Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Don't Harsh My Melos: Restoring A Classic Clusterfork


Kentai Restoration

Recently I got a message from someone who, evidently, was plenty impressed with my work on Pinku VHS restoration. He asked me if I'd be interested in trying to restore an MPEG2 recording he had from an early 90s laserdisc. The title was 走れメロス!/HASHIRE MELOS! (Run Melos!), a 1992 theatrical film version of a classic Japanese take on a Greek folk tale. There was also a TV special animated in 1981, which was released dubbed in English back in the early 80s. It's also terrible. This one is far less so.

I told him, sure, I'd see what I can do, but reminded him that I can't work miracles. How good any source can be restored is squarely up to the source itself, and what those problems entail. His reply was, more or less, "don't worry, it's so bad that anything you can do would be an improvement." I'll be damned if he wasn't telling the truth.

I could pretend like I had this one down from the start, because I'm a video restoration demigod lording over other restoration peons, but I'll admit it: I was tempted to fuck this one up pretty badly. From the looks of things this was recorded from a less-than perfect to begin with LD straight into a middle of the road DVD recorder (or similar PC device), which did little to filter out the composite rainbows and added plenty of fugly mosquito noise and macroblocking, even on scenes that are relatively easy to compress.

Then again there could be some even more infuriating story behind this, as there's some really horrific color blocking, so I'm not convinced a DV connection wasn't used at some point in the chain... exactly why, I can't imagine. The audio was also the rarely wanted MPEG layer 2 .MPA format, which makes me wonder if a less than ideal encoder - say, TMPGEnc - was to blame? Without having the full story I can't be sure, but even when TMPGEnc is used properly (and the program is so 'effing complex, it's easy to screw it up), the quality simply isn't there. It was a godsend in the days of VCD, but we've come a long way since the days when blank DVDs were $8 a piece.

In Ancient Greece, they called frames like this "Satyr Dung".

Anyway, left to my own devices with a 5+ gig MPEG file and far too much free time in AVISynth, I did what was possible. I'll admit it wasn't a hell of a lot:

mpeg2source("f:\[...]\Hashire Melos.d2v",CPU=1)

Allow me, if I may, to point out why each filter is here, and exactly what it does. No, it won't be 'useful' unless (like me) you decide to become a crazy hermit who tries restoring shitty composite video all day, but some of you may still find it neat regardless.

mpeg2source("f:\[...]\Hashire Melos.d2v",CPU=1)

While this line loads the D2V ("dummy" MPEG2 file), the "CPU" is the tricky part. This is a built-in deblocker, with values from '0' (off) to '6', more power performing more deblocking. The concept of a "deblocker" is to find chunks that specifically look like compression artifacts and then smooth them away temporally, using left over frames in the same GOP. It's an awesome theory, but because every frame in a GOP has a different level of compression, each frame will get a different level of deblocking. Particularly on higher settings, this will mean that the video will literally strobe between being in focus and being smeared beyond recognition, because the deblock filter understands compression gains versus actual "detail" or "noise". With this in mind, keep this as low as you can stand, 'off' if at all possible. You can't get rid of compression artifacts, only try to fuzz them out of existence, and if you're going direct to high bitrate DVD anyway that's just... well, stupid.


Oh, my GOD how I love BiFrost. Here's exactly what it does:

Goodbye, rainbows! The side-effect is... uh... so, did I mention that I <3 BiFrost? Naturally it can't conquer every composite artifact that you can throw at it, but it does a far better job than it has any right to do, and I no longer feel the need to purchase a hardware based comb filter for this nonsense. Why bother? Those results are fantastic!

Remember kiddies: ALWAYS use comb filters before you IVTC/Deinterlace. The interlaced frames have chroma information that gets discared in the process, so if you don't do this first, it's simply too late for it to do anything useful.


This, dear friends, is the one-two magic ULTRA COMBO!! that converts interlaced material into progressive material. Yes, I can do this by hand. And have. But so long as you don't convert the colorspace FIRST, the filter does all the work for you and (9 times out of 10) does a damn good job of it. I wouldn't recommend using this on most anime productions, seeing as how the IVTC algorithms out there are used to constantly changing live action material as opposed to the limited framerates you typically get out of animation, but seeing as how Melos was a theatrical movie (no video editing here!) with solid 3:2 pulldown and better than average animation, I've yet to notice any issues with the IVTC. The "post" part is the deinterlacing option, and for most anime should be fine-tuned... personally, I keep it at "0", since I'd rather have a frame or two of combing than a frame or two of deinterlacing. Your tolerance may - and likely, will - vary.

Could I tweak these settings to ensure I'm not losing my 3:2 pattern? Absolutely. But honestly, even with OCD paramater fudging, either you've got an NTSC transfer with decent 3:2 pattern or you don't. If you don't, you either need to do it by hand or keep it as-is. Because of later steps, keeping it interlaced isn't an option, so away we go.


As I've touched on in the past, levels are equal parts hard science and fine art. What really sucks on this particular source is the fact that there is "black" in the transfer, but only in the matte bars: the actual fade to black in the film just turns milky gray, and the hottest white is less offensive, but it certainly isn't the glowing torch white that a modern transfer could be. Having checked the levels "black" is roughly 10, but there's so much goddamn noise - compression artifacts, particularly - hiding in that "black" that I dropped it down slightly lower than I usually would. The rule of thumb I used was finding a fade to black sequence, and made that bastard fade to black - not charcoal gray, but the crushed singularity of a black hole. Similarly, already blown-out highlights were found and tested, and while I could, for all I know, be crushing the tiniest bit of contrast out of one or two special effects shots, I'm pretty confident that the healthier looking flesh tones and jet black hair are more important to the impact of the whole.

It's amazing how different proper levels can change everything. This is in no small part because all video is effectively grayscale with a compressed layer of color pixels riding on top of that, so if your black and white points are screwed up, your colors are too. I probably could have pushed the blacks and whites even harder without anyone noticing, but I'd run the risk of crushing blacks or blowing out whites recognizably if I did. I feel like I'm already pushing them just a bit too hard, but I'll grant that the gains of doing it are worth the potential sacrifices.

Remember how I just HAD to make everything progressive earlier? This is why:


Mmm, fake anamorphic upscaling... While upscaling doesn't grant you any "more" resolution than simply hitting 'zoom' on a widescreen TV, the simple fact of the matter is most TVs and DVD players really suck at upscaling HD content to their native resolution - forget NTSC! - so the less work that your hardware has to do, the better off it will look. I know, titles with field blending and video edits literally can't be upscaled without further damage done to the integrity of the image, but a theatrical film which has been properly converted into progressive 24fps video can be upscaled without any harm coming to the image. So, that's exactly what I did.

But there was something I did after "crop", but before "add borders"... what was it?


Yeah, that was it. Effectively a complex spatial noise reduction filter, RemoveGrain() is VERY good at what it does... of course, there's no "grain" here, only mosquito noise, but it frankly doesn't know the difference. Here's an example of the wonderful things it can do with a value of (2).

Unfortunately, the side effect is pretty obvious: the video gets softer, and kicking it up to (3) and higher is just hell on solid lines, forget anything resembling background details. Keep in mind that any actual NTSC based "noise" that was on the LD has since been smeared into blocky MPEG compression artifacts, so while I'm a firm believer that using noise reduction to get rid of film grain is stupid, we're actually just talking about removing a second layer of compression based noise, which is not the same thing. I know, it's ridiculous. I just want to point out that while I don't ever approve of using DVNR to "fix" perfectly good film based sources, I'm far more lineant on using NR to do exactly what it was always supposed to, which is get rid of video noise.

As for sharpening... what sharpening? I know, particularly when you're already smearing noise out of the source, and when the source is blurry to begin with, there's this lurking niggle in the back of your skull telling you to slap on some sort of sharpening filter to make everything clearer. I don't, for many reasons. One is that the Lanczos algorithm I'm using to upscale everything has a fairly limited "sharpen" feature built-in. The other is that these alsorithms don't know an outline from a compression artifact, and when using pre-compressed materials they tend to make them look worse in the long run. Finally, sharpening filters don't really work: there's no more detail going to magically pop out of a blurry frame, all it can do is try to boost the contrast, making edges more obvious. While Lanczos is subtle enough that it doesn't get on my nerves, using stuff like UnsharpMask, and even LimitedSharpen just drives me insane. I try to do all the work for you, but if you demand "sharp" video from a blurry LD transfer, I'm afraid you're on your own.

Yes, I COULD use one of those all in one scripts like mftoon(), but the sharpening aspect of the filter doesn't really thrill me, and the fact that it warps edges is just... freaky. It does a reasonably good job of denoising the living shit out of your source though, so if you have something along the lines of Melos - blurred AND noisy - you almost might as well... as for me, I'll save that for when I'm desperate to restore a third-gen VHS fansub, or something.

The last stage in all of this is to compress this a second time for DVD using CCE. This will likely cause some minor issues in and of itself, but it'll result in a higher quality transfer that uses less disc space overall. I can't guarantee that the above grabs will be 100% because of all the fun things that CCE does, but imagine me getting more compression flaws on top of the already shoddy source footage. Not a pretty thought, now is it? I may try tweaking the colors slightly before I give up, but not unless I'm totally convinced that it's for the best. Color Correction is just evil, for reasons I've pointed out in the past, and if I can avoid potentual further foulups by simply not doing it, it's worth considering.

Expect to see RUN MELOS! remastered at a torrent tracker and Usenet client near you, eventually. Ha, thought it was up already, didn't you? Much as I'd love to get this finished, I'm up to my eyeballs with a legitimate project that my new psuedo-employer wants to see done... like... yesterday. I'm also at least two weeks behind in restoring new Pinku, no thanks to the last 2 VHS tapes I've recorded being completely screwed up and thus worthless. I also intend to play the crap out of John Woo's Stranglehold when I'm done, so that means I need to get off my chubby keister and get everything else done, first.

I swear, when it rains it pours.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Bitch Won't Patch

It's been a frustrating week. I feel like ass, all fever and weakness, that weird cold that doesn't make with the mucus but still hits you like a vampire sucked all the enthusiasm right out of you. My new Cinematik membership isn't half as useful as I'd like it to be (a thousand great torrents with ONE seed each? Oh,! come on...), though it's still slightly more attractive than premium Usenet access, so I'm going to try to work it. I also finished unlocking everything even marginally important in DBZ: Burst Limit and now wish I'd spent that money on something else. I know I have terrible taste in video games and may not have picked anything better, but sometimes I'm excited to play even a mediocre game through more than once. At least the online feature might redeem it, once I can get it to work without lagging so badly that I can't even tell if it was me or that other guy who landed the goddamn fireball first...

To top it all off, a project that's ready to go, right frickin' now, will not behave and accept the subtitles as-is, seemingly due to some horribly wonky coding used on the original DVD. I'm going to have to rip the video/audio files out and create a new DVD from scratch using the original streams, and - assuming I want to, of course - create a new menu from scratch, too. Wouldn't be the first time I've literally had to do it, and odds are it won't be the last, but it's always frustrating as hell when I need to turn what by all rights should be a simple, easy project into a ridiculously complex one...

Heavily pixelated preview. Trust me on this, it's an appropriate clue.

Speaking of ridiculously complex, the chapter stops on this DVD are absolutely mind-boggling. It's a 30 minute OVA, and it has 29 chapter stops! Only 9 of them are actually selectable from the main menu, an oddity that I kinda' like from a design standpoint, giving viewers more flexibility during the program itself than they would have from the basic menu structure, but adding each of those manually is still going to suck harder than anything has ever sucked before. Also, considering the content I can understand fans wanting to jump to a "specific" scene again and again, but still, give me a break...

It's not all bad though, as I'll be able to put two episodes on the same disc, and they happen to be the two 4:3 episodes, leaving me free to put the two 16:9 episodes on a second disc. Also, if I have English menus to start with it could be a "For Sale" version without any additional work later. Just, uh, plenty of work now.

Finally got an RA, so I'll be trying one last video capture device once my refund has been processed and I can try a slightly more high-end model that, in a pathetic stroke of irony, won't even have audio ports. I'd better work this time though, since I literally have a whole box of vintage anime LDs that arrived the other day, demanding to be transfered to DVD. I'd love to oblige them, but I'd rather not have to use the Lite-On in the process.

General updates on my non-Kentai projects are as follows:

Got an eMail out of the blue from my semi-regular (and licensed!) employer. It included a fully translated script for our next project - which neither I, nor I'm sure 99% of the world that doesn't usually watch underground Euro splatter - had ever heard of. It's even timed?! Groovy! Looks like all I have to do is play Grammar Nazi and shift them around until everything fits. Only potenial hang-up is that it's for the PAL release of the film, but being a project released direct-to-video I have no clue if it'll be an interlaced PAL>NTSC conversion (in which case the timecode is still good), of if it'll be a proper progressive PAL to progressive NTSC conversion (in which case I need to slow the subtitles down by about 4%). I've actually dealt with both situations before - sometimes even on the same DVD! - so only time will tell what complex means I may have to resort to.

The second is a project that, frustratingly, I don't get paid in cash for*. Still, I get to be a part of something that I love beyond sane and reasonable measure, and I've already been able to donate two special features towards the project, so the fact that I'm working for free crap as a sort of archivist/consultant is no skin off of my ass. All the same, what I'm actually doing for the project is something that's generally out of my comfort zone... not something I'm totally unfamiliar with, just something I've never done professionally. Or, not what I'd consider professionally.

Still, it's a foot in the door, and when the DVD is finished it should be the definitive edition of this particular film. Unless, of course, the content owners over at **** decide that we can't keep some of the special features I provided. I'll be quite disappointed if that turns out to be the case, but since they own it, lock stock and smoking crater, there won't be a lot we could do to argue with them.

*I'm more than willing to whore myself for face time with legitimate labels. Just the kind of slut I am. All the same, to mis-quote The Joker, "If you're good at something you shouldn't ever do it for free". So hopefully this will go well and lead to more legit work doing... um, it? Yeah. It.

I'll clue you in on the details eventually, in that circular and incoherent way that I'm so fond of.

Ichi the Killer *IS* Number One!

This. Is. AWESOME.
And nobody outside of Japan will ever know why.

A new year has dawned, and Kentai Films - for better or worse - hasn't given up the ghost just yet. The newest project that I'm willing to talk about is an old favorite of mine, and actually the earliest thing I tried subtitling, to very little real success I might add. I had neither the technical know-how nor the experience to even think about translating Japanese into English, but you can't beat wide eyed enthusiasm out of a kid with a stick. No, that realization that every time you fail you aren't necessarily getting better at it only comes from years of crushing disappointment and a bitter, cold cynicism that he takes from the world that slowly wore him down into a crazy, jaded man who only cares now because, if he didn't... well... what did he spend so much time trying to accomplish?


And, that's enough of that.

Excluding various bootlegs there have been not one, but two very different English friendly releases of 殺し屋1 THE ANIMATION EPISODE ZERO/Ichi the Killer: The Anime Episode 0, and to be honest, both of them kind of suck. First was Hong Kong Legends, the generally reliable UK distributor best known for releasing watchable widescreen prints of Bruce Lee movies a decade before the rest of the world caught on. They produced their own dub and subtitle translation, and despite the PAL transfer being a standards conversion from an NTSC source, it was still a component transfer. Expected softness/ghosting aside, it all looked quite presentable. What I can't understand, however, is why they did this:

...to a perfectly innocent title card that never caused any harm to anyone.

I know I'm not a Brit, so maybe there's some sort of cultural impact I'm missing, but... Jesus Christ on a Pony, what IS that atrocity?

The US DVD didn't have to deal with ghosting, but due to CPM's typical incompetence the transfer ends up being a composite mess riddled with fugly dotcrawl and chroma noise. Considering the Ichi OVA is a surreal piece of expressionism, that means that the entire screen is just crawling in nasty ugliness. They tried to be "clever" and create subtitles that were in line with the emerging digital fansubs... well, okay, they blatantly knocked off the fancy subtitles made by "The Hawks", who were the first (and probably, only) group to subtitle the OVA when digisubs were just getting their legs at the turn of the century. They also remain the only people crazy enough to translate all 10 volumes of the original manga. In theory it was cool, but between DVDs limited subtitle resolution and the nature of the beast, the whole thing looked sorta... I'll just say "tacky" and show you what I'm talking about.

I give the CPM crew an A+ for effort and all, but when you can barely rEad the scratchy looking text itself... I mean, I know that blinking dancing karaoke subtitles have forever ruined the point of logical, readable subtitles on Japanese animation, but for crying out loud, can't I escape them even on legitimate DVDs?! Also, behold the power of dot-crawl:

Huh... a lot of it actually got JPG'd straight to hell. Still, check out the rainbow in his stubble!

The two English dubs are drastically different, but they share the common trait of sucking pretty equally. The American dub made the whole thing into an unintentional comedy made by a bunch of over-caffeinated kids screaming behind the mic, giving no thought to the characters they're supposed to portray. I know that dubniggers will remind subjews - like myself - that there are a lot of good English dubs out there, with dedicated performers bringing their characters to life in a manner that's every bit as emotional and spiritual as the Japanese staff. Honestly, I doubt any of them would defend this one, which while a step up from the crap Streamline used to churn out a decade prior, reminds me why I became a reclusive subtitle lover in the first place.

In comparison the British dub (which is in 5.1 surround, no less!) is just... bored. Even in scenes where Ichi is clearly SCREAMING in Kakihara's face that he's going to kill him, I get the impression of some refined Englishman sipping his Earl Gray, refusing to raise his voice for the sake of something as improper as an indecent cartoon show. Pick your poison, they're both terrible for totally different reasons, and which is funnier would likely depend on how wasted you are. Not to encourage you, dear readers, to get smashed as all shit, but I can't imagine any other circumstance in which watching the Ichi the Killer OVA in English would produce even the most inappropriate of laughter.

The UK subtitle translations has its' own, uh... idiosyncrasies, to boot. To their credit, they actually subtitled the ending techno tune, which is just made up of voice clips featured in the OVA proper. Unfortunately it's vague as all hell toward the end, with a yakuza thug talking about his "son". No, the two-bit hoods who brought him there aren't his offspring, the Japanese use the word "musuko" to describe their son - much the way an American would say "Little Buddy". Or "Ding Dong". Purple Crowned Majesty. Puff, the Magic Dragon. My Greasy Salami. Regular Chap Stick. Dolphin for Floggin'. Pole at the Strip Club. The Punisher. My Name Is Earl. And, so on...

Similarly the line "Bukkoroshiteyaru!" is translated as "I'm gonna beat you to death!" 'bukkorosu', a slightly less formal version of 'korosu', just means "kill". The implication of beating, or any direct method is nowhere to be found. Now, considering the guy saying it has blades strapped to his heels... I mean, do the translators even WATCH the show that they're working on?

Finally, the two releases differ in special features. Both include drastically different trailers advertising the OVA as The Birth of Fear, which is... kinda' silly, honestly, as Ichi the Killer was about violence and love, not terror and fear. Unless the story is about Ichi's own fears of inadequacy and self doubt, which I don't think is what the marketing campaigns focused on Kakihara were ever getting at, but, whatever.

The CPM release has an art gallery, the HKL release has a brief behind-the-scenes featurette on the live action Ichi the Killer film. Yeah, even Japan knew that this 45 minute long OVA was really just a fluff piece for fans of the franchise, and had the live action movie never been made, this OVA wouldn't exist either. It tries to fill in the gaps between the ICHI-1 and ICHI THE KILLER story lines, but manages to do it in a way that ties closer into the Ichi the Killer manga continuity than either of the live action films. It's confusing (and yes, just a bit retarded), but no more so than any multi-media franchise. I mean, honestly, is The Dark Knight really supposed to tie into Gotham Knight? For real real, not for play play? And don't get me started on the various forms of Mortal Kombat movies, TV shows, and everything else that isn't a video game... or, for that matter, a video game that only stars one of the MK canon characters. *Shudder*

Thankfully, all of this imperfection will end soon. I finally have a copy of the Japanese DVD, which is component, NTSC, and quite beautiful if I may say so. I also have both UK and US subtitle tracks, and can pick and choose the aspects I like from both if I feel the need. The Japanese DVD is full of special features I've never seen before - including a peek at Takashi MIIKE playing in his first ever anime voice over session! It took 2 minutes total! - so expect a patch soon, and a rebuild later on if I can't somehow sneak the English dub(s) on there any other way. I'm not 100% sure what I'll do with a "Sale" version, but rest assured it'll include both English tracks. It's just a question of "when" at this point.

Monday, January 05, 2009

Free DBZ BD... Whee?

I feel it's kinda' sad that the first non-Hollywood Blu-ray I own is the FUNimation promotional release of DRAGON BALL Z: THE DEAD ZONE. To be fair, it came free with the PS3 game Dragon Ball Z: Burst Limit, a generally underwhelming - but very attractive - simple button masher of a fighting game that strips most of the charm from the PS2's rather impressive run of Dragonball Z games away like a wire brush strips paint from a plastic gashapon figure.

I'll assume that anyone reading the Kentai blog at least has a vague notion of what the Dragon Ball franchise is, and if not, I assume you've been living in a cave for the last 25 years or so. If not, welcome to the world of tomorrow! We have a black president and everything, just like in that movie Deep Impact you... uh... also probably haven't seen. The basic jist is that wild haired and bright eyed Son Gokuu, a simple and powerful man who lives in a slightly Warner Brothers inspired version of Japan, uses the strength of his convoluted alien heritage to defend Earth from invading aliens, time traveling cyborgs, and black magic demons who are quite literally mentally retarded. Lots of fireballs, butt jokes and bizarre puns are thrown around to keep things lively, and all things considered the series is actually one of the better never-ending anime/manga titles to have captured America's attention, in no small part due to the simple charm, playful sense of humor, and surprising high drama that creator Akira TORIYAMA infused the whole thing with.

While the pacing of the TV series, sometimes earning it the moniker "Drag-On Ball", was something of an issue, and the subtle homoeroticism of two men starring into each others eyes for minutes before throwing a punch may leave some curious viewers confused, the generally intricate story arcs often come together nicely and do their best to build on what came before it rather than abandon common sense. Well, that was true until Gokuu's son Gohan put on a cape and started fighting petty crime before high school classes, but we can discuss exactly when DBZ jumped the shark another time. The DBZ movies occur in their own little pocket universe that reflects the general timeline of the series as it appeared on TV at the time, without being able in any way to occur in the series itself. It's expected that they come with shoddier writing, but better animation than any random half-dozen episodes, so they're a good way to get a feel for what the series has to offer without dedicating 10 hours into watching a single story arc. The one major advantage of the theatrical outings was that, at an average on 50 minutes each, they didn't even have time to stretch the fights into endless marathons of sweating and grunting occasionally spiced up with a punch to the face, so the theatrical films arguably do a better job of delivering on the lightning fast action that supposedly made the TV series so impressive. Some movies are better than others, but all of them - save, perhaps, movies 4 and 11 - have their redeeming qualities...

For better or worse, Dragon Ball - particularly the 291 episode long "Z" stretch - was written off by and large by "serious" anime fans when it became a mainstream hit on cable TV about 10 years ago in the US, having already enjoyed success in France, Mexico, Hong Kong, Korea, and most other civilized nations in the world (including Hawaii... go figure). As most of those "serious" anime fans had been watching the show on VHS fansubs a year prior to them deciding that it was the Antichrist, and only appropriate for babies who still thought Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Rock Em Sock Em Robots were the definition of badass, what we have is actually a simple reaction that happens to virtually every popular shonen anime that makes it big in the Western world, and God help us we'll see it again with Soul Eater within the year.

You see, American teens flock to the animu because it's "different" from American cartoons. Yes, that's right, because people say "damn" and spit out blood the show obviously has to be smarter and edgier than X-Men, or Ben 10, or, whatever processed crap it is the fuck children have left to watch these days. Once American 8 year olds appreciate the show for more or less the same reasons Japanese 8 year olds appreciated the show, the cross-culture punks can no longer justify watching a cartoon and instead turn to "darker" content, regardless of its' relative artistic or narrative quality. Granted nowadays otaku also turn to fetishistic titles like Rozen Maiden whilst simultaneously bitching about how terrible harem comedy anime is, so perhaps the very core of American anime fans is that they're hypocrites.

In brief, Dragon Ball Z isn't by any stretch a bad series, it merely has a few irritating tendencies created by the need to produce an ongoing TV series while the comics it's based on are still being written, and is as obviously Japanese as Rambo 2 or a Big Mac is obviously American. The animation for the period is quite good, the Japanese vocal cast is an all star affair if their ever was one, it boasts the most intelligent and epic storyline you'll get for a series targeted at kids who are still carting around plastic lunch boxes, and if anyone tells you that it's retarded dreck but then counters with saying that Transformers of He-Man or anything that isn't Hokuto no Ken or Freekazoid was "better", please, kick them in the balls for me.

I made a promise ages ago to never buy FUNimation's "HD Remastered" Dragonball Z TV sets, because doing so would effectively be taking a huge dump on what little principles I hold dear when it comes to flatly not buying something:

1) Don't use lesser materials when better masters already exist.

Honestly, this one should just be a no-brainer.

2) Keep the damn film in its' original aspect ratio, whatever that may be.

Of course, I personally reserve the right to tell director's that they're fucking crazy if the matted version was clearly just an after-thought. That means YOU, Sam Raimi and Toyoo ASHIDA.

3) If your masters suck, don't bother trying to fix them if you don't know how.

You'll only fail. Believe you me, I know a thing or two about failing at video restoration.

A couple years ago I learned a lot about how film works, in part because I couldn't fathom how FUNimation had screwed their precious Dragonball Z pooch so hard. The short answer is that FUNi, deciding that it was time to cancel their first ever bi-lingual and unedited release of the first 65 episodes of DBZ and replace them with trumped up "Season" box sets, collecting a seemingly random number of episodes that may or may not tell a complete story. Well, sucks for all the sods who paid $25 for 4 episodes only for the so-called Ultimate Uncut release to die uncerimoniously a third of the way through, but hooray for everyone else, right? Bullshit. This is FUNimation we're talking about. The guys who changed the word "English Dub" to "English Reversioning".

I'm NOT kidding.

Rather than buy the Dragon Box NTSC masters that Toei created for the Japanese release of the series, FUNimation decided to be clever little shits and bought the entire DBZ franchise - 291 TV episodes, 2 TV specials and 13 theatrical films - as 16mm film. Of course Toei didn't give them the interpositive prints they'd used for the Dragon Box, instead they ran off a set of second generation internegative prints. As you lose quality by blowing out contrast, adding a layer of grain and giving the chain of prints ample opportunity for judder and physical print damage, FUNi was already off to a brilliant start.

FUNimation's HD remaster is NOT 10,000 hours in Photoshop.
(Yes, the R2 DVD has all of the outlines and none of this "connect the dots" bullshit.)

FUNimation decided, first and foremost, that digitally erasing scratches, hair and dirt was too difficult (by which I mean expensive). So, instead they left all the blemishes on the HD remaster, despite the fact that Toei had the good sense and decency to erase the scuffs from their own NTSC transfer, and left all the restoration work to Digital Video Noise Reduction, yes that chestnut I love so well that smears everything (like cartoon outlines) into oblivion. The nature of their prints also meant that the contrast levels were fucked, the colors erred onto the blue side, there are torn and mangled frames from time to time... but hell, that's no worse than what you'd see on a 35mm print as your local multiplex. I guess.

I'll say it again: I'm NOT kidding.
(Yes, 16mm film is supposed to be grainy.)

The real kicker-to-the-balls was that FUNimation decided to crop the entire series into Widescreen, despite it having been a TV series that ran from 1989-1996 and had never, even once, been broadcast that way before. The argument arose that TV overscan eats up to 15% of the original 4:3 picture in the first place, so what harm could we have opening up the frame to the sides by 10%, at the expense of the top and bottom 20%, thus reformatting the original 16mm camera negative to the more chic 16:9 "HD" aspect ratio?


The best part is that their marketing calls this "Dragonball Z as it was always intended". Uh-huh. Sort of like how my penis was 'always intended' to be rubbed across a cheese grater. I'll get right on that.

I'm happy to report that, while not even close to perfect, the Blu-ray release of the first Dragon Ball Z movie, 'The Dead Zone', (which in Japan was simply "Dragonball Z: The Movie") manages to survive being cropped into obscurity or smeared straight to HFIL*. The reasons why are two-fold: for one thing, the DBZ movies were supposed to be shown in widescreen, so the focus is generally kept in the center of the screen anyway. Even the Toei LDs and DVDs are matted widescreen, though international and Japanese VHS were always open-matte 4:3, so anyone bitching that the movies are missing precious footage can take that complaint up with the very concept of open-matte existing in the first place. The other is that, unlike the naturally gritty 16mm TV series, the movies were shot on higher quality 35mm film so there was far less incentive for FUNimation to smear Vaseline all over the telecine gate. Unfortunately, the 35mm IP's were still riddled with dirt, hair, tape, and scratches. If only they'd left the grain intact they could have sold it as the DBZ Grindhouse Experience.

*If you don't get it, don't worry. It's not even worth going into if you've never seen the US broadcast version.

Yes, I am exaggerating, but not by enough. The other inherent flaw in FUNi's master is that the contrast is boosted through multiple generations of film prints, which is most visible in faces that literally appear to glow like an orange lightbulb instead of looking like... well... skin. It's uncomfortably similar to the neon faces on the Urban Vision DVD of Vampire Hunter D, though of course that makes even this BD look good. Boosted contrast aside the color timing didn't strike me as awful, though I can't help but think that everything is a bit more red than it ought to be. This could be the fault of the film print itself rather than FUNimation being douche bags, but it's still worth mentioning.

Adding salt to the fresh (though perhaps not as gaping as I'd feared) wound is the fact that the Blu-ray included with the PS3 game is a dub-only promotional copy. The retail version not only includes the second film, THE WORLD'S STRONGEST, but also includes the original Japanese mono audio. Being a self professed Subjew nobody should be surprised that I much prefer Dragon Ball in Japanese, and while the now standard FUNimation English cast has improved dramatically from the once pale charicatures of the former Ocean Studios performances, that doesn't mean that hearing Chris Sabat both murder and rape Piccolo with a lead pipe doesn't still give me dry heaves. English dubbed DBZ is, much like alligator meat or jamming bits of metal through your genitals, an acquired taste. While I could tolerate Ian Corlett, Scott McNiel, and even to a lesser extent Briam Durmond bringing the show to life (despite the butchered scripts targeted at retarded fetuses in which nobody dies, despite the fact that they're running through clouds with fucking halos) the FUNimation staff just... well, there's no way for me to put this nicely. They suck. Even in the typically mediocre world of English dubbed anime for broadcast TV they stick out as being terrible. I hate to pull out the Macek Card, but even the bastard dubs of the Streamline era some 20 years ago were slightly less awful.

With this in mind, you'll forgive me that I only watched bits and pieces of the disc. The moment I heard Sonny Straight come out of Kuririn's mouth I was in the fetal position, choking back tears of rage and resisting any and all urges to throw the PS3 remote right through the fucking screen. This isn't even that snooty pretentious "so bad it's good" bullshit, this is just plain bad. The kind of bad that people should probably get lynched for.

As if just to further my hatred of all things Dragon Ball in English, the "original Japanese music" was there... most of the time. The opening sequence which featured CHA-LA HEAD CHA LA* in all prior incarnations was replaced with some generic pop-rock... thing, and the best part of the film in which Gohan eats a "magical" apple and proceeds to start tripping balls, dancing with fuzzy muppets and dinosaurs while narrowly falling off ledges and cracking his cute little skull wide open, was replaced with a cheap synth version of the same song with no lyrics at all. Considering even the goddamn US TV broadcast included the insert song, there was absolutely no reason to replace it with a generic remix. Amazingly, the end credits song, Deteokoi Tobikiri ZENKAI Power, remains intact and was even subtitled.

*Come on. Even Konata loves Cha-La Head Cha-La!

So... you can sing in Japanese, but only during the credits? Then why the hell was Cha-La Head Cha-La axed?! What glue huffing madman even makes these descisions? It's like FUNi channeled the spirit of Manga Entertainment circa 1994 when they'd just look for things to screw up.

While not "edited" in the traditional sense, the HD Remaster features new English credits on the end credit sequence, and uses a "clean" version of the Opening sequence. Oddly, one shot (where the director credit would go, I think...) seems to have been cribbed from excessively grainy 16mm, while the rest of the OP looks like genuine 35mm. No idea why that would be, but I never said that the FUNi HD Remaster made a lot of sense...

According to FUNimation, these god-awful Dragon Ball Z Season X box sets "Sell Like hotcakes...". FUNimation employees ended this statement by adding "...bitch!", and then sodomizing a dead puppy with a lead pipe.

All things considered, the theatrical films made it out the other end of FUNimation's "remaster" ("Digital Demaster", as a friend of mine loves to call it) looking just barely passable, which is more than I can say for the DVD release of the TV series. There's enough detail to see cell shadows and minor animation flubs that disappear completely on DVD, but the hand painted backgrounds and grain structure have been smeared into oblivion for a more modern and sterile look that only distances the hand-crafted art from the warmth that digital animation struggles so valiantly to recreate.

My viewing setup is, for the next few years I'm sure, a 30" 1080i Hi-Scan Sony HD WEGA CRT, and a PS3 hooked up via HDMI. No surround, as my apartment walls would probably crumble. Yeah, it's not that impressive, but neither is the disc, so I don't see any harm in venting just a little frustration over the whole thing. I can't even imagine how horrifying this transfer would be on a 10 foot screen through some $10,000 1080p projector. Honestly, I can live without knowing.

*Hi-Scan grills are supposed to resolve about 853 lines, or roughly the same as a 1280x720 progressive display. In comparison most CRT NTSC TVs only resolve 33 lines, so even a medium-quality HDTV can resolve 3 times what a high quality SDTV can. Go figure...

While I'm sure that, overall, this disc is better than any prior 4:3 composite DVD release, it's still a major disappointment on pretty much every level. While I wouldn't be ashamed to own any of the FUNi DBZ movie releases at this point, I wouldn't be excited either, and would buy them simply because they're about 1/3 the price of the R2 Alternative. (Suck it, weak dollar to Yen exchange rate.) Still, I'm sure the Toei DVD lacks rampant scratches, and I bet it even has grain. Hilariously, when Toei does their own HD transfer, it probably won't have grain if the Hokuto no Ken TV HD remaster is any indicator. I can't say I recommend it, but it was somewhat nice to see my worst fears not quite realized.

Now, if only Burst Limit sucked a bit less... but, at least unlike this Blu-ray, it's still awfully purty.

The worst part is, fugly cover or no, at least I'd get this on a steelbook if I bought it on DVD. Seriously, everybody listening, stop doing simultaneous BD keepcases and Steelbook DVDs. It's balls. It just makes me want to buy neither out of a comples one-two punch of packaging lust and AV jealousy.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

I Mustn't Run Away...

"Gushing Blood"

I've decided to finally do the inevitable and add English subtitles to my NEON GENESIS EVANGELION: THE FEATURE FILM DTS COLLECTOR'S EDITION R2 DVD set. The Manga translation found on the R1 DVD always struck me as serviceable enough that I figured, with some minor edits for software use, I could drop the translation into the R2 DVDs and be done with it. Bada bing, have a glass of lemonade, everyone's stoked. Right?

I was naive.

The above is one of roughly 50 untranslated slates I've found in the first half of EVANGELION: DEATH. If you've never seen the film, basically these flash up for between 3 and 10 frames a piece - a fraction of a second - detailing either the technical specifications of the EVA hardware or the core thought going through the pilot's mind at the time. It literally assaults the viewer with this information the same way that IKARI Shinji is assaulted by Saichel, the Second Prohpet. It may seem a bit heavy handed to literally bury the viewer in a wall of text, but under the circumstances in both presenting the mental state of the pilots, and creating a divide in the simplicity of Death with the complexity of THE END OF NEON GENESIS EVANGELION, I think it was a stroke of mad genius. (Much like the rest of the show.)

Unfortunately, I'm now left with that wall of kanji and the choice to either leave it alone, or to trudge onward with my limited understanding and waning patience, translating all of it for the first time. A part of me says "fuck it, Manga and Gainax thought it was good enough". Another part of me says "come on, you know if it's not translated it'll drive you insane forever". I'll continue going through the film, marking the remaining slates as I do, and come to a descision later. In the meantime, I'll possibly patch some Pixy prawn to help my brain unwind.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Lewd Demon Bugs. That's, seriously, what it means.

淫妖蟲/INYOCHU, the single greatest PWP* tentacle/unicorn rape OVA ever made, has been patched by yours truly with the unending help of a very hungry Caterpillar. I won't lie and tell you that it's great cinema, but I will say it's the first time I've ever seen a 30 minute animated feature revolving around cute Shakugan no Shana knock-offs getting raped by an anthropomorphic unicorn with a 3 foot penis. It manages to rival Mahou Shoujo Ai as a jaw-dropping spectacle of supernatural proportions, and had the show not been canceled after a single episode it could well have wormed my way into my heart as an all time favorite.

Yeah. U-N-I-C-O-R-N.

See? Told you. Why don't you ever just trust me on these things?

I said "worm" because the sequel, 淫妖蟲・蝕/Inyochu: Shoku (Shoku = Eclipse), features a scene of CG worms being born out of a pair of distended tits, and this sequence traumatized my poor bug hating wife in ways I can't rightly explain. Sadly, the Shoku psuedo-sequel doesn't adhere to the wild and ridiculous anything goes philosophy of the original video, and tries like mad to have a more linear structure that, uh... doesn't involve neon green dookie. The second episode also had notably cheaper production values, so the fact that it involved a girl being sodomised with a penis on fire somehow managed to be unimpressive, frustrating even, a great core concept with a boring execution. It isn't terrible, it's just mediocre, and when you have a show with flaming cocks that just comes out as mediocre it makes me fear that Humanity has hit some sort of roadblock they just can't walk 10 paces around. Greatness is RIGHT FUCKING THERE! Just take it already!

Perhaps, Shoku was slightly less frustrating than MURAKAMI Teruaki animating the same POV gonzo pr0n over and over but, that's another future blog entirely...

Clearly this sort of blatant tentacoo prawn is verboten on the usual sources, so you'll have to hit me up if you want a copy.

*PWP = Plot? What Plot?

Fist of the New Year

Read THIS and weep manly tears of joy.

Well, this year's off to a great start. All I'm at liberty to say is that I'm busy doing my part to make sure this release will be the best release of Hokuto no Ken The Movie '86 possible. I really, really wish I'd won those Streamline FOTNS 35mm Credit reels now... Ah, well. C'est la viva, and all that.