets of blood, and the plot makes no sense at all. Not every 90s OVA can be Sanctuary. A "deeper" (or more scathing) review can be found here.

Moho Kareshi translated the dialog. Iri, who recently joined the group, translation checked the dialog and translated the songs. ninjacloud timed, I edited and typeset, calyrica and konnakude QCed. The raws were encoded by Erik of Piyo Piyo Productions from his own Japanese laserdiscs.

Morikawa Toshiyuki, who plays Kiroemon, has had leads roles in Gallery Fake and all three series of Junjou Romantica, but he's best known to me as Panda Mama in Polar Bear Cafe. Hisakaya Awa, who plays Kanako, has had a long career of featured roles, including Skuld in all the Ah! My Goddess shows. The script doesn't give them much to work with, but they survived and went on to better things.

Here's a contemporary advertisement for the show:

Ear of the Golden Dragon isn't top drawer material, but it isn't the worst 90s OVA you might watch either.

Friday, March 4, 2016

Chuumon no Ooi Ryouriten (1994)

Here's a genuine curiosity: the 1994 (maybe - see below for more on dates) version of Chuumon no Ooi Ryouriten (The Restaurant of Many Orders). This famous Japanese short story had already been animated twice, once in 1958 with puppets, and once in 1991 (the AllCinema date of 1993 is wrong) in silent-movie mode. This version, which followed only a few years later, is conventionally animated.

What makes this OVA unusual is that after release, it seems to have vanished almost without a trace. It isn't listed in any of the standard anime databases. Further, it doesn't appear on the web site of its production company. Perhaps it was released to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the death of the story's author, Miyazawa Kenji, along with another OVA based on one of his stories, Yukiwatari. However, Yukiwatari is well documented and has a full 480p encode; Chuumon (1994) is not and has only a 360p encode.

For Orphan, Chuumon is a happy accident. Our "want ad" for translators actually got a response, and one of the new team members had the show translated and timed. It took only a minor amount of polishing to get it ready for release. Iri translated and timed the script, Yogicat polished up the timing, I edited, and Calyrica QC'd. There is no typesetting to speak of; the raw, from hSa, is too small. The raw has the usual VHS defects, but there is no other choice.

Miyazawa Kenji was a famous Japanese author. Among his books and short stores are Night on the Galactic Railway, The Life of Guskou Budori, Matasaburo the Wind Boy, and Gauche the Cellist, all of which have been animated, some of them multiple times. Chuumon no Ooi Ryouriten comes from an early collection of stories intended for children. It describes the misfortunes of two hunters who get lost in a strange forest. More than that I cannot reveal without spoiling everything, but let's just say that it's closer in spirit to Roald Dahl than Walt Disney.

By the way, the 1993 date for the far more famous version by Okamoto Tadanari is wrong. According to the DVD label for a collection that includes it, it dates from 1991:

Further, that release won the prestigious Noburo Ofuji award in 1991, according to a blog that lists all the award winners.

As for our release, different sources give different dates. The website of the Japanese educational film company T&K Telefilm lists it as 1993. Another source has a date of 2003, as does MyAnimeList. hSA put a date of 1994 on his rip. So take your choice.

I hope that this release spurs more interest in this obscure show. I would love to have more information about it as well as a better encode. If a better encode does surface, Orphan will do a v2, as we have for other shows.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Simplifying File Names

The good folks who run AniDB have pushed back on my habit of including other groups in Orphan's file names, unless the project is an official joint. These "unofficial" joints create extra work in submitting files and in maintaining the database. I understand their concerns, so Orphan will be changing its crediting policy.

Unless a project is a formal joint, releases will be under the [Orphan] label alone. All contributing groups will be recognized in the fansub credits and in the blog release post. Thus, The Tale of the Princess Kaguya is the last release under the old policy. This change will simplify dealing with crowd-sourced anime resources like AniDB and BakaBT.

In Orphan's history, there has been a number of official joint projects:
  • Tokimeki Tonight, done with Saitei.
  • Minna Atsumare! Falcom Gakuen SC, done with Migoto.
  • The Diary of Anne Frank, done with Licca.
  • Submarine 707, Parol no Miraijima, Harukanaru Toki 2, done with M74.
  • Ninku: Knife no Bohan, done with Live-eviL and Soldado.
Everything else was an attempt to be courteous and should be considered unofficial.

I don't plan on cleaning up the "unofficial" joint releases in the AniDB database, but I don't mind if someone else wants to submit the necessary change requests.