Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Blassreiter and Freelance Nautical Acquisitons

First off, everyone here should know the name ITANO Ichirou. If not, he's the man who directed Violence Jack: Evil Town, Battle Royal Highschool, Megazone 23 Part II, Angel Cop, and most recently/likely most famously, Gantz. Itano's work has fascinated me for quite some time, as it's typically a bit like being handed an uncut crystal who's sparkling jagged edges have lacerated your fingers: you can't honestly say that it's "beautiful" in the way a polished stone would be, but there's so much intensity that you can't help but marvel at the beautiful points and the sparkle that emanates from the rust colored stain running down one side.

For anoyone who's seen any of the above titles, you'll know that he has a few kinks that seem to crop up in nearly everything he does: elegant and vivid destruction of the human body, spectacularly clever minimalism, a love and respect for the young people (by which I mean anarchistic punks), and perhaps most notably, a penchant for total nihilism in which the world as we know it is cut down to its' raw, bleeding roots, and presented in such a sad and beautiful way that it'd be impolite not to stare. In the broadest sense, I think Gantz has been his best effort: it may be a little pretentious, it's certainly evasive, and I'd argue that it drag its' feet in the first season when it should be running forward with guns ablaze and heads a' popping like the Fist of the North Star '86 movie in fast forward, but I think it managed - despite these flaws - to create a brutal and strange world for a team of unlikely (and oft undeserving) anti-heroes to make a choice: wallow in their own selfish view of the world and pretend that the problems out there aren't theirs to face, or wake up and join the fight to see tomorrow with your own eyes wide open. I can't say Gantz is perfect, and I can attribute a lot of the aimless and fuzzy narrative to the manga it was based on, but the last arc in which the title character decides to up the stakes of the game - material that Itano essentially wrote himself - is some of the best in the show, and really drives home every positive quality that the show had going for it.

It also takes a needless pot-shot at America's invasion of Iraq, seemingly just for the hell of it. This is exactly why I love Itano. Nothing says "crazily awesome Japanese director" like a shot of anti-American Imperialistic propoganda inside of a show that literally had nothing to do with politics prior. I'd say Blood+ deserves mention for turning Condoleezza Rice into a slobbering horce-faced vampire monster, but doing so might confuse people reading this blog into thinking that Blood+ was any good. It wasn't. Gantz > Blood+, by at least three-fold in half the number of episodes.

Anyway.

I bring this up because I'm very much looking forward to Itano Ichirou and Nitro+'s* new anime, BLASSREITER. While only a couple short preview videos have been released, it looks (more or less) like Bubblegum Crisis done got raped by Karas, in which men wearing tight fitting bio-machines ride on rocket launching motorcycles and do back flips to puncture spindly looking robo-aliens on those random wrist-spikes I've up until now only equated with Spawn action figures. The show looks extremely CG-heavy, which is no surprise coming from Gonzo Digimation. No, the CG doesn't look as nice as Ex Machina or anything, but it doesn't look horrific, either. All I know is that Itano is directing again, and this gives me wood.

*All I know about Nitro+ is that I fell in love with this PVC figure [s/he/they] designed, and [h/s/t]that they've made a homo visual novel starring kitty-boys who were about 5 minutes late for the .HACK//sign casting call. I mean as a compliment, mostly. For better or worse, my wife is the one who spends free time playing PC games in which you call your 13 year old sister with big ol' titties fat and stupid until she begs you to stick it up her ass. I'd rather just jack off to the CG sets and not listen to her whine about how mean I am for an hour first, but to each their own.

The real story here, however, is the fact that Gonzo is finally so sick and tired of fansubbers pirating their shows that they're beating them to the punch: both Blassreiter and The Tower of DURAGA (a funky looking MMORPG tie-in... eh, I'll watch an episode and get bored, I'm sure), two out of 3 of their Spring season shows, will be streamed with English subtitles on the very same day these episodes air in Japan. Options include the standby YouTube, the controversial Crunchy Roll*, and Bost TV. Each have their own ups' and downs'. YouTube... well, their videos look like shit. CR was basically YouTube, but centered around Asian programming and with the option to pay a nominal $6 fee to watch "high quality" streams instead of those fucking postage stamp sized... things. The issue is they recently got over 4 million dollars from investors, and they're still hosting titles that have been on DVD in America for a decade. In short they've been rewarded for ripping off other people's fansubs and DivX DVD rips, so they're looked at as something of the Streaming Satan by US licensors and fansubbers (who steal shit for free, which is, like, totally different) alike. Bost TV is actually a Japanese run website that offers 2 week rentals for $2 an episode, but seems to have equal quality (if not higher) than CR, and they only host legit content anyway, which means their catalog is... rather limited. Really, does anyone outside of Japan want to watch Keitai Shoujo/Cell Phone Girls? Let alone pay for it?

*For further proof that Crunchy Roll is a bunch of sandy vaginas, AnswerZac got an interview with their spokesman here. lulz away.

All 3 of these websites will offer the content for free on the same day for both shows as streaming video. Crunchy Roll will offer a pay-download, and Bost TV offers a free download with the 2 week rental for the same nominal $1.99 fee per episode. Blassreiter is a 13 episode series, and if you sigh up before April 2nd you get the first episode (including the download) for free. So, guess who signed up for Bost TV today? Oh, did I mention these downloads are DRM free, so you don't have to watch them on only 1 PC, and you can watch them in something besides Windows Media Player? My biggest complaint against the model used by Viz on Death Note was the DRM lock-down, and Gonzo has finally realized the obvious: there will always be a DRM-free fansub made available less than 24 hours after the air time anyway, so why not just offer the same thing faster and make a couple bucks while we're at it?

All this said, I'm not 100% convinced that this will take off the way that Gonzo is (I assume) hoping. In a recent conversation I've heard from a third-party that, as of 2008, selling 2,000 copies of an anime DVD is a "good seller", while even marginally unpopular titles regularly get over 10,000 downloads from fansubs. This number is down from 3,000 about a year ago, and drastically lower than 10,000 some 5 years ago. Sales are reportedly lower than they were in the friggin' VHS era, and as tapes used to cost $20-30 for a mere 2 or 3 episodes, that's fucking depressing. I've tried to look at this issue from several angles, and while I still think that fansubs are far from the ONLY drain on the anime industry, there has been an upswing in fansub quality (with those "in the now" able to download full Japanese DVD-9 discs with custom subtitles patched in), while R1 anime DVDs have consistently offered only minor improvements over bootleg releases. Just as important, it's now common knowledge that any show released now will have a cheaper collection later, and with the insane price drops that started a few years ago even loyal DVD buyers have gotten wise to "waiting for the box set". In other words, you can't give DVDs away in this market anymore... but can you give away cheap downloads?

Let's do the math here, for Blassreiter anyway:

13 episodes x $1.99 = 25.87

4 DVDs x $29.99 = $119.96 (+$10 for the optional box)

On the one hand, the DVDs may include interviews not present on the downloads, to say nothing of packaging and English dubs... if, you're into that. Posessing a high school education and change I have no trouble reading flashing words at the bottom of my foreign entertainment, so short of the DRM-free downloads looking worse than a fansub (which I doubt is even humanly possible... see below for a great example), this honestly sounds like the solution that casual buyers who'd rather get the show now and not wait for the DVD have been waiting for.


So... that is Satoko, right?

Will anyone actually bite? How many of those 10,000+ downloaders will give a rats' ass when they figure out they have to PAY for something that's basically a legitimate fansub? My guess is "about 0.001%". Yes, these are Gonzo shows, and Gonzo titles are popular in America. Yes, Blassreiter is "from the director of Gantz and from Nitro+", but honestly I'm not sure what impact that'll have. Fansubs are popular less because anime is cherished and respected in America, and more because the culture built up around them is the digital non-sexual version of Hippie Free Love: "We do it for the anime, man, before all those evil corporations dub anime and ruin 'em by putting them on cable with all the blood painted out and all the nipples edited." This is, of course, mostly bullshit. There are a hand-full of people who genuinely love anime and use fansubs to help obscure and essentially unheard of titles to the Western masses, but all the speed subbers who are releasing Bleach episode 263: Oh no, Ichigo Needs Glasses!! Can Rukya get to the Ice Cream Social before the Shinigami Lord?* or, whatever, are doing it so they can claim to be the to have done so for the glory this gives them from people they don't know on the internet. Fansubbing was a stop-gap between hardcore crazy fans and R1 licensors to raise awareness in the hopes that 5th generation purple tapes could, someday, be replaced with legitimate and high quality media. This theoretically honorable system has been dead and rotting for years now, and while fansubbing as a whole will always serve a purpose, fansubbing titles that are already licensed for a US release just prove that any old-school ethics that form the system are dead and buried.

*Hmm? Yes, I know Bleach episodes don't have titles. Asshat.


Don't take the above to sound like I'm not going to be a leech in the future: I fully plan on stealing entertainment in the future, and will do so until it no longer seems attractive. But I also do my damndest on my shoe-string budget to support what I love. There are 2 anime TV series' I'm buying on DVD now, and I'd have gladly added Gurren Lagann to that line-up had ADV not lo... well, if I thought for a second that it was coming out in the next few months. And yes, the moment Claymore streets, I will own the box and start to slowly fill 'er up. Will I buy Blassreiter? It's possible. I'll watch the free episode first. If it doesn't turn me off, likely I'll either watch the other 12 streaming or - gasp! - pay to own downloads I can burn to DVR-R. Only time (and a quick parusal of the download's general quality) will tell.

P.S.


That's right. DEMON CITY SHINJUKU R2 Special Edition fansub patch (menus are in Japanese, but honestly, do you guys care?). HD remastered video, DTS and Dolby 5.1 audio, custom English subtitles, all on-disc extras on a DVD-9. Hit me up if interested.

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