Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Neon Blooded Vampire Hunter D + I'm Kranke these days...

I'm torn between my love for releasing films the way they were originally... and the way they "probably" should be.

Case in point, the 1985 theatrical anime movie Kyuuketsuki Hantaa D - or as it was released in English, VAMPIRE HUNTER D. This was officially the first anime I ever saw at the ripe old age of either 9 or 10 (honestly not sure which), and yes, it changed my life. For the better? That's a matter of opinion to be sure. But I watched it, loved it, and I've needed more ever since. Vampire Hunter D is also, alongside films like Ninja Scroll and Akira, one of the 90's "gateway" anime. It was an anime you could show to people who weren't in to animation and they'd love it anyway. Everybody loves vampired; horror movie fans, dirty romance fans, and all of those self hating emo bastards I just find myself wanting to punch. Vampires are both the classic cool and the modern age sexy... or at least that's the theory. Truth be told, I like zombies and werewolves and cannibals better. But nothing beats watching Christopher Lee or Bela Lugosi doing their immortal schtick. I even like Gary Oldman in his granny jammies doing his thing... but at the end of the day, I'd much rather be watching Romero making headless zombies try to eat Asia Argento.

So now I have yet another project only I give a rat's ass about. Vampire Hunter D: The Final Edition. The point is to take the positive attributes from all previous editions - Japanese DVD, German DVD, American DVD and UK DVD - and combine them in to a single set that will mean I don't have to flop through a crap load of cases to see... something. The ideal presentation would be the original fullscreen print with English, Japanese, and German 5.1 tracks... but that's just not going to happen. For a multitude of reasons. But I'll start with the video end:

The US DVD looks like crap. Sure, it's progressive scan... but it's a perfectly encoded transfer of a black screen with occasional flashes of orange skin. I understand that the original English film print is probably in wretched shape by this point*, and that the only telecine was done for the laserdisc in the 1990's, and I can forgive the R1 DVD for looking the way it does... but forgiveness doesn't make the English print LOOK any better. The UK DVD clearly used a different master, but I'm not too interested in spending $40 on a dub-only master that's a PAL-NTSC edition. The commentary track by famed anime "expert" Johnathan Clements hardly seems worth the effort either...

*For the record, I'm not sure if the bi-lingual film master has actually dissapeared or if it's in pristine shape in a vault or whatever, but the progressive-ness of the R1 makes me think the credits were added to an actual 35mm print. FIST OF THE NORTH STAR had a limited theatrical release in the US during the early 90's, and Robot Carnival DEFINATELY has a 70mm bi-lingual film print floating around... so who the fuck knows? Either way, the telecine used on the Urban Vision DVD - which was in turn licensed from Carl Macek and what ever is left of Streamline Entertainment - was a composite master, probably the same digital tape master used for the Streamline laserdisc. It was bi-lingual too, incidentally, though it lacked the R1 extras (the only great extra being the original making-of from the Japanese LD, which isn't on the Japanese R2 DVD.)

The Japanese DVD is adequate. It was also struck back in the days of LD goodness, so it's composite; analogue grain, dot crawl and rainbows included*. It's also very soft, with indistinct outlines, faded print damage and no film grain whatsoever. It's not just a lovely shade of black like the R1, and the encoding is adequate... just not spectacular. The colors seem dark and faded, and while it's clear it's a very old telecine, there's nothing overtly "wrong" with it.

*Yeah, probably the same master used for the Japanese laserdisc. Don't know, and truth be told I really don't care.

Then we have the German telecine. For one thing, the telecine itself is GORGEOUS. It was done as a component transfer, so there's no rainbowing or dot crawl to be found. The detail is spot on, very sharp and with crips lines and limited print damage and NO edge enhancement. It would be the best looking print of VHD ever... if it weren't for the problem that the new telecine was made as 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen. True, Vampire Hunter D -was- a theatrical film. And equally true that if you saw it on the big screen some 20 years ago, it was probably cropped... but that doesn't mean that the original fullscreen aspect ratio doesn't have a LOT of detail that was clearly supposed to be in the film itself. This isn't like Kubrick where everything's centered so when it's cropped you can still see more or less everything; you can't even see D's eyes in the widescreen print half the time.

The other problem is the color ballance made on the German print. Yes, the print is very bright and lets you see a lot of details that were once lost totally on the Japanese film print. However, this makes the day-time scenes totally blown out (the ground when D rides to Count Lee's castle goes from brown and tan to pretty much white), Dan and Lee's flesh tones go from rich and tan to pale and ghastly (fitting in the latter case - not the former...), and perhaps most telling is that the ample squirts of flesh (and vampiric) blood on display are pretty pink in some shots, and downright neon-orange in others. I'm talking Tom Savini Dawn of the Dead neon zombie slime here. You could cite the difference being the "colour warmth" difference that's inherint in both NTSC and PAL video - where NTSC has a slight red tint to it's TV sets and PAL has a slight blue tint, and the video is mastered accordingly to accomidate for it - but I don't care WHAT set you view the disk on, the colors are simply too bright to represent what the original animation cel's looked like... whatever hue of red vampire blood may have been. It's a little unfair to say what the film "should" look like unless it's the director or the DP talking... but something isn't right in the state of D, and even his name goes from a dark crimson on the Japanese DVD to an off-colour neon pink on the German remaster. I'm willing to bet my left nut that it was supposed to be red, so gorgeous as the German master looks at first glance, something is definately off all the same.

So what have I done? I've given up and created my own color corrected, properly IVTC'ed video master based on the Japanese DVD. I'm going to synch the 5.1 Japanese and German audio tracks, and I'll try my damndest to make that stupid English track synch up too... we'll see about that UK commentary track for it's comedic bullshit factor. Christ, if any guy who says Plastic Little is about gang-rape can be called an "expert" than the average kid who watches Naruto must be an anime God in this day and age. All the same, the UK print appears to be the same version as the Japanese master, at least if the title card can be trusted...

...can you trust a title card? ...or the BBFC website listing? Hmmm. Definately an NTSC-PAL transfer (yuck...), so who knows. Or gives a fuck besides me.

So, enough bitching about 20+ year old vampire anime. Time to bitch about porno!

Yakin Byoutou is dead. Not dead to me. I'll always love it and hug it like some feces covered teddy bear from my comparative youth. Yakin Byoutou (or NIGHT SHIFT NURSES, if you prefer... henceforth YB) was an interesting beast, a combination of the old stand-by of bishoujo porno games for some years now; rape simulation. The story was a simple one; an upcoming gyno quietly dissapeared from the medical scene after an unorthodoxed "experiment" left his willing assistant a shattered woman. Several years later the doctor, HIRASAKA Ryouji gets a letter from the St. Julianna Hospital seeking his employment. Shocked to find that the director, SHINGUJI Narumi is none other than the woman he violated years ago, his fears of revenge are replaced with an interesting new job; to violate and destroy the wills of selected nurses to be used in a private wing who's VIP clients would be serviced in any and every manner they saw fit...

Okay, quit rolling your eyes. First and foremost, Hirasaka is head and shoulders above the rest of the losers in these roles; mostly sad ISAKU wannabe's who uncreatively rape and torment schoolgirls and inevitably recieve some sort of ironic punishment. Not only is the evidence he uses to entrap the girls pretty serious stuff - information that could ruin careers, even destroy lives - and there is a distinct level of seduction in the violation of each girl. When he attacks NANASE Ren, the first girl, she becomes his live-in lover... perhaps his wife had the series not ended the way it did. Ren clearly loves him. Hikaru is afraid of him. And Remi hates his guts logically, but finds she needs his attention - horiffic as it may be - to feel she's worth something. And Fujusawa... well, she's hot as hell, but retarded. I know there are people (not just women) who are that fucking stupid, and it's the presence of characters that make these rape shows almost believable... and it's both the interactions with the girls, and how Hirasaka tailors each of their indignities to their personalities, that makes the show as interesting and successful as it is.

First and foremost, the reason the show was a hit was the controversey; while not the first hentai OVA to feature unilonga and scat as a central theme, it was the first to graphically SHOW it - and that the sequel from D3, YAKIN BYOUTOU NI, mosaics over the fecal matter as well is a testament to how far Discovery pushed the animated adaptation of the popular PC game. Another aspect of the show is just how creative it gets... certainly, marbles and hard boiled eggs aren't standard items in any sex game, but that the show finds interesting uses for them that the game didn't even consider shows how amazingly fucked up the whole staff was. While discovery is capable of much more bizarre and "artistic" animated pornography - the psychadelic masterpiece BLOOD ROYAL and the freakshow of abuse TEMPTATION (Yuuwaku) in particular - YB remained their most believable show to keep up that level of intensity, both psychologically and physically. If you can still watch pornography once the spooge is spent and be curious what's going to happen to the characters therein, you're watching good porn. Needless to say, this doesn't happen often, not even in the works of the great Joe D'amato... sure, it's funny as shit watching Robinhood: Thief of Wives fight the evil and black Sheriff of Nottingham who's locked all the women's chastity belts and is keeping the townsfolk from the vagina's of their various bitches... but "thrilling" or "unpredictable" isn't exactly how I'd describe it.

Anyway, it was that combination of genuine character development and believability that made YB the powerhouse that it was. There has been a lot of bad rape hentai both before and since, and while a hand full of them have had decent characters and storylines... more often than not you're left with wank fodder like SHUUSAKU which may be great to crank one out to, but is so retarded that you'd wish he'd rape them and then kill them graphically just so you didn't see the innocent retarded sex objects act any more stupid. ("Sure, I'll give you the photos I made of you pissing... but first masturbate with this dildo while I videotape it." Good god... didn't Shuusaku actually do that in one of the sequels? Does anyone even remember? Or care?) Plus, Hirasaka is a fairly charming man; not to say I'd fuck him on a bet, but he's soft spoken, intelligent, manipulative, and suprisingly well built for an out of work doctor. It's almost suprising that he'd be such a loner before being employed as a rape machine... but then, it isn't. He's but a pawn in Narumi's game, and not a sympathetic tool at that. The opening of the first 5 episodes was Hirasaka, drenched in his own blood, falling to certain doom and remembering what led him to such a fate... he wasn't screaming words of remorse, nor was he apolagetic in any way about what he did to the 5 women who's bodies and hearts he violated. He was a scientist, a doctor in the truest sense of the word; trying to figure out where he went wrong not morally, but logically. His story is not a confession. It's a factual account, nothing more.

And herein where the problems lie. The first 5 episodes do have sudden moments - a personal favorite is the scene in which we see Ren drooling over the sink and Narumi walks in - that were not explained. They were not incidental filler sequences meant to draw out the runtime. They were quite vital in setting up episodes 6-10, in which Hirasaka's murder is investigated and the four surviving nurses who were all victims of his abuse tell their side of the story. On the one hand, it's a way to squeeze in more humiliating and unsanitary scenes of love making, this time involving house pets, public pools, defibulator pads (*Shudder*) and so much more... all building to the single most bizarre and fucked up sequence a non-guro hentai has ever delivered. I won't tell you what it is, just to say that if Anime 18 actually has the balls to release episode 10 unedited, they are surely men who can't wear pants like you and I. The characters we grew to love and want to molest ourselves are given more of a background - particularly Ren, who's accounts of being his lover rather than his victim are as creepy as they are believable. After all, Stockholm Syndrome is a documented fact of humanity (in which those who are captives or abused by those in control of them will show affection, love and companionship for their controllers), and no matter how horrible a man Hirasaka is, how many retarded white trash women stay with woman beating redneck assholes who remind them of daddy? Stupid Electra Complex. Anyway, Yakin Byoutou 1-5 is an understated masterpiece, one that got a lot of attention for episodes 1-3 being edited so badly that their 90 minute runtime was a svelte 76 minutes after all of the scat and piss footage was removed. (Oddly enough, bleeding vaginas were OK.) By episode 4 cutting the scat would probably bring the runtime of each episode to under 10 minutes, and so episodes 4+ were unedited, and as a sort of apology Anime 18 included the "Deleted Scenes" from episodes 1-3 as an extra. It's better than nothing, but hell, I'd buy a Director's Cut DVD for episodes 1-3.

Since YB, there have been 3 sequels; one by D3, and two by Discovery, the studio which released the original series. I'll give a brief rundown of each sequel, and why it sucks:

YAKIN BYOUTOU NI: Okay, new production company, new cast, new everything. It's based on the second game in the trilogy, and as such you have to approach it as something else entirely. The only returning cast memembers are NANASE Ren and - in a much castrated role, HIRASAKA Ryouji. The new lead, a bishounen med school graduate who fell in love with Ren in times gone by, has signed up with a new hospital (led by a hawt futanari!) with the same goal as St. Julianna... and he's enlisted to do much the same, though he doesn't even know it. His rape of the girls is part of a big plot he doesn't have a clue about, and that aspect makes buying it a lot harder to swallow... that the rape scenes are admists psychadellic backgrounds and speed lines also take the cold, calculated steel-and-lights theme of the original and hides it in the shadows of shame, something the original series was very indignant on not doing. Nothing was taboo, and everything was to be shown in the name of medical science. Here, we have a punk kid who draws blood and screams at his victims, treating them like cattle rather than as experiments. There's no class... no de Sade inspired charm to make the girls love him, other than he's good looking. I suppose you could argue that's good enough, but I like Hirasaka a whole lot better than this little ass. Also, the show swings from sachrinne sweet cuteness to all out scary rape in which you fear for the safety of the victims... it's a hell of a feat, but it's not enough to save it. It's watchable, just not a masterpiece like the original.

YAKIN BYOUTOU KRANKE - While the original series was 'Yakin Byoutou KARTE 1" (or 2, etc.), which is an old German word for 'Medical Chart', the new episodes are under the title KRANKE, a German word which in and of itself means nothing, but adds "sick" to words... for instance, KRANKEBUS (Kranke + Bus) is "Ambulance". Got it? Now, these episodes are a combination between the memories and fantasies of the lead girls post Hirasaka's violation... and in plain terms is basically YB for women. It's romantic, it's full of seemingly consensual (if overtly dominating) sex, it even has Ren being violated by an army of magical Hirasaka clones. Yeah... it's also very "cute". And when I say "cute" I mean young loli-esque faces, flowered panties, and almost no onscreen poop - unless it's for comedic effect... the latest episode ending on a 3 foot enema gag sort of sums it up. YB has become a joke, and Discovery's going to tell it right. It's not TOTALLY unwatchable, but seeing Hirasaka slip on feces is just a bitch-slap to the whole series before it.

YAKIN BYOUTOU SAN - O-kay... now I give up. Not only do the cast watch the original YB and complain about how retarded it is, the whole story is about a sickly patient who's having freaked out halucinations about being "cared for" by the nurses. Role reversal isn't always a good idea, and while it IS interesting... it's still wiping it's ass on all that I held holy for the first few episodes. Sadly, I've only seen ep. 2, but that had a Princess Tutu outfit and a whip involved... that's all I needed to see.

Finally, there is Soft on Demand's own NANASE Ren OVA: basically a POV porno with an animated Ren doing whatever you tell her to do. It's cute, really... but I can't say it's giving me hope that the series will ever get good again. There's also the live action cosplay series... yeah, what can I say? Yakin Byoutou's greatness has forced it to be absorbed in to Japanese pop culture, and as such the focus will get softer and less experimental, but more expensive and cute. In short, my favorite post-Urotsukidoji hentai's own success has basically turned it in to what I hate; glossy, safe wank material that has no substance.

And yet, I love that wacky country.

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