Friday, February 25, 2011

All's Quiet on the Aki Front.

Sorry for the lack of updates on the Kentai Films blog and sales site, ladies and gents. I've got about 40 episodes' worth of subtitles that need to be edited, a surprisingly dialog-heavy psychodrama in need of transcribing, some new DVD covers to finish, and I'm scrambling to figure out where I've put about 4 copies of the same goddamn film so I can splice the best parts of them back together to make one awesome presentation. It starts to become a whole lot of stuff to try and sift through one at a time, and when I try to dedicate myself to the lot of them (as I'm want to to) I guess it turns everything into a bit of a slow-burn process.

Reader's Digest Version: Kentai's a little slow... derp.

The DVD image for Aki Uchiyama's Lolita Anime finally appears to work from start to finish without any serious playback glitches, so once we have the art finalized that'll be added to the catalog. We're also getting our hands on a better transfer for the next title after that... I don't want to spoil it, suffice to say it'll be something new and offensive that no other labels out there have been focusing on in the slightest. Look forward to it.

I'm also getting my hands on a number of DVD sources for upcoming Kentai Films releases. They're all hentai, which is the good news, and they're all censored, which... well, I guess it's bad news in the scheme of things, but y'all know how this works. Spain and Germany release about one notable uncensored title for every 15 uncensored US titles, so if it's uncensored, odds are I'm not touching it anyway. I'm currently in the process of making a massive order with a fellow video geek so we can save on the overpriced international shipping; if it's going to be $25 to send that crap anyway we might as well buy everything we'll need for the next two years, right?

I'm cutting a vintage dub together to a better transfer for a title I was going to release myself, but may not have to anymore. It seems to be in sync for the first 15 minutes, and from 45 minutes onward it's perfect, but the second reel is a few seconds off. No clue why that would be, since the two should have been taken from the exact same telecine, but... whatever. I'll figure it out.

Pray For Me, will ya?

Friday, February 18, 2011

Cannibal Cavalcade!

What the fu-

I'm ashamed to admit that I only recognize 5 out of 6 of the pieces that were shooped together to make this monstrosity of epic proportions... this is the Spanish title for the film, but I can't even begin to guess if this was a legitimate VHS cover or something some dick with too much awesome free time on his hands slapped together.

I'll offer a cookie, ninety nine cents, and my undying genre fan respect to anyone who can actualy name all six.

And this... well, this is just for fun.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Skullfucked and Braindead

German Laser Paradise DVD (Uncut "Braidnead" print)

Kentai Films Restoration (Unrated "Dead Alive" print)

For fuck's sake, world, it's been almost 20 years since this film came out. Both the "anamorphic" Italian DVD from Raro and the DTS Edition from German Laser Paradise boxset are literally the same crappy analog transfer cropped and upscaled, and the British DVD is just the older German DVD with the saturation kicked up a few notches and a slightly higher bitrate. Even writer/director Peter Jackson himself threatened to restore it last year, but we've not heard a peep since! Can we PLEASE just have an uncut and restored print of the greatest splatstick horror comedy ever made already? Is that so goddamn much to ask for?

The above transfer was made by removing the majority of the scratches and then adding a fresh layer of grain to the HD broadcast that's been floating around for a while now. I also compressed it using a high bitrate for DVD9 and didn't use any of the filtering CCE SP has to offer. This is as good as an NTSC SD transfer from the broadcast is going to look, and I made it only because trying to watch the uncut German DVD makes my eyes want to puke, and a friend wanted to see the film so I decided an interim restoration was in order.

Unfortunately, I've forgotten why I swore not to buy the cut US release in the first place. While "Dead Alive" isn't a messterpiece on par with, say, Shogun Assassins of 7 Doors of Death, it's still no replacement for the genius that was BRAINDEAD. It's rare for a zombie film to have a legitimate focus on human drama, even if those humans are jackwagons, sods, or just plain ridiculous (as is the case here), so cutting 7 minutes of mostly dialog may not seem like a big deal, but it does remove plenty of moments that I've grown to love. Perhaps the best example is when Void's gang of greaser idiots argue through a drunken stupor how to properly pronounce "necrophiliac" - is it vital to the plot? Not really. But if that's not comedy gold, nothing is.

The continuity of the "Unrated" version takes a hit, too. For one thing, the scene where Vera ("mum") tells Lionel not to see Paquita anymore was cut, which makes his insistence that he can't see her again shortly after this seem like a wild overreaction.  We don't get to see Paquita and her friend rip Void's legs in half, so now when we see the rotting arsehole at the very end, he's using his own limbs as stilts with no explanation. We also don't get to see what becomes of the Priest and Nurse zombies, something the uncut version makes explicitly clear with gardening tools. Another lost scene is Zombie Void escaping and joining the party, proving once and for all that the undead, like girls, just wanna have fun! The gag with the umbilical cord gone missing a shocker, too; without it, we're not sure if the Zombaby is actually a threat or not.

I considered restoring the "Braindead" footage into my own transfer, but even if the quality matched (and man, it doesn't) that would be much more trouble than it's worth, as some of the cuts are literally just 2 or 3 seconds long, like that douche with the video camera giving some zombies the business before he gets turned into a warm side Crumb's Crunchy Delights. It'd look just as bad as one of those old German X-Rated Kult or Astro DVDs that literally cuts from a decent Digibeta source to a damn VHS in the middle of a shot, and as much as I'm big on preserving the original cut of a film, it just wouldn't work here. At that point I'd rather just include the uncut version on Disc 2 and be done with it.

Supposedly Peter Jackson himself edited "Dead Alive" to tighten up the pacing, and says he prefers the 97 minute cut to the 104 minute original. This may or may not be true, since other than a brief aside on IMDb, I can't find any source for him saying it. All I know is that I think Braindead is a masterpiece, and that Dead Alive is a slightly compromised version thereof, so while I was pretty happy to have found any print of the two worth restoring I'm still hoping that Jackson himself can one-up me in the near future. It'd be better for all of us, believe me.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Friday, February 04, 2011

Marketing Mysteries: K-On! & SoraKake

Pardon me while I take a smelly brain-dump, friends, but this one is really starting to bug me:

Mrs. Kentai really liked K-ON!/けいおん!, the massively popular "slice of life" anime series about a four-piece high school aged all-girl pop band.

Oh my God, THE PINK!!

Well, that's what they tell you the show is about. It's actually about eating delicious cake. And nay, with Japan having its' own internet meme culture, that sentence does not have the 4-chan based connotations you might be expecting.

But speaking of having dicks in your mouth, let's see how Bandai's marketing the show in North America for a second:

When I clap my hand over my face and sigh deeply, understand it's not because Stephenie Sheh is a talentless hack. Yui as a character always struck me as just a little slow - not stupid, but possibly on just the right side of the mild-savant stereotype - and her performance is much less grating than it easily could have been... for proof of how badly this easily could have go down, go find an English dubbed clip of Death Note with Misa in it. (I fucking dare you not to wince.)

We've come a long way from Carl Macek was the singular filter through which Japanese pop-culture could filter through back to the English speaking world, and for it English dubbing is, on the whole, much more respectable and high quality than it was in decades past. Not being overly familiar with Miss Sheh's work I can't say if this is above par for her or not, but strictly on its' own, she and what little we have from her compatriots on display isn't particularly embarrassing.

The quality of the dub isn't really an issue, though... the reasoning behind it is where I'm drawing a blank.

So we're clear, when K-On! "premiered" on the fansub circuit, it became an instant hit... with an audience that has two peculiarities: One, they don't typically pay for anything. Two, they don't watch anime dubbed in English, or at the very least are willing to watch it without if it means that the product is free and available instantaneously. Oh sure, a couple of those leechers buy DVDs too, and recent Japanese research even suggests that outlets like YouTube only encourage fans who aren't yet convinced to drop a fortune on a show to buy it in the end at only the meager loss of the rental crowd - who, at least in Japan, rent and then burn backups of everything anyway. Clearly K-On! has a large fanbase in the English speaking world, but I'm willing to bet that the overwhelming majority of support in countries that actually speak English are from people who are enjoying K-On! without paying a dime for it... or, if they have already, they're spending $90 for two episodes and are that bleeding-edge crazy that makes the R1 market largely irrelevant in their eyes.

English dubbing was a standard created to sell foreign entertainment to the masses, I get that. Dubbing quickly became a standard feature for anime DVDs, and titles that couldn't really afford to get dubbed got dubbed anyway because that's what the market apparently demanded. I get that too. But here's where I see the disconnect;

Who the hell would actually want to watch K-On! dubbed in English?

Let's cut through all the arguments that "a foreign dub can improve on a weak original cast" or that "immersing yourself in your native language puts you in the middle of the entertainment" and all those other cute arguments dub fans like to prop up as smart sounding reasons for why they choose to watch their programming in another language; at the end of the day, dubs exist primarily as a way to convince someone who doesn't like to read to watch a film. Certainly subtitles are a compromise in and of themselves, but short of being born in another country and being utterly familiar with all the cultural nuance of said country that a film made elsewhere takes place in, you're never going to get the same experience as the native audience. It's just impossible, and dubbing only further separates you from that original work by a step further than subtitles ever could.

Sometimes those dubs are good, sometimes they're shit, and more often than not they're a sort of clumsy mediocrity that neither makes me want to kill myself by stabbing out my ears with hot soldering irons, nor makes me actually want to continue watching more in any language sans its' original. Dubs just are, to me, and while I don't wish they didn't exist*, I also can't fathom their inclusion on shows that are never, ever going to extend outside of the dedicated fandom for the title that already exists anyway. Honestly, the last time I heard a legitimate argument for subtitles not being an option was "I have a reading disability." While that certainly does suck, I'd also point out that not being able to watch foreign films are probably the very least of your text-related problems.

*Anything that keeps an industry I happen to like alive - and doesn't affect the content I'm after (in this case the subtitled version) - isn't a "bad thing".

In the case of K-On!, that fandom is literally people who are enthralled a 22 minute program about a gaggle of sketchy teenage personality quirks sitting around not-practicing their instruments, and only occasionally exploding into a triumphant music video. More likely than not, the big dramatic device in the episode will involve the heroine dreaming that her friend's eyebrows are edible, or about how terrified the bassist is of being on stage, or how their club-supporting teacher is going to molest the crap out of them once school ends. No, seriously. Sawa-chan is TERRIFYING. Imagine this character had external genitalia and then ask yourself if you wanted that archetype around minors, much less in a position of power... my point is, it's literally a title with no plot, with no story arcs, no action, no nothing but silly sight gags and that slightly weird feeling that you're the producer on The Truman Show, peering voyeuristically into the lives of these friends who spend all their time drinking tea, wishing they were famous, and occasionally writing awful poetry about chocolate sauce.

In short, it's the kind of title designed to designed to appeal straight to the pallet of the rabid otaku audience. There's no gushing blood or stomping monsters or transforming robots to pull in even the slight casual audience. If you like these shows, virtually your only option is to watch them in Japanese, because this wafer-thin sort of charming property is only especially popular in Japan to start with. In effect, if you're going to buy K-On! on DVD (or Blu-ray), you've already watched the show in Japanese at least once. And if you've already watched the show, you should have even less of an excuse to "need" to watch the show in English.

The English dub for a title like K-On! may not be quite as dangerous as putting sugary sprinkles on a diabetic treat, but it does strike me as just as redundant. This is the sort of entertainment that only people familiar and comfortable with Japan's penchant for fetishising and worshiping non-existent two dimensional idols would ever convince themselves to watch in the first place... so how many of these people wouldn't spend money on the show just because it didn't have an English dub?

That said, the shows' massive popularity in Japan could have some direct impact on the release, too. Having an English dub in general could be seen as a badge of the title's international marketability by the Japanese rights holders, and the fact that the 14 episode TV series is being released on four individual DVDs instead of in a complete box set up front suggests someone behind the scenes is mandating that the release be a certain way that's no longer typical for the market it's entering. Bandai also still releasing the Kurokami anime on Blu-ray in English only, again, due to the Japanese end having (profoundly) unfair restrictions on the US license, so K-On! being in the same boat doesn't seem too unlikely.

Meanwhile, Bandai is releasing The Girl Who Leapt Through Space/宇宙をかける少女 subtitled-only. This is a show populated with massive spaceships, talking robots with personality disorders, ridiculous transforming robots, jiggling tits held snugly in skin-tight flight suits, and jokes that extend beyond that sort of dry, almost Seinfeld-esque area of the 'slice of life' mould. In short, it's the kind of show that probably could have pulled in a few more viewers with an English language option, and it isn't going to get one.

I'd have capped the exploding head from THE PROWLER myself,
but the movie sucks donkey balls. DAWN OF THE DEAD it is!

In a totally unrelated stroke of irony, the Japanese title "Sora o Kakeru Shoujo" was phonetically shortened by fans to 'SoraKake'. This was mistranslated (...intentionally?) in English as "Flying Cake". So K-On!, the show about girls who eat cake, gets the treatment that would have made more sense to the show people say is about cake, but isn't! Is this some super genius A Beautiful Mind level trolling on Bandai's part, or just the most retard coincidence imaginable?

Anyway, if you like either of these shows - and frankly, they're both pretty good in their own way - show you love them by actually buying them. Japan gets a few cents out of the deal, and it tells the American middlemen to try getting more shows "like that one".