Saturday, December 31, 2016

2016 in Review

2016 has been a momentous year and a source of great hope and anxiety for many people. The Chicago Cubs won the World Series for the first time in 108 years. (Let's hear it for the good guys!) Donald Trump won the presidency. (Let's hear it for the bad guys!) And then there was anime...

Orphan Fansubs

This was a banner year for Orphan, thanks to an infusion of new staff members, including translators (Iri, skypilot, gamnark, and Kou) and QCers (Xenath3297, Redac, and Nemesis). In addition, the continuing fade-out of mainstream fansubbing in the face of simultaneous streaming reduced the amount of time I spent with other teams. As a result, Orphan released a record number of projects in 2016:
  1. Next Senki Ehrgeiz. This mecha series was surprising enjoyable. A resub project using new Laserdisc rips from Erik of Piyo Piyo Productions.
  2. Minna Atsumare! Falcom Gakuen SC. The group's first foray into contemporary anime and the short-episode form. A gag-a-second send-up of the Falcom universe. Joint with Migoto.
  3. Code:Breaker OVAs. Not the story completion I was hoping for, but a series of comedic and ecchi sketches featuring the main characters from the series.
  4. Joker: Marginal City. A sci-fi OVA using a new Laserdisc rip. Like the Sanctuary and Meisou-Ou Border OVAs, it is one small episode from a much larger manga canvas.
  5. The Tale of the Princess Kaguya. A minimalist resubbing of Takahato Isao's minimalist masterpiece. Maybe someday we'll sub the hentai version. ;)
  6. Saiyuuki (1960). The first accurate translation of the 1960 film known in the West as Alakazam the Great. Based on a manga by Tezuka Osamu.
  7. Chuumon no Ooi Ryouriten. The third anime instantiation of Miyazawa Kenji's classic spooky tale. We're still not sure if this was made in 1993, 1994, or 2003, as there are many different dates on the Web. A better raw is needed for this.
  8. Ear of the Golden Dragon. A preposterous 90s mix of magic, sex, and violence, and way more entertaining than it should be. Encoded from more of Erik's Laserdiscs.
  9. Samurai Spirits. Yet another riff on the Shimabara Rebellion and its leader, Amakusa Shirou. Orphan's raw-finder-in-chief and timer ninjacloud led this project.
  10. Kuroi Ame ni Utarete. This bitter and unremitting look at the consequences of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima angers and disturbs in equal measure.
  11. Tenkousei. Our token foray into soft-core hentai, Tenkousei is the last in a series that included Doukyuusei and Kakysuusei. It lacks both energy and originality.
  12. Hashire Melos. A softsubbed version of the 1992 movie, from a Laserdisc rip. It required a thorough translation check of the R1 subs.
  13. Ginga Tansa 2100-nen: Border Planet. A new version of the Tezuka Osamu TV special. Itdemonstrates his special gifts and talents. Not to be missed.
  14. Satsujin Kippu wo Heart-iro. This light-hearted mystery set in Nagasaki features a plucky heroine and an extremely capable cat.
  15. Nora. A legendary OVA about a scatterbrained teenage girl who saves the world from a lonely AI run amok. Encoded from one of Erik's Laserdiscs.
  16. Kaze no Matasaburou (2016). An episode from Anime Tamago 2016, based on another Miyazawa Kenji story. Airy, slight, and beautiful.
  17. Utopa. Another episode from Anime Tamago 2016, a sci-fi tale about three human-animal hybrids trying to explore an ecologically transformed Earth.
  18. A-Girl. A "silent movie"/music video about a girl involved with a handsome but inconstant model. The raw is undersized and lacks the ending song.
  19. Yume Tsukai. A new softsub version of the 2006 contemporary fantasy, encoded from R2J DVDs. One of my favorite series of this century.
  20. Meisou-Ou Border. A tantalizing glimpse of a 14 volume seinen manga that has not been translated, about two vagabonds on the "border" of conventional society.
  21. Twinkle Nora Rock Me! A sequel to Nora and nowhere near as good. A random plot and incompetent animation make this a serious disappointment.
  22. Dragon Fist. An OVA that crosses mystical Chinese martial arts with a sci-fi plot involving cloning.
  23. Neko Nanka Yondemo Konai. A recent comedy with ultra-short episodes. It features cute kittens conquering their hapless human "master." It was my therapy series for election season.
  24. Kuro ga Ita Natsu. Orphan's second release this year of a Nakazawa Kenji anime about the bombing of Hiroshima.
  25. Wolf Guy. An action sci-fi OVA about immortal wolf-men (and tiger-women) battling a Heinous Conspiracy. Very enjoyable.
  26. GR ~Giant Robo~ Special. The pilot for the 2007 TV series. We're not doing the actual show, so don't ask. ;)
That's 26 projects this year, far more than Orphan has ever done before. Congratulations, and many thanks, to everyone who helped out.

Work for Other Groups
  • FFF. I edited the second season of Shokugeki no Souma. I edited or QCed the three Hoozuki no Reitetsu OVAs. I QCed the Blu-Ray releases of Walkure Romanze and Yuushibu.
  • Frozen-EviL. I continued to edit the slow-moving Blu-Ray version of Yawara!
  • Saizen. I continued to edit the slow-moving releases of Laughing Salesman and Psycho Armor Govarian; I also took over typesetting for Salesman.
  • C1. I continued to edit the slow-moving release of Kakyuusei (1999). See a pattern here?
  • Kiteseekers. I typeset all thirty episodes of Mari & Gali 2.0, as well as episodes 30-35 of Idol Densetsu Eriko and 40-41 of Pretty Rhythm Dear My Future.
  • Magai. I edited or QCed some of the group's short releases. 
I probably liked working on Hoozuki no Reitetsu the best - it appeals to my warped sense of humor. 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 something in return, like translation help. However, opportunities seem to be dwindling, as fewer and fewer shows get fansubbed these days.

Favorites of 2016

I'm not an anime critic, and I don't play one on the Internet, so I no longer try to compile a "best of" list for the anime year. These days, I don't watch enough anime, outside of the genres I like (slice-of-life, comedy, sci-fi, seinen, josei), to even be knowledgeable enough to make a "Top 10" list. Instead, I'm listing my favorites of the year and why they kept me interested all the way through.

In alphabetical order:
  • Amaama to Inazuma (slice-of-life). Any show with an adult protagonist starts out with an advantage, and centering the plot on parenting is an additional edge. This comedy about a single parent struggling to master the art of cooking for his kindergarten-age daughter never set a foot wrong. Yes, the child was preternaturally cute, but so are my grandchildren. The plot situations (it's hard to call them complications) were realistic: small-scale issues and daily life.
  • Boku no Hero Academia (shounen). My shounen for the year, although it was a close call with Mob Psycho. This show plays it very straight and earnest yet avoids the repetition cliches of most shounen shows.
  • Fune wo Amu (seinen). A serious look at eccentric but passionate adults and their struggles both in work and in life. A show about and for grown-ups. I found it consistently engaging and ultimately quite moving. 
  • Joker Game (seinen). This series started well but then failed to deliver on its premise of a revisionist look at Japanese history. Nonetheless, it is quite interesting, at least to me, because I studied the interwar period as a history major.
  • Natsume Yuujinchou Go (slice-of-life). I have loved this series in all its incarnations. This season continues to blend human and youkai stories in a moving way and showed no signs of going stale. Nyanko-sensei is one of the great characters in all of anime.
  • Shounen Maid (slice-of-life). No, not the h-anime, but a gentle comedy that unfortunately shares the same title. Like several other shows on this list, it focuses on the question, "What is family?", in all its complexities.
  • Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu (seinen). The other great seinen drama this year. It delves as deeply into the human condition as any anime of recent times. Why didn't it get a decent fansub release?
  • Tanaka-kun wa Itsumo Kedaruge (comedy). My favorite comedy this year, although both Sakamoto desu ga? and Daigashi Kashi were strong contenders as well.
  • Udon no Kuni no Kin'iro Kemari (slice-of-life). The list closes with another show about a single parent, a young child, and food, but this one took a supernatural approach: the child is actually a tanuki shapeshifter. Despite the improbable premise, the show has emotional depth and probes universal issues: the gap between parents and children, the losses we experience in life and cannot repair, and the fundamental bedrock of familial love.
No sports, no mecha, no magical girls, and no excessive violence, so Haikyuu!! S3, Yuri on Ice! and 91 Days, which others have strongly praised, aren't on my list. Perhaps I'll get to them Some Day, along with the other 15TB of unwatched anime I have stashed away.

Short series seem to be falling to a predictable pattern of extremely fast talking and obvious gags. It was original once but doesn't feel that way anymore. I watched Nobunaga no Shinobi, but none of this year's short series really stood out for me.

Looking Ahead

Orphan Fansubs is now more than six years old: its first official release was Harukanaru Toki no Naka de 3: Owarinaki Unmei in September, 2010. Since then, the team has finished more than seventy projects (that we'll admit to). I hope the group will be able to maintain a reasonable pace in 2017, but team members leave or retire all the time. So if you are an experienced fansubber, particularly a translator, typesetter, or QC, and would like to join Orphan in exploring the highways and byways of the anime past, please drop me a PM on IRC or leave a comment on the blog.

Monday, December 26, 2016

GR ~Giant Robo~ (2007) Special

Here's a little something to close out 2016: the special from the 2007 version of GR ~Giant Robo~. Apparently, this was the pilot for the TV series. However, there were significant changes between the pilot and the actual show, including a different writer and a different director. Thus, the special is less a promo for the series than an alternate version of how the series might have looked.

Iri translated and timed this, and I edited and typeset it. (The typesetting is twice as long as the dialog.) M74 encoded from an R2J DVD ISO.

The show itself has never been subtitled in English, and Orphan has no intention of subbing it either. I don't do mecha or robots, unless the show has Youko (i.e., Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann).

Monday, December 19, 2016

Back to the Shadows Again (Kage)

Compiling an official list of Orphan's releases made me realize that the name is older than I thought. It dates back to 2007, when I had been fansubbing only a little more than a year. I had already become obsessed with finishing series that had been abandoned (as documented in this blog entry); and one of the first series I focused on was a four-episode h-anime from 2004 called Kage (Shadow). Shinsen Subs, the 800-pound gorilla of fansub groups when I took up the hobby in 2006, subbed the first two episodes, and then they stopped. I was quite chagrined that Kage had been abandoned and was determined to see the series completed. Somehow, I found a translator for the last two episodes and timed them myself to random Internet raws. With no typesetting or translation checking, and very little QC, they were released in late 2007 and early 2008 under the label "Orphan Fansubs." Orphan was basically intended as a one-shot; no further releases were planned.

That began to change in late 2010. I began experimenting with resubbing shows that had serious defects in editing, timing, styling, or typesetting. The second release under the Orphan label (and the first one with a real process behind it) was Harukanaru Toki no Naka de 3: Owarinaki Unmei, which had been hardsubbed by a group called EPIC. I transcribed, retimed, re-edited, and restyled, and used a much better raw from HQR to create a softsubbed release. The next project was Hand Maid Mai, an ecchi comedy with the usual terrible R1 DVD subs. Here the focus was on getting at least passable timing and typesetting. And with a couple of projects under my belt, my thoughts returned to Kage.

Kage is an unusual h-anime in several respects. First, the artwork is gorgeous - the character designs, the backgrounds, the fluidity of the action and sex scenes. Second, the characters are well-defined and not merely cliches. Third, the plot is dense and complicated, particularly for an h-anime. Set in the late Bakumatsu, it tells the story of female ninjas who use their sexual and fighting skills to seduce and assassinate men in various factions. The protagonist is Karyu, a reluctant assassin who has known no other life. At times, she is aided by Gisuke, a samurai who has his own secrets. Her antagonist is Uzume, a violet-eyed beauty who revels in blood and murder. Their frequent encounters and ultimate confrontation are the core of the story. Only one can survive.

I felt that Kage deserved better treatment than the cursory subs and random Internet raws I had used in 2007. Fortunately, some of my colleagues at the time agreed, and we decided to redo the whole show - revised translations, new encodes, etc. The encoder imported the R2J DVDs from Japan (at exorbitant cost) and encoded them at high bit rates to preserve the details. The translator went over not only the original Orphan scripts but the Shinsen Subs scripts and made significant corrections. The episodes received several rounds of QC from team members. (I'm being vague about the names because some fansubbers don't want credit for working on h-anime.) And there was actual typesetting. The typesetting caused a major delay, though. The logo was hardsubbed, and the typesetter who created it was dyslexic and misspelled Orphan.

Natsuki Rio (Karyu) has had an active voice-acting career, mostly outside of h-anime. She has had featured roles in the El Hazard and Macross 7 shows, as well as in Tactical Roar, Techni Muyo, To Heart 2, and Tokko, to mention just the Ts. Adachi Mari (Uzume) is less well known; she appeared in both Doukyuusei 2 and Sotsugyusei. The director, Abe Masashi, was an industry veteran; he did the seminal sci-fi series Blue Gender. The animation director and character designer, Takahashi Shinya, had done designs for Photon and Kurogane Communication.

Kage looks as good now as it did when it was released it almost six years ago. It is, not surprisingly, the most frequently downloaded Orphan show on BakaBT, by a very wide margin. Well, we all know what anime viewers really like.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Wolf Guy

Here's another good show that was lost on Laserdisc: 1992's six-part OVA, Wolf Guy. This is an action/adventure/sci-fi story about immortals who can transform into wolves battling the Phoenix Group, a hideous conspiracy led by an American company called Biomeasure. It's quite baffling at times, because it starts in the middle of a complex situation and ends without reaching much of a conclusion. The nominal hero is fighting not only the Phoenix Group but also Chinese Intelligence's Tiger Corps (immortals who can transform into tigers) and Japanese Cabinet Intelligence. Add to this four-sided battle characters who change allegiance and appearance, and you've got quite an explosive and confusing story.

The protagonist and immortal "wolf guy" of the title is Inugami Akira, who transforms at full moon and when he needs to into a golden wolf. He's deeply attached to his high-school teacher, Aoshiko Akiko, whom he has saved on more than one occasion. The Phoenix Group is aiming to seize the secret of immortality from the wolf-men, wipe out most of planet's population, and then rule the world. Their agents kidnap Akiko, drug and rape her, and use her as bait to try and catch Akira. He in turn seeks an antidote for the poison and to defeat the Phoenix Group.

After some initial hostility, Akira is aided by Hu Ssu, a tiger-woman from the Tigers Corps. She gradually falls in love with him, to the detriment of her loyalty to the Corps. He's also aided by another wolf-man, Jin Akira, a journalist who is out to uncover the truth about the Phoenix Group. Occupying a more villainous role is Saijou Kei, the Phoenix Group agent who, among other bestial acts, raped Akiko. After he is betrayed and left for dead by his bosses, Saijou starts working as an agent of Japanese Cabinet Intelligence, but he's really out for himself.

With all these combatants, there's lots of action, bloodshed, and death, but the series is surprisingly calm in spots, allowing time for character development and interaction. Saijou has as prominent a role as the two Akiras and Hu Ssu. Akiko, reduced to dazed obedience by the Phoenix Group's "Narcotic 800," is mostly a cipher.

Wolf Guy was originally a two-volume manga by Hirai Kazumasa; it has never been published in English. Hirai worked the manga into a novel series than ultimately included 19 volumes. (The OVA appears to start in the middle of book two and cover through book four.) In 2007, the story was re-adapted as a longer and more violent manga known as Wolf Guy: Ookami no Monshou. This later manga version is available in English but diverges considerably from the plot of the original manga and from the OVAs.

The voice cast is stellar. Morikawa Toshiyuki (Inugami Akira) has had a long and distinguished career, including the lead roles in Ear of the Golden Dragon, Gallery Fake, and numerous other shows, as well as a scene-stealing performance as Panda Mama in Polar Bear Cafe. Yokoyama Chisa (Hu Ssu) has also appeared in many shows, playing Sasami/Pretty Sammy in the Tenchi Muyo franchise, as well as the title role in Galaxy Fraulein Yuna. Gouri Daisuke (Saijou) has been in many long-running franchises, including Dragonball and Kinnikuman. Horiuchi Kenyuu (Jin Akira) continues to be active; he played Lt. Colonel Yuki in this year's Joker Game. The director, Yoshonaga Naoyuki, worked on several classic shows, including Maison Ikkoku and Patlabor. The music is by the peerless Kenji Kawai; for some reason, Wolf Guy doesn't show up in his English discographies. I'm still looking for the two soundtrack albums.

The Laserdiscs came from two sources. The first three volumes are from Erik's collection and were encoded by him as Piyo Piyo Productions. The last three volumes are from an anonymous collector and were encoded by M74. The significant differences in color and brightness reflect the sources as we received them and were probably a result of different players and capture setups. Iri translated, ninjacloud timed, I edited and typeset (not many signs), and Nemesis and Calyrica did QC.

I really enjoyed Wolf Guy; it's far-fetched and violent, but it's not a cookie-cutter retread like so much of modern anime. I hope you'll like it too.

Sunday, December 11, 2016


At first, the 1998 OVA Juliet seems like an incongruous mixture of tones, ranging from slapstick comedy to blatant fanservice to violent tragedy, until you realize that it's based on a four-volume manga by U-Jin, creator of the very ecchi and sometimes sketchy Sakura Diaries. The tonal shifts are still jarring, but knowing who created the story makes matters a little more understandable.

Another oddity of Juliet is its title, as the anime contains no character or location named Juliet and no references to the Shakespearean character. (Perhaps the manga spells out the connection.) Instead, it's the story of two siblings, Anzu and Naruto Nozaki, heirs to the fabulous Nozaki fortune. Naruto appears to be an overbearing sis-con. In fact, he's madly in love with Anzu, because they're not blood-related. He confines her to the family mansion for "security," depriving her of companionship and a real life. At age 16, she starts to rebel. She smuggles in a kitten as a pet (Naruto hates cats) and then escapes in a delivery truck. Naruto catches up to her and realizes that she can't be confined like a bird in a cage. He agrees to let have a normal life, but just then, tragedy strikes.{Spoiler alert - well, not much of a spoiler, because the AniDB summary spills the beans.} Brother, sister, and kitten are all killed.

However, it isn't Anzu's time, so she is brought back to life. Her brother, desperate to stay close to her, reincarnates as the kitten and, in feline form, continues his quest to dominate and letch after her. Anzu starts working at an all-services pet store and, after some comic adventures, finds the prospect of a new life, and possibly romance, beckoning. The feline Naruto continues to watch over her, alternating gratitude at being able to cuddle with her and jealousy at her prospects for human love. And there the story ends... but not before there has been a lot of gratuitous nudity, panty shots, and other fanservice.

Araki Kae, who played Anzu, is probably best known for her lead role in all the Fushigi Yuugi properties.Yamanoi Jin, who voiced Naruto, has had featured roles in many anime. The director, Tomii Wataru, is relatively unknown; his only other credited work is Rance.

This is an M74 release. M74 started with jan55's raw and German subtitles. He retimed the subs and translated them into English. The project then languished a long time until the subs could be checked; a new Orphan team member, Kou, fixed them up. I edited and typeset, and Nemesis and Calyrica did QC. Just before release, M74 made a new encode directly from the R2j DVD. The source has terrible blending/deinterlacing problems on horizontal pans, but the encode is the best that can be done.

Anyway, if you're in the mood for something a little ecchi (and a little sketchy), Juliet will fill the bill nicely. Enjoy.

Friday, December 9, 2016

Kuro ga Ita Natsu (Summer with Kuro)

A single death is a tragedy; a million deaths are a statistic.
                    -- aphorism attributed (without much proof) to Josef Stalin

Throughout the 20th and 21st centuries, artists have grappled with the problem of presenting massive tragedies in ways that are neither overwhelming nor overly distancing. How do you present the Holocaust - or the genocides in Armenia, Bosnia, and Rwanda - or the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki - or what's happening in Syria right now, for that matter - in ways that allow people to relate to and comprehend the incomprehensible?

Nakazawa Kenji, a survivor of the bombing of Hiroshima, wrestled with this dilemma all his life, and he returned to the subject repeatedly. He was involved with four anime films about the bombing:
  • Hadashi no Gen (Barefoot Gen) - 1983 - available commercially
  • Kuroi Ame ni Utarete (Lashed by the Black Rain) - 1984 - subbed by Orphan
  • Hadashi no Gen 2 (Barefoot Gen 2) - 1986 - available commercially
  • Kuro ga Ita Natsu (Summer with Kuro) - 1990, and now subbed b Orphan
The first three reflected Nakazawa Kenji's bitter personal experiences - his family was killed in the bombing. They were tragic, angry, and often deeply anti-American. For the last, Kuro, Nakazawa wrote an original screenplay and took an entirely different approach.

Kuro ga Ita Natsu tells the story of a family living in Hiroshima near the end of the war: a father, a mother, and two elementary school students, Nobuko and her younger brother Makoto. Unlike in Barefoot Gen, the hardships of war - in particular, the lack of food and prevailing malnutrition among the poor - are not in evidence. Except for air raid drills and enforced patriotic salutes at school, Nobuko and Makoto lead fairly normal lives.

One day, Nobuko finds a black-and-white kitten that has been orphaned by a killer band of crows.

She brings the cat home and persuades her reluctant parents to let her keep it. Her younger brother Makoto names the kitten Kuro. Both children grow attached to the cat and try to scrounge food for their hungry pet without taking from the family's limited rations. They weather several mild adventures and watch their young kitten grow into a mature and intelligent cat. And then, on August 6, 1945... I can't say more without spoiling the plot, but the story uses a narrow focus to both convey and humanize the tragedy of the event.

Kuro ga Ita Natsu was co-written and directed by Shirato Takeshi, who directed the strikingly different Kuroi Ame ni Utarete. The music by Satou Mikio is mostly cheerful, reflecting the slice of life approach of the first three-quarters of the film, but turns doleful after the bombing. There is no information on the voice cast is public anime databases.

Iri translated the movie, and Yogicat timed it. I edited and typeset, and Nemesis and Calyrica did QC. M74 encoded from a Japanese DVD ISO, but the DVD is mastered horribly, with blended frames throughout. Despite that, the moving signs tracked reasonably well, so most signs are typeset.

A few translation notes:
  • Makoto pretends he is Tange Sazen, a fictional samurai featured in serials and movies. His stylized laugh, "Gah hah hah...", is intended to be like a samurai's.
  • Nobuko and Makoto attend a National People's School, the name given to elementary schools starting in 1941.
  • A ho-an-den was a small building that housed a portrait of the current Emperor and Empress. It was typically found at elementary schools.
  • The marsh in Kawaguchi-cho is between the Ota-gawa and Tenma-gawa rivers on this map.
  • Funairi-hon-machi is a tram stop in HIroshima. 
With this release of Kuro ga Ita Natsu, all of Nakazawa Kenji's animated films about the Hiroshima bombing are now available to an English-speaking audience. As different as they are in approach, they all serve as indelible warnings about the horrors of atomic warfare. Those reminders are as important today as they were when the films were made; perhaps more so.