Wednesday, October 29, 2008

5 Murdered Prints in a Cat's Glass Fangs...

...what's all this, then?

If you're a cheap Netflix exploiting bastard (like me) who likes the films of Dario Argento (guilty), skip THE CAT O' NINE TAILS. I was less than impressed with the VCI release of The Bird With Crystal Plumage, but at least it was uncut and letterboxed, even if it was still a non-anamorphic LD port.

The disc envelope claims that it runs 112 minutes, just like the uncut "Integral" version released by Anchor Bay, and later Blue Underground. It even shows the Anchor Bay cover art. But what I got was a shoddy looking disc from a one WESTLAKE ENTERTAINMENT, running a scant 89 minutes. In short, it's an LD port of a pan-scan 16mm print of the MPAA approved general release version distributed in the US nearly 40 years ago.

As it's the most wonderful time of the year, the one in which children are encouraged to decapitate one another and then feast on sugary candies, I figured finishing off the Animal Trilogy would be a fine way to spend an evening - especially after slogging through Bruno Mattei's HELL OF THE LIVING DEAD the other night. ("Hell" indeed... I can't decide if it beat Zombi Holocaust for Worst Spaghetti Zombie Epic or not!) With a DVD this awful I'd rather just wait and buy the goddamn thing for under $15 and save myself the headache of trying to make out what's going on with half the frame missing, and buried in compression artifacts besides. I'm not sure if I'll fall in love with it, but neither 4 Flies on Gray Velvet nor The Bird with Crystal Plumage were bad, and supposedly this is the film that gave Dario the "Hitchcock of Italy" nickname, so I'd be lying if I said I wasn't all too curious.

Besides... it's either this or THE CARD PLAYER.

Guess I'll send this back and exchange it for DEEP RED, and I'll be all caught up from Trauma back, save for this and Two Evil Eyes. Blarg.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Amon is eating shit in Hell right now! You can call me...

Sadly, the Manga Entertainment dub I quoted in the title, which is so pathetic it's a Plan 9 From Outer Space style classic, is something I don't possess right now. I actually owned the dubbed VHS tapes, but gave them to a friend once I got the subtitled Darker Image/LA Heroes tapes, and never figured I'd want them back. The dub is available on the DVD that came out like... 8 years ago, but it was such a shoddy PAL sourced dub-only piece of shit that I never really wanted it to give the rest of my shelf suck syndrome. Of course, hindsight is 20/20, and I really wish I'd bought it when it was clogging up the Right Stuf bargain bin instead of deciding which $25 used copy on Amazon Marketplace sounds the least awful.

At least they're starting at $25 these days. For a while the cheapest any of those fuckhats would go was about twice that.

In the meantime, please accept this dual layer R2 DVD patch, complete with the OST and all three translated issues of the Verotik published Devilman manga, available from your friendly neighborhood Asian DVD Club.

Why? 'Cause it's Halloween this week, guys and ghouls, and despite the fact that crushing poverty will prevent me from going to the movies this Hallows Eve, I won't let that get me so down that we can't all snuggle up with our loved ones and/or hard cider and watch Go Nagai's masterpiece brought to life on this most holy of holies.

That's two Go Nagai trilogies down... just one more to go.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Giger's Unofficial DVD

Mmmyep. Not sure if the buttons will work after I save 'em as DVD friendly subpicture files, but here's hoping.

Kinda' torn on what to do with the actual transfers, though. Keeping them interlaced, since not only is the 3:2 pulldown rather shot on both of them, but the burned-in Japanese subtitles 'strobe' really badly, even when properly IVTC'ed. My broke nature means I can't invest in a new capture card, and with these discs being loaners anyway there's not a lot I can do but work from the VIDEO_TS folder data and hope for the best.

The video is really difficult to work with because the original LD's are nothing short of dreadful. They're basically nothing but horrific 80s analog noise on top of 70s 16mm dupe film grain on top of chroma based rainbows. Add my recorder's penchant for hideous comb-filter mishaps and blocking on scene changes and you can imagine how awful these transfers look, though I feel somewhat vindicated knowing that NOTHING I, or anyone else, could have done would have made these look particularly great.

As it stands I have a decent level of detail - better than a VHS dupe, that's for damn sure - so I shouldn't feel too bad that I'm trying my best to polish a turd. Still, chroma issues like rainbows can't be resolved in AVISynth (don't let them lie to you!), and any NR that I put on top of the MPEG-2 encode seems it does more harm than good. Aside from squeezing the bitrate down to the ballpark of 7.5 Mbps and tweaking the CCE SP settings a bit to maybe quantize out some of that heavy noise, these are a done deal.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The Best Scam EVER!

So, let's get the facts straight...

GUY: DOUBLE TARGET (both episodes of the GUY OVA original franchise) has been OOP in Japan for over a decade because they can't figure out who legally owns distribution rights to the title, FRIENDS or AIC or, whoever. Does anyone know? (Or care?)

ADV Films, which has been in dire straights all year, is starting a "new" label, HAPPY CARROT, and this is their first release. A release they still have masters for, which is a contradiction to the majority of "license rescues" in which a studio will purchase a show that some other local licensor has all the materials for.

ADV regular Tiffany Grant, one of the English dub actors from the mid 90s and husband of ADV co-creator Matt Greenfield, has already confirmed (off record at least) that the title's US distribution rights have lapsed, "years ago" even. It's not as if GUY was a particularly well liked of visibly popular title in ADV's stable. If anything it's a curiosity piece, being both ADV's first dub and one of several "VHS only" titles that were never released on DVD after ADV divorced themselves of the Soft Cel label in 2001 (even though they still controlled the studio, albiet quietly - Shhh, don't tell anyone!).

The show itself, by the way, appears to have been the revalation from some producer that "Baoh is pretty cool, but there's no hardcore rape... we could fix that." So, if you ever needed a reason to justify jerking off to an ARAKI Hirohiko knock-off, have at. Yes, I may buy it, but we all know that I have no taste and waste my money on mediocre crap instead of the better stuff that inspired it.

And yet, here it is, on DVD for the first time. But wait, not only is ADV not directly related to Soft Cel, but they do know that the rights have lapsed, and are suddenly back? So why is it coming out... did ADV actually pay to re-release Baoh porn that nobody wants? Are they stupid, or just desperate? (Which is worse?!)

Battle Angel was one thing, unloading a few hundred leftovers from nearly a decade ago, but ADV is literally creating a new DVD using the digibetas and whatever else they have from the mid 90s to create this thing and soliciting it like it was a legitimate DVD. This is a title they licensed 14 years ago, and one that Tiffany Grant - ADV regular voice actor and wife of CEO Matt Grienfield - said "lapsed years ago". Battle Angel was ADV passing off once (almost) legitimate merchandise as new product when it wasn't. The fact that ADV was smart enough to only offer it to a few anime centric retailers sorta' clenches that the release - while not a bootleg in the traditional sense - was anything but on the up and up.

Guy is actually being released through retailers like CD Universe and Amazon, so I'd like to think that this one is on the up and up... but at this point, I'm just not sure.

Just yesterday, ADV Films announced a "partnership" with Sentai Filmworks, a new puppet studio that will effectively take over as their new non-adult anime branch. The fact that ADV has to create a "new" anime studio rather than continue releasing under their 15 year old brand name is troubling, to say the least... AoD has its' consesus so far up its' ass that they're willing to guess it was just bad press that did them in. More likely it's a question of Sojitz still wanting their money, Japan not wanting to trust the ADV "name" (though why they'd invest in a company run by the same CEO is anyone's guess), or, quite possibly, they're releasing a bunch of stuff without solid licenses I don't even know about and just want ADV to disappear in a year's time. I don't know. All I know is that something smells rotten in the state of Texas, and this time it's not the president. How many upcoming ADV releases are on the up and up? Is PRINCESS MINERVA? How about NADIA? I swear, if we get a sub-only box set with DELINQUENT IN DRAG/HANAPPE BAZOOKA/THE ABASHIRI FAMILY I'll just friggin' die.

Well, this should just be incentive for me to continue working my ass off doing what I do regardless. If ADV can get away with releasing shit they don't own, what's to stop me? I don't even have to worry about Japanese licensors discovering me and then refusing to sell shows to me: I wouldn't buy them anyway!

In celebration of a soon-to-be-sold collection of Giger documentary LDs and tentacle hentai, here's a Chest Burster Dildo. If you think this image is awesome now, go watch Entrails of a Beautiful Woman. It'll be 10 times better afterwards, guaranteed.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

DV. It's short for "Devil".

A thought snapped into my head some time ago that I could bypass the comb filter in the DVD recorder, if only I could get my hands on a DV pass-through device. The basic theory behind it is that you feed analog video into the device, and then it digitizes every frame with synched audio, compressing the whole signal into a 25Mbps stream. I know for a fact that when the graphic designer I work with is designing DVD menus he's hooking his DVD player up to his DV camera, and then using it as a pass-through to transfer the new DV signal via firewire. It's much easier than capturing analog data because it's already a series of 1s and 0s, skipping the need to do all that frame synching with the audio and yadda-yadda. Sounds great, no?

...well, no.

The thing that proponents of DV (in NTSC countries) don't want to jump up and shout about is the chroma subsampling. The basic jist of it is that all analog NTSC signals are 4:2:2, or have 2 horizontal red color pixels and 2 horizontal blue pixels per every 4 black pixels in a grid. For various convoluted-yet-historically interesting reasons, the color (chroma) and black/white (luma) parts of the signal are carried separately, and since the human eye seems luma better than chroma, you can save a LOT of bandwidth by shaving off some of those chroma lines, with a minimal loss in clarity (or so we're told). You can see some visual examples of the theory here.

So, analog signals - old fashioned TV broadcasts, VHS, Laserdisc, what have you - are all 4:2:2. DVD is actually 4:2:0, or it has 2 distinct vertical pixels and "zero" (ie: a single block of 4) horizontal pixels. The zero doesn't imply that the data isn't actually there, it's just to calculate how much bandwidth you're saving. Yeah, I know. It's frickin' ridonculous. Even modern Blu-ray HD transfers are 4:2:0, so while Digibeta does keep 4:2:2 data, you've never actually seen it on a digital home format.

So, why is this important? Because much as DV is a decent format for shooting to tape with, and has a lot of advantages in simplicity, NTSC DV has the god-awful chroma subsampling rate of 4:1:1. In theory this means that it has worse color separation than the VHS tapes I'm trying to capture. Since the DV format works the same way in hardware as it does in software. I converted a short clip full of subtle color information (from a DVD recording, which is already 4:2:0)... these were the results.



Yuck! Not only did it soften out the details in the background and around outlines, it generally screw with the color balance, added some visible chroma blocking that - in motion - looks absolutely horrifying, AND added noise on top, despite being over 3 times the bitrate of the original file! This is the price you pay for ease of use, and frankly I'll take no part in it. I need to pay anywhere from $150 to $1,000+ for the privilege of capturing crappy looking digital video to my PC?

No thanks.

Back to the TV Tuner route after all. It looks like there's okay-ish USB devices in the sub-$100 range, and at this point they're probably every bit as awesome in the hardware department as my ATI card ever was. Ah, technology...

It Makes My Dots Crawl!

...what the hell is that cluster of blue dots attacking H.R. Giger's hand?!

Answer: It's a comb filter, failing epically by smearing out details it shouldn't and creating MORE artifacts than it's fixing.

So much for "The DVD Recorder is good enough". It's back to buying a new TV tuner card to capture video after all.


Monday, October 13, 2008

Enma Daiou - How Japanese is Too Japanese?

Moral quagmire time. Giggity giggity goo.

Recently my partner in crime spent a lot of time transcribing the English Darker Image VHS subtitles from the 1987 OVA DEVILMAN: THE BIRTH into a text file, and then when the opportunity arrived, pasted them into the corresponding dialog in an incomprehensible Chinglish subtitled bootleg. My job is to watch the subtitles while the video/audio play and fix anything that needs fixing. It SHOULD have been rather straight forward, but of course, the Hong Kong bootleg cut an 18 second scene of Akira and Ryou breaking the window and escaping from the Seat Demon for no reason at all, and sometimes those crazy Chinglish subs just wouldn't match up worth a damn and thus required lots of hand-tuning. For Go Nagai's masterpiece, I'm willing.

What really knocked me for a loop was an oddly specific line that Akira says, right before the two of these star crossed lovers-- oh, sorry, best of manly friends, go to the Sabbath to give birth to Devilman:

"Ryou wa sashizume, Ore ni o jigoku ni otose Enma Daiou e naku dana!
Ikou ze, Enma! Jigoku no tobira agete-kure!"

Back when Darker Image translated Devilman in the early 90s, they used the following subtitle:

Ryo, you are my road to hell!
Let's go, Ryo! Open the gates of hell!

Now, there's two reasons why this dialog is important. The first, and more obvious reason is that the name Enma Daiou (閻魔大王) is the Shinto form of the Indian diety Yama, first written of in the Vedas and... well screw it, just wiki his ass. The kanji literally mean "Great King of the Demon Gate", and his presence in Japanese literature is typically one of indifference and mechanical disinterest, not so much unlike Hades in Greek mythology. He's appeared in various anime, including Dragonball and Yuu Yuu Hakushou, but the joke is very specific to the Enma-kun franchise that Go Nagai created in the mid 1970s. Dororon Enma-kun was a gag manga about the son of Great King Enma, in which he, his kappa sidekick and his psuedo-girlfriend Yukihime (Snow Princess) would travel the Earth, dragging wayward souls back to hell where they belong. Lots of panties, young peenies, and difficult to translate wordplay were involved. Go eventually grew bored of drawing Enma as a child, and created both Dororon Enma-chan, in which the now adult Enma cast gets a gender swap, and Kikoushi Enma, which was his first serious interpretation of the character (also as an adult). The latter got a surprisingly excellent serious horror OVA series, even, which in typical Go Nagai form had absolutely nothing to do with the manga of the same name. It was released by Bandai Visual USA, but since they insisted on charging $40 for 2 hour-long and un-dubbed, episodes, nobody actually bought it.

So, Akira calling Ryou "Enma" is a snide reference to Go's "other" works. Cute, right?


That's only half the joke. The other half is that, using Hindu/Shinto iconography, Enma Daiou is the King of Hell... roughly the Eastern equivalent to the concept of "Satan". Now, if you've never seen Devilman, go watch it and come back, 'cause I'm about to ruin it forever...

...You ready?

Ryou is Satan!

Classic trap.

Neither of them know it, this early in the game, and the original OVA series* never got far enough in to reveal this particualr revelation, so they didn't bother trying to keep the subtext of this line intact. As far as they knew, Akira was just trying to make a bad joke. I can't fault them - it's not like they were handed the complete works of Go Nagai and instructed to read them before translating Devilman - but that doesn't mean I can't fix it up for them in retrospect, now does it?

Ryo, you're my Lord Enma guiding me straight to Hell!
Let's go, Enma! Open the gates of hell!

Short of a full blown page of notes that would be nothing but OMGSPOILERS, there's just no way to translate this "properly" into English, solely because nobody speaking English would have a clue who Enma Daiou is, forget Enma-kun. Simply put, if there's a "fair" and "easy" way to translate this into English while keeping both the in-joke and the subtext, I can't for the life of me find it.

So, what's the very next line? Surely that won't need fixing up to keep from being awkward in this now literal Japanese context...

...oh, Hell.

*The Birth and Sirene: Demon Bird are a singular cycle. Apocalypse of Devilman, for various reasons, is basically a stand alone experience and even goes as far as to reboot Devilman's origin with more sadistic and modern animation. That's not to say we can't assume that the first 2 OVA's happened before the Amon OVA... they did. But, not in the same way. Aren't reboots, um... fun?

Don't get me STARTED on Shin Cutie Honey. and if/where it's supposed to go in the "official" timeline. Go Nagai doesn't even care, so why do we? Far as he's concerned EVERYTHING takes place in the same universe, and he seemingly wrote the CB CHARA OVA's just to prove it. Incidentally, this insanity is exactly why I love him.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Loli Bust of America 2008

Sucks to be this guy.

In short, an Iowa man's package was searched, manga inside of it was found to be disturbing by the postal inspector, and all of his computers, DVDs and comics were ransacked by the Feds in a Party Van. Some of the charges have already been deemed unconstitutional, and the material has to actually go to trial for wither or not they're "legally" obscene, which is decided by a jury as being:

(a) whether the average person, applying contemporary community standards would find that the work, taken as a whole, appeals to the prurient interest;

(b) whether the work depicts or describes, in a patently offensive way, sexual conduct specifically defined by the applicable state law;

and (c) whether the work, taken as a whole, lacks serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value.

The only other case remotely like this dates back to 2000, when a Texas comic book store employee was charged with obscenity for having sold both Demon Beast Invasion and Urotsukidoji manga to an adult. Despite the jury having found the latter obscene (the Overfiend charges were dropped when the CBLDF contacted several local government members), their methods weren't entirely legal... sadly the CBLDF website says nothing about how the appeal went, which makes me think the poor sap was either found guilty or put in a plea bargain.

Sometimes, I fucking hate this country.

Anyway, this is the first time that somebody's been tried for obscenity for a comic/manga which they bought for enjoyment in their own home, so this could be a big deal either way... it could set a presedent that naughty pictures could get siezed and tried as filthy pr0n, or it could establish that this whole obscenity law effectively created to let hardcore porn films play legally in the early 70s is complete and utter stupidity, and that the post office can spend it's time shipping packages rather than ransacking them. (Ungreatful sods get $25 an hour for bending my cards... the Christ?)

While I have no money to dedicate to this poor bastards' fate, I'll support him in my own way, by throwing multiple obscene as all hell images on my blog. What fascinates me is I'm not even digging deep for this; everything here is just something that struck me as amusing enough to warrant saving. Even my wife can't stare directly into my "My Pictures" folder... it burns the eyes of those who still have some soul left.

Hm? Why yes, I do know I'm going straight to hell. Thanks for asking.

Come and get me, coppers!

(Huh, not a single Waita UZIGA picture? I'm as shocked at the rest of you.)

黒塚, why is nobody watching you yet?

Kurozuka. 12 episode series from Madhouse, directed by Tetruso ARAKI (Death Note). It's what would have happened if Lord Kawajiri had directed the YOMA OVA series back when he still required rape and gore to be happy with his own work.

sMi and Ureshii are supposedly going to subtitle it. Having been told by a friend I consider the guru of all things anime that it was Madhouse's show of the season, I decided not to wait. Glad I didn't. This show is fucking incredible, and Casshern Sins may have just had its' stylish ass handed to it.

Never read the manga, which apparently is borderline porn, but we'll see if the TV series is more restrained all the way through (or on DVD). No real nudity in the first episode, even, but as you can see there's plenty of violence, and what I can't show in caps (try as I may) is breathtaking animation.

Seriously, steal this show. Then buy it later. I know lots of people like to say "This Season's ****", which strikes me as just a little unfair to a show that may only bear some superficial similarities to another, but if I had to I'd say "This is 2008's SHIGURUI" based on the incredible production quality, realistic period setting (...or is it? There's a WTF?! moment I'll let you discover that's likely just symbolic), and strong love for graphic violence and surreal images. Also, it has frickin' ghost samurai, so it's one step away from being Onimusha: The Animation. How could that be a bad thing?

Second episode airs Tuesday. Can't wait.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

October Anime Worth the Watching

After Hokuto no Ken Raou Gaiden: Ten no Haou proved to be a bit of a turkey, you might think my mood for watching new anime currently airing in Japan as we speak would be far from my mind. Indeed, much of my time watching anime is spent watching shows from a year or three ago, as there's such a vast and fascinating wealth of titles available in Japan that "staying current" is less important to me than finishing off shows I'm genuinely interested in. So let all the cool kids drool over the first episode of Mobile Suit Gundam 00 Season 2. It'll still be there when I'm done watching Harmageddon, Moetan, Mnemosyne, Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei and Souten no Ken.

Yes, yes... a day late and a dollar short is my life story. But at least I didn't watch 52 episodes of Gundam Seed Destiny only to later scream about how much it sucked, now did I?

Still, this season seemed designed to captivate my imagination, and as such there's a trio of first episodes I've watched that are worth getting excited about. It's early, so I can't say if these shows will peter out into nothing in no time or keep me excited from start to finish, but I can say that I'll be very curious to see where all three of them are headed.

Obligatory Public Service Announcement: Fansubs are good and all, but if you like the show, buy it on DVD when it gets released in your local area. It's the only way to show the artists that make animation that you enjoy their product and would support more in the future. I know only a pitance of that ever gets back to Japan, but that's better than simply stealing it and calling it even.

1) Shikabane Hime Aka (屍姫 - Corpse Princess Illumination)

Did anyone out there watch BLOOD+, the bastard psuedo-sequel to the Blood: The Last Vampire multimedia franchise started by Mamoru OSHII? Well, this is what that show always should have been.

A teenage boy who grew up at an orphanage moves out to get a job and begin his life as an adult, but not before having inadvertantly peeked in at the start of a ritual that the priest overseeing the place performed on the heavily scarred body of a pretty young girl. Thinking little of it, he continues on his day, never thinking that the recent crime involving a charismatic young hustler and his harem of girlfriends would have anything to do with the extra-cirricular activities of his Priest...

Despite young and unafraid-of-death Ouri playing the role of the narrator and "normal" anchor meant to ease viewer into the strange and somewhat dangerous world, the real star is the so-called Corpse Princess herself, a trigger happy and slightly sadistic little thing who takes pleasure in striking fear into the hearts of the supernaturally powered Corpses she's ordered to take down. Aiding her in this are a pair of sub-machine guns, with the only caveat being that she doesn't have clearance to strike down anything that isn't already dead. The show has its' share of violence and potential emotional weight, but the tongue is still firmly in cheek, which makes the transforming villains and somewhat goofy down-time all the more forgivable.

As the show manages plenty of property damage and dismemberment of monsters crapping their pants, I don't think that caveat will keep the show from being a lot of fun.

It's inevitable that I compare this first episode to Blood+, since they're both about an unconventional family pitting a schoolgirl against blood thirsty vampires. The big difference is that while Blood+ was a thuroughly boring and mediocre production that would, occasionally, redeem it's generally derivative and awful self by eating someone's face off with a midget vampire or raping a 12 year old boy, Shikabane Hime Aka is... well, fun. The banter between the kids is pretty run of the mill stuff, but the action sequences are all rather over the top and full of flashing lights and exaggerated faces, whilst the monster of the week is drawn in a totally separate "scratchy" (by which I mean Anti-Spiral) style from the rest of the cast. These little touches keep the show engaging for the duration of the episode, so with any luck-and Gainax' general track record- it may only improve from here.

While Gainax's (Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann, Abenobashi Mahou Shougentai) output has been increasingly variable in the last decade, with roughly one and a half to two totally average shows per one actual masterpiece, the first episode of Shikabane Hime Aka strikes me as better than its' contemporaries like Bleach and Blood+, but perhaps a bit too conventional to appeal to the masses outside of those who like monsters and girls with guns. Not that this is a bad thing: not only is this an adaptation of a pre-existing work, but not every Gainax show has to re-invent the wheel. Sadly, you rock the world with Neon Genesis Evangelion once and if you turn in something one or two steps less than perfection the world turns its' back on you as having sold out and lost your edge... it's hardly fair. But then one could argue that He Is My Master and This Ugly yet Beautiful World were hardly fair, either, so it's a two way street.

[Lunar]'s translation is nice... flowed well and was mostly happy to use English words like "Priest" and "Vampire" instead of keeping them in Japanese and insisting on using translator notes. The only odd exception was Shikabane (which just means 'corpse' or 'cadaver'), and "en", which if I'm not mistaken was used as a "bond", keeping her life force into her otherwise dead body. In effect, the lead calling herself "Shikabane Hime" means no sense unless you already know it means Corpse Princess, but at least they didn't piss me off by explaining things I already know... more on that later.

I wouldn't have minded a bit more gore and the focus to be shifted onto the title character, but it's made a good first impression.

2) Ga-Rei -zero- (喰霊 -zero-/Entrapped-Soul Zero)

A friend of mine recommended the first episode. Gave no other endorsement other than "watch it". I'm not one for blindly grasping at straws, but I trust his judgment on these sorts of things, so I figured it was worth a download.

It's worth so much more, though. Imagine if Ghostbusters were a straight up Sci-Fi/military action show set in Tokyo and you've got an inkling of what Ga-Rei has to offer. Holy water canons and blessed sutra bullets are the weapon of choice for the show's serious take on the Men In Black, an elite team who clear the streets of dangerous spirits and giant monsters that tear through the town, invisible to the naked eye. The team's effectiveness is quickly put to the test by a Soul Eater, effectively a giant hungry turtle, which they're forced to tackle underground... but the past of the team's shaken leader, Tooru, may be more deadly than any kaiju.

With spectacular art design and frantic animation from Madhouse (Shigurui, Death Note), the show certainly makes a good impression, though the straight up storytelling may inevitably make or break the show as it continues: Tooru's tragic past continually sifts into the present, both driving him as a character and having direct consequences in the present day events that we're dropped into the middle of. The first episode ends on perhaps the most drastic note imaginable, however, so either the show will only get more bizarre from here, or all of those plot threads could have been window dressing that'll go nowhere. The thick atmosphere of the show has me hooked either way, and I fully intend on watching this through to the end. The action sequences are also incredible, being completely over the top without actually feeling comical. Yes, you will see a pretty girl Falcon Punch a ghost with her motorcycle. And you'll love it!

[sMi] get proper credit for what looks like a decent translation of the episode, but they lose several points for utterly abusing the notion of translation notes. When you feel the need to point out who Led Zepplin is while the episode plays, you're underestimating the audience's power to use The Google. I know, most anime fans aren't even old enough to shave their pubes, but that's no excuse to hold them by the hand. Had it been Crystal King or some equally obscure Japanese band that no American viewer would have ever heard of, I'd buy it, but... Led Zepplin? Does The Venture Brothers stop mid-episode to point out who the founding members of the band were? No? Then why should Ga-Rei?

I'm getting off track, though.

Amazing show. Watch the first episode. Unless you absolutely hate excitement and monster fighting gold, you won't regret it.

3) Casshern Sins (キャシャーン SINS)

In a crumbling world, both humans and robots live day to day, watching their planet sink into an abyss of total ruin. At the center of this ruined planet is Casshern, an amnesiatic cyborg hunted down by the remains of a great robot army who believe that eating his body will end their inevitable destruction. Hot on his tail is a woman who knows his story, and trying his best to avoid him is an old man acting father to a little girl who knows enough to outwardly despise him. All he knows for sure is the face of a lady named Luna, and the fact that he was responsible for her death...

In and of itself a remake of the 1974 anime Shinzo Ningen Casshern(
新造人間キャシャーン), this new version takes its' visual style and overtly apocalyptic storyline in no small part from the 2004 live action film, simply titled Casshern*. While I was quite nice to it on this very blog ages ago, time has withered my opinion of Kazuaki KIRIYA's film... not dramatically, but trust me, the first film you see after live action Devilman will be so much better in every way that it'll be like you're eating steak burgers with Jesus on the moon. The 2004 film, while a visual masterpiece and containing a lot of really fascinating elements, is just a little bit full of itself and overlong (something I recognized then but was more willing to ignore). The anime version seems quite frantically paced, so I doubt it'll dig its' heels in and refuse to move forward just to show off pretty locations, but it is just a bit guilty of intentionally making the viewer feel like an idiot.

With an alinear plot fueled by an amnesiac hero, you'd still expect the first episode to make some effort to explain what the hell is going on. But no, Casshern Sins decides you can wait. If this sort of subtly manipulative and wide-eyed angst spiced storytelling turns you off, you may not like the vibe that the show is literally caked in, like so much dystopian filth. Sometimes it irks me, too, but the fact that several characters around Casshern do know the score, and the fact that there's a good reason he may not remember anything (based on the 2004 film) makes me think that anyone saying the show is just refusing to show its' hand to be "arty" could be jumping the gun and not letting the show wallow in its' own atmosphere before it worries about the confines of a narrative structure. 'Course, the plot may still all fall apart and be shit in the end, but at the very least we can be sure it'll look great doing it.

A different friend of mine (who's just a time-to-time synic) noted that the show doesn't have great animation, just great editing and special effects that when combined look like great animation. Well, if that's the case, keep it up Madhouse. There's an awful lot of extreme close-ups and objects being "dragged" across the screen, staples of other low budget fighting based anime, but I'm hard-pressed to think of any other show like this that doesn't instantly look cheap once the time to throw-down has arrived. Casshern might all be smoke and mirrors, but we should be so lucky to be treated to such a fantastic gallery of limited animation all the time. I'm looking at you, Girls Fighting Shows Everywhere**...

As you can see the show has a bit of a classic meets modern angle, too, with fluffy hair and warping anatomy that looks not only like the vintage 70s animation it shares its' roots with, but also 80s shows which have likely given more inspiration for the visuals than anything Tatsunoko animated in 1973.

[Shinsen-Subs] hasn't let me down yet. All I really feel I need to say.

Casshern Sins, of these three titles it's the show I'm most excited about. Ga-Rei is the most accomplished and worthy of the three, but let's face it, I'm the kinda' guy who prefers The Mutilator to Halloween, despite knowing there's zero reason to justify such a stance. Shikabane Hime Aka is fun, and while that doesn't make it nearly as awe-inspiring as the other two, it means it can be enjoyed without a healthy dose of empathy and grit that the other two literally require. There's still more anime to watch premiring over the next several days, and of course dozens of titles I simply haven't watched yet (and may never), but it's nice to know that I can get excited over new shows and wait with anticipation to see the next installment.

If you'll excuse me, the second episode of Casshern Sins is available, and all things considered I'd rather watch it than continue talking about it. I'd suggest you all do the same.

*IF you want to watch Casshern, skip the Dreamworks DVD like you'd skip herpes. It's cut by nearly half an hour and has incomprehensible subtitles that don't translate all the dialog, making an already fragmented film ten times worse. Buy the cheap R3 Universe DVD from Hong Kong, or go whole hog and buy the subtitled R2 from Japan. You - and Casshern, more or less - deserve it!

*Why yes, I bought Witchblade as singles, and will follow suit for the Ohata directed Ikkitousen sequels, if given the chance. So what, I can't enjoy shit from time to time? Air Master, for the record, is the only "girls kick each other's ass" show with some spunk and decent animation. A shame everybody looks like a jewish hawk knife... if only the character designs had been sexy instead of funny, it'd be worshipped in America.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

A History of Violent Artifacts

See Jack's teeth? That's called "combing", an all too comon artifact from when an IVTC (inverse telecine) fails to reconstruct one progressive film frame from two separate video fields (half-frames), and effective pastes two different, unrelated fields together, creating a frame that's nowhere near what the original film frame is supposed to look like. Auto-IVTC altorithms have a lot of trouble picking out the good fields from low framerate animation, which is why the majority of anime DVDs not taken from brand new progressive HD masters are totally - or even partially - interlaced, while the majority of live action films are progressive even if taken from SD transfers. (Not that there aren't interlaced live action material from film. God, I'd like to smack everyone responsible...)

I said right from the start that if I had to manually IVTC EVIL TOWN, I wouldn't do it, because there's so much goddamn-motherfucking-cockshaving video editing that it's literally impossible to make a progressive frame out of many scene edits that Itano did last minute (like that shot of Kawamori I put up a week or two ago).

Here's proof that the above frame(s) COULD be made progressive, if I wanted to do a full blown manual IVTC. Trouble is there's so many "video" frames left over that I'd either have to manually deinterlace them, or try to delete them entirely, which could wreak havoc on the audio synch even if I could get something that crazy to work. And, no, I couldn't.

To create anamorphic Evil Town, I'd literally have to deinterlace every frame, which means turning this...

...into this.

Frankly, you guys deserve better.

This is incredibly discouraging, as ANGEL COP was put together more or less the same way as EVIL TOWN. In effect, any upscaling I'd do would cause just as many problems as they fix, so I think I'm done trying to polish this turd. I could still color correct it, remove some of the more obvious noise, and finally use CCE SP's auto-IVTC function to create a mostly (or even just partially) progressive transfer that would default to interlaced when the pattern gets screwed (and, of course, when it randomly feels like it...), but I'm completely fucking done trying to use any automated IVTC process. Certainly some professionals I've talked with in the past could ready a "told you so" on this one, but I'm one to hold out hope to the last, until the cold, harsh reality is so close to my face that all I can smell is it's rank breath.

Ah well. At least I had fun trying...

Hokuto no Reinvisioning: Raou Gaiden Ten no Haou ep. 1

Like a charred fly returning to the glowing beacon of the bug zapper which didn't quite kill him, I'm here to tell you all about 北斗の拳 ラオウ外伝 天の覇王, which ends up being "Fist of the North Star Raou's Story: Tyrant King of Heaven". It's worth pointing out that, had the kanji for 'dragon' been on the end of 覇王/Haou, they'd literally be calling Raou a Tyranosaurus Rex. While I can't say that the experience was awful, I can say that it was certainly a disappointment, and that you really should spend your time and bandwidth on Casshern Sins instead.

Go! Go! Raou Rangers!

Don't take this opening to mean that all Hokuto no Ken anime after 1989 has sucked... it just consistently hasn't been as good as what came before it, and yes, that includes both Hokuto no Ken/Hokuto no Ken 2 TV and the legendary feature film. The 新・北斗の拳/New Fist of the North Star OVA from 2003 started and ended strong enough, combining modern animation techniques and classic Hokuto no Ken styled ass whuppin' to great effect, but the less flattering aspects of the show-namely stunt casting J-Rock star Gackt as the villain, plus a horrible misuse of Takehito KOYASU*, not to mention a second episode that does absolutely nothing for 90% of its' run time-makes me think that some sterner planning would have been in the series' favor. The revival wasn't ever bad, but it wastes so much time and is so horrifically miscast that I hesitate to call much of it good, either. There's even some amazing gore in the third episode, but it's not even Hokuto Shinken/Nanto Seiken based! Wha~t?!

*Seriously, you don't cast Vin Diesel as Superman and then get mad if the movie falls apart in your lap. You knew better...

Next up was Fist of the Blue Sky/蒼天の拳 TV series, based on the Tetsuo HARA/Nobuhiko HORIE original manga. While the first TV episode didn't do anything at all for me, the extended and uncensored DVD release has changed my opinion of the show pretty dramatically. The first 4 or so episodes aren't the easiest thing to get down, but once Yan-Wang** shows up in Shanghai, the show hits its' stride and becomes a captivating period action/psychodrama. No, it's not as good as Fist of the North Star, but it's a completely different sort of series, so it's difficult to compare it directly anyway. While FOTNS was mired heavily in 80s macho culture, Mel Gibson and Ahnuld movies and the like, FOTBS takes a page from period Hong Kong triad/kung fu films of the 70s, both literally and thematically. There's more Fist of Fury than there is Cobra to be found here, but that means the rampant gore and over the top Sci-Fi aspect that makes FOTNS so appealing to begin with are minimized (though not done away with completely). I've only watched about the first 10 episodes of the show, but I think once the show gets out of Japan, the only thing that lets it down is a low budget.

John Woo should be pissed.

Seriously, there's no other word for this but "cheap". You have to see the non-moving doves for the full effect, too... it's just one of many awful, awful looking moments in the show.

On the other hand, we also get to see this in the very same episode.

Cheapness forgiven.

**It does drive me up the wall to hear someone say "En-Ou" and then see "Yan-Wang" onscreen. I won't fault the good folks at Hokuto no Gun for accurately writing the pinyin readings of the Shanghaiese character names, but I won't say it isn't mind-boggling to see one and hear the other. Of course, even in Japan you'd have "Aniki" written out in kanji with furigana telling the reader it was pronounced "Peng-You", so this language disassosiation is just part of the experience. It just blows that, my Japanese being not so great, I have to add a third layer into this only somewhat tasty language cake.

There's also the 真救世主伝説 北斗の拳/Fist of the North Star: New Savior Legend material (3 movies/2 OVAs), which has been getting progressively less, well... sane, the longer it goes. Don't get me wrong, even a mediocre Shin Kyuuseishuu OVA is watchable on a strictly visual fanboy level, but if the producers expect me to believe than an ugly Budweiser dog is a Nanto Master and that Raou talks to Ryuuken ghosts the way Luke Skywalker chatted it up with Obi-Wan, they must be on crank. They've also played down the graphic violence while playing up the manly passion, which shifts Hokuto no Ken from an innocently testosterone fueled violence fest into a show about men hugging each other and crying... people could crack gay jokes about the TV handling of the Toki vs Raou fight, I guess, but even a friend of mine who considers these good enough to buy the LE R2 DVDs at $70 a pop, ended up screaming "Oh, just fuck him already!" before the disc was through.

Still, even Toki Den (the least exciting of the four... thus far) dusted off an old favorite battle and pitted Raou against Toki with greater than average modern animation, and if any Hokuto fanboy isn't moved to manly tears by that sight, they can leave their scars at the door.

So, what's the word on this Raou Gaiden show, anyway?

Based on one of many Hokuto no Ken themed "**** Gaiden" manga titles kicking around these days, this particular tale was penned by Youkow OSADA, which ran for a total of 5 tankou volumes from 2006 to 2007. It covers Raou's rise to power after the nuclear war, and will likely end sometime before he... well, you know. Dies. I'd say that's a spoiler, but if you didn't already know that Raou dies you really should go watch Hokuto no Ken first, and then come back here and finish this blog, since it won't mean a thing to you anyhow.

The first episode covers Raou and his two lieutenants - the lovely Reina and her gruff brother Souga - infiltrating the castle of a self-proclaimed oni who holds enough land and able bodied soldiers that Raou's decided to take them as his own. His ambition is to own heaven itself, and if anything gets in his way, he's simply crush it and push on. At it's core, the show is trying to cast a new light on Raou (or as he would later be known, Ken-Ou: Fist King), detailing both his rise to power and a more human side of him that we were never allowed to see when he was known as Kenshirou's nemesis in the original Hokuto no Ken continuity.

First, the good news: unlike Fist of the Blue Sky, Raou Gaiden doesn't have to deal with broadcast TV censorship, so expect plenty of familiar Hokuto Shinken gore. Plenty of other old school halmarks - including sun baked post apocalypse settings, technique names being screamed and written out across the screen in kanji, and a dry sense of humor with Raou playing the straight man - all put it theoretically closer in tone and spirit to Ashida TOYOO's original TV series. Actually, the post-OP sequence is a much darker version of Kenshirou vs Zeed and his thugs (via the '86 movie), which was as comforting as it was bizarre.

Unfortunately, this is where the bad news sets in: Raou is not Kenshirou. I know that Raou's popularity in Japan has probably eclipsed that of Kenshirou, and not without logical reason. 25 years ago when Hokuto no Ken premiered in Shounen Jump, Japanese kids wanted to be stoic and good and fight for what they knew was right. Kenshirou single handedly is the surmation of Japanese righeousness, the experienced karate master, the deadly one-hit kill samurai, the eternal lover, and the light of justice in a world gone bleak. Fast forward a quarter century and these kids have grown up to be salarymen, bitter with the world they can't change and longing for the power to crush their everyday opression without feeling like they have to focus it only on what's right. Raou is the all powerful everyman, seeking respect and adoration, via any means he can get it. Kenshirou is selfless, and would die for his loved ones... Raou would sacrifice his loved ones if he knew it would assure victory. But he's not above agreeing to a fair fight when he feels his opponent has deserved it, either. Raou isn't any kind of traditional hero, but he is a man with principles and honor who has to put his own self image - and his very life - on the line every time he does pretty much anything. Particularly the way that the New Savior Legend pentalogy has shown him, Raou is a fascinating anti-hero.

Unfortunately, it's all bullshit.

Raou killed his own father to keep his Hokuto Shinken knowledge and not lose his fists. He was willing to kill Yuria until he saw her in physical pain and realized he'd only be forcing the inevitable. He not only killed Rei, but he tortured him emotionally by forcing him to live for several days after he was mortally wounded, so as to spread fear in the name of Ken-Ou. He's ordered whole villages razed to quell potential rebellions against his might, allowing both women and children to be killed should they refuse to follow him.

Raou, in short, is an asshole. For anyone to think of him as a hero, this fundamental aspect of his personality must be ignored, and I for one can't. They even try to play Raou as having a sense of humor via him toting a Shamisen (old fashioned 3 string guitar) with him the whole episode, in the hopes that he could sneak in as "entertainment" for his intended rival. Despite making a big show of keeping it in one piece, he kills the guards, enters, is asked by the villainous oni if he's the entertainment, replies "Not really", and smashes it into a thousand pieces. I have a hard enough time even picturing Kenshirou doing this (without at least using it to decapitate someone first!), but the totally humorless bastard that is Raou doing it was so alien and bizarre to me that I laughed out loud, and then sighed, shaking my head...

Boobs?! Not in MY Hokuto no Ken!
...actually, scratch that. The boobs can stay.

A friend of mine argued that there's a blatant lack of martial arts in the first episode of Raou Gaiden. While I won't argue with him - sending a shock wave with your fist and besting your opponent does not a fight make - we must remember that Raou usually did fight this way, until an opponent worthy of him going all out would start the actual feet and fists a flying. In effect, I'd have been disappointed if Raou had to whip out an advanced Houkto Shinken combo on this oni-yutz, but am fully expecting a complex and brutal ass-beating once the Holy Emperor (and y'all know who THAT is) shows up.

The other issue I have with the show is that it's kind of ugly. Don't get me wrong, Hokuto no Ken was always about massive men with oily pecs flexing and then slugging at one another, so I never expected sinewy bishounen. But look at the above caps; not only is every single image a series of needless sloping points, but half of the shots are shrounded in shadows despite taking place in the middle of a sunny day! What the crap? Is this Bruce Timm and Todd McFarlane presents Hokuto no Ken: The Animated Series? I know that budgetary limitations are a bitch and all, but the art design is so simplified and blocky that it literally starts to look ever so uncomfortably close to a flash cartoon between the (notably more) complex fight sequences. Souten no Ken may look awful from time to time, but at least it looks... cheap. Not hideous.

The animation staff have taken the concept of back lighting TOO FAR!

The show has been directed by Masashi ABE, probably best known in America for having directed BLUE GENDER and the 1993 CASSHAN: ROBOT HUNTER OVA series. Lesser known is SHADOW: HYPER SHINOBI ANIMATION, which is a damned shame as it's easily the greatest ultra-violence porn anime since the first episode of Genocyber. Frustratingly he's also directed the not-so-great looking TOKKO series, so it's possible that - like so many great OVA directors of yore - he simply isn't capable of producing impressive and affecting titles without the freedom and resources that the OVA era were alloted to him.

Honestly, I'm enough of an Okoto no Roman (that's "Manly Romance"... yeah, even in Japanese it sounds kinsa' homosexual) fanboy that I'll continue watching the show. Hokuto no Ken episodes 9-20 were basically all shit, after all, and if I'd given up on the show too early I never would have found the manly love of my life. But I won't say that I'm looking forward to it. The TV series isn't a never before seen chapter in the life of a misunderstood tragic hero, it's a bastardization of perhaps my favorite all time villain with ham-fisted results. The show isn't awful on its' own, and I'd imagine people who aren't so used to seeing Utsumi KENJI turn Raou into a heartless sneering demon might be more accepting of this version of the character. The fact that every other aspect of the production is just passable, however, doesn't mean I can recommend it to anyone but Hokuto no Ken die-hards to begin with, so if they're trying to appeal to people who are already fans, they're doin' it wrong.


Watch CASSHERN SINS already. It did everything to rock my world that Raou Gaiden did not.