Saturday, April 22, 2017

A Penguin's Memories

The cover show cuddly blue penguins. It looks like a children's movie. But it's not.

A Penguin's Memories is a strange bird indeed, a parable of war and its aftermath, using anthropomorphized penguins as characters. It tells the story of Mike, an ordinary guy from a small town. During the "Delta War" (i.e., Vietnam), he's injured and his two best friends are killed, in a confusing running battle that has no context and no meaning. Unable to cope with the gung-ho patriotism of his family and the small town he came from, he runs away and becomes a drifter. Eventually, he washes up in Lake City, an idyllic community where no one knows him. He takes a job as a librarian, meets Jill, an aspiring singer, and tries to build a new life. But neither the world nor the war will let go of him.

A Penguin's Memories is almost unknown in the West. It has never been released on DVD or Blu-Ray and has never been translated before. The contrast between character design and content can repel some viewers. As Mike Toole commented in his review,
In 1984, SUNTORY started rolling out a series of amusing TV commercials to help sell their beer to the public. The commercials were fanciful little vignettes depicting a pair of cartoon penguins out on a date. The campaign was a hit, so the following year, the liquor and beverage company produced a thinly-veiled version of The Deer Hunter, only starring those same adorable puffy penguins. This means that we see funny little penguins traumatized in Vietnam, funny little penguins returning home with terrible PTSD, and funny little penguins struggling to re-integrate with society and reconnect with old friends. You sometimes see Penguin Memories tossed onto lists of bad anime, because the way its premise clashes with its visuals is just that shocking. The movie is unmistakably, disconcertingly weird, but it's not actually bad at all. It's technically sound, with a good story and sympathetic characters. They just happen to be wacky-looking little cartoon penguins. Penguin Memories might not be a movie worth seeing for strictly the best reasons, but it's worth seeing nonetheless, an absolutely unmissable movie.
(The SUNTORY commercials can be found on YouTube, by the way.)

Now, this review is a bit exaggerated. Although A Penguin's Memories is clearly set in the United States and deals with the aftermath of a war that's clearly Vietnam, it's no Deer Hunter. (It is subtitled A Tale of Happiness, after all.) In fact, except for the opening battle sequence and the climactic confrontation, it's a quiet story about the ongoing struggle of a damaged ex-soldier to find his footing in civilian life again. The use of penguins rather than people helps to keep the viewer at a distance: the beaked faces can show little emotion, and the voice actors deliberately underplay their roles. Thus, Mike's closed-off emotional life is conveyed both visually and vocally.

The background music is spare and effective, often riffing on a sad harmonica tune Mike plays in the opening sequence. I particularly like how music is used in the wordless montage of Mike's aimless drift across the country. In contrast, Jill's songs are traditional pop, ranging from children's songs to love ballads.

This release has a complicated history. Iri, the translator, had been monitoring Japanese auction sites for rare shows from the 80s and 90s. (He's still looking for Laserdiscs of Kasei Yakyoku.) He bought A Penguin's Memories and a bunch of others and had them shipped to Skr, a team member in Japan. Skr packaged them up and sent them to Orphan's Laserdisc ripper, Erik of Piyo Piyo Productions. Erik in turn encoded the raw we're using. Iri then translated the show, Eternal_Blizzard timed and styled it, I edited it and added the credits, and Calyrica and Nemesis did QC. The result is the first English release ever of A Penguin's Memories. Eventually, there may be other releases from this batch of Laserdiscs, but one never knows... do one?

The release is letter-boxed the old-fashioned way, with black bars at the top and bottom of the screen. Accordingly,I've allowed long subtitles to meander closer to the edges of the screen than normal. This means most subtitles are a single line, and they display in the black bar at the bottom of the screen without obstructing the video.

Sato Koichi, who played Mike, has no other credits as a voice actor; it is impossible to trace his career. On the other hand, Tsuru Hiromi, who played Jill, has an extensive resume, including Perrine in Perrine Monogatari and Kajima Miyuki in Miyuki. She also had featured roles in Sanctuary and Tomoe ga Yuku, both subbed by Orphan. The director, Kimura Shunji, has no other listed credits. The music director, Matsutouya Masataka, has few credits as well. A Penguin's Memories is an outlier in almost every respect.

Orphan is really proud to release this relatively unknown movie for an English-speaking audience.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017


So… Cosprayers. Seriously? You might ask why Orphan and ReDone are resubbing such a maligned show. Call it the tyranny of good intentions.

After working on Kiteseeker's Blu-Ray release of Hanaukyo Maid Tai, I was interested in doing Blu-Ray versions of another M.O.E. (Masters of Entertainment) show that I remembered fondly, Smash Hit! A Blu-Ray box set of Smash Hit! and its sibling series Love Love? and Cosprayers had just been released, so the idea seemed like a real possibility. Unfortunately, the Blu-Ray encodes were poor upscales of the DVDs. As a result, no one else was interested. Then DVD ISOs turned up for Cosprayers, and I thought that a softsub, full resolution version of that series would be a good place to start. It was, sort of – you can't understand Smash Hit! without Cosprayers – but it's pretty forgettable on its own.

Dating from 2004, Cosprayers wants to be an ecchi parody of a mahou shoujo show crossed with a sentai ranger show, but it only gets the ecchi part right, mostly in the form of endless panty shots. Rather than a parody, it's a straightforward instantiation of all the clichés in both genres.

The plot is totally disposable. Evil minions of the Woman of the Night want to release her from her magical incarceration so that she can destroy the world. Opposing her are members of the International Shaman Organization (ISO), the five conveniently coded Cosprayers. Each is identified by uniform color, culture, idiosyncrasy, and weapon.

From left to right:
  • Remuria Sharia (Rabian Rayer), an idol type. She likes to dance and sing and is afraid of growing up. Her background culture is Arabian, her color is purple, and her weapon is a laser bazooka.
  • Scarlet Church (Sister Rayer), a nun type. She is the de facto leader of the Cosprayers. She treats the novice Miko Rayer with disdain until Koto proves her worth. Scarlet's background culture is European, her color is blue (despite her name), and her weapon is a three-bladed staff.
  • Hoshino Koto (Miko Rayer), a priestess type. She is a cosplayer and wannabe heroine who is accidentally inducted into the Cosprayers world through an interdimensional portal. Koto's background culture is Japanese, her color is red, and her weapon is a sword.
  • Priscillaria Shararan (Sari Rayer), an Asian beauty type. She is a defensive specialist and a lover of curry. She has a dog named Inusuke, who was lifted straight out of Rizelmine with a change of neckerchief. Priscillaria's background culture is Indian, her color is yellow, and her weapon is a veil.
  • Iko Sue (Dian Rayer), a warrior type. She has a hand puppet that she uses for communication. Iko's background culture is Native American, her color is green, and her weapon is a bow-and-arrow or whip.
And here they are in their leotards, er, Base Suits:

In addition, there are two apprentice Cosprayers, In and You, who are twins with a Chinese background culture. They use talismans to fight.

The central theme of the show is that the girls must learn to work in harmony (or at least sing in harmony) in order to banish evil. All of this is taken very seriously; only in some of the DVD extra episodes and in the previews is the absurd nature of the premise used for a little comedy or satire.

In fairness, the show has grown on me. There are some good gags, particularly in the DVD-only episodes. The previews tend to be wonderfully snarky; for example, the twins comment that Inusuke seems to have learned some new tricks in Japan, presumably on Rizelmine, where there was some questionable inter-species behavior. There are also unintentionally hilarious moments, like the broken animation in various episodes and the constant, pulled-out-of-the-butt plot twists. (These provide the backbone for the producer-heroine's ongoing angst in Smash Hit!) But it's still thin gruel.

The heroine, Hoshino Koto, aka Miko Rayer, is played by Matsuki Miyu, who has an extensive resume in featured roles. The strongest Cosprayer, Scarlet Church, aka Sister Rayer, is played by Kobayashi Sanae, who has starred as Lucy in Elfen Leid, Allen Walker in D.Gray-man, and Touya Akira in Hikaru no Go. The token male, Crus-sama, is played by Sakurai Takahiro. He has gone on to play the lead in many recent series, including Uchouten Kazoku, Fuwa no Amu, and of course, Polar Bear Café. (Thus do splendid careers from small beginnings grow.) Many of the other voice actors have long and illustrious resumes, almost always in better properties than Cosprayers.

The original translation is by Triad Fansubs, and their scathing comments in their releases' credits indicate that they hated the show. I OCRed the subtitles; Yogicat timed them; Iri translation checked the first four episodes; I edited and typeset; Calyrica and Nemesis QCed; and M74 encoded from R2J ISOs. Zalis of Redone Subs did a lot of the heavy lifting. He checked the dialog for all the episodes as well as the song lyrics; the changes were extensive. He also translated the movie promo and karaoked the OP and ED. Cosprayers would still be in limbo, where perhaps it deserves to be, without his help, so this is a joint project between Orphan and ReDone. This release includes a couple of extras: non-credit OP and ED and a promotional "trailer" for Cosprayers the Movie. Zalis translated the trailer; I timed, edited, and typeset it; and Xenath3297 QCed.

The episodes have been renumbered sequentially, while retaining the TV numbering for purists, because Cosprayers' sibling show Smash Hit! refers to specific episodes of Cosprayers by sequential episode number. We hope to get around to Smash Hit! One of These Days™. Love Love? has been licensed and released in the US on DVD and digital video.

So… Cosprayers. Seriously. As one of the QCs said, "It may not be good, but at least it's short."