Thursday, August 11, 2011

Old Spice & Wolf: Or, FUNi Screws the Pooch

Japanese Blu-ray (Native HD)

FUNimation Blu-ray (480i upscale)

Full details of this clusterfuck plus comparison screeshots available on the Anime on DVD/Fandom Post forums HERE and HERE (also HERE for the full AoD thread).

There are indeed HD masters for the only slightly fan-pandering commerce themed fantasy series Spice and Wolf/狼と香辛料, that were used for the Japanese Blu-ray. FUNimation got NTSC standard definition materials with their license a few years back, and decided to re-release the first season on Blu-ray to coincide with the second season getting released... trouble is they didn't get actual HD masters first.

FUNimation has done this once before - just once, for the second half of the Tsubasa Chronicle/xxxHOLIC Movie CLAMP Double Feature. They were still very new to the whole Blu-ray "thing", and at the time I was largely willing to ignore it as a possible legitimate mistake. It's never been addressed directly, however, and while the Tsubasa movie has been released in the "Complete Collection" along with the TV series, the xxxHolic feature film has yet to be re-released from legitimate HD masters.

I guess everyone's allowed a fuck-up once in a blue moon... but this? Re-releasing the title for the third time - this time on an upscaled Blu-ray - when the show already has actual HD masters and Japanese Blu-rays that have been out for well over a year? Damn... is this something we can ignore more than once? I say no. Fuck no, even. FUNimation, THIS IS NOT FUCKING ACCEPTABLE. Not for Spice and Wolf, not for anything. As a company you've shown a lot of progress since your early, wonky looking titles like Samurai Champloo and Claymore, but it's as if you're only getting worse at releasing SD content on Blu-ray as time goes on.

Some of the eagle-eyed among you are probably already noticing two strange factors; one, that the HD release from Japan looks like aliased poop, and two, that the FUNimation upscale has HD credits. There's a surprisingly simple answer for both of these oddities:

There are a handful of titles animated around this period (2007-2008) that were animated at 720p resolution, and then upscaled to 1080i for broadcast. Trouble is, the way the material was upscaled in a way that broke the 720p material into interlaced fields first, and then upscaled them. You can't upscale interlaced content without deinterlacing it first, because then the fields no longer weave back together and you wind up with crap that... well, that looks like Spice and Wolf. OCD Japanese videophiles noticed it happening on a number of titles and took to calling it "720i". The only other title with this odd resolution available stateside is the girls-with-guns action show Canaan, but as that's encoded at 1080i I doubt most people would think twice about it; they'd expect deinterlacing artifacts anyway.

As for FUNi's credits, their standard procedure is - and almost always has been - to upscale the 'clean' non-credit sequences first, and generate new titles after that. Hey, just because the footage underneath it is 480i doesn't mean the credits have to be too, right? All you need to do is look at the cute little chibi-wolf and the ornate frame around her to see that the JP release looks worlds better, HD credits or not.

I was always kind of torn on wither or not I wanted to buy a show about medieval merchant, who happens to travel with a wolf-spirit who's sole super power seems to be giving even militant furry haters wolf-boners. It's certainly not the worst concept out of there, but knowing it's far more about haggling over grain and than ogling over wolf-ass seems like a a bit of a missed opportunity, or even just a ploy to get hot-blooded otaku to pay $50 an episode for a show about the exciting trials of pseudo-medieval accounting. It may sound absurd, but think about it. I hate math. Always have, always will. My damn grandfather's a retired engineer, and the fact that I have to whip out a calculator when I go to a grocery store fills him with disappointment and a distrust in the very idea that life was worth living. (He doesn't say it or anything. But I can feel it.)

Flash back to high school; my algebra teacher was a kind and competent, but elderly and heavy set woman. Had fate replaced her with a 20 year old hot chick with fuzzy wolf ears, I'd have spent sleepless nights re-wiring my brain and aced that shit just on the off chance she'd say "Good job, Kentai!" Clearly Isuna HASEKURA is a genius and wants us to understand 16th century business-building strategies by exploiting Japan's oldest fetish; canines who happen to love man dick.

In any case, either buy the DVD for the first season or ignore it entirely. Whatever, fuck 'em. The FUNi release of the second season should be a "Native HD" release, but clearly we can't trust FUNimation to keep track of that kind of stuff...

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