Thursday, January 31, 2019

Ultra Nyan (Theatrical Version)

When Orphan released Ultra Nyan: Hoshizora kara Maiorita Fushigi Neko, I thought that the encode looked a bit washed out. I asked the team to look for the laserdisc, in order to make a new encode. Eventually, it was found, purchased, shipped to the United States, and encoded. We've created a new release based on the new encode, only... it's letterboxed. And therein lies a tale.

When home video, in the form of VHS tape, first emerged in the 1970s, content providers found themselves with a dilemma. Television content worked fine on the 4:3 (640 x 480) TVs of the day, but widescreen movies could not be displayed in their theatrical aspect ratios. The industry came up with two solutions, neither satisfactory - letterboxing, in which the movie was displayed with black bars at the top and bottom of the screen; and pan-and-scan, in which the focus was moved around to put the "essential" part of a scene on the full TV screen. Letterboxing reduced the size of the image, sometimes unbearably; pan-and-scan created extraneous camera motion and deleted parts of the original scenes.

An alternate solution was Open Matte. Films were shot on 4:3 (standard 35mm) film stock, but the shots were framed for 1:85:1 projection. In theaters, the top and bottom were cropped out by mattes in the film projector, but for VHS (and later, laserdisc) release, the full frame could be used. This process introduced complexity into the film-making process, because the director and cinematographer had to ensure that nothing extraneous, like mics or cables, showed up in the full frame, but it facilitated home video releases without letterboxing and without loss of shot detail. Steven Spielberg's Schindler's List and James Cameron's Terminator 2 were made with Open Matte. Eventually, technology solved the problem. DVDs could display widescreen films (up to 1.85:1) without letterboxing. Large widescreen TVs became standard. Open Matte was no longer needed. The full-frame versions of Open Matte films were filed away, and only the widescreen,theatrical versions are available on digital home video or digital streaming.

While Open Matte was used in movies, I had never heard of it being used in anime... until now. Ultra Nyan, and its successor, Ultra Nyan 2, were shown in theaters on twin bills with widescreen, live action Ultraman movies. The Ultra Nyan cartoons were drawn for Open Matte. In their theatrical release, they were shown matted, in widescreen. For home video, though, Ultra Nyan was released in full-frame on VHS tape but widescreen on laserdisc.

The streaming version was full-frame too (that's the source for the original release). Ultra Nyan 2 was released in full-frame on all home video media. Why the inconsistency? I haven't the slightest idea.

All of this begs the question: which version is "right"? The answer is, they both are. The widescreen version is what theatergoers saw; the full-frame version is what was drawn. Obviously, there's more information in the full-frame release:

but the theatrical audience didn't know that. Personally, I like the full-frame version better, because it's consistent with Ultra Nyan 2, but the new, widescreen version has more vibrant colors and better cropping. Pick your poison.

For this release, I transposed the original script to the new raw, tweaked the timing, and redid the typesetting. I've eliminated some line breaks and split a few lines so that more lines fit in the letterbox area and don't overlap the video. Overlap lines have been moved to the letterbox area at the top. BeeBee did a quick release check, and of course, Erik of Piyo Piyo Productions encoded from a Japanese laserdisc. For voice credits and the other staff credits, see the original release post.

Interestingly, the re-release of classic Japanese anime on Blu-ray has created a new version of the letterboxing debate. When 4:3 shows are remastered, the media creators have two choices. They can maintain the original aspect ratio, using vertical letterboxing or "pillarboxing" (black bars to the left and right of the frame); or they can crop the video to match the aspect ratio of a widescreen TV. The latter could be viewed as a modern form of Open Matte, except that the shows were not made with matting in mind. Cropping chops off parts of the screen that were intended to be seen. Most anime fans object very strongly to cropping, but some Japanese content companies continue to do it, so strong is their aversion to letterboxing.

So if you'd like to see anime Open Matte in action, you can get the widescreen (and the fullscreen) version of Ultra Nyan: Hoshizora kara Maiorita Fushigi Neko from the usual torrent site or from IRC bot Orphan|Arutha in channels #nibl or #news on

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