Saturday, March 28, 2009

Run Home, Melos... Run Home At Last

I can't believe it took 30 hours to encode this son of a bitch. I really need to make a back-up PC which does nothing but encode. It can take a week, so long as my main PC is free in the meantime. Ever tried decoding and upscaling a DVD via FFDShow while your P4 is already at 66%? The answer is "no". Or if it is "yes" you didn't do it more than once, now did you?

Anyhoo, this completely progressive and filtered to Hades and back is, without any shadow of a doubt, as good as the original MPEG file I was given is ever going to look - the Kentai Films remaster of RUN, MELOS:

Original LD to DVD+R DL Recording (Upscaled)

Remastered DVD-R Transfer

5200 kbps, 3-pass DVD ready encode (CCE SP), 256 kbps AC-3 (Soundforge), and more AVISynthery than any one man should ever have to ever use on a single source.

I chose this shot because it actually sums up the strengths and weaknesses of the Kentai Remaster perfectly: while the background is now kind of smudged and the saturation is slightly overblown (which is bad), the flesh tones are more lifelike, the black level and contrast are more natural, rainbows have been thoroughly beaten into submission and mosquito noise is almost a non-issue (which is good). My transfer is sadly not flawless compared to the source, and I'll be the first to admit it, but I'm still fairly proud of what I managed to craft. I was handed a steaming pile of shit, and successfully turned it into a respectable piece of crap. I'd like to see any other "legitimate" studio do better.

A word of unexpected insanity: the "Emotion" logo at the start is preserved as it was on the original encode, though it'll now be stretched to 16:9. It was animated at a jaw-dropping 30fps, so scaling it was going to destroy it one way or another. So, I did the one thing nobody expects... I didn't. Yeah, it'll look fat and hilarious, but I'm sure you'll learn to forgive me for it. I might even re-encode it later (if I can find a safe way to do it!) if it bothers me, but after having tumbled with this bastard for months, I doubt I care nearly enough to...

It's progressive, it's minimized all obvious compression and composite artifacts, it's anamorphic, and I defy anyone else to make something better and still squeeze it down to a single-layer DVD-R. I've already deleted the source files - yes, that's how committed to this version I am - and in a glorious stroke of hilarity, the guy who originally asked me to do the transfer had a friend of his make a DVD-R of it for him in the meantime. I'm not mad, I'm better than that, but I am very curious how his transfer stacks up against my own. Of course, starting fresh from the LD itself he'll have a major advantage, but unless he's crazy enough to manually IVTC the whole thing the way I did, I think I'll still have a leg up on him.

Layer upon layer of IVTC, cropping, scaling, denoising, deblocking, color correction and even sharpening went into this project. It's easily the most complex restoration I've ever done. It may not be my best work, but I didn't start with the best of sources either, so it doesn't make a lot of sense to beat myself up over it. I came, I saw, I experiemted, and the results were, as Nabeshin once put it, "some success". If that's good enough for him, then damn it, it's good enough for me.

This was a lot of fun and all, despite the resulting migraines and loss of sleep. Still, it'll be great to get back to work on hardcore rape porn and anghsty homosexual music videos again.

(More screencaps are available HERE, for those interested. What am I, made of bandwidth? And Jewish now, already? Oy.)

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The Abashiri Conspiracy

I promise, this is the very last odious LD-to-DVD update until I actually buy a new piece of hardware...

Despite Wanna Be's, The Ultimate Teacher, Zetsuai and Cathexis being rather... unpleasant after their DVD conversion, Go Nagai's THE ABASHIRI FAMILY/あばしり一家 doesn't look nearly so bad. Well, at least not in comparison. There's some horizontal banding, some mosquito noise, and best of all some of that delicious rainbowing I just can't get enough of, but compared to the layers and layers of yuck I've found on other discs... this one seems pretty all-right. I think it's mostly just a question of how supersaturated the disc is, combined with my player's "preview" output being much more heavily filtered than the signal it's actually getting.

Besides, if I REALLY want to get rid of noise on my recordings, that's what post-processing is for.

Pioneer: What's In A Name?

The CPM logo courtesey of THE ULTIMATE TEACHER, as represented by two different Pioneer players via composite. Note the massive levels of chroma noise in both.

The CPM logo courtesey of MD GEIST some other guy got from his somewhat newer, and clearly more advanced Pioneer player via S-video. I'm dumbfounded at how great this looks.

This test is a bit of a crapshoot: we're using different players, different recorders, and different discs. A better manufactured LD will naturally have less chroma noise than a disc that was poorly made, and even the best LD will have some chroma noise thanks to composite video's inherently icky nature. But I flatly refuse to believe that one CPM logo looks that much better than another, especially when two separate CPM titles look so horrific on my equipment. Frustratingly, all of the Japanese discs I'm feeding it are similarly unimpressive, though mercifully none of them have been as outright awful as the messy screencaps above.

In short, my LD players suck. Worse yet, I'm at a loss of how to get a player I know will be better, short of simply buying the model that the guy I've been stalking for anwers has. The difference in DVD recorders probably isn't helping this comparison, and likely the Toshiba has a slightly noisy tuner compared to the Polaroid DRM-2001G he used to record everything to. Heck, maybe the Polaroid is doing the chroma filtering rather than the LD player... had to say without access to every part of the chain.

And just to prove that the CLD-501/DRM-2001 didn't completely eliminate the chroma problem:

You know... it actually looks like the saturation is being boosted (intentionally or not) on those earlier shots, which would account for the noise simply disappearing once the picture got substantially brighter. Hmmm...

Seeing that MD GEIST has totally different style subtitles than THE ULTIMATE TEACHER, the master really could be at fault. Comparing more Japanese LDs, I see a lot more chroma noise than I'd like, but not so much that I assume the player is actually malfunctioning. I'll go over a few more transfers with a fine-tooth comb and then make my descision later. Much later. Maybe when I can actually afford getting a new LD player.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Aki Grows Up And Gets Brighter

3 episodes, 1 disc, 7500kbps MPEG-2/256kbps AC-3. Remastered from official Nikkatsu pre-record VHS. Optional English subtitles for the very first time. We're designing interactive menus too, just because I love you like that. Expect it to be finished within the next few weeks.

I won't lie to your face and say they look great, but if you ever saw the VHS tapes these transfers were made from, you'd be surprised. I worked day and night on this obscure pedofest until I turned it from a stinking pile of shit into a respectable piece of crap, with careful RGB color corrections, extensive gamma tweaks, and failed (but well meaning) attempts to make it progressive. Unfortunately, there's some VERY low level chroma blending that I hadn't spotted prior, which means that on even a partly-progressive transfer you wind up having combed colors on progressive grayscale... I don't even think I've ever seen that before, except on freaky colorspace issues I swore that I'd never speak of again. Sure enough, the wandering color-ghosts are on the source tape, and try as mankind may there's just no way to un-bork ghosting NTSC video.

Episode 3 still has (major) tracking bugs, and I'm frustrated to slap my name on something with such an obvious fatal flaw, but as it's the stretched and worn mylar tape itself that's at fault it won't do any of us much good for me to apologize for not fixing it. While I'd rate the last episode a C-*, the other two are fast approaching a B+, and only escape an "A" because I refuse to grant a VHS source that honor, regardless of how amazing a tape it was. There just isn't enough resolution (or lines, whatever) compared to an LD source for it to be an A, if arbitrary video quality ratings I make up on the fly are ever going to mean anything at all.

Unless you already own these episodes on mint condition and rot-free LD, this will be the best quality you'll ever see them in. And, if you DO own these on LD... seriously, hit me up. We'll make things happen.

For the record, rating video quality on a sliding numeric or alphabetic scale is kind of pointless, when you get right down to it. Genre Film A is never going to look like Genre Film B, thanks to things like different lighting, film stock and camera lens quality, level of post-production tinkering, and thus neither should the two look the same on video, even if both of them are accurate representations of the source material. Ergo Genre Film A may look like utter crap compared to Genre Film B, but if it's an accurate representation of what was on "A"'s camera negative, that in no way implies that it should get a "B" for its' inevitable video rating, unless the whole point of reviews are to say "this DVD looks purty" and not "the guys who encoded this thing should be shot". But, I digress.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Desperate Love 2009

ZETSUAI 1989 looks a hell of a lot nicer than its' music video counterpart, but it's still quite a few steps removed from pretty. (Ironic, really.) It's also got some fairly severe dot-crawl and that damnable frame ghosting that prevents me from making a progressive transfer, though these are both a problem with the original film to video transfer rather than anything I've screwed up personally. I can't decide if I should hit this with NR or not, but I suppose if I'm going to be putting in a lot of effort on Cathexis it'd be pointless not to do the same with the first in the Ozaki trilogy, wouldn't it?

I can't make any immediate promises, but there are several projects sitting on my ready to explode HDD that are almost finished, and those should be finished as my sanity slowly returns over the next week.

FUN FACT: You can't create a working MPEG file with PCM audio. The specs and decoders don't allow it, despite the same fundamental combination being A-OK on DVD. This means I spent more time splitting and joining files during editing than I do when I work with Dolby audio, but again, what's another 5 measly minutes for delicious CD quality sound?

Saturday, March 21, 2009

The Ultimate Attack in the War on Laser Grain

Cathexis LD (Untouched)

Cathexis LD (Noise Reduction + Comb Filtering)

The grid-like layer of static chroma-noise has all bit disappeared after a level of filtering that, in my eyes, is pretty powerful stuff. But as you can see, despite using a 3D temporal/spatial smoother, fine static details like the guitar strings and rivets remain intact. The left over chroma noise in really dark shots is still pretty blatant, but had Shueisha released this on DVD themselves, I don't think the results would be drastically different. There's some frame blending going on, but it's that very subtle, evil kind that ALMOST has 3:2 cadence, and at the very least the "Image Crip" at the end of the disc was edited on video, so I wouldn't be shocked if some of the cuts in the music videos themselves were made the same way. No progressive transfer this time. Sorry folks.

EDIT: Confirmed that some of the pan shots and "live action" special effects were indeed shot at 30fps.

The only regret I have is that when I use NR and get rid of the glittering chroma noise, it makes what's an MPEG compression artifact all the more visible. But I really dislike having constant analog grain even more, so it's a compromise I'm willing to live with.

In other news, I've done a pretty dramatic overhaul of the RUN, MELOS transfer, upon realizing that Telecide() was screwing the pooch pretty hard for absolutely no good reason. I guess I should learn not to trust programs that rhyme with "genocide", huh? The new transfer will have corrected gamma as well as black/white levels, a different noise reduction scheme entirely, and will be 100% progressive to boot. Once I re-encode it, and am satisfied with the bitrate-to-quality ratio, it'll be a done deal and ready for the masses.

I've also recorded another Image/CPM Laserdisc. After the horrors of WANNA BE's I wasn't expecting much, but this title looks so good that I can't believe the same guys responsible for that virtually unwatchable pile of girl-on-girl violence had really ever touched it. Look forward to that.

Friday, March 20, 2009

A Cathartic Revalation: Eureka! LD Sucks!

If you call Cathexis gay, you're calling Rintaro gay. Are you prepared to do that?

Blatantly homosexual or not*, Madhouse's ode to Minami OZAKI's fictional rock star, cathexis: BRONZE - KOJI NANJO, is a much nicer source disc to start with than the terrors of Wanna Be's. No ghosting, no on-disc moire patterns, no waves of random and hideous distorted signal noise constantly wiggling in and out... ugh. May we never mention that transfer again, and may Sony finally drag it out and remaster it so that we can relive the insanity of girl pro-wrestlers fighting mutants in quality that doesn't look like the fattest part of my backside.

Unfortunately, I'm not out of the woods yet. While this transfer is much, much less fugly, I'm experiencing a strange sort of constant-moire pattern, and worse yet, some really horrific chroma noise. As a test sample I've grabbed one of the stills from the very end of the LD, which - being nothing but 30fps scans of static drawings - should be as free of noise as is humanly possible.

That glove is probably supposed to be one solid color.
(And yeah, I'd probably fuck Koji. Don't give me that look - you would too.)

The Toshiba D-KR10 is actually doing quite admirably in keeping the constant chroma noise intact, and not just turning it into chunks of nasty artifacting fuzz. That's a compliment I wish I didn't have to give, though. So, the question is why is there so much chroma noise in the first place? I think that having had a high end VCR for so long has spoiled me, and made me assume that composite analog video formats can be free of high frequency garbage. The fact is, despite what bearded aging videophiles will tell you, LDs aren't pretty. Yes, they were better than VHS and broadcast, but even a competent DVD taken from the same composite master has the potential to look substantially better than an LD, in no small part due to the unpredictable nature of the LD players' analog decoders, and the utter lack of error correction that leads to all sorts of nasty dropouts that DVDs simply aren't prone to, unless you're smearing them with peanut butter or, something.

Later "Elite" Pioneer players had built-in noise reduction capabilities to get rid of the nasty crap we're seeing in those crawling reds and blues. I'm currently running a CLD-V2600, which evidently was used primarily by schools and businesses for educational purposes. It has plenty of unique bells and whilstes, including a headphone jack and a cable to be controlled by a DOS based computer - come on, man, in was 1993! - and most strangely, a port to be used by... wait for it... a bar code reader. Awesome! But, no built-in noise reduction. Damn...

Looking over spec sheets from LD players made in the years gone by, it appears that only the super-high end models - as in the kind retailing for $1,000 and up - ever had built in NR. While I can always filter in post, I'm filtering a pre-compressed DVD encode, which has not only the original noise - but has turned some of that noise into its' own less than ideal compression artifacts. (Not that I haven't been over this before.) Ideally, I'd filter the noise from the player itself, and that would lead to not only less chroma noise in the DVD, but fewer visible compression artifacts as a
bonus. Of course, doing that via hardware would require either a new super-amazing LD player, or I could just buy the middle man and get something like the Algolith Flea, a box that performs NR in real-time, from any source, to any source. Of course, they don't make them anymore and they cost well over a grand new. And if I had a thousand dollars on hand, why the hell wouldn't I just buy the better LD player?

Users of the V2600 on seem positive, so either what I'm seeing is a natural product of the LDs themselves (likely), or my player has recently gone horribly out of whack. I guess the latter isn't impossible, but as the only repair place in town is a horrifying little chop-shop, I'm just going to keep using that poor old girl until she won't open her tray up anymore.

While I'm not completely zomg! blown away by the quality I'm getting from my LD recordings, I know damn well that they're a step up from the excessive noise and temporal dot crawl that I was getting prior. It's more that the closer to perfection I get, the more I realize that perfection just isn't all it's cracked up to be.

Ah, well. Noisy or not, Cathexis is one of the best looking transfers I've made in the last 2 years, so I can't say I'm not happy. There will be more LDs transfered, I can assure you of that, and I'm finally satisfied enough that I'm willing to burn them to DVD and call it a day.

*In retrospect, an anime about professional wrestling girls who use their ring skills to defend each other from a throbbing, dripping, veiny purple monster is probably much more gay than two men kissing. In the same way that PREDATOR is much more a gay film than CRUISING despite lacking the sodomy.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Tetsuo vs Kaneda: ROUND THREE, FIGHT!!


Akira: The Criterion Collection Laserdisc.


Record the same sequence, using the same LD player and recorder settings, swapping out S-Video terminals for Composite terminals, to establish what - if any - improvements are made in the process of accessing or bypassing the Toshiba D-R400's own internal 3D comb filter.


After saving lossless PNG screenshots of the test materials, they will be cropped and upscaled to (roughly) the equivalent of a 720p HD video file, so that the results of the experiments can be easily and plainly seen by the naked eye.

(Recorded via S-Video, cropped and upscaled)

(Recorded via Composite, cropped and upscaled)

It is official, ladies and gentlemen:

Composite video wins!

The dot-crawl infecting Kaneda's gloves literally just disappears via composite. The background details, outlines, and awful moire pattern on Kaneda's face (that pattern is nothing but old fashioned analog noise, by the way) are ever so slightly softened, but it does so much damn good here that I'm not about to complain. And once more, the S-video color looks washed out, blowing out the highlights in his face ever so slightly. Without doing an A/B comparison I doubt I ever would have noticed, but that's exactly why I do these things. Moire patterns like you see in the relatively flat areas of Kaneda's face and gloves are common on 80s and 90s video transfers, and if you're unlucky you'll even find them on older DVD releases, like the Sony R2 of Vampire Hunter D and... well, pretty much any Image Entertainment LD dump, like Bay of Blood or, yes, Akira. The only way to get rid of it is to make a new telecine, which is exactly what Pioneer - and later Bandai Visual - would do with Akira in particular.

I also got some snaps of the color-bar pattern on Akira, but the aboce comparison says so much I won't bother posting them. Once more, S-Video had dot-crawl and was washed out, composite was slightly softer but more natural. All there is to add is that there was NO temporal analog noise, so my suspicion that Wanna Be's was simply a noisy pile of crap thanks to Image Entertainment (and, quite possibly, Sony Music Entertainment) seems all the more likely.

I'll admit that I am slightly disappointed to see that this is how "good" the (arguably) very best American made anime LD ever pressed looks, but this is an issue I have to take with a 30 year old composite video format. I know that I could improve the results - slightly, at least - by adding a Monster hardware comb filter ($500) and an Algolith 3D-NR box ($1500 and up), but considering that this entire rig probably cost 1/10th of that expendature, I'm still very happy.

And so, let the LD transfers flow like a fine wine, and the VHS transfers flow like delicious Monster brand energy drinks! Trust me, if you ever saw the leaning tower of tapes hiding in what should be my linen closet, you'd realize that I'm going to need both. And lots of them, too.

Composite vs S-Video: ROUND 2, FIGHT!!

Ignore the severe compression artifacts for now.

After some really awful experiences with the Lite-On's comb filter, I wasn't looking forward to see what would happen when I switched to composite cables on the new Toshiba recorder. Yet as you can see, the dot-crawl on either side of the show's simple black outlines have basically disappeared, and the outlines themselves look no better or worse in terms of rainbowing. The colors also look washed-out via S-Video,

Throwing this particular frame out of whack is the fact that these two encodes have different GOPs, which means that 'Frame X' on the first encode is less compressed on one transfer than it is the other. As proof that the composite connection isn't leading to this level of damning noise:

Sure, both of these shots look kinda "blah", but at least one isn't dramatically better than the other. In this shot there's less rainbowing on the composite shot, though interestingly her left brow looks worse via composite, while her right looks better via S-Video. Still, largely the composite connection is giving me fewer rainbows, and not at a dramatic increase of noise or other notable artifacts.

Ring around the collar, you say? Not via composite!

So, today's experiment has been quite successful. Isn't that a pleasant change of pace? I do think that composite might be enhancing noise ever so slightly, but understand that even static images on this disc are wretched noise-filled bastards from which nothing positive can ever come. As proof, have a horrifying noise-filled image of the closing color bars, which SHOULD be perfectly static and noise-free:


Good lord, it's like watching a calibration disc vomit... I'll find my Akira LD and see if that pattern is substantially better. If so, then the player isn't to blame on this atrocimacy.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Toshiba vs Lite-On: Round 1, FIGHT!!

Well, this is interesting...

On this shot, you can see that both recording setups - the Lite-On via composite, and the Toshiba D-KR10 via S-video - have their own strengths and weaknesses. The Toshiba looks more washed out and noisy, but the Lite-On has more rainbows and signal distortions, like bleeding from the outlines. The Toshiba recording has constant dot-crawl on edges, but the Lite-on has dot-crawl in random areas and smears out others. The Lite-On has more banding, but the Toshiba has more mosquito noise. As far as "still" images go, the recording quality is almost a toss-up, with the Toshiba winning solely because it looks slightly more like the source LD.

Neither is exactly a looker thanks to the ancient LD transfer we're dealing with. But this is all meaningless if the "new" recordings have that temporal dot-crawl problem that plagues the otherwise somewhat respectable Lite-On recorder. So, did spending all that cash fix the evil bug that put my entire LD/VHS capture pyramid scheme on hiatus?

Oh my god, yes.

Check the boots, especially. They're virtually transparent in the Lite-On shot because of how poorly its' internal comb filter tried to "fix" the ghosting chroma. And, yeah, you can see the rope through the boot tops even on the original LD, so much as I wish I could, I can't blame everything under the sun on the deck doing the recording. I'm not certain who it was that coined the phrase "garbage in, garbage out", but I swear that there's never been a truer adage in terms of consumer level video restoration.

This shot looks better in every way imaginable on the Toshiba recording: solid color, less noise, less rainbowing, and no friggin' temporal dot crawl!!! Sure, the gains may seem minor when all I'm throwing at it are frame-blended, noise covered, poorly mastered anime LDs from the mid 1980s, but the minor issues that come with the new territory - such as increased noise, and wonky levels - are things that I can fix in post.

There is a certain level of irony in that, just the other day, a guy up on the ADC uploaded this very same title. But there's one thing I know for a fact his copy does not have, and it's a doozy: Linear PCM audio. That delicious, uncompressed CD quality audio that 95% of DVDs on the planet don't support because the space demands are so immense that you could fit four Dolby 5.1 tracks in the space required for a single 2.0 PCM track. The new Toshiba has it, and while I don't have any samples to show off just yet, I can promise you that going from 256kbps compressed Dolby Digital to 1536kbps is pretty goddamn sweet.

P.S. - This is really my 200th blog post?! Jesus Christ... I really don't have a life outside of OCD obsessions, do I?

*Shrug* I can live with that. "Poor us, poor us... poor everybody else!"

Sunday, March 15, 2009

That Magical Girl Was Too Sexy For JapanAnime

US based cartoon pr0n peddler JapanAnime have released quite a few great titles in the US market, in particular the 4 episode Jiburiru* series, and the first four episodes of SEXY MAGICAL GIRL (who's original Japanese title 魔法少女アイ/Magical Girl Ai, apparently, just wasn't sexy enough for them). The show managed to tickle my fancy by being at once a pandering number of expected ponrographic - and transforming school girl - shennanigans, but consistently lulled the viewer into a false sense of security before pulling everything from gay rape to bloody and brutal magical-girl beatdowns, leaving the viewer unprepared as to if they're supposed to laugh or cringe. It was one of Milky's better looking titles, at that, and ranks (easily) as one of the very best supernatural hentai titles since Hininden Gausu and Inma Seiden.

*That title should be 'Jibriel', a pun on the biblical name "Gabriel", but by the time the show came out it was far too late. Kitty Media is currently boxing with incompetent Japanese corporate sponsors for the second half of Jiburiru 2, but who knows how that'll all turn out? Also, JapanAnime bugged the second episode of Jiburiru 2, but stopped immediately thereafter and did a new encode without it on the eventual collection. Good for them. Too bad missus Kentai and I are stuck with the single version...

JapanAnime released episodes 1-4 of Mahou Shoujo Ai from 2005 to early 2006, starting about a month before the final episode was released in Japan. Solicitations for the final episode were made, and delays from JapanAnime weren't unexpected, so everyone who cared just sort of assumed that everything, y'know, everything was cool. Delays happen, especially when crazy Japanese executives are watching like hawks over their most expensive properties, and it wasn't like JapanAnime just went into hibernation and stopped release titles completely - that'd come in mid 2007, and they'd only snap back to attention in mid 2008.

Anyway. Late 2006. JapanAnime releases AFTER CLASS LESSONS/放課後 ~濡れた制服~ episode 3, a charming, attractive and just subversive enough remake of the Isaku series to catch my attention... but not all was well with the US release. This particular DVD was zoomed in to delete a potentially "obscene" shot of a girl holding a torn off penis in the series' gruesome and, for the genre at least, terribly ironic finale. The Japanese DVD had to pixelate out the junk in question to avoid Japanese obscenity laws, of course, and now the shot didn't even have anything obscene left in it. As if solely to blow my mind, JA included a screenshot of the missing footage on their website:


When Sexy Magical Girl 5 was delayed again... and again... and again, it was assumed that either Japanese owners Milky were afraid that American reverse importation would kill Japanese sales of the censored and overpriced local version, or that JA simply couldn't afford it. I'm here to show why both theories are bullshit, and there's a very simple reason why JA never released the final episode in the United States.

...oh yeah! Spoilers below. I also spoiled the living shit out of After Class Lessons already, didn't I? Sorry 'bout that folks. But, at least now you don't have to buy it and then wonder why that scene is all blurry.

Best fucking penis-biting that anime has ever known, and we'll never see it uncensored. Ever. Not in a million years, even. Nope. Not a chance. I mean, unless Germany, Spain, France or Italy pick it up. But then it'd be an NTSC-PAL transfer, at the very least. And we all hate those, right? (Which reminds me, I really need to buy the Spanish DVDs of Bondage Game and Corpse Washer one of these days.)

Frustratingly, JapanAnime would later remove a sex scene involving an underage girl in MISTREATED BRIDE/肉嫁 ~高柳家の人々~ as recently as last summer, so there's not much of a reason to assume they're willing to change their stance on graphic castration any time in the future. It's really a shame, since this is one of my absolute favorite adult titles to be released in the last few years, and as it stands I have a lot of trouble supporting the distributor for pussy-footing around controversial content. Sadly, every US based hentai distributor has cut the crap out of a title as one point or another for fear that the offensive content will get somebody riled up and get the owner imprisoned for selling 'Lolita Guro Scatfest 2: Futanari Piercing Love' to an undercover cop with a grudge or a 12 year old boy with a fake ID, so I can't even single JA out as being the root of all evil here. They made it very clear that - at least - After Class Lessons was a title edited to avoid potential obscenity suits, and they had no plans to release it any other way. If After Class Lessons 3 unedited is out, then clearly Sexy Magical Girl 5 (at least without being edited) is off the table for having the exact same content.

I guess I commend them for not editing the title, but only by default. In terms of extras, they didn't have much, and their subtitles - while certainly better than Adult Source Media quite literally stealing their subtitles from existing Chinese bootlegs - were on the "Engrish"side of things. If it weren't for the fact that the show were so spectacular, I wouldn't actually recommend you buy it from them, but the first 4 episodes are so incredible that I advise you to see them - rent them, borrow them, whatever must be done, make it happen. Sadly, you'll never see the last episode... not from them, anyway. As an alternative, you could always buy the Compliation Version on the cheap, which basically cuts all 5 episodes into a single movie. Sure, it's not ideal, but at almost half the price of the final episode alone I can't find a reason not to recommend it.

And yeah, it's pixelated, but good fucking luck finding a copy of vol. 5 that isn't.

Pay no mind to the DVD quality screencaps of an expensive Japanese release, which I may or may not have a subtitle translation, and may or may not be currently timing to said Japanese DVD. I mean, come on, that'd just be crazy! Imagine, me, subtitling a spectacular controversial adult anime with zero chance of a US release and potential commercial name recognition... you guys are just too much.

Friday, March 13, 2009

The Old Girl Gets A Facelift: Restoring Nikkatsu's Lolita Anime

Consider the following examples a work in progress, as I'm not yet 100% satisfied with the so-far primitive level of color-correction I've gotten out of RGBAdjust(). Still, the very fact that I'm using it at all speaks volumes as to how much I want the Aki Uchiyama Lolita Anime series to be as watchable as is humanly possible. These VHS tapes were never remotely pretty, and years of abuse at the hands of horny otaku made them one step from unwatchable, but some decent hardware and a lot of software tweaking has yielded something... well, kind of positive.

The basic steps were the same in all cases: deblock, manipulate contrast, gamma, and saturation, a heavy level of noise reduction, color correction, and finally crop out the garbage data at the bottom of the tape. No comb filtering or any other filters that often wind up in my scripts were needed, since my JVC is better at erasing rainbows than any software algorithm you can throw at it.

I can't make these progressive due to odious video editing - not all of it credits related, either - so the final encode will be that "hybrid" method in CCE SP that I loathe so goddamn much. No, it isn't ideal, but it's better than a 100% interlaced transfer, and means that these will look better than the original in terms of MPEG compression.

I typically don't like noise reduction either, and I don't think I've used any on other recent VHS restorations (like Passagen), but the bottom line is these tapes are hideous, grainy, noisy bastards in the absolute worst kind of way, and that's exactly what those filters are designed to deal with. Yes, I do see some softening in the background I'm not too fond of, it was a question of soft and noisy crap, or merely soft crap. The latter was definitely the lesser of two evils this time around.

Original is on the left, remaster is on the right:

Sick Aki-chan

I really like the improved contrast/gamma, it just makes the once dark and murky picture snap to life. I had to resist the urge to crank up the saturation, just because the psychedelic nature of this episode lends itself well to glowing, vibrant colors, and other scenes are (intentionally) so under saturated that flesh just looks dead. This lack of consistency makes color-correcting a bitch, but I think I've got something that "works" in this shot, for better or worse. This particular frame looks very blue, but 3 minutes later it looks too green, so, whatever.

Milk Drinking Doll

This was the worst of the lot in terms of color (and bleeding outlines - yeesh!), and while I've managed to beat those overbearing reds into submission, the flesh tones still look too yellow. It might not quite ever get fixed, due to how screwed up the levels on this source are to begin with. I'm not Dr. Manhattan, try as I may...

Pee Play

This one never looked too awful in terms of color, it was just too dark. It's probably hilarious that the worst looking source tape was the easiest to restore, but that's only because I can't fix the big problem on my old recording*. It's a shame I can't somehow use AVISynth to fix the jitter (vertical stability errors) on the original mechanical playback of the source tape, but, I can't.

The final DVD encodes will probably be a little different than what you see here, but I think the results have been pretty dramatic so far, and virtually all of it has been positive to boot.

*What I wouldn't do for a set of Nikkatsu Lolita Anime LDs... *sigh* Actually, is the third episode even on LD? I remember seeing the first 2 episodes for sale on the same disc, but I've yet to see an Omorashi Gokko laser on YAJ, and thus far boogle has netted me nothing. Anyone know for sure?

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Progressive Passagen

Old transfer I was more or less satisfied with.

New transfer I'm even more satisfied with.
(The subtitle only looks like that for 1 frame, I promise.)

H.R. Giger's Passagen has a somewhat unique problem in terms of its' restoration. While the entire NTSC transfer has good 3:2 pulldown, and thus could be made progressive, aiding in compression (which I don't need) and video quality (which I do), the subtitles on the print are video generated, and thus are natively 30fps. If I keep the video interlaced, as in the first screencap, I have combing artifacts and need to rely on my DVD player to fix it. If I make the video progressive, I have the same problem - but, only from time to time - on the subtitles themselves. What is a twitchy amateur restoration guru to do?

Typically what you would do in this situation is let the MPEG encoder try to use a reverse 3:2 pulldown (IVTC) algorithm to create a progressive video file, defaulting only to interlaced frames when the subtitles left it no other choice. It was designed specifically for anime titles that have 30fps editing, so that you could keep the progressive and interlaced frames in the same file without needing to edit them in later. For titles that combine traditional 24fps animation with 30fps footage, either from live action material/CG material (Genocyber, Rurouni Kenshin) or occasionally dip into native 30fps digital animation (Azumanga Daioh!, Shin David no Hoshi), "hybrid" 24/30fps encoding offers a solution that, in theory, compromises absolutely nothing.

Notice the "in theory" in the above sentence? Unlike an IVTC, which converts 30fps into 24fps, you can't really do a 'hybrid' transfer manually, unless you want to pick and choose how each and every frame is stored. Passagen has nearly 90,000 of them. So I can either hand-pick what to do with each and every frame for weeks on end, or I can let my MPEG coder do the work for me. You guys know I'm OCD, but come on, I'm not retarded.

Having made a test encode last night, I found that CCE would randomly interlace frames even when the subtitles were static, or when there weren't any subtitles at all. The algorithm simply isn't very good at finding film frames, and the only 'sacrifice' I made in crafting the progressive transfer is occasional combing on the subtitles, which would have happened had I left the transfer interlaced anyway, so I'd rather be free of combing on the film footage and let the video generated subtitles my target audience (by which I mean "me and the guy who sent me the tape", mostly) can't much read anyway. If I ever go full blown crazy and subtitle this, I could just create subtitles in black boxes to cover the kanji subtitled anyway, so there will be little to no interlacing on a "finished" DVD when everything is said and done.

I kind of wish I'd done this with Giger's Alien/Giger's Necronomicon, too. Then again, I wish I'd recorded all three of them with PCM audio and via S-video to an external HDD so I didn't have to deal with two layers of MPEG artifacts, too. Doesn't mean kicking myself in the face over any of it will make a better DVD. I did have to change the deblocking filter, but using similar settings to what I had previously used as a part of MPEG2Source() I can barely tell the difference. If anything BlindPP() is preferable, because it doesn't do that freaky temporal deblocking, where the I-frame will be perfect and the P-frames will look like a VCD. I can understand why people like that, but I'd rather have slightly softened I-frames just so the whole transfer looks consistent.

For now I'm off to compare DVD Recorder specs. The Toshiba D-R400 is so far sounding like the best compromise between price and quality, offering an S-video input and Linear PCM audio recording for less than I paid for my Lite-On. It's also region free, just like my Lite-On, and offers 1080i/p upscaling, which my Lite-On does not. The only major downside is that the D-R400 doesn't convert PAL titles to NTSC, or have a built-in NTSC/ATSC TV tuner, so I'll basically have to keep my Lite-On around to play PAL DVDs in mediocre quality and potentially record anything playing on TV. Not that I ever do the latter, and I often watch PAL stuff on my PC, but that's still a potential deal killer. I could just buy a PAL<->NTSC signal converter, sure, but spending another $200 bucks on another block in my hardware chain when even a shitty $50 DVD player performs a similar function just seems like a waste.

These days I could theoretically just rip anything PAL to my HDD and then let my PS3 Media Server handle the rest, but it's still frustrating that one of the best DVD players on the planet flatly rejects any title from outside of the US. I know, I really should just buy a damn Oppo DV-981/DV-983, and then all of my region free/PAL based worries are gone. I'm not a fan of the units' subtitle bug, as the Lite-On has it too, but everything else about those two players is just too goddamn sexy to pass up forever. But I can worry about fancy playback after I have fancy recording taken care of.

Monday, March 09, 2009

Pandora's NTSC Box Is Opened Further Still...

As if to prove that the Full Metal Panic franchise exists only to mock me, "The Second Raid" is actually the third title in the series, after the original "Full Metal Panic" and the follow-up "Full Metal Panic? Fumoffu".

I guess I should be neither shocked nor upset by this, but FUNimation has recently announced that one of their upcoming High Definition Blu-ray titles will be Full Metal Panic: The Second Raid. The entire FMP franchise has actually been released on limited Blu-ray box sets in Japan, and those discs were coded so that you couldn't watch it in English without forced Japanese subtitles (or vice-versa), so in and of itself it's not really surprising that the second biggest anime consumer base - North America - would eventually get the same content on the same format. It's also a franchise that seems to have been popular enough that ADV has released the original and Fumoffu series a dozen or so times.

There's just one tiny problem. Full Metal Panic - the entire three part franchise, not just TSR - was never animated at resolutions beyond that of the NTSC DVD specification. The "High Definition" Blu-ray release for all three parts of the franchise have been literal 720x480i NTSC Digibeta tapes upsampled to 1920x1080i D5-HD tapes. No new animation, no remastering from cels (which never existed for these shows), literally just the same content upsampled from NTSC to HD. This all becomes especially amusing if we remember that, back before Blu-ray was even available to content providers, ADV was plotting to offer WMV-HD DVD-ROM combo discs featuring HD versions of RahXephon, Noir and... yep, the original Full Metal Panic. Way to show off the technology guys!

You'd be forgiven for assuming that a professional studio upscaling would be higher quality than your DVD player at home - you'd be somewhat inaccurate, but forgiven. Despite the claims that upscaling algorithms can make a huge impact on perceived detail, the difference between, say, bicubic and spline is minor in the long run: the former creates aliasing, the later creates ringing, and neither are all powerful voodoo which suddenly turn a DVD into a "real" HD transfer. The fact of the matter is that consumer level home equipment, including the PS3 and the Oppo DV-983, contain some of the very best deinterlacing/scaling hardware on the market, and odds are that studio upscales happen thanks to a hardware video processor that uses the exact same technology. It's an open secret that a lot of "Full HD" animation is actually only created at 960x540 and then scaled (2x) for 1920x1080, so while upscaling isn't exactly the final solution, it really shouldn't be ignored either.

The most troubling aspect of upscaling 480i to 1080i is the issue of deinterlacing. Most animation is animated at 24fps (or various multiples that add up to 24), even if actual film is no longer used, and "proper" 3:2 pulldown deinterlacing takes an interlaced frame full of redundant data that, as encoded on the disc, looks like this:

Remember to open these examples in new tabs to see them properly.

Either your deinterlacer has failed miserably and your video shows off these unmatched fields (often called "feathering"), or it drops the redundant data and reconstructs the origina "progressive" film frame, looking something like this:

Much better.

Unfortunately, if your deinterlacing hardware isn't very good at its' job, it just sort of smears everything together into an aliased mess, like... ugh. This:

What the... crap deinterlacing? Not on my internet!

I bring this up because while most current DVD players and HDTVs are capable of using 3:2 pulldown detection (to varying degrees of success) on standard definition DVD, most of the hardware on the market is NOT capable of doing 3:2 pulldown detection on 1080i material. So, a low bitrate DVD resolution transfer may well avoid deinterlacing artifacts, while an HD upscale could actually cause them. Even the PS3, one of the very best DVD players on the market in terms of deinterlacing, won't even deinterlace 1080i content on Blu-ray! Ain't life grand?

I admit, there's a certain painful level of irony in FUNimation being the studio to start this trend in North America. As I've pointed out in the past, FUNimation DVDs tend to look like creamed chipped asshole on toast: edge enhancement, mosquito noise and macroblocking were pretty much expected on all of their releases, and I've literally refused to buy certain titles because of the mediocre picture quality on DVD. The root of these issues was their piss-poor MPEG-2 DVD encodes, which coupled with a poor quality encoder and a low average bitrate meant that every single title looked like a pile of shit to one degree or another, with titles that didn't have a lot of noise or movement looking somewhat better by default. FUNimation finally figured out how to create decent looking DVDs about the time they got to xxxHOLIC, but their crusader inspired Mission From God to cram 7 episodes, 5.1 audio and multiple special features on every single "Season" DVD set they release has, supposedly, forced them back into their usual low-bitrate habits. (I've yet to see any actual proof of shoddy FUNi authoring in the last year, however.)

With this unfortunate history in mind, FUNimation seems like the only anime studio who should release HD upscales of anything they own, if only to make up for the piss-poor DVD releases they've offered up until now. Medium HD bitrates, even when upscaled, trounce low SD bitrates by a wide margin. For titles where only SD masters exist in the first place, it really isn't going to get any better, short of the studio releasing it doing a progressive upscale. Keep in mind that if the title was edited on 30fps video (and they usually are), a genuine 1080p24 upscale isn't physically possible anyway, and the best you can do is let your MPEG-2 encoder try to perform its' own 3:2 pulldown and end up with a hodge-podge of progressive and interlaced frames.

The "Diet Coke" of High Definition.

It's worth pointing out that, between the lower disc count, high fidelity surround audio, HD extras and lucrative first-press bonuses, Japan has learned to embrace upscales and seemingly continues to sell out of first-run Blu-ray box sets wither the content was animated in HD or not. The very first anime Blu-ray to hit the Japanese market was actually KeyAni's pretty girl TV tragedy AIR (above), and Bandai Visual has already tried to pawn off the DVD resolution OVA series YUKIKAZE internationally as "remastered in High Definition" whilst stiffing US fans of the awesome aero-plane scale model that almost made the outrageously priced Japanese box set seem worth the investment for what's effectively a Super-Duper-Ultrabit DVD.

Having seen side by side comparisons of how nice a 1080i upscale can look due to high bitrate and modern codec compression, and having seen how terrible FUNimation DVDs have always been, I'm tempted to think that this is all a positive... but, it does worry me that it could lead to Blu-ray releases that simply should not exist. For one thing, BLUE GENDER is on the FUNimation Blu-ray roster, and is one of the few TV shows in their upcoming HD catalog to have been shot on 16mm film. Will this, too, be an upscale, or a new transfer from 16mm? Common sense would suggest that FUNi got their hands on film prints, just like they did for Dragon Ball Z, but there's not any real guarantee of that. There's no reason to worry until the discs have been made I suppose, but hey, worrying's what I'm good at.

Similarly, GRAPPLER BAKI (while not yet announced for Blu-ray) is a show that doesn't even have anamorphic DVD masters, so if I see that upscaled I think that FUNi has lost more credibility than a male congressman with a photo of balls in his mouth. Impossible, you say? Entertainment One has managed to turn a non-anamorphic NTSC composite master of Gulliver's Travels into a Blu-ray (see the proof HERE), which means that we've already entered a no-man's land of studios blatantly lying to the faces of their consumer over wither or not a title is really in High Definition or not. Upscaled LD does NOT a Blu-ray make, and in the case of Baki - a show with whole episodes riddled with composite artifacts - that's pretty much what we're looking at.

Poor Gulliver's Travels... I swear, Fleischer's rolling over in his grave.

Friday, March 06, 2009

Uchiyama Aki Makes Others Feel Sick

Dusting off translations I made an age ago, not to mention positively ancient VHS recordings, the next Kentai Films project is Nikkatsu's still brow-raising LOLITA ANIME trilogy. The adult OVA series was released in 1985, and managed to share the title with a completely unrelated series produced by the now-defunct Wonder Kids. While the Wonder Kids series was revolutionary for being the first widely distributed pornographic animation ever made, the Fumio NAKAJIMA material was all fairly tame. It was cute, it was sexy, and it was even hardcore, but the stories were never particularly fantastic. In a sense, they were animated pornography solely for the sake of its' novelty, never using the freedom of the medium to push the boundaries and explore fetishes and concepts that were simply impossible in live action adult film.

Nikkatsu's titles, based on the psychadellic mind-babies of Aki UCHIYAMA, are in that sense the complete rejection of Wonder Kids' enjoyable, but safe experimentation. Despite the protagonist of each episode being a young girl named 'Aki', the episodes otherwise share absolutely nothing in common. The story for each episode is as follows:

Vol. 1, Sick Aki-chan - A young child plays in the park, and begins her journey home. Along the way she falls into a rabbit hole to her subconscious, and is assaulted by giant flying sperm tentacles, is force-fed by a two-faced Colonel Sanders, a future revealing R2-D2 with a microphone-penis teaches her that she'll grow up to be a slut, and finally she goes down on a herpahoridite adult version of herself. I'm actually making this out to be far more sane than it really is.

Vol. 2, Milk Drinking Doll - A girl on the edge of adolescence begins to have strange feelings for a fellow teen girl. Realizing her body has changed, she begins to have haunting nightmares of her own repressed desires, among them her crush on a girl, and the bond she wishes she had with her estranged father. WARNING: If you think porcelain dolls are creepy, stay as far away from this OVA as you can.

Vol. 3, Pee Play - A toddler is pawned off on her uncle while, her parents go off on a trip. Her uncle's creepy parrot scares her, and she takes revenge by tormenting the evil bird, but when the girl goes too far, her uncle snaps and tortures the child. Includes a literal pornographic take on the final reel of 2001: A Space Odyssey. And no, I wouldn't lie to you about something like that.

There have been various online "releases" of these titles, but none of them have been subtitled or looked exceptionally good, with Omorashi Gokko (Vol. 3) in particular being VCD resolution on all downloads I've found, and I think that holds true for Milk Nomi Ningyou (Vol. 2), but having the tape before the download became available I never actually checked. There's also an LD sourced version of Obyouki Aki-chan (Vol. 1), but overzealous noise reduction and low bitrate compression have made the whole thing look pretty crumby, if you ask me. Remember kiddies: resoluion is NOT everything. Under the circumstances I'd rather try my luck filtering the VHS copies I have now, and will do just that once the subtitles are finished.

Frustratingly, the final episode has a lot of those vertical stability errors that crop up from time to time on my JVC, which basically make the image shift up and down one frame at a time. Having seen it on several tapes, and often over specific (by which I mean "sexy") sequences therein, I can only assume it's an error that was more often than not caused by some wanker rewinding/pausing/slow motioning the crap out of a certain spot over and over, literally stretching and ruining the tape in the process. (Or maybe they just had really, really cheap VCRs?) I'm dealing with tapes that may have been rented a hundred times over, so minor wear and tear errors like this are something I just have to live with. I also have yet to see any proof that an LD for the third episode even exists, and considering how rare/expensive the VHS tapes go for, it just doesn't seem worth playing a game of video roulette, buying a second copy and merely hoping it's better than the last copy.

Odds are all three episodes will be squeezed onto 1 disc, but with a combined runtime of less than 75 minutes I don't expect the quality to be affected in the slightest. If anything running AVISynth on the recordings can only improve them, what with all that weak contrast. This can't go up on the usual suspects, being hardcore uncensored loli porn, so if you're interested you'll have to get it the old fashioned way. Maybe I'll go insane and build menus?

Subtitles for episode 1 and 3 have been finished. Episode 2 is in the works, and the whole project should be completed in the next week or two.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

William Friedkin Must Not Be Trusted

Don't get me wrong, I really like Friedkin. The Exorcist is, easily, one of the very best horror films of all time. Cruising, after all its' controversy, is a damn good combination of gritty under cover cop drama and uncomfortable sexual ambiguity. I'll admit that I haven't seen Bug yet, but I am very much looking forward to it.

What you see here is a resized snapshot from the camera negative of his 1971 Academy Award winning best picture/best director, THE FRENCH CONNECTION.

Looks pretty good, doesn't it?

This is what this shot looks like when graded to look like the DVD releases the film has had over the years. The black levels have been crushed slightly, but it makes the shadows under the dock look nice and inky. There's also been a slight blue push, which considering the overcast sky and dockside location seems like a natural choice. Even Friedkin himself says that "most people" probably thinks this looks pretty good. "Most people" are perfectly right in feeling that way.

So, what's the Blu-ray look like? have got to be shitting me.

Friedkin himself explains on a featurette on the new Blu-ray that he was never satisfied with the way the film looked. He argues, perhaps legitimately, that the make-up looked artificial, and that the inexpensive film stock was too gritty to look high budget, so this new Director Approved transfer is a compromise that was made to hide the limitations of the original production.

What he doesn't explain, sadly, is when he lost his fucking mind. The "restoration" on display here is literally nothing more than cranking the contrast and color saturation to the point where the clouds have been obliterated, and nothing but the underlying noise in the film's grain structure is left. It's like a restoration made from a badly worn and faded drive-in reel, except that the Coppola approved The Godfather Blu-ray restoration has already proven that even elements in absolutely horrific shape can be restored to high quality, with enough TLC and money in the mix, at least.

Skin tones have gone from slightly rosy to one step short of decayed, the tops of buildings have disappeared into the bleeding, blooming contrast, and the sharpening filter that went with the color tweaks has only serviced to make a perfect camera negative look absolutely nothing like 35mm film. This is even worse than the dark-as-hell and desaturated HD remaster given to Bram Stoker's Dracula, and is probably just as terrible as the HD remaster given to Suspiria. You don't have to take my word for it, though. Owen Roizman, original director of photography on The French Connection, has this to say:

"Billy [Friedkin] for some reason decided to do this on his own. I wasn't consulted. I was appalled by it. I don't know what Billy was thinking. It's not the film that I shot, and I certainly want to to wash my hands of having had anything to do with this transfer, which I feel is atrocious."

He later went as far as to call it "horrifying", "emasculated", and added "it would be a travesty to see The Exorcist transferred in this fashion." And yes, not only is The Exorcist supposedly coming out on Blu-ray this year, but it was another film that Roizman acted as DP on with Friedkin. Understand that the DP is the guy in charge of checking the lighting, changing lenses, selecting film stock, and usually approve the video transfer since they're assumed to have the most intimate knowledge of how the finished film 'should' look. In many cases, they're just as responsible for 'the look' of a movie as the director himself is (and leaves me doubly impressed when one guy can do both). Here, the DP was a complete non-issue, and for whatever reason Friedkin destroyed the already competent work done for the DVD in favor of something more... well, awful.

The only other Friedkinized video release I can think of is Cruising, which had exceptionally high contrast, a lot of heavy grain, and some rather strange looking psychedelic drug themed optical effects which (as I understand it) were not in the original version of the film. Then again, a disclaimer saying that, 'no, not all homosexuals are perverts or serial killers' was also cut, so nobody was trying to pass it off as the original version of the film. At the time there was talk that the negative was in major disrepair, and this was the best they could do, so I didn't think a lot of it... but I did notice that the trailer looked a hell of a lot better. Evidently Friedkin has grown wary of properly made transfers in favor or a more "gritty" lo-fi look... perhaps because he secretly wishes to helm a Saw sequel?

Much like Perfect Blue, Dragon Ball Z, Dracula and Suspiria, this is an HD "restoration" so shockingly screwed up that I'll be happy to buy it on DVD instead.

I'm now really, really glad that I picked up the "original" DVD release of The Exorcist for peanuts, so I can have a digital frame of rererence for what the film looked like before Billy lost his mind. I doubt the single-layer transfer from 1998 looks particularly good, but I'm still confidend that it looks better than my old letterboxed VHS.