Sunday, September 24, 2006

Deutsch bootlegging on official disks vs. English bootlegging on DVD-R

I had a good morning. Despite having cut up the spot between my toes pretty bad on the corner of the bed. God, I hate that fucker.

It was good, because despite being a Sunday, I had mail. This mail, specifically, was an EMS package from Japan, who's contents were the exceptionally sexy UROTSUKIDOJI SPECIAL COLLECTION. Exactly what was in the Uro SC LD BOX, I was never 100% sure... I just knew I needed it. Badly. I had an idea though, thanks to the wonderful illegitimate bastards at OVA Films/OVA 18.

See, several years ago OVA Films, one of the first (and only) German anime licensors sub-licensed the rights to Urotsukidoji in Germany. Manga Entertainment controls the European distribution of both Legend of the Overfiend (OVA 1-3/Movie 1) and Legend of the Demon Womb (OVA 4-5/Movie 2) - among virtually every other action/sci-fi/horror anime you can think of, while the rights for Return of the Overfiend (OVA 6-9, Movie 3) and Inferno Road (OVA 10-12, Movie 4 - never released outside of Japan) are, more often than not, bought out directly through the Japanese distributor, Tohokushinsha Film Corporation. While Overfiend and Demon Womb were already available on German video, dubbed in Deutsch (with Amano seeking out the Uberdemon!) and heavily cut, OVA 18 wanted the subtitled/uncut rights to go with their growing catalog of hentai titles, which would later include Countdown, Inma Youjo, and Adventure Kid among others. They got them. With the German dubbed version strictly a rental move on Manga's part, OVA 18 was granted the right to release Urotsukidoji 1 (OVA) and Urotsukidoji 2 (Movie) uncut for the sell-through market.

Naturally, the story didn't end there. It'd be kind of a lame story if that was it. The real fun begins when OVA 18 wanted to release Urotsukidoji 3 and 4. Being cheap mother fuckers, they decided to buy up the PAL masters that were given to Kiseki, the UK licensor who picked up Return of the Overfiend and "Infernal Road" in the mid 90's. (Kiseki's English dub of Return of the Overfiend would later appear on the US release through Anime 18, and they wouldn't bother dubbing Inferno Road because the first 2 episodes were banned by the BBFC which were submitted subtitled perhaps to play up their "art" factor. If so, it didn't work.) Having uncut, unedited, more or less pristine masters, OVA 18 decided to do what film distribution companies do best: fuck the consumer over so they can make some more cash! They accomplished this by first cutting the Return of the Overfiend series (originally 4 episodes) in to a pair of movies, so that the first set of credits and the opening to the second episode was cut, effectively turning 2 separate episodes in to a single 2 hour "movie". Both credits sequences were played back to back, but the opening scene on episode 2 was simply thrown away like the tasty wings of a chicken, or the shockingly yummy morsel that is a chocolate covered cricket. They repeated this process with episode 3 and 4, thus having a pair of "movies" instead of either 4 short videos or a double-length tape. It's kind of illogical and... well, stupid. But at least it couldn't get any worse.

Wait, what was I thinking? Of course it did! Inferno Road was also turned in to a pair of "movies"... but it only ran 3 episodes. To accomplish this, the first episode had its credits removed, and then the second episodes' opening was cut entirely (since it basically repeats the ending scene of episode 1). We get half of episode 2, and then both sets of credits. OK, cool... I guess. It plays 2 sets of credits to boot. We also got a short text intro and new German title cards... but that's just bitching on my part, I'm sure. Then "movie 2" begins with the cut opening scene from Inferno Road 2... and then jumps ahead to half way through the second episode. The episode finishes out, and then jumps to the post-opening sequence of episode 3, once again treating the opening like cold moldy leftovers. It rides all the way through, and then 2 sets of credits play. The best part of all this, however, is that (like all DVD releases of episode 4-3) while the VHS edition had just the last episode in matted widescreen... the DVD release had all 3 episodes matted. Retards.

I still own 3 out of 4 of those DVD's though, and I'd own all 4 of them if I could find the painfully expensive/out of print little fuck. And why is that? Simple, dear readers: the OVA 18 DVD editions of Urotsukidoji include a wealth of bonus materials that, otherwise, had not been seen before or since. Trailers for the first 9 Urotsukidoji OVA's (and 2 movies!), unfinished workprint animation showing off the technical splendor of the Chojin's many penises, the Special Erotic Collection - a "greatest hits" of sex scenes from Urotsukidoji OVA 1-3, and a massive (and I mean MASSIVE) collection of rare and henceforth unseen still galleries ranging from character designs to poster concept art, and so much more. The OVA 18 DVD's have a wealth of rare extras... but where did all of that crap come from? Surely this German studio didn't create them from scratch, and if Manga Entertainment owned them the whole time, why didn't any other European release include them? The answer to both of these questions is suprisingly simple.

1) The source is the Urotsukidoji Special Collection LD BOX set, a 3 LD set released in 1994 to help build hype for the doomed Inferno Road saga.

2) No other release included them because they didn't have the rights to them.

The history between West Cape Corporation, WM Films (West Cape/Mu Productions), and Jupiter Films is a bit foggy. Near as I can tell West Cape animated Urotsukidoji OVA's 1-5 (the original Legend of the Overfiend and the Legend of the Demon Womb episodes), at which point W.C.C merged with Mu, thus becoming WM films. The masters shipped to Anime 18 would confirm this to some degree. However, the Special Collection LD, which was advertized at the end of the last episode of Mirai-Hen (the only part of the saga to be distributed by WM, alongside ADVENTURE KID) was released via Jupiter Films. Jupiter Films was credited as the copywrite holders for the first two episodes of the 1994 Inferno Road series... but the third episode - which also had an entirely new (read; retarded) staff - was credited as being copywrite of W.C.C.! My general theory is that Uro 4-1 and 4-2 did poorly, so they essentially created the final episode to kill the show off once and for all, trying to distance themselves from the evident failure of the fairly interesting and well animated episodes about a cult of telikenetic children who use adults to produce more children. Whatever.

Anyhow, the whole shebag was either sold to - or became - Voyager Entertainment in 1994. Voyager Entertainment released a pair of "new" movies , one being a compilation volume of the Inferno Road saga, the other being the afforementioned "Kyo-O Hen" video, which broke all 12 OVA's (plus the new ending created for Inferno Road) in to a 2 hour feature. Their final downfall was continuing to milk the dried up udder that was Maeda's cash cow, by creating the "lost" 13th OVA. It should have stayed lost; it appeared as an easter egg on the final German DVD (illegally most likely) and hasn't been spoken of from the Japanese end of it since. Tohokushinsha doesn't even own it. In short, nobody in it's production wants it to be known. Not without reason; the animation is stilted, the plot revalations retarded, and it's about the Chojin being a giant Freudian spaceship who gives birth to genderless Sailormoon meets Power Rangers "perfect beings". Uh. Yeah. That's real fucking perfect.

So, with that out of the way, here's the relevancey: Jupiter Films - be they a brand new company that failed or a sort of ghost-studio that was just W.C.C./WM Films in sheep's clothing - compiled the extras and produced the LD box set shortly before Voyager became the all-things-Uro, but (assuming they sold off their films) they never sold the extras to Voyager, probably assuming that people who wanted them already had the LD set, and therefore wouldn't care. (A nasty assumption Japan makes about a lot of things.) Voyager, in time, would sell their ownership of Inferno Road to Tohokushinsha, who would sell it abroad to the US, the UK, and France - OVA Films never actually bought it outright, just sublicensed it from Kiseki. (Inferno Road was never as big a success as it's predocessors.)

So, Voyager owns Inferno Road and it's dead lovechild, along with (maybe) the special features. Tohokushinsha doesn't. OVA 18 claims they were allowed to stick the lost episode on the last DVD "if it was not translated, and was an easter egg". Sounds to me like Tohokushinsha told them "hey, WE don't care... but watch your back."I also spoke with a very nice representitive of Tohokushinsha, and they told me that they didn't know of any extras on any German DVD. So, yeah; basically, OVA 18 stole the extras from Jupiter Films illegally... which is shockingly common over in Germany.

I'll probably piss a few people off on principle, they'd be all like "you can't say that about an entire country! z0mg racist xenophobe!" or whatever. But in much the same way that Hong Kong produces just as many bootlegs as it does legit videos (just ask the RCE DVD region code douchebags - they call it a "bootleg territory" alongside Russia and Taiwan!), Germany is a country where licensing is a very problematic means to an end. You want to release some obscure Italian horror movie on German DVD that was in theatres there 20-odd years ago? Awesome. Just expect there to be a bootleg quietly released by the people you outbid when you get the rights, cutting deep in to your bottom line. Your print will look better, sure, but Germany is a country very much interested in bare-bones DVD's on the cheap regardless of their general quality. Hell, Warner Home Video releases movies pan-scan and dubbed in German with no chapter stops, just to keep the prices down for creating menus or a new master! Anchor Bay also threatened to sue XT Video when their release of DAWN OF THE DEAD (1978) included extras created by - and therefore owned - by AB. Dunno' if anything came of it, but it supports my theory that the extras were all unclicenced douchebaggery none the less.

It's an easy mistake to make in Germany. A very small handfull of people own all of the DVD studios out there - Andreas Bethmaan probably has half a dozen by now - and the people that run these studios collect and trade the licenses to films like baseball cards. Missed the Astro DVD of Porno Holocaust, or Killing Birds? No problem. The X-Rated Kult DVD's are literally identical, except they also have new (and probably not legit) special features. The only licensed US release I can think of off the top of my head was the bonus CD in the limited PINKY VIOLENCE COLLECTION. There's a CD of REIKO IKE SINGS, an amusingly creepy and not-sexy lounge performance by one of Japan's oft-naked stalets of the 70's. Panik House claims that the CD was remastered from the only surviving audio tape copy - and it sure sounds rough for it. Forget that you can buy it used on LP in Japan, or even new on CD in Japan to this day. But considering that Panik House is run by former members of the infamous VIDEO SEARCH MIAMI bootleg outfit, I guess this is less suprising and more a matter of one guy going "...whoops" than an entire country not giving a goddamn about licensing contracts.

That having been said, I've spoken - to some length - with my boss as to how extras work. The fact of the matter is they usually AREN'T included with the license, and if you want them to be found you either have to ask real nice/threaten bodily harm, or pay for them. That's why the Hong Kong version of CASSHERN has no extras, but virtually every other edition (UK, Thai, Taiwanese, Korean, etc.) does; Universe Laser of Hong Kong didn't think it was worth the extra scratch for a second disc worth of features, and as such can lower the price of the DVD to compete with the Casshern 2 DVD bootleg sitting next to it on the shelf. There's a world of competiton out there that people just don't know. Still, if you rip off someone elses extra (or even cover art!), you can get sued. So you CAN release anything... just don't be suprised if you get bitch-slapped by the copywrite owners for it. Christ, it happened on one of the Superman DVD's from Universal.


Here's a comparison of the NTSC LD (as captured to a Sanyo DVD Recorder in XP mode) to the German PAL DVD - click them to zoom in:

Nice bright colors, crisp details (or as crisp as the trailer for a meduim-budget OVA from 1990 can get), and while you can't see it here, NO GHOSTING. In short, this is how vintage anime should look. Man I miss LD sometimes. Not to say a DVD can't kick it's ass hardcore for an expensive theatrical film, but let's face it, plenty of Japanese DVD's of older anime given "budget" releases (like Urotsukidoji - yes, $42 retail is budget for hentai in Japan...) the difference becomes miminal. Plus... LD's had awesome booklets and jackets. Can't beat that with a stick.

Now this fuzzy, washed out, undersaturated nightmare is what happens when good video signals get converted from NTSC-PAL (or vice-versa). The resolution is literally cut in half, and while this isn't the sharpest example, it's still a good un' to show why conversion standards are just fucking evil. You can convert stuff shot strictly on film without these ugly artifacts - by speeding up film by 4% for PAL or slowing that down for NTSC - but since Urotsukidoji (and most TV/OVA anime...) was edited on video - all the pans, all the zooms, all the credits and what have you - there is no "film print" to speak of, and you can't break video editing back in to 24 frames per second and speed it up. Not without doing an expensive new telecine, at least. The credits and various edits/special effects/etc. ARE 30 frames per second. So yeah, you're just plain fucked if you want to watch them in a PAL country.

Back to the reason I bought the friggin set: no German subtitles, sharper lines, a less washed out transfer, no ghosting... frankly the original LD beats the living crapola out of the German DVD's I would have used otherwise for the extras. See? I love you THAAAAAAAT much. Promise.

And here's the best part: The LD BOX also contains the extended International Complete Cut of Uro 2, rather than the original un-extended OVA cut I was expecting. Frickin' awesome. And to think I recorded the VHS a few days ago, figuring that I'd never get my hands on an LD copy... go figure, eh? It's still fogged up to cover the naughty bits, but frankly after the first 3 episodes Urotsukidoji didn't have much (if any!) graphic genital/penetration shots, or at least not that you couldn't see right through the fog on. The censorship was minimal, and doesn't affect the fappage much; if getting off on well drawn women being gang-raped by a single giant bug is your thing, this'll work with or without being able to see if she's got pubes or not. And if you're just in it for the uncensored dick... you're gay. I don't care, I subtitle gay ass-rape anime for a living, but it's something you just have to accept. Jerking off to boys in skirts getting a strap-on up the butt, too. But not hermaphrodites. Futanari are straight man porn.

Well. Maybe bi-curious.

So, do I usee the LD master and splice in the uncensored footage? Do I keep the uncensored scenes as a damn extra? It's nothing short of disgusting that I even need to consider these options, but hell, that's why I'm here on this planet. Remastering and compiling porn for the enjoyment of the world.

Oh yeah! Remember that guy in DEMON WOMB who gets decapitated while his dork gets bitten off when Takeaki owns him through the side of his car? That character design was based on Uro's original created, MAEDA Toshio. Apparently he usually draws himself as a fat man in a schoolgirl outfit with a samurai topknot. Yeah, I'm serious.

I love Japan!

Friday, September 22, 2006

Angel Copout

"It ain't easy bein' sleazy."
- Jackal, Tony Randal's 'Fist of the North Star'

I really do hate to quote such a horrible live action B-movie wankfest (especially as I adore the original Hokuto no Ken manga), but that piece of crap film did have a few good one liners, and this is perhaps the truest of all.

For the record (I don't think I'm fooling anybody with this blog name...), I run Kentai Films. I release "mainstream" anime, yaoi, hentai, horror and exploitation films, and I'm looking in to the very real possibility of doing pinku cinema and any other under-tapped market I can be of servide to. That having been said, I'll never say who I work for in the "legit" field, since I don't want anybody to get in trouble and all that crap, but I do need to say a few words about bootlegging. It sucks. And let me tell you why.

Unlike a great many douchebags in the world, I go for quality. Seriously, some DVD's have been delayed over a YEAR just to make sure when they come out right, they come out right. Kentai Films Special Editions regularly top out the "pros" on eBay, and I'm rarely satisfied with any aspect; the video isn't right, the audio sucks, the subtitles are a wreck, the menus are cheesy, the extras aren't comprehensive... whatever. I'd like to think of myself as ahead of the curve. This also means I have like a half-dozen DVD's to sell, and if I were less of a goddamn perfectionist I'd have 5 times that. So let me take you inside a dillema I had with what's set to be the one of the next 3 Kentai Films' DVD-R releases: ANGEL COP.

The history behind ANGEL COP is an interesting one; KITAZAKI Taku created it as a fairly short manga, finishing out with only a single tankou volume in 1990. The concepts in the manga were fleshed out in to a 6 episode OVA in 1994, directed by ITANO Ichiro (who wowed America with the top selling GANTZ TV show in 1995), and with a script adapted by NOBORU Aikawa (who's been made infamous by UROTSUKIDOJI and just plain famous by FULLMETAL ALCHEMIST). The OVA's, running 30 minutes a piece, focus around several warring factions, starting with the Special Security Force (S.S.F.), a Japanese squad of elite cops who are allowed to do anything they have to in order to keep the country safe from the Red May Terrorist Organization. With storyboards by TAKAYAMA Hideki (Urotsukidoji, Mystery of the Necronomicon) and animation direction by UMETSU Yasuomi (A-Kite, Mezzo) just to name a few, there's plenty of names for fans of unpredictable and awesome anime to get pumped over. But there's so much more to Angel Cop than being awesome gore eye candy... and that's what made it so quietly controversial.

While the gore in episode 1 - a scene of a woman having the left side of her head literally splattered in to putty with bullets - was cut by the BBFC in 1995, feeling that the "gratuitous mutilation" was wholly tasteless and would damage the public if seen by fans of anime. Whatever. The real issue is the show's inherint Anti-American and Anti-Semitic politics. See, the story goes that the Red May was hired by American investors to crash Japan's economy, so that America could level Japan and turn it in to a massive nuclear base to slowly conquer the rest of Asia, to train it's soldiers and test WOMD's just like they did in Korea and Vietnam. If that wasn't bad enough, there's also a group of telekinetic vigilanties, the Hunters, one of whom (Lucifer) is there to destroy the SSD -and- the Red May so that Japan's economy recovers enough that she, and the rest of her Jewish people, can take Japan and make some sort of Japanese-free Jewtopia. I swear to god, I'm not making this up. Aikawa did. That's right, not only is Angel Cop exceptionally violent and full of unnessicary but awesome gore and explosions, but it even has a massive Japanese right-wing agenda so big that it puts Michael Moore to shame. So what, if nothing else, has Angel Cop taught us? Say it with me now:


Seems pretty simple to me. Angel Cop is just fucking awesome... so the R1 DVD should be appropriately badass too, right?


First off, this was licensed in 1995 by Manga Entertainment. Or as I like to call them, "Mangle", "Mangay", or "those douchebags, you know who" depending on my mood and what they've just done to a fine movie or OVA. Originally a UK based distributor, they migrated to the States in the mid 1990's, carting with them a bunch of titles they only had poor quality PAL masters for and, in some cases, no rights to the Japanese dialogue version. Angel Cop was yet another title picked up on the UK end, so the already unimpressive letterboxed master has to suffer from the color shifts, softening, edge enhancement and everything else associated with NTSC-PAL/PAL-NTSC conversions. (Since Angel Cop was edited on video in Japan, an NTSC nation, the US DVD is literally both. Ewww.) The English dub was produced in the UK with the mindset of broadening the interest from hardcore otaku to a more profitable market, with all of it's retarded jokes and non-stop swearing, is preserved in all of it's... well... glory. I dunno' what THE worst Manga Entertainment dub was, but this is certainly a contendor and a half. But best of all - and this I'm actually somewhat happy to see - the US DVD included the Japanese audio track and seemingly accurately translated English subtitled. I say "Seemingly", because the scenes with the "Evil America"/"Damn Jews" dialogue was substituted for a direct transcribing of the English dub. In short, three scenes were dubtitled, but the rest of the show was presented accurately. Thank you, God. I know you were behind this small miracle, since Manga Entertainment finds new and amazing ways to fuck up everything they do.

It's like King Midas, except everything they touch turns in to pixelated shit on a shiny little disc.

Now, the DVD went out of print a few years ago, and if you can find that fugly, bare-bones release it'll still go for around $20-30, which is kind of cool. Most anime DVD's, particularly the atrocities Manga Entertainment created, aren't worth more than about $5 after they're open. But Angel Cop deserves better. And that's where I, and a hand full of import DVD's come in.

I've re-translated the American Conquest and Jewish Conspiracy dialogue myself. If you don't like my translation, feel free to create your own. Manga did that, and I wasn't too fond of it. I also fixed up the subtitles in general; using some more natural/accurate translations here and there, and "doubling up" some subtitles*, a thing that old school fansubbers would castrate me for, but casual watchers are grateful to see. I've also compiled several still galleries, alternate credits and English overlay sequences to compare the old Manga DVD to the new release, and perhaps best of all, the original Angel Cop manga as a DVD-ROM extra. This 3 DVD set literally makes the Manga DVD obsolete in every way, since I've also created English dub tracks that match up to the R2 video tracks perfectly... and herein lies my issue.

*For instance, if over the course of 2 seconds, the lines are "Shiteru hazu da?" "Betsuni...", an old fasioned fansubber would list the subtitles out as:
1 second: "Didn't you know that?"/1 second: "Not really..."

Where as I list them out in a single 2 second subtitle, looking like this:
"- Didn't you know that?
- Not really..."

Either you dig it or you don't. Some of my DVD's are like this, some aren't. Depends on a lot of factors.

The English dub was put on DVD at 192kbps. This is pretty much standard for a stereo track on an American anime DVD. The first 4 episodes in Japan had the same bitrate, while the last 2 had a sudden jump in bitrate to 448kbps, or quite literally "full Dolby Digital bitrate". Not a clue why, but cool none the less. The Japanese DVD's were also letterboxed; 1.66:1 widescreen, but not anamorphic for those badass plasma screens that you always get a hard-on for at big electronics stores. You can make 1.66:1 anamorphic (by putting black bars on the sides, since the movie isn't quite wide enough to fill up that 1.78:1 TV), but the Japanese DVD's were also compsite mastered, meaning there's rainbows, dot-crawl, and all that other not so cool stuff that D2 tapes did to your source video. The Japanese DVD's finished in January of 2001, and as far as I'm concerned represent the most badass version of Angel Cop, AV wise.

Then, in June of this year, Japan released a remastered box set. Seriously, how did I not know this 'till yesterday?

I call it "Remastered" for one simple reason; the new box, which included all the episodes on only 2 DVD's (surely dual-layered) has uncompressed Linear PCM audio. While Dolby Digital is capable of 448kbps, PCM stereo is 1,536 - and while Dolby at those bitrates is usually spreading it across 6 speakers, PCM allocates a full 768kbps per speaker, and is literally uncompressed. If you're in to high fidelity audio, it literally doesn't get any better.

But, PCM comes at a cost. A DVD has limits on the bandwith it can play during any given second, which at maximum is 10.8mbps. Usually that's up to 9.8 on the video track, the other 1 on audio tracks, subtitles, and whatever else you have. So say you have 2mbps worth of audio tracks; the video can't raise up over 8.8mbps to compensate. Just to be safe - I assume - it was decided that PCM DVD's can only have a maximum video bitrate of 8mbps.

So, the "remastered" version of Angel Cop has better audio... at the sacrifice of theoretical video bitrate. Wither or not the video IS better with lower bitrates, I don't know. The "old" R2 DVD's were non-anamorphic composite masters. This new mystery box may be a brand new progressively encoded component master for all I know. But I know that the peaks are lower, and that usually doesn't improve on things, at least if the same material is being encoded.

Was the R2 box given a new component master? I have no clue. I know it didn't get an anamorphic master (which would imply a brand new telecine... not fucking likely), so the chances of it being strictly a re-encode is entirely possible. Even a re-encode at lower bitrates CAN look better, if the hardware or MPEG encoder or whatever is an improvement over the older encode, but that doesn't mean the difference is worth an extra $125 on my end just to find out.

Plus, and this is crucial (at least to my ego): if the disks have PCM audio, there's no guarantee that I could fit the English dub tracks that I worked so hard to cut to pieces and re-synch to the Japanese video tracks. Plus I might have to re-time the subtitles... and frankly, I've worked on those things enough. Angel Cop just needs a few menus and bang, ready to go.

I've always claimed, and believed, that Kentai Films uses the best masters available for every project it does. If I can get an LD master, I won't settle for a VHS. If I can splice 2 copies together to get a proper version (uncut, letterboxed, whatever) I will. But I'll be god-friggin'-damned if I'm going to buy $125 worth of PCM tracks for a show that may or may not make me a cent. 'Specially when the Japanese Dolby tracks I have now sound juuust fine. PCM would rox0rz and all that, but PCM is a sacrifice you make for having multiple languages. In short, it's a sacrifice that will be made for the Kentai Films release. I'm sure the 7 or 8 guys that hang out at Gurochan who will actually buy this set will forgive me.

I could always look on the bright side; eBay's gotten wise to my smut peddling ways, and won't allow me to sell ENZAI or GIRL OF DEBAUCHERY anymore. So, one of my oldest titles and one of my best sellers are no longer an option. SALO' has been gone for a good long time, which is a damn shame; almost makes me want to seek legit work. Which I'd do, if it payed half as well as bootlegging did. Now, you'd think me losing a source of income would actually be a bad thing. It is. But this means that I'll have PLENTY more DVD's ready to go in the near future. (Or else.)

For those interested, I've started work on a new project today: UROTSUKIDOJI II - LEGEND OF THE DEMON WOMB. By "started on" I mean "I'm using my MPEG encoder and scouring around for my notes", but admit it, it's something. It's going to be a totally decked out 2 DVD Ultimate Edition, the way I like to roll. The master is going to be the Japanese VHS, since having compared it to the German PAL DVD, they look pretty much friggin' identical, and that makes me a very sad panda. Any "additional" detail that the German master had was killed by the NTSC-PAL conversion, and this way I can include the Special Erotic Collection without having burned-in friggin' German subtitles. I also have a secret Uro-themed weapon heading my way via Air mail as I type (theoretically), and if everything I -think- is in that totally tits box is really there, the Kentai Films Ultimate Editions of Urotsukidoji will be some of the most spectacular bootlegs you've ever laid eyes on. Unfortunately, we'll just have to wait and see if the massive box of Maeda goodness I'm getting is exactly what I think it is.

Also, UROTSUKIDOJI V - END OF THE WORLD (aka The Lost Episode, aka the aborted featus of a retarded series that never should have been and should have been buried in the anals of forgotten hentai history) is going to have a straight up NTSC sourced Kentai films transfer in the forseeable future with maxed out video bitrate and a 256kbs Dolby audio track. it's gonna' be hot shit, I promise. So that DVD I probably already sent you? Get ready to kick it to the curb on the transfer, but keep it for the extras which will be on future editions anyway, since I HATE needing to own a film more than once (unless it's theatrical cut vs. director's cut or something retarded... I let that slide). I know, I'm on crack these days. Have I mentioned it's nearly 7 am and I haven't gone to sleep yet?

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Dubbing D: The other half of my war with the Dhampir Hunter

So, after working a good 9-10 hours on the subtitles for a certain yaoi show I'm THIS CLOSE to having in my box o' master DVD's, I'm looking at another title to work on, one that appeals to an audience that doesn't expect graphic buttsex in their anime. Which is difficult when both gay and straight hentai features it.

I'm talking about the 2000 follow-up to the Vampire Hunter D OVA, KAWAJIRI Yoshiaki's VAMPIRE HUNTER D. Now, the title is an 'iffy situation, since in Japan the title was literally just "Banpaiaa Hantaa D". So what was the original 1985 OVA called? Kyuuketsuki Hantaa D. Even though the title card was in English. I know, it doesn't make any goddamn sense. Welcome to Official Japanese Spellings. So when the 2000 movie was released in America, it was called "Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust", which I will also call it, since otherwise my brain will just start to hurt as I try to differenciate both films.

Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust was something of a strange breed internationally. When it came out on DVD in America in 2001, it featured only the English dialogue, something that was almost unheard of at the time; featuring both Japanese and English audio tracks with optional English subtitles has (thankfully) become pretty much the standard in anime distribution in America. But the Japanese DVD had the same thing; English dialogue, Japanese subtitles. And if you had a chance to see it in Japanese theatres... well, you get the point. The simple fact of the matter is the English dub was recorded first, and the mouth flaps were... well, they were essentially generic, made to match an unfinished, essentially raw translated version of the English script.

Why would an anime - quite literally a Japanese film made for a Japanese audience - do this? The answer is simple, really; snob appeal. While Japan makes some of the most stunning and innovative Horror, Sci-fi and Fantasy films, they aren't really any more popular in Japan than they are in the states. Remember that anime is literally only 2% of the total home video market in America, and while in Japan the scales are tipped to a higher percentage, the actual number of DVD's and the like sold is more or less the same. (Certainly Japan makes more profit from selling 2 episodes at $50+ a disc, but the number of crazy fans willing to actually pay for it is pretty comparable.) So, Kawajiri, knowing that making money back on an epic fantasy film in theatres would be difficult, played the snob card; the majority of Hollywood films released in Japan (which far outsell local movies more often than not) are presented in English with Japanese subtitles on the big screen, and then on DVD there's an optional Japanese dub, should you be in to that sort of thing. Despite Kawajiri not speaking a word of English (or at least not enough that he can be interviewed in it), he decided that a film that was in English with Japanese subtitles would appeal to people who had to see every "Artistic" English language film, which isn't so far off from why generally only arthouse fare is shown subtitled in American theatres. And so it was decided that Bloodlust's "original" language would be English.

But what about the home video market, you cry? Or at least wonder off handedly, or perhaps none at all. Well, Kawajiri also directed a Japanese language version of the film specifically for the DVD release. What he didn't plan on was that when the English version had both Dolby Digital and DTS audio tracks ("full bitrate", as Japan tends to do) the tracks were so large that they literally couldn't fit the Japanese audio tracks on the DVD. So several months later, a second Japanese only DVD was created and released to the public. Meanwhile, in America, the film was released in English - the original language - with no subtitle options. This made sense, really; the reason you watch a film in it's original language is to see the film the director wanted it to be seen. And Kawajiri wanted you to see Bloodlust in English. But there's a basic problem with this theory: Bloodlust in English isn't all that good.

Not to say the actors are terrible. They're all professional voice actors in the US, which is to say they generally put in a better vocal performance than the average "normal" live actor. (Watch the Disney dubs for Miyazaki's films with Uma Thurman and Gillian Anderson and tell me the performances come across as natural. Go on, do it. There's a reason we have actors dedicated to training their voice alone; when you only have your voice, any subtle nuance you may have had in your mannerisms is gone.) The problem is three fold; the first is that the script wasn't "finished" when the mouth flaps were animated, thus leaving the US staff to re-write a re-written translation on the fly to make it both seem nautral in English, and actually match the flaps (serifu) the already finished animation left them. The second problem is the film in a very real sense would play to deaf ears; with the English and not-fantasy-oriented audience being the targeted demographic, rather than a handfull of hardcore fans who read the book (which is currently available in English under the title "Vampire Hunter D: Demon Death Chase"). This led to a lot of narration and changed personalities to act as walking exposition, explaining as much of the storyline and the "world" of 12,090 AD as they thought they could get away with. This also leads to narrated monoloues with Meier Link bitching about how lonely his eternal life is and of who Carmilla was - never mind that Kawajiri stole her from another novel entirely. And finally, here's the big one... KAWAJIRI DOESN'T SPEAK ENGLISH (as noted above), ergo, how the -fuck- can he judge what a "good" English language performance from his actors is?

Now let me state something here that a good number of people - probably none of them who will ever read this - don't want to hear; not every Japanese voice actor, or seiyuu, is a God of their craft. Certainly, KAMIYA Akira (City Hunter's Ryo), HAYSABARA Megumi (teh rei!!1 herself), UTSUMI Kenji (Nosferatu Zodd in Berserk), IWAO Junko (Devilman Lady), MITSUISHI Kotono (Excel Saga's title character) and plenty of others have cemented their talent and fame for years to come. But not every single Japanese actor is on that level, and a great many of them never will be. Just because they emote louder and longer than their English counterparts doesn't instantly make them any better at it. To cite a popular example from both camps, both NAKATA Jouji and Crispin Freeman make a damn fine Alucard in the HELLSING TV series. Their tone of voice and delivery on plenty of sequences is almost identical, and I sincerely think this is more a matter of both of them understanding and enjoying the role rather than Freeman just impersonating Nakata -that well-. I could well be wrong. But it's a good example of where the argument falls apart somewhat. Both of these actors are pretty damn good, and have both the tone and the skill needed to make the character come to life in whichever language you prefer. That's not to say I haven't hated Freeman in other dubs (particularly as the nasaly and irritating Nishi in GANTZ; sorry Chris, but YABE Masashi kicked your ass on that one), or to say I even prefer English dubs in general. This is just a good example to say that, sometimes, the acting on both tracks is comparable, if not almost identical. I prefer Nakata, but only slightly. Some English dubs are good, some aren't. The same can be said of Japanese dubs.

Some of the worst Japanese dubs are - unsuprisingly - in the form of hentai dubs. Particularly when certain studios decided that using AV Girls (ie; pornstars) in hentai would be easier than convincing not-adult actresses to try moaning like they were being raped by tentacle monsters. Much like the dubs produced by Nutech Digital years later that feature Jenna Jameson and Asia Carrera - among plenty of other name brand pornstars - the Japanese dubs featuring AV Girls often have great performances in the sex scenes, and wretched performances elsewhere. Urotsukidoji is mostly free of this problem, as was Gedou Gakuen (Nightmatre Campus), but the Japanese versions of DEMON BEAST INVASION and ADVENTURE KID are positively riddled with lame, whiny, horrendous performances across the board. I'm sure these were amusing to fans of the girls' pre-existing videos, but as a fan of MAEDA Toshio animation their performances are utterly grating and horrific. It's not quality, it's not amusing, and sadly it's not even sexy. It's just BAD. But in the same way that Nutech whoring that Jenna Jameson did a porno cartoon probably helped Words Worth make some dough in the US, I'm sure these god-awful performances (by girls who, admittedly, are cute as a button) AV Girls helped boost sales back in Japan.

La Blue Girl whored it's pornstars pretty hard on the video jackets too, but Miiko herself wasn't bad. Yaku the werewolf ninja girl, 0n the other hand... *Shudder*

That's not to say that all hentai dubs are bad. But when you watch a wide variety of performances - over many, many titles and several years preferably - you get a feel for who's geninely doing well and who's just sorta' phoning the performance in. Saying that SHIMADA Bin can act, for instance, is a bit like saying Bob Sapp. It's not entirely true. Bin is the MAN; he was Riki-Oh, he was Broli, he was Yuda (Fist of the North Star's deadly answer to Doctor Frank N. Furter), and in a very real sense his deep and forceful voice is the embodiment of bloody, manly 80's anime. But that doesn't mean he can do much else. When not screaming things like "I am the devil!" and "is that the best you've got?", his voice is rather... well, unimpressive. Mellow, you might say. His performances - at least those I've been privy to (I'll admit I've never heard him in things like Sailormoon or Marmalade Boy...) - are always entertaining, but they're not terribly varied, and I'd love to think that the man can act, but I've yet to hear any proof of it. He's sort of like Bob Sapp: Bob is an awesome force of nature, a shaven gorilla with a friendly disposition, but I'd shudder to call his acting (in DEVILMAN and IZO, of all films) "perfection". Infact, in Devilman he plays a nervous American newscaster and is... well, pretty awful. He puts in a compitent, high school play sort of performance, but nothing that utilizes the fact that the man is a 10 foot tall tank. But in Izo, he plays a demon - a monsterous guardian who's job it is to laugh all spooky like and throw NAKAYAMA Kazuya through walls and stomp on his head. Sapp is amazing as a walking hand of death. Newscaster, not so much. So this is indicative that Sapp isn't the greatest actor in the world, merely that he's spectacular in the right role. Which is that of kicking people's asses. Considering he's an ex-Ultimate Fighting Championship guy rather than a professionally trained actor, this isn't a big suprise. SHIMADA Bin, meanwhile, is the vocal equivalent of Mr. Sapp.

All this having been said, I'd never, ever say a less than complimentary thing to Sapp's face. Have you seen those hands? He could pop my head like a grape!

So, we've established that bad acting is a problem all across the world. Some are good, some are bad, some are made to look good, and some just plain suck no matter what you do with them. Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust is somewhere in the middle of both of these extremes. There are up's and down's on both language tracks. The biggest advantage of the Japanese version is that there's far LESS narration holding the viewer by the hand, explaining every little nuance and concept that they'd either figure out on their own or probably ignore in time. It's like one of those audio tracks for blind people, explaining the visuals in between dialogue so they can enjoy a movie sonically. It's not a bad thing if Bloodlust was made for the blind, but I don't think all that spectacular animation was put there by accident, so I'm going to have to go with that not being the intention. At all. On the other hand, with the English version having been made very flexible for generic dialogue flaps (known as serifu) the Japanese version ends up being the track that matches up far less for once. This is a fairly common problem with anime, truth be told, particularly on lower budget productions. Usually the voice actors watch an unfinished animatic with text that pops up saying 'serifu', and that's where the dialogue goes. When the animation is finished the mouth flaps are edited to match the pre-existing perfomances. So it's not animated specifically for the mouth flaps (as more expensive movies are, from time to time)... it's just edited to a rough approximation. Meanwhile, the English version is done at a far later date with finished animation to match up to. It definately shows in Bloodlust, and while the Japanese cast is more than compitent, there's only so much that can be done without re-writing the script from the ground up.

Some sequences and characters also come across as far more likable. For one thing, the old Barberois in the film was turned in to a homosexual in the English version, for no apparent reason. Certainly he was written as an old cook in the Japanese version, but there was no lengthy/disturbing sequences of him talking about how if he were younger he'd totally be all up in D's grill. Ew. Another character that made off far better is Leila, who on the English track is given a perhaps fitting voice that makes her sound like she should be wearing a tool belt and spitting chewing t'backey. Her character design - the usual pointy, somewhat masculine schtich that Kawajiri's good at - is unfeminine enough, and the English version just makes her in to the scariest facial hair hiding man hating dyke imaginable*. The Japanese performance is no shrinking violet either, but at least you're not expecting a penis to fall out of her jumper. It's something. Borgoff also comes across as far more natural on the Japanese track, the actor having the pipes and dedication to make the scruffy looking bounty hunter appear more like a threat to D's very existance rather than some soft-toned loser who can't talk with the cigar sticking out of his mouth constantly. None of the English performances are awful... and I've never thought they were. I just don't think they were as good as they could have been, and more often than not that's the fault of the dubbing director. Who, again, didn't speak English.

*Granted, Leila as a character is hard to pin down anyhow; maybe mean-spirited man hating lesbian is exactly what Kawajiri was going for, both in the character design and the casting process. The movie made her a survivor of a vampire attack as a child, who afterwards ran off with the Markus brothers as a sort of epic revenge angle, which works in the film's context just fine. In the original novel, she was a feminine enough character who wanted to quit the family business of hunting vampires and run off to get married. This led her psychotic brothers to kill her beau and rape her on the altar: yep, even Grove crawled on his belly for sloppy fourths of his beloved sister. And yes, she still traveled around with them hunting vampires afterwards... an easier to accept story than it probably ought to be in a world where Stockholm Syndrome exists. Maybe if this history were left intact in the film it would give her demeanor more credence, but just like Guts in the Berserk anime randomly screaming "DON'T TOUCH ME!" to his comrades it lacks the same impact when, in the original manga, we see him ass-raped as a child. Okay, I'm done talking about nasty almost corpse-rape. For today anyway.

That's not to say the Japanese track is entirely perfect either. As I've mentioned, the forced timing makes it 'look' more dubbed than the English version, which is part of why dubbing in and of itself isn't preferable. (Granted if you shoot without synch-sound and even dub the same actors back in, it often looks fake too. That's the way of the film industry.) For one thing, D is... well, he's not who he used to be. Which is no suprise, considering that SHIOZAWA Kaneto, the seiyuu who played him in 1985, is currently dead. RIP, man. His performance was something very dear to me, one that was at once youthful and mature, sorrowful without being full of itself. The new Japanese voice is simply... old. The youthful but intelligent nature of Shiozawa is simply gone, leaving D as a character that could well be 100 years old without anyone questioning the fact. It's not bad, just not what I'd hoped it would be. At least D's infamous Left Hand has remained almsot identical, though with a completely new actor behind the non-existant vocal cords. I'll also say that I'm not particularly fond of Carmilla on the Japanese track; for once the forceful bitchiness of English speaking women works in to an anime character's favor, and the original voice is left feeling very weak and unassuming in comparison. Nolt is also played very differently between the two languages, being something of a muscle bound retard in the English dub and simply a serious powerhouse in Japanese. I'm not honestly sure which I prefer, but they both have recommendable qualities.

I'm going somewhere with all of this waxing poetic, I really am. My studio - the bootleg-ish one, not the one I do freelance stuff with - is going to be releasing Bloodlust. Specifically, my first dual-layer DVD+R DL will be the Japanese language version of Bloodlust. Specs aren't 100% final yet, but here's the plan so far:

*1.85:1 OAR Anamorphic Widescreen (Progressive scan encoded and flagged)
*5.1 448kbps Dolby Digital Japanese (Full Bitrate)
*5.1 153k DTS Japanese (Full Bitrate. Hells yeah!)
*Optional English subtitles
*Still interactive menus

*Vampire Hunter D: Behind the Scenes (Japanese making-of - no subtitles)
*The Legend of Vampire Hunter D (Japanese TV special - no subtitles)
*Storyboard to Film Comparisons (3 scenes, alternate angles - no dialogue)
*Original Promotional Preview (Original US TV version - English dialogue)
*Original Soundtrack (27 tracks, 192kbps)

This may well be the very first dual-layer/DTS encoded bootleg to not be a factory pressed DVD-9 the world over. I've not compressed the film or extras any - beyond the soundtrack, which will be a menu sort of thing. You'll have to see it to understand. But I think this DVD is going to be something amazing, even more impressive than my 2 DVD special edition of the original VHD. I'd make that a dual-layer if I thought it would improve the quality in any notable way... it wouldn't. And so, Bloodlust is going to be one bad-ass mofo of a special edition.

I could morally only want to release the English dubbed version... but morally speaking, that would be quite mean of me. Urban Vision released the English version on DVD 5 years ago in the states, and as such any English dubbed copy I sell would be a lost sale for them. However, depsite having announced plans to release the Japanese version on DVD as well... nothing yet has come of it, and UV has the nasty habit of taking a year or two to actually get anything finished and released. (Of course, they also have the nasty habit of co-producing sequels to well known anime with Kawajiri - like Vampire Hunter D and Ninja Scroll - which takes a year or two to get moving.) Should UV actually make good on their threat to release the Japanese version of Bloodlust, well... then I may have to do something else.

Regardless, the DTS track on Bloodlust - both the Japanese and English versions - are absolutely fucking AMAZING. I'm not one to buy in to the usual "DTS is teh shiznite!" arguments, having owned plenty of weak upmixes from Manga Entertainment, Anchor Bay and others that take mono films and, by splitting the sound effects up think they're improving them. But even on a $20 pair of speakers the difference between the Dolby track and the DTS version is nothing short of panties-moistening awe. I wish it were physically possible to include both the DTS tracks on 1 DVD... but it isn't. Disk limitations are a bitch, aren't they?

So, yeah. I'm releasing a dubbed version. A Japanese dubbed version of a Japanese movie. And I may stand to make a killing off of it. Does that make me a hypoctite?

Eh. Do I give a damn if I'm releasing something that's already theoretically licensed for the US market? I may have reached the point where the only scruples I live by are "make the best goddamn DVD possible and sell it with my head held high". If only "legit" anime distro's were so foolish.