Monday, July 25, 2016

Ginga Tansa 2100-nen: Border Planet

For me, bringing out a new or improved version of a Tezuka Osamu anime is always a thrill. Accordingly, M74 and Orphan are proud to present a new version of Ginga Tansa 2100-nen: Border Planet (Galaxy Investigation 2100: Border Planet), his 1986 movie-length TV special. 

Ginga Tansa has been available in English translation for some time, using VHS-based raws and reasonable English subtitles. This version uses an R2J DVD source, purchased and encoded by M74, and a revised translation, thoroughly checked by skypilot. M74 timed, M74 and I edited, I typeset, and Redac, M74, and I all did QC. The result is a version with better video and improved subtitles.Ginga Tansa is structured as an anthology of related shorter stories, a bit like Ray Bradbury's The Martian Chronicles. The touching prologue wordlessly shows how the childhood friendship of two boys, Prokion and Subaru, and a girl, Mira, slowly morphs into a love triangle. Prokion eventually wins Mira's hand, leaving Subaru heart-broken. However, Prokion's and Mira's love idyll is interrupted when he succumbs to a deadly space virus. Mira must be placed in suspended animation to prevent her from dying as well. Subaru, still very much in love with Mira, vows to search all of space for the source of the deadly virus, so that Mira can be treated and cured. This leads to the story proper.

The first short story is a classic haunted house story, in which the crew members of Subaru's spaceship are picked off one after another by some unknown force. The second story takes place on a ruined mining planet, where the inhabitants are desperate to depart but seem unable to do so. The third story is a vampire analogy, with depraved inhabitants preying on their own kind in a quest for immortality. In between each act are wordless interludes of Subaru visiting Mira as she sleeps inside a glass case: the Prince visiting Snow White or Sleeping Beauty.

In the end, Subaru's quest is successful, although how and where he finds the source of the virus is never shown. However, his success comes at a price, and the ending is not quite unalloyed joy. It's a fitting conclusion to a show that emphasizes Tezuka Osamu's classic themes: the power of love, the possibility of horror amid beauty and vice versa, and the indomitability of the human spirit.

The movie is filled with great touches. The wordless interludes of Subaru gazing at Mira in her suspended state are very poignant.  The second story opens with a homage to various scenes from Star Wars, including the "creature cantina" and Jabba the Hutt's sinuous, snake-like dancing girl; the background art includes a classic "RKO Radio Picture" poster from the 1940s. Various familiar characters from Tezuka Osamu's films and manga show up in bits parts, including Shunsaku Ban from The Green Cat and Metropolis and Astro Boy himself.

Tomiyama Kei, who played Subaru, had a very successful career in the last century, but his premature death more than twenty years ago means he is not well known to modern audiences. Katsuko Masako, who plays the maiden-in-distress Mira, has had a prolific career, but she is best known to me for her portrait of another female ingénue, Maroko from Gosenzo-sama Banbanzai. The musical score, by Haneda Kentarou, makes effective use of Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 23, second movement (Andante), for its contemplative moments.

Without further ado, Ginga Tansa 2100-nen: Border Planet.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Hashire Melos (1992)

Hashire Melos (Run, Melos) is a Japanese short story published by Osamu Dazai in 1940. It is a tale of friendship tested and proven. It appeals strongly to the Japanese and has been made into an anime on multiple occasions:

  • 1979, episode 20 of Nihon Meisaku Douwa Series: Akai Tori no Kokoro.
  • 1981, as a TV special.
  • 1992, as movie (this release).
  • 2009, as episodes 9-10 of Aoi Bungaku.
Hashire Melos is based on a ballad by Frederick Schiller and draws on the Greek legend of Damon and Pythias. It tells the story of Melos, a shepherd who crosses (either deliberately or inadvertently) the tyrant of Syracuse, Dionysius the Younger (called Dionysius II in the movie), and is condemned to death. He requests time to return home and settle his affairs, but the king refuses, believing that Melos will run off and never return. Melos' friend Selinuntius volunteers to take Melos' place. The king agrees but warns Melos that Selinuntius will be executed if Melos fails to return in three days. After numerous trials, Melos returns in the nick of time. The king is so astonished by this display of true friendship that he releases both men.

This was supposed to be a straightforward project – a soft-subbed version of a Laserdisc source using the R1 VHS subtitles from the ACR (Anime Classics Review) release. Encode, transcribe, time, edit, QC, release – easy, right? Somehow, it didn't turn out that way. It has taken more than a year from receipt of the initial LaserDisc rip to release for, well… reasons.

Let's start with the encode. To quote the current US presidential campaign, it's YUUUUUUGE: 2.3GB for a 106 minute movie that's not even full 480p resolution. Further, it's in two parts, with a totally arbitrary dividing line at the 52 minute mark. Why, you ask? First, the two parts of the source have different resolutions, or, more accurately, different sized black borders. The first part is 682 x 370, the second, 696 x 370. The encoder refused to put them together and have vertical bars in the first part or excess cropping in the second part. Second, the source is from film stock, and rather than risk losing or distoring details with filters and compression, the encoder ultimately just threw bits at the encode: 2200 kbps in the first part, 3000 kbps in the second. 

While transcription, timing, and editing went quickly, it took a long time to get the R1 subs translation-checked, and they really needed them. For example, many of the names in the R1 script were incorrect (the queen's name is Phryne, not Flooney, for example). Then QC stalled as well. Both TLC and QC required new resources; I've documented Orphan's translation and QC woes in other posts. But we're finally done.

Was it worth it? I find this version of Hashire Melos overstretched. There isn't enough content in the original short story to justify 100+ minutes of screen time. The first 24 minutes of the movie are an "anime original" prologue that shows Melos as a country bumpkin visiting the big city and meeting Selinuntius for the first time. There's a lot of other padding too: the sequence of events that ensnare Melos in an accusation of treason, the nefarious plot to stop Melos from returning in time, the backstory about Selinuntius and his father, and so on. The garrulous old fart Calippus and the young prostitute Raisa aren't in the original story either. Finally, the movie draws a direct link between the story of Melos and Selinuntius and the fall of Dionysius the Younger. In the short story, Melos' determination helps the king overcome his paranoia and become a better ruler. 

On the positive side, I really like the "look" of the movie and its character designs. The main characters have distinctive faces and body types, with real noses and realistic eyes. Melos looks like an overgrown lunk of a shepherd, Dionysius has the "lean and hungry" demeanor of a habitual schemer, and Selinuntius has a balanced appearance befitting a classical sculptor. The animation is fluid, set against very detailed backdrops of the city of Syracuse and the Sicilian countryside. The voice actors are good too. Yamadera Kouichi, who plays Melos, has had a distinguished voice-acting career, including Spike in Cowboy Bebop, Togusa in the Ghost in the Shell franchise, and Ryoga in Ranma ½. The other seiyuu have mostly been in featured roles. Osami Misaki directed and also did the storyboards and the screenplay. Hashire Melos was one of his last projects. Kazumasa Oda composed all the music, including the excellent ending ballad. The background music is subtle and used sparingly. 

M74 transcribed the ACR subtitles and did the initial timing; ninjacloud did timing cleanup. Iri translation checked, I edited and typeset, Juggen created the ending karaoke, and Calyrica, konnakude, and new staff member Xenath3297 did QC. bananadoyouwanna encoded the LD source, and the experience proved so traumatic that he has sworn never to touch a non-progressive source again. The LD rip itself is from an anonymous source.

Please enjoy this new release of Hashire Melos.