Sunday, February 28, 2010

Crap! I've Used All My Funny "Gausu" Titles...

R2 DVD (Upscaled Source)

Kentai Films (Current Script)

Should I ever talk about doing a new R2-sourced transfer for Legend of the Crimson Ninja/緋忍伝-呀宇種(ガウス), you have permission to strangle me until I'm legally dead.

It's anamorphic in close to a 1.78:1 ratio, and completely combing-artifact free... barring that constant delayed chroma combing bug I've already explained is a lost cause. Hell, it's still there on the deinterlaced frames! It now has "blend" deinterlacing on frames that would have been combed had I not post-processed them. It's the lesser of two evils, and if anyone has a problem with this decision, they can upscale the R2 themselves.

I struggled with more settings and plugins than I'd like to remember, and still found this to be the least fugly solution available. It's not as pretty as I wish it were, but with the mixed 24fps/30fps material and "bad" 3:2 edits, to say nothing of the insignificant motion on the dialog scenes, there's absolutely no way it's ever going to be any better. The EroBeat download had similar problems, but they even went with an even uglier form of cubic deinterlacing.

Honestly, what do people ever see in that jagged shite?

The dot-crawl has been handled to the best of my ability: it's completely gone on static objects, which is the best any comb filter can ever claim without causing severe side-effects. The entire image has been ever-so-slightly enhanced to compensate for the noisy and low-resolution source material, and this was not a decision I made lightly. It'll all be encoded at a high bitrate for DVD.

The only way Gausu could ever look better is if PinPai went back to the original animation elements and re-edited the whole feature from scratch. I don't see a Bible Black Complete Box scenario in Gausu's immediate future. Even then, the re-animated Bible Black episode 3 was still edited on a composite-video environment, proving that porno producers are willing to wring these productions down to every last yen.

DVD extras will include the original trailer (download quality, I'm afraid), character designs, production galleries, and on-disc liner notes. I'm considering throwing on a few Easter Eggs, but we'll see how I feel about them once the rest of the disc is done. Last thing I want to do is pile it with stuff that comes off as tacky.

Friday, February 26, 2010

I'm Burning For CPU

UPDATE: Now I'm terrified. My MoBo is reporting idle temperatures in the low 40s...

...just like Core Temp.

I'll be re-applying that thermal paste now, and possibly drilling several large holes in the case until I can drum up enough last-minute scratch to get a better heat sink.

So, Kentai Films is less "Back" after all. In this case, we should refer to "Behind the Mask"...

Damn it! I hated that movie...

Here's a depressing fact; two after market case fans had an effect of roughly 1 degree Celsius at the cost of making my rig sound like a goddamn jet engine. At that point, I'd rather my PC purr like a kitten than scream like a banshee.

Having since experimented with video encoding using all four cores at once, it looks like my
core temperature is about 58 degrees, but the actual CPU temperature is holding steady around 51 degrees. That's far from ideal, mind you, but as my CPU is theoretically safe until about 62 degrees - and hell, I can't get CCE to use more than 1 core properly anyway - I guess it'll have to do.

What, you expected Lordi's cover?

Expect me to get off my lazy ass and finish some new DVDs once I've got everything back under control.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Rebuild of Kentai Films 1.01: You Can [NOT] Encode

So, good news and bad news...

Good News!! I've upgraded my computer from the motherboard and up, effectively replacing each and every piece of hardware inside of it. The vidjacard makes gaming and Blu-ray no thang, the 1TB HDD should keep me satisfied for weeks to come, and the power supply alone looks like it's going to crawl into my room and strangle me while I sleep.

Bad News: Only problem is my CPU is running hot. Idling should be low 30s but I'm getting an average of 45. Keep in mind it's the middle of winter, too. Engaging just one core brings it up to a stable 49~50, while playing a Blu-ray hovers around 46~47. I don't mind running hot, but according to AMD, reaching 62 degrees C will cause the CPU to burst into flames, sending the user flying backwards in a John Woo bullet-time experience that may, or may not, sear their face off.

Needless to say, this stock heatsink has got to go. There could be other problems, too - my old build was housed in the same case, and that ran pretty hot, too. I don't know why my NZXT Transformer circa 2004 does to processors what sweat shops do to Chinese children, but I've seriously got to do something to chill this mother out before I try to engage more than two cores.

So, updates will be hit-or-miss until this digital baby's back on her feet. Look forward to it!

Friday, February 19, 2010

The Skull Man: A Half-Assed DVD Quality Review

Kamen Rider, I Am Your Father!
Sentai Filmworks was one of the remnant companies to emerge from ADV Films' firey 2008 apocalypse, a studio that ADV regulars once claimed were a "Japanese partner company". Anyone who's been paying attention has likely realized that Sentai Filmworks, Happy Carrot, Switchblade Pictures and AEsir Holdings are effectively all just puppet labels for Section 23, a situation which oft-dickish Anime Corner Store head honcho Rob summed up pretty well... the short of it is ADV played a complex shell game to hide its' assets from their old Japanese partners, Sojitz, and sold all of its' assets back to itself under new names so it could milk the same properties without needing the ADV "brand name". The fan community took to calling them "Neo ADV" once it was all spelled out, and it became all too obvious that this was a matter of ADV's own CEO John Ledford simply reshuffling his old business model.

Having weathered some harsh financial storms, Neo ADV releases have been... well, just a bit different from what fans would have associated with the prior brand name. All of their "new" licenses under the Sentai Filmworks umbrella are subtitled only, and come in simple multi-disc sets often selling entire 12-13 episodes for $40 or so. It's a safe, uncomplicated, and above all else inexpensive way for them to release their current properties, which run from modern takes on vintage shojo manga Glass Mask, to festering piles of nonsensical MANime dung like Legend of the Dark Kings: A Fist of the North Star Story, and even mainstream Shounen Jump comedy Gintama...

But the release on the examination table today is their new release of THE SKULL MAN: THE COMPLETE SERIES.

Here's the bad news first: The Sentai Filmworks DVD doesn't get to keep the cool OP sequence animated to essentially be a music video for the Japanese rock band TOKIO, who has... let's call it a "history" of their management not liking us foreign devils getting an ear-full of their work. It's effectively a power struggle in which the record label feels that allowing their hot new band to premier on some cultish cartoon is somehow going to hurt the group's chance as hitting it big in Hollwood and the rest of the Yew Ess of Aye, despite the fact that - by and large - the only way to get white kids to notice your J-rock band is if they did the intro to a dark and violent anime series... you know, like The Skull Man. But that kind of reasoning makes far too much sense, and thus has no effect.

Not that it matters in the magical world of Web 2.0 - in fact, you can see it right here without even leaving the blog:

OP: TOKIO - ひかりのまち/Hikari no Machi

The Sentai OP has a substantially less inspired collection of clips from the show itself, set to a decent but somewhat generic piece of background music. It actually looks like a re-cut version of the earliest minute long TV promo, and has full kanji staff credits, so at least it's not something we can blame on Sentai themselves. That ugly bit of business out of the way, how does this local release stand up to the very high quality, but equally high priced Japanese imports?

Due to various factors (mostly the fact that I'm a lazy son of a bitch) I'll just be comparing the first episode from the R1 North American Sentai Filmworks DVD set to the Japanese R2 Geneon Universal release. The quality on all episodes are - give or take - uniform, so comparing episode 1 is no more or less relevant than, say, comparing episode 6 or 9.

This is hardly a "you should buy X release over Y!" matter either. I didn't buy the R2 DVDs, nor am I on Sentai's payroll, so I have no attachment to either release. It's mostly one of personal curiosity, since I happen to really like what little I've watched of The Skull Man, and also so that anyone else interested in owning this neat looking dark mystery show can have a rough idea what your money is actually buying - aside from potentially putting a few yen back in the pockets of starving animators, and telling studios like Sentai that you want more releases like The Skull Man... wither that actually means more Bones productions, more Ishinomori inspired titles, more cheap subtitled-only collections, or more shows that are basically just Spawn: The Aneemoo, I shudder to think.

The best news is that the R1 set is cheap. I mean, dirt. Farking. CHEAP! It wasn't so long ago that I was paying $24 dollars in Best Buy for three or four episodes, but today $28 gets you the entire 13 episode series. Even at MSRP ($39.99), it's roughly 1/10th the retail cost of buying the show new in Japan. I know people love to say that anime is expensive - and in the scheme of things, they're right - but I'm honestly not sure how Sentai Filmworks could have possibly made this set any cheaper and expected to make even a dime off of it. Even the recycled plastic double DVD case looks like it was a return at some point... consider that a minor complaint if you like, but it's not as if I can't swap it out for any other double case I have lying around the house.

The show proper is spread over 2 discs in a 6/7 pattern, with the only "extras" on disc 1 being the DVD production credits, and various trailers for other Sentai Filmsworks titles. Disc 2 includes a total of 4 subtitled Japanese TV promo spots, the first three running between 1:02~1:07, and the last running 3:20. That's all you get.

No, there's not even a clean OP/ED sequence... though with the above fact in mind, I'm not surprised. If we can't even get the opening in the first place, why expect a clean version of it?

Let's just move on before I get my panties in a wad...



In terms of the general video quality, both of them look quite good at first glance. The R1 has a hair more information at the bottom of the frame, but it also looks to be vertically filtered, blurring out the original (intentional) 'noise' in the signal, but not to the point where outlines or background details are drastically effected. The R1 audio mix is a Dolby track at 224 kbps, while the R2 features 448 kbps. I was surprised the latter didn't have a PCM track, but honestly, both of them sounded fine to me.



The biggest difference between the two transfers may or may not even be an issue, depending on your hardware investment. The R2 is 100% progressive - you can even force film without combing. The R1 is 100% interlaced, and I guess I don't blame Sentai for playing it safe. If you're playing your DVDs on hardware with a good deinterlacer, odds are it'll IVTC the disc flawlessly and you'll have little to no BOB/combing artifacts to speak of. If not... well, have fun with your aliasing, combing, and other nasty side-effects until you spend a few bucks on a better player.

While interlacing in and of itself isn't always a bad thing... it is bad as far as compression is concerned. Progressive NTSC is 24 frames per second with pulldown flags to 'fake' 30fps. Interlaced NTSC is 30 frames per second with redundant data during motion. Essentially, a progressive transfer at 6 Mbps (Megabits per second) will look as good - in terms of compression, anyway - as an interlaced transfer at 7.5 Mbps, simply because it's storing 20% less data. Not all anime can be made 100% progressive, but clearly The Skull Man is a title that could have been given an IVTC, if Sentai were so inclined.

The R2 DVD has an average bitrate of 8.62 Mbps... the R1 DVD has an average of 5.23 - but animation, due to being large areas of flat color and all that, is supposed to compress without much visible macroblocking... right?



For real, Sentai?! Hell, even FUNimation's
old DVDs are pointing and laughing at you...

The encoder Sentai used really seems at a loss during scene changes, so the very last frame before a cut - particularly on dark, grainy and fast-moving sequences - tends to get pixelated like this. Most of the show looks decent enough, but if you're sensitive to GOP* based compression errors, prepare to do a lot of wincing whenever the titular anti-hero is about to show up. To be fair, I've seen much worse and watched those awful DVDs get "A" and "10" scores from professional reviewers, so I'm not going to bother affixing a numerical score**. Just know that, on occasion, the Sentai release looks like a goddamn bootleg VCD.

* No, the republicans don't have anything to do with this particular douchebaggery.

* You like numbers? How about 4?

While the R2 DVD release never included English subtitles, there was a certain enterprising fansubber who fixed that... I'll give you a sample of the fansub versus the R1 release.

(Not exact frame!)


R2 (Fansub)

What's really infuriating about that Christmas colored vomit is that EVERYONE ELSE in the show gets "normal" subtitles on the fansub...

R2 (Fansub)


The worst part is TSUCHIDA Hiroshi isn't even pulling a Dark Knight-like Skull Growl or anything... he's just talking. As with the hideous Bakemonogatari subs I bitched about a few weeks ago, I don't so much blame the guy who made the DVD, or even the guy who typeset the original fansub ASS script... I blame this culture of attention-whoring fansubbers trying to out-dick one another by using the most god-awful fonts possible. The video quality may not be as nice on the R1, but at least I can say that the subtitles are always legible. (The fansub also has some trouble displaying sign subtitles properly on the PS3, but that's another issue entirely...)

As far as special features go... well, the first R2 DVD has a commentary track, staff interviews, and the same promo spots featured on the R1. The second R2 DVD has clean OP/ED sequences. The third DVD has another interview and TV spots. The fourth DVD has more interviews and DVD commercials. The fifth, sixth, and seventh DVDs all sport interviews as well... they average about 13 minutes, though some run as short as 9 minutes, and others go on for up to 17 minutes. How useful any of these interviews and commentaries are depends on how fluent your Japanese is... for me, they're kind of worthless. The dialog you learn watching shows like The Skull Man don't help much when you're listening to voice actors prattle on in faux-embarrassed politely scripted answers about how they're nothing like the characters they play, not really, but they do admire how the screen writers injected a sense of yadda-yadda. To be fair these things are only interesting if you already *heart* the performers or the characters anyway, but untranslated, they're about as dull as watching paint dry... whatever happened to the super-deformed making-of skits in Tatakae! Iczer 1, or the snarky in-character shenanigans of the Hanappe Bazooka documentary?

It's also worth pointing out that the first few R2 DVDs included first press extras. Volume 1 came with a second DVD filled with behind-the-scenes footage of "The Skull Man Episode 0: Prologue of Darkness" live action TV special (think Spawn City), and volume two came with a collectible box to house the whole series in. If you're lucky you can get them for cheap Yahoo Auctions Japan, but no matter what you do you'll spend several times what the Sentai R1 release will cost - and even then you could wind up with chewed up ex-rental discs.... and, of course, there's the English subtitles issue. To the best of my knowledge the R2 fansubs were only released on a single torrent community, and it's having some problems as of late, so if you didn't already get them... well, they're gone, baby.

The old adage "you get what you pay for" seems incredibly appropriate for The Skull Man. A small fortune nets you an impressive import release without a shred of English translation, and a pittance gets you the entire show with no frills, a MIA opening sequence, and a fairly mediocre video transfer. I don't regret having downloaded the entire series via R2 fansubs, but I can't say I regret purchasing it, either... but I suppose I'm of a dying breed who actually likes owning TV shows on shiny discs instead of just downloading them and being done with them. If you just want to see the show and don't mind getting a less then stellar video transfer at less than $3 an episode, the Sentai Filmworks release is adequate. But if the missing OP sequence and compression errors will piss you off to no end, it's a much tougher pill to swallow.

My First Taste of Kitty in 3,000 Years...

Kitty Media, Media Blasters' hentai label, has announced that on May 18th, The Overfiend is returning to America.

Legend of the Overfiend: The Movie will be priced at $19.99. No word on extras or if the Japanese titles will be restored for the first time in North America, but as the solicitation lists "English subtitles", we can only hope that this isn't yet another re-release of the former Anime 18 DVD.

Legend of the Overfiend: The Complete First Series will be subtitled-only, and sell for $24.99. This will be the first time in North America that the original 3 episodes were available without their sister-sequel, Legend of the Demon Womb.

Calling the original Choujin Densetsu saga "The Complete First Series" gives me hope that they'll be releasing the entire franchise anew, but only time will tell if we'll see any special features at all, or indeed if these discs will be any different from their prior incarnations. An uncut version of Inferno Road? Workprint footage and storyboards? Perhaps even The Final Chapter? The mind boggles at these new possibilities...

I can only hope that Media Blasters will give this legendary epic the release it's always deserved.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Give me Sanctuary, or Give Me Death!

*Whew*... I've finally got over half of that big-ass project out of the way, and even got paid for much of it, so now I can spend the small fortune I've amassed on a new computer designed to make my general workflow of recording, ripping, restoring and producing DVDs faster and easier than ever before. Even excluding the H264 decoding video card, I'll have at least twice the CPU power, 3x the HDD space, and twice the RAM at much faster speeds. At last, the only thing I'll be able to legitimately blame is my own laziness!

To celebrate, here's some A/B comparions of the newest laserdisc to come down the Kentai pipeline, none other than the Takashi WATANABE directed adaptation of SANTCUARY, a politically minded yakuza thriller that was actually released on dubbed and subtitled VHS back in the dark ages by Viz.

Source (No Filtering)

As you can see, the LD isn't half bad. Colors appear strong and life-like, there's very little in the way of gate weave and print damage, and it's one of the least noisy discs I've had the pleasure of putting into my player as of late. But I've got a feeling I can still make a good thing even better...

Neat Video - "Remove Only Half of Noise" Profile

One great thing about Neat Video is the fact that it has numerous profile presets built in that work independently of the noise snapshot you feed it yourself. You can customize them, of course, but there are so many of them that odds are you'll never have to. In this example I'm removing 100% of what the map considers chroma noise (and it's removing rainbows as a side-effect - how cool is that!), but only 50% of the luma noise. This allows me to smooth more of that analog background crawl associated with LD without destroying as much potential motion or hard edges... but, of course I do that at the risk of keeping more compression artifacts and noise in the grayscale. For some sources, this is a real life saver.

Neat Video - "Filter and Sharpen"

I've not used the current profile much, but the results are more impressive than I'd like to admit... it's filtering the luma by 60%, which smooths out even more of the noise in the source, and the outlines in the old fart's face are enhanced to the point where they're sharp as a tack. Unfortunately, that sharpening comes at a cost; while the LD already had a little bit of EE, the sharpen filter adds further ringing on top of that, creating false edges that - particularly on the eyebrows and the side of his noggin - look downright glowing. This can be fixed by turning the sharpness down (it's at 100 of a possible 250), at the cost of apparent sharpness, naturally.

As you can see, the filtered version without sharpening looks softer than the source, but part of this is because the natural side-effect of spatial DVNR is softening, and temporal DVNR wipes out the random noise that "looks" like detail, even when it's not - and I flatly refuse to call the analog chroma gunk found on any LD I've recorded "detail" in the way I would consider film grain "detail". So, not only does the filtered version remove some detail, but it makes the transfer look like it has less detail, even though you'll be losing much of the compression and random video noise in motion. The sharpening filter makes it look like your video is sharper, but in reality it's just manipulating the contrast around high contrast luma edges, and creates halo artifacts in the process. It's kind of a no-win situation; you can't legitimately use DVNR to get rid of analog video noise and make your video sharp at the same time without adding ringing filter into the mix.

It's entirely possible that there's better sharpening filters outside of Neat Video, or that I may decide that the soft look coupled with a light coating of digital grain is more than satisfactory. I'm also experimenting with deband filters before the DVNR, which is working wonders on crap like the block-riddled collar in the above examples.

I'll need a bit more time to figure out what's best for the source, but I'm confident that once I'm sure of what to do, it'll be encoded at least twice as quickly as it would be on my current rig. Kentai's new computer will be a boon to us all, in the end... I only pray that it doesn't link up with Skynet and then crush my head in my sleep.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

I'm Still Alive...

...I'm just very, very busy. Fixing the scripts for a project this large is starting to get mentally draining, and the fact that I don't even know yet if the content owner will let me fix some of the bad subtitles means that I'll surely have to revisit them all multiple times. Editing a script for syntax, then retiming it, and then editing it again for content is about the most ass-backwards manner you could ever approach a large, multi-episode subtitling project, but in this instance it's exactly what I'm going to be doing.

This B-movie concept is surprisingly relevant.

I'm not complaining, mind you - I knew exactly what I signed up for, and I'm happy to have it. That just doesn't make it any less time consuming. With any luck I'll get permission to edit the entire project (what I'm doing now... x3?), which could keep me busy for... god, weeks? Maybe a couple months? It's a beautiful, terrifying thought, but one I'll have to ponder in the near future. For now, there's still scenes to re-time, spelling errors to not-yet-correct, and sanity to lose.

Monday, February 08, 2010

An Arrow In The Eye

Arrow Video, UK based genre label for parent company Arrow Films, are quickly becoming one of my all time favorite distributors. There are actually plenty of reasons why, but I'll show off the most obvious reasons first:

This is the latest set of DVD releases from the studio, and as with all of their releases they include brand new oil painting covers by their artist-on-tap, "Rick", who in some cases is making the very first painted covers for these films. And yes, being the nice guys that they are, should you despite these covers you can simply turn the insert around and have the original art instead... but seriously, do you want The Card Player looking like this on your shelf instead?

I guess the more relevant question may be
"Do you want THE CARD PLAYER on your shelf at all?"*

Clearly targeting an audience nostalgic for the obscene, fantastic, and often full of crap rental covers of the "Video Nasty" era, these beautiful covers are - often enough, anyway - more shocking and exciting pieces than the films in Arrow Video's catalog actually deserve. Honestly, if it weren't for the man-hands on Rick's fantastic take on The Card Player, it'd be my favorite piece of cover art to come out of the last damn decade. Similarly awesome covers for Silent Night Deadly Night, Street Trash, and Two Evil Eyes elevate their releases to the point where I'd almost rather have the Arrow Video release just for the impressive packaging - even though the R1 releases are all perfectly fine, and cheaper to boot.

Not quite all of Rick's covers are created equal, though. I don't want to rag on a talented man doing what he so clearly loves, but when I saw this, I felt myself swallowing just a little fanboy rage...

It's not a bad piece of art, in and of itself. It's just neither relevant to the events in the film, nor so adversely different from it (like The Card Player) that I can forgive it as a hilarious piece of pulp fantasy... I just look at this and ask, "the fuck is that?"

I do so love House by the Cemetery, but that's not a particularly accurate image of the Freudstein Monster(zomg spoilerz?), and the bizarre shading/blades of long grass on her leg looks like the worst case of cellulite I ever did see. Still, the expression on her face alone makes the piece appealing to me, and I'll admit that this is closer in tone to the film proper than any of the original video or poster images kicking around...

And come to think of it, their "Master of Giallo" collection is conceptually hit-or-miss by including titles like Lamberto Bava's Macabre and Lucio Fulci's House by the Cemetery. If either one of these are a giallo, then I'm a blogging pizza bagel.

More important, though, is the care they put into their product. Recently they were about to release a dog of a disc in the form of Two Evil Eyes... after less than enthusiastic pre-release reviews, they actually listened to fan feedback, and delayed the release to try and wring a new transfer and a few more extras out of the license. Their forum is also active in asking the fans what they want to see - they don't get everything they beg for, of course, but even communicating with the fans who know exactly what they're willing to drop a few pounds on what might make them consider buying City of the Living Dead (again).

That's the sort of dedication that I expect from absolutely nobody these days, and knowing that most of their titles include exclusive extras and uncut, anamorphic prints, these guys are by far the most promising genre licensor to have cropped up in the last year or so.

And, of course, there's this...

Four possible covers. All three cuts of the film.
Two exclusive documentaries. One Blu-ray.

The fact that they're based in the United Kingdom means their releases cost more than the average R1 - by a pretty wide margin, actually, between the weak dollar value and the lack of Amazon and eBay sellers getting rid of overstock for pennies. But for some of these titles it's well worth the investment, and the promise of some exclusive special features might just tip even my cheap ass into re-buying a couple personal favorites. Try if you want to get the discs for about $17~19 shipped to the US. Those awesome Romero Blu-ray sets cost a little more, of course.

If you're curious about these guys and want to know more, you can find them at the Cult Labs forum. I'm going to look forward to watching these guys grow - assuming they survive. As beautiful as Arrow Video seems right now, it almost sounds too good to be true, and makes me think of Encore, the Dutch label that released ultimate editions of Jean Rollin's catalog... until they simply stopped making money.

*Full Disclosure: THE CARD PLAYER isn't a bad film, and I sure didn't mind getting it in the Anchor Bay steelbook collection. It' a very smart and tense police thriller, who's only real sin is looking suspiciously like an under-funded Silence of the Lambs knock-off. It isn't a phoned-in TV movie effort with zero aspirations tempered by a basic level of professionalism (I'm looking at you, Jenifer), it's just unappealing to look at, and when current even prime time TV shows look slick and 'Hollywood', that makes Il Maestro look downright lazy by comparison. There's clearly a lot of forethought into the lighting and photography... too bad it all looks black and bland, the chase through the streets of Rome aside. The film may not be what long time fans wanted it to be, but it wasn't a pile of dog shit, either.

Besides, after GIALLO, almost anything Dario crapped out for a paycheck looks pretty good by comparison...

P.S. While we're on the subject of horror cover-art... R.I.P. Chas Balun.