Friday, April 20, 2007

I'm the best non-licensor in America AGAIN!

5 episodes per DVD-R (minimum!). A single "fat" keepcase to house a whole series. No English dub unless one was already created prior back in the day. $10 per disc, plus an extra $3 for the first volume.

LICENSED MEDIA SOLD ON DVD-R.

I swear to God, I'm not making this shiz up: ImaginAsian Entertainment is going to start releasing legit DVD-R discs of Orguss TV, Cat's Eye and Nobody's Boy Remi, all various high quality anime TV series from the mid 1980's and earlier.

It sounds like a bootleg release, but no, Jonathan Sevakis, formerly of Central Park Media (before their somewhat epic lay-off of everyone but the president of the company and his wife basically retreated, not licensing anything new and selling off some of their more notable licenses like Slayers) has sworn to start a new DVD label in the US, catering specifically to hardcore fans willing to buy DVD-R versions at a discounted price. Directly from his website. That's right, these discs won't be found at Rightstuf or DVD Planet, Best Buy or Borders, Best Buy or Wal*Mart: Sevakis has completely cut out the middle man. He's doing the authoring and encoding personally, and for all I know every single DVD will be burned, thermal printed, and sticky-taped inside of a plastic CD envelope personally. His prices are insane, his practice are unorthodox (to be fair, these DVD-R will include region coding and CSS anti-piracy protection), and, perhaps most importantly...

Sevakis is a fucking GENIUS. That, in many ways... does what I've done for years.

Bwa-hahahahahaha!

Seriously though. There's a lot of things to look at in this crazy world of anime distribution - legit, and otherwise. First and foremost is the fact that, despite a visible presence in pop culture and a loud and voracious fan base... anime doesn't make any money. Seriously, most anime DVD's (unless it's a tie-in to something that's regularly played on basic cable or connected to a popular videogame) struggle to sell 3,000-4,000 copies a piece, and the English dub - often considered the nessicary evil needed to get those 3k-4k to pony up the goods - can take away the profit from 2,000 of those sales right there (with $10,000-$15,000 being the low end of English dub production per-episode) . And that's before authoring, encoding, packaging, replication, distributor cut... when you factor in that they have to license the fucking episodes for $20,000-$50,000 a piece up front and that they wholesale the discs for $10-$15 each, it's kind of a miracle that there's any profit what-so-ever in releasing anime in the United States.

Mind, I'm talking about new shows. Moderately popular shows. I'm not talking about cult phenomenons here that have a massive built-in audience (ie: not Haruhi or Dragonball Z), I'm talking about middle-of-the-road kind of titles... something like Tsubasa, Noein, Kamichu!, shows that aren't bad or anything, they just aren't going to break the bank. Ever. In a million years. Hell, even titles with an established name in America don't guarantee a profit: Media Blasters said not so long ago that they refused to license the second season of the Oh! My Goddess TV series, because they don't think they'll ever break even on the first season (and thus ADV picked it up. Why? 'Cause they're... insane?).

Now... what about old anime? Now I don't mean Tetsujin 28-gou and Mach Go Go Go old... I just mean, say, 1975-1997. Generally speaking, anime that's a decade old or more just doesn't sell well. It isn't new and it shows. Most anime fans - by which I mean the people who walk in to a store, see a box staring them in the face, think "that could be fun" and buy it, sight unseen, without having read the press releases or watched the fansubs - just want to watch something... cool. Something fresh. Something dark and violent, or at least sassy and cute. Old anime looks... old. It looks dates, predictable, trite even, to these people. Regardless of how amazing the story telling or traditional hand-crafted art therein may be, the overwhelming majority of people would pass on... well, fuck. Even shows I considered masterpieces a few short years ago, stuff like Berserk, Evangelion and Devilman Lady, have all been usurped by stuff like Scrapped .HACK, RahXephon and Trinity Blood (not that I'd recommend ANY of these over the 3 I mentioned prior, but the point stands). I'm starting to ramble, so I'll sum up the concept and get back to the head of the matter: lower quality but more contemporary anime sells better than higher quality but dated-looking anime.

Sad, ain't it? While a newer middle-of-the-road show might be lucky to sell 5,000 copies, "old" anime is lucky to sell 1,000. Maybe even half that. It's deplorable, but retail's a bitch.

The issue here becomes the fact that Sevakis is bucking... roughly every industry trend out there. No standard keepcase packaging with each disc - after the first volume, each DVD is shipped in a plastic envelope, no insert, nothing. No English dub, which Bandai Visual ALSO does... but they charge you $50 for 4 episodes of a crappy TV show, or $40 for a pair of OVA's. Or $40 for one high definition OVA. They can suck it. Now, Orguss TV will get an English dub for episodes 01-17 out of 36, but that's only because US Renditions dubbed it eons ago and... well, the dub exists, why not include it for kicks? So, no package, and no English dub. 'Kay.

Let's talk about the DVD-R aspect for a second. What a lot of people fail to understand is 500 units of an "old" anime is something of a miracle to start with. Moreover, 500 units of a subtitled-only old anime without nostalgia attached to it from Saturday morning broadcasts in the 80's from when it was dubbed and edited into a different show is a dream you'll never see. Well, DVD replicators won't even bother pressing less than 500 copies of a DVD... so DVD-R is, assuming Sevakis can't move more than 500 copies, literally the only option.

"But DVD-R's fail!" some idiots cry out. Not if they were authored properly, not if the dye used in the media was decent, and... well, DVD isn't yet a decade old, and plenty of people have complained of unplayable "DVD rot" riddled discs already (probably due to the evil that is Scanavo cases*). In short, DVD-R is no better or worse than pressed DVD's (if you know what you're doing), and if you have a DVD player so old that it can't play DVD-R... dude. Buy a goddamn $70 Wal-Mart DVD player. You cheap bastard.

*Scanavo - noted by the company name embossed in the case itself - are the guys who make those cases you have to push AND pinch at the same time to get to dislodge from the DVD hub. They have what people call the "death grip" on DVD's, and if you're a bastard to your collection, they WILL crack the inside of the discs. Ironically, I've never killed a DVD on a Scanavo case, though I've gotten PLENTY of cracked DVD's from generic hubs used on Kitty Media DVD's... and my copy of SAW in that cool limited Super Jewel Case literally exploded the second time I removed it from the case. What the fuck?

The most shocking aspect of all this is - doubtless - the fact that I've been doing the same thing for years now. I always do my damndest to find the best video and audio materials available, sometimes delaying a DVD-R release for months (...or years) in the name of perfection. I release DVD-R's of titles that are good. Understand that I focus on controversial animated "adult" cinema for the most part, but if I genuinely hate something I'm not going to bother selling it. I'll consider it, even threaten to... but I won't. If the name Kentai Films is on a DVD, it's because I genuinely felt the series/movie/whatever was awesome enough (for whatever reason) to deserve my own tiny personal touch in getting it released. Sevakis is doing the same thing, focusing on shows he knows wouldn't turn a profit of any sort in the standard R1 market. Much like me, he's doing everything personally... directly.

Sadly, his prowess as a DVD guru from CPM means my slightly annotated resume of playing with DVDMaestro and TMPGEnc for several years probably fell on deaf ears. He doesn't need any help, and he certainly doesn't need to be paying anyone but himself... I can certainly respect that. Also, did I mention he actually pays TMS for the shows he releases on DVD-R, this his stuff actually supports the R1 market while I'm more a filthy bootlegging monster who eats babies and rapes old women whilst not paying licensors for shit? Yeah, that's probably worth bringing up. Just for comparison's sake.

Once more, ImaginAsian Entertainment and Honneamise/Bandai Visual USA have proven I'm waaaay ahead of the curve: using Japanese transfers, not bothering creating English dubs or fancy packaging, using DVD-R... I swear to god, if Media Blasters announces their next "oldschool" show is mastered from an LD box, I'll actually be at the top of this game.

Oh - also, Sevakis writes a column over at AnimeNewsNetwork.com, namely the "Buried Treasures" feature where he watches obscure 80's and 90's movies and OVA's and highlights only the good stuff. In short, he takes the guess work out of leafing through the bargain bin of old tapes in comic shops that are (I pray) still littered across the country. He's not retarded like Answerman, but he's also not an antisocial sponge of trivia like John over at AnimeNation.com, so he balances out pretty nicely. He even once noted "It's like watching Takashi Miike's "Audition", substituting pain with PETA." He earned my adoration right there, and it didn't even dawn on me until tonight that they were the same person.

Oh yeah. ANGEL COP is done. I haven't burned it yet to verify it working properly on a stand-alone DVD player yet, because my PC has major issues with its' heat sink* right now, and until I can afford to replace it in a couple weeks, excessive use (like burning and verifying a 2x DVD-RW for an hour, three times in a row) is something I'd rather avoid. I'm also considering putting a "this DVD was made by Kentai Films!" tag somewhere on the disc, but I dunno'... I put liner notes on disc 3. Y'all know it's me, and if you don't I'll be including a business card-type thing inside of the keepcase. So it feels more and more like an incredibly moot point to slap my name on every disc. I didn't "watermark" the credits with a soft subtitle, though maybe I should have... with all the work that went in to those goddamn squiggles of text, I'll be damned if I'm screwing with them again just to protect something that a bootlegger even less scrupulous than I am would just rip and not care about anyway.

*Heat sinks are evil. My wife even bought a non-stock sink when she built this bad-boy up for me. Unfortunately it's been getting loud, and very hot. Over 70 degrees C. Which for a Pentium 4 is... about 30 degrees more than it should be at any given time. It makes my PC slow and sluggish and groan if it has to do anything even somewhat complex, just like me before I've had at least 4 cups of coffee. It shouldn't damage anything permenantly... but the noise is very distracting/irritating, and with the upstairs end of my pad being so goddamn HOT for no logical reason this week, spending as little time as is humanly possible up here just seems like a pretty good idea.

In short: fuck you, AGL. You and your watermarked prints of secondgeneration VHS yaoi tapes. If you're going to transfer unimpressive masters 'cause it's all you can get, at least don't intentionally screw them up intentionally with a big fat "AGL" sitting right next to a stiff penis.

Also, for those still reading (have you no shame?), I'm hard at work/hardly working/why did I use this lame joke?- on the next project for my as always unnamed legit employer. This time it's a low-budget splatter film from Germany, the plot concerning a bunch of gangsters who unknowingly start the release of an evil chemical that turns people into snarling monsters who eat human flesh. Think DAWN OF THE DEAD but with pointy teeth, a goofy death metal soundtrack and shot on PAL video. Yeah. It's awesome in a cheap B-movie sort of way. I've got about a day's worth of work left and then one more day of fine-tuning the subtitles, making damn sure they pop up and disappear at intervals that'll make my boss proud to pay me. After that, it's another low-budget crapfest... this time about people who blow each other apart, but instead of dying they sew their pieces back together and continue to tear each other apart again. It's described as Germany's first "Party Splatter Movie", so what can I say, maybe it'll be fun for all the wrong reasons. More likely it'll just be cheap and awful. I'll just have to wait and see.

...oh yeah. Anime Boston starts tomorrow. I don't have any money, and even if I did (which I wouldn't) the maintenance dude is coming over for the nest 2 days to fill in the holes the arsehole who cleaned the water damage from my apartment left behind. He's doing it amazingly half-assed with some kind of chicken wire tape, but whatever, I don't have to pay any more for it. So, if I'm slightly bitter over the weekend, that could be a factor as to why.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Bandai Visual USA: proving I'm NOT the worst!

By all rights, I'm a bootleging, scum-sucking, bottom feeding welt on the ass of the legit anime industry, clinging tenaciously to the buttocks of the industry rather than infecting its' nut-sack like the Triad bootleggers who release 10,000 copies with incomprehensible Chinglish subtitles and 8 episodes badly compressed with watermarks all over the place on a single layer DVD. That's just n0t how I do things. I release a hundred copies - tops - sell them at something of a loss all in all (hardware's not free goddamn it), and release the best quality disc I can. It takes me a year or 10 to finish it... but anyone who's viewed my stuff can see why. There's love in every subtitle that says "fuck you, moron!", and that's something the Triads just can't compete with.

So, what did Japan do? They took my spot as officially best bootlegger. Allow me to explain.

Honneamise, taken from the early Gainax film ROYAL SPACE FORCE: THE WINGS OF HONNEAMISE, is the US label created by the Japanese distribution company, Bandai Visual. Bandai Visual - in turn a separate entity from Bandai Entertainment completely, despite both being owned by Bandai Corporation (weird, huh?) - decided to start distributing some of it's "legendary" properties directly in America. And they started with, arguably, the most amazing US release ever created: PATLABOR THE MOTION PICTURE Parts 1 and 2, OSHII Mamoru's ground-breaking mecha film and it's follow-up.

What was so goddamn cool about the releases? For starters, it was taken from the HD master Japan created a couple years back, and included the newly recorded Japanese 5.1 track from that same release. It also had a brand new English 5.1 dub, using a new cast compared to Manga Entertainment's dub from the early '90's. There was a standard release, with just the movie in a regular DVD case that sold for $30. There was also a version in a sturdy chip-board box, with a double-wide hard backed digipack containing a subtitled extras disc, a 150 or so page "making of the film" book translated completely into English, and most amazingly, a translated storyboard book at around 300 pages. In short, it was an English friendly port of the Japanese DVD, and for $90 retail, it was priced like a R2 DVD all right. But fans shouldn't care. I've never seen Patlabor personally, and if I'm going to own it I want those two amazing box sets to sit on my shelf, looking down their noses at all other so-called Limited Editions with a smug grin. This was Japanese service, and at the Japanese price... but that didn't seem so bad for such an amazing box set.

Their next release was ANNO Hideaki's landmark Gainax series GUNBUSTER: AIM FOR THE TOP! This release was a bit less lackluster, giving the 6 OVA's and most (but not all) of the Japanese special features. More importantly, it was the first US DVD to have totally uncompressed PCM audio... but one of the most important scenes of the first episode - a spoof of the British film Chariots of Fire - was replaced with another piece of music from the show, since Bandai Visual USA was worried that they could get sued for that shit in America. Mind you, they also re-released the Japanese box set (no subtitles and all) in the US and abroad with the controversial music included and no region coding for a limited time, so... were they worried or weren't they? The PCM's awesome-ness was negated totally by the fact that the audio track was edited by nearly 2 minutes, and while the image gallery went missing can be attributed to it being included in the 32 page booklet in the box... the open-matte version of episode 6 is nowhere to be found. The Japanese DVD's included the show on 3 DVDs and a fourth disc for just the features. The R1 box set include the features on the episode discs, and as such there was no room (or so we can assume) for the "production" version of episode 6, which was in widescreen for stylistic reasons. Watch the show to see why... I don't want to give it away. So, for this notably imperfect release - which also had no English dub, but as Gainax lost the dub pre-mix decades ago everyone expected this - a price of $65 seemed reasonable.

Enter Gunbuster's sequel, DIEBUSTER: AIM FOR THE TOP 2! Now, this show is being released on 3 DVD's, with 16 page booklets, and in a super jewel case. Pretty fancy, eh? But, there's no English dub. Now, I'm not one to watch them anyway, but not getting one made just feels... kinda' cheap, and lazy. All the R2 extras, anamorphic transfer and Japanese 5.1 tracks are accounted for. So, what's Bandai Visual USA charging for this release? $40. EACH.

Let's step back for a moment, now. English dubs are considered standard on R1 DVD's. They generally cost about $10,000 per episode to produce. The only DVD's that don't generally include English dubs are some hentai studios (like Japan Anime), and non-anime studios specifically marketing their films to the art crowd scene, such as the Dreamworks releases of Innocence, Millenium Actress, and Tokyo Godfathers - all of which (TG aside) had English dubs made for their UK releases anyway. For shows that have a low chance of the dub making a difference in sales - such as the shounen-ai cutefest Loveless released by Media Blasters - these DVD's are generally sold at around $20 per disc, as opposed to the $25-30 expected of a bi-lingual DVD.

Bandai Visual USA is charging you double the expected price of a monolingual US DVD, and a third more than the expected price of a bi-lingual release.

Go Nagai's DEMON PRINCE ENMA similarly had the high price of $40 per volume, though at least you get over 80 minutes of OVA for that $40. Diebuster episodes are barely half an hour each, and BV USA including the extras in the runtime to make the discs appear more stacked than they really are. For shame... I want Enma, and I know at least one person who'd have bought the import DVD's anyway, so maybe this pricing isn't so out of line.

And then, there was GALAXY ANGEL RUNE.

A word about GA in general, and Rune in particular: Galaxy Angel is a moe show. In other words, it's non-stop sweetness and cute for the sake of sweetness and cute. I can watch moe, sure. I even like Cardcaptor Sakura, though that's as much for the occult imagery and utterly random non-stop homosexual crushes than it is for the fact that it's just so goddamn cute. The only moe show I've spent a dime on is Elfen Lied, which in and of itself is anti-moe, wrenching cute clumsy glasses wearing busty office lady heads off within the first 5 minutes. I plan to add Higurashi ~ When They Cry to my anti-moe movement... but that's another issue. So, Galaxy Angel is Sci-Fi in the way that... I dunno', Aqua Teen Hunger Force is a drama about the life of American immigrants. It's really just fluff made to make 40 year old Japanese men smile and hug their pillows shaped like idol singers. And that's fine. I guess. But it's a far more popular concept in Japan than it is here in the states.

Moe, much like sports anime, transforming schoolgirl anime, and cooking anime, just doesn't make any money in the US. Period. The fact that GA's original and first 2 sequels got a release is nothing short of amazing, but the fact that Bandai Entertainment never pursued the rights to Rune proved the market was pretty damned un-wanting. More importantly, even fans of Galaxy Angel say that Rune is basically an unremarkable and useless sequel that doesn't add anything new to the experience. If you're a fan of the show and say it's crap, it has to be wretched. Seriously, I love Urotsukidoji, but that doesn't keep OVA 12 from being a dried up turd on a bad stretch of road. These things do happen.

So, what's Bandai Visual charging for this series, once more with 16 page booklets (though vol. 1, which is "special priced", gets only 8 pages)?

Vol 1 (Episode 1) - $20
Vol 2 (Episode 2-5) $50
Vol 3 (Episode 6-9) $50
Vol 4 (Episode 10-13) $50

That's right. Bandai Visual USA is charging $170 for a crappy sequel to a TV show that nobody wanted in the first place. And I thought I was alone in providing subtitled R2 dumps of anime that nobody wanted...

At least I charge reasonable prices for what I do. Angel Cop, though things could change due to various factors, will almost positively be $30 for all 6 OVA's on 3 DVD's. Bandai Visual would charge 4 times that price. Bandai Visual also already has the rights in Japan to every show they're releasing in the US to begin with, implying that should they have to re-negotiate contracts for a US release (for instance, Gainax owns Gunbuster, BV just distributes it for them) the work and expense was probably minimal. I'm also very, very curious if their R1 releases were simply a dump of the R2 audio and video masters, Gunbuster's edited audio aside of course. Not that there's anything wrong... it just establishes how lazy and cheap BV USA is.

The best part of all this is, having sent them an eMail personally, I get an automatic response noting how not only are English dubs difficult to create in Japan (even though they did it just fine for Patlabor 1 and 2) and the Japanese version is better anyway (point), but that the Japanese pricing model has worked fine for years, and thus it'll work just fine in America, too.

I can't wait for them to realize they haven't sold a single copy of Galaxy Angel Rune and realize they were wrong on that little piece of info.

It gets crazier, too. WINGS OF REAN, a remake of an earlier Tomino experiment, will be 6 OVA's for $120 on 3 DVD's. FREEDOM, KATSUSHIROU "Akira" Otoumo's latest OVA, will be released on DVD/HD DVD combo format discs at $40 per episode. And yes, there are 6 of them. By far, the most outlandish announcement has to be that the very film they named themselves after, THE WINGS OF HONNEAMISE, has been announced only on HD DVD, for a retail price of $80. There may be a standard DVD release as well, or maybe this will also be a combo format disc, but regardless... what the hell are these Japanese madmen thinking? "Anime fans are techno geeks and the XBOX is more popular in America than it is in Japan. Surely all anime fans have the HD DVD add-on!" Despite the fact that most recent sales numbers show that America is buying Blu-Ray 4.1:1 over HD DVD, BV continues to market their High Def materials on Blu-Ray in Japan*, only doing HD DVD's for the American market and then porting the finished releases back to Japan for about $7 more. The only thing more astounding than BV USA's obvious stupidity is their ability to jam their fingers in their ears and sing "Ru ru ru~" to themselves.

*Did I mention that AKIRA, THE GHOST IN THE SHELL and JIN-ROH: THE WOLF BRIGADE are getting box sets containing both the standard R2 DVD and a new High Definition Blu-Ray release for around $90 a piece in Japan? Looks like I'm going to have a reason to pick up a PS3 and an HDTV after all. Goddamn it...

I should also mention that Toei tried releasing some of their titles in the US a year or two ago as well.** They released bi-lingual DVD's with dubtitles, and refused to create an accurate English subtitle script. Between that fact and the titles chosen - AIR MASTER was a good call, SLAM DUNK wasn't - they folded before finishing any of their shows and retreated back to Japan. Mind, these DVD's were reasonably priced and had an English dub. All Toei had to do was focus on more "American Friendly" shows and use the accurate translations they had lying around... yet they never got the hint. If BV USA missed this event completely, their heads are further up their asses than I ever dreamed.

**Toei since licensed BEET THE VANDAL BUSTER and BO-BO BO BO BO-BO BO (Bo^7) to Illumation, a new US studio run by some ex-FUNimation employees. Illumation dubtitled their first several releases too. Friggin' awesome, no? At least Illumation finally got the hint and has announced they'll do a replacement program for the dubtitled DVD's in the near future. Shame that won't keep their encodes from looking like a VCD made in 1995... I guess some FUNimation know-how rubbed off on them after all!


Anyway, why does this piss me off to no end? Simple. I could be the asshole slapping subtitles on GUNBUSTER and DEMON PRINCE ENMA and selling the DVD's at a fraction of the inflated insanity that BV USA is charging, at that. It should be a bootlegger releasing the Japanese DVD with some slapped on English subtitles. BV USA has replaced the Triads, not competent R1 studios, and certainly not me. At least I charge a fair price for a shitty R2 dump, and I wouldn't ditch an extra, I'd add another disc. I'm also not going to edit out a song because I could get sued. Hell, I could get sued for any disc I release anyway.

Anyway, I'm just angry. But it's fun to vent on those who deserve it. BV USA deserves to sell exactly zero copies of anything besides Patlabor, and I honestly think that'll be just what happens. The company is clearly here to dump anything no sensible American licensor will pony up the money for (seriously, something like Gunbuster would probably cost half a million dollars to license and wouldn't sell more than a few thousand copies total), and selling them at far higher than normal prices means that Japanese consumers will be less tempted to buy the US disc, particularly after international shipping had made the price comparable to just picking up the Japanese DVD's used. If I can get their release of Diebuster for $60 total, maybe that'll be a deal. And unfortunately, Demon Prince Enma has a mini-manga written by Go Nagai in the booklet, but these clowns are so incompetent I don't even know if it'll be translated for certain. In short, Bandai Visual USA makes me look like a God, and considering I'm down to releasing 1-2 discs per year... that's a really, really bad sign.

Anyway, back to figuring out my legal rights in crappy situations and playing with filters on Urotsukidoji III: The Movie. I may have found a way to make the whole thing fit on a single-layer DVD without making the quality suffer too badly.

Maybe. We'll see, won't we?

My Pink Colored Junk

Hey crazy people who actually read this thing,

Well, ANGEL COP VOL. 2 is officially done, and VOL. 3 will probably be checked over and wed to its' subtitles tonight. That means all I need is disc art and a final cover, though Angel Cop may well be the second title (along with Enzai) for which I give more than 1 cover. Sadly, Enzai was scanned before I had much concept of BMP superiority, and I almost wish I still owned the R2's so I could get a fresh, crispy scan of both sides and do a flip-cover. Anyway, Angel Cop has 3 covers, all of which are kinda' cool, so I might even do a (non-limited... Fuck Bethmaan's "limited to 66 units piece-of-shit-non-anamorphic-DVD-5 of some lame Franco movie everyone already owns anyway" crap) number of discs in each cover ala Andreas Bethmaan's many labels like X-Rated Kult DVD.

Experiments with color correction have led me to realize that, much as correcting a perfect DVD that's just too dark and badly flagged (like Vampire Hunter D) is counter productive, I will say that I'm still considering it for masters I KNOW are inherently screwed. Let's take a look at Oh!Great's JUNK STORY for such an example.

Junk Story has, to the best of my understanding, only ever been released on VHS. There may be an LD I've never seen or heard of before (and possibly a BETA tape), but as this was distributed by a studio primarily interested in live action pornography, which was less likely to get an LD compared to hentai releases (or seems to be from YAJ listings)... well, I'll have to assume this tape is the best master I'll ever see, even if there is a better one hiding in some Japanese pervo's basement. On the left is the original VHS as recorded to a DVD-RW, with no filters what-so-ever apart from what my VCR does naturally through NR/TBC. On the right is literally 10 minutes of tinkering with the color balance, raising the universal gamma level and taking down the red gamma considerably. What I'm left with are eyes that are white, not pink, and fresh skin that doesn't look like it's doused in hot sauce.

Now, here comes the scary part of color correction: how do I know what it was supposed to look like? Some films are intentionally shot with too much red or blue or whatever, and in some instances - like Park Chan-Wook's OLD BOY - the "remastered" version actually looks far less like the original master than the prior transfer! It's entirely possible that this decidedly red hue is how the director always wanted Junk Story to look. But there are several things that make this seem unlikely, not the first of which is the very fact that VHS is a piss-poor format, which tends to change colors drastically due to the nature of how the video information was stored on the tape. Reds tend to bleed and are given a "push" (making everything look overly 'pink'), and the format tends to be very dark and murky, even when you compare a VHS tape and a Laserdisc taken from the same D2 master tape, something I've done here prior with Kaze to Ki no Uta, and have since done with other films like the Star of David anime. LD was an acceptably stable format for NTSC colors accurately representing the video master. VHS never was. So, in a sense we can assume that the VHS release is wrong, just because.

However, here's a more scientific method: the VHS cover has an image of the girl in the above shot, though this particular screen shot (one I chose because the scene itself was dark to begin with) is from a different point in her life, thus in this image she's A) a cyborg, and B) blond. Regadless, it proves her eyes aren't supposed to be pink, and her skin isn't supposed to be red - and yes, her skin tone matches this scene as it does the rest of the OVA. If I really wanted to check the cover, I'd use something more like this...



Yes. All anime color correction should be based on boobs.

Anyway, this was brought on by some recent complaints that, of all things, Disney's Platinum edition of Peter Pan had poor color timing. I'll be honest in saying I don't give a crap if Michael Jackson's life story is presented in a pristine manner on DVD, since it just isn't my bag, but it did frustrate me greatly that plenty of Disney and general cel animation experts have said that the transfer is WAY too dark, and have removed the vibrant, lush colors that every prior video release has featured. Even promotional images have always shown Captain Hook (easily the best part of the film. Pirates rule.) wearing a bright red vest. Well, the new DVD has him wearing burgundy, which is more brown than red. In short, the exact opposite of most remasters for animation has happened: the gamma* has been turned down, as opposed to the saturation being turned up, to make older cel animation look more like the vibrant digital animation that kids these days love.

*Gamma, for the record, is the general level of brightness that the colors themselves in video posses. Turning up the brightness alone will turn your blacks into a light gray, and turning up contrast will make the brighter details disappear completely on a well lit scene. Adjusting the gamma keeps the absolute black and white levels basically the same, while adjusting the colors themselves. In most color corrections that go wrong, the brightness and/or contrast level has been boosted, when just changing the general gamma levels would have been far preferable. You can also dial down the gamma in say, just the red channel to get rid of an ugly pink hue... like I did in the above example.

Now, even with a perfect color correction I need to re-encode the video, which as Vampire Hunter D has proven so many times over, can lead to other undesirable artifacts, like a loss in background detail, pixelation artifacts, scaling bugs and other none too pretty things you want to avoid like the AIDS. Considering that everything I do is based on pre-compressed DVD masters, I'm adding a layer of artifacts onto what's artifacts to begin with. On the other hand, I'm starting with VHS (in Junk Story's case), so capturing as a lossless AVI and then encoding from that probably wouldn't make a whole lot of difference either. It's just a question of what I find more objectionable: reompression artifacts, or nasty un-corrected VHS colors.

I wish I could go with "none of the above", but insofar that ain't happening. And with my land lady trying to fist me up my anoos over a great many things, spending $60 on a new MPEG encoder on the off-chance that it might actually work just isn't in the cards. ProCoder does sound like the best encoder on the market in terms of looking like the source, but unfortunately it's completely, utterly, and 101% uncrackable. This does suck for a multitude of reasons, not the least of which being my "legit" boss is looking for cheap authoring work, and if I could do the encodes too... oh, man oh man... the debt I owe would friggin' disappear like nothing.

And that's all I got for now. If you're (un)lucky I'll come back and rant like a looney over Bandai Visual USA stealing my thunder. You'll know what I mean.