This Guy Looks Legit To Me.
S'more Entertainment was a fascinating oddity in the landscape of the dying R1 anime market, pulling itself up from the afterbirth of Rhino Entertainment with two titles I never figured would see a complete North American DVD release; the original GALAXY EXPRESS 999/銀河鉄道999 TV series, and BOBOBO-BO BO-BOBO/ボボボーボ・ボーボボ - the latter occasionally known as "Bo^7". Brows were raised when it was announced that 38 episodes of the latter would be squeezed onto 4 discs, but they promised a complete and bilingual release, so the fact that there were literally 10 episodes per disc seemed like a drop in the bucket to most fans who actually wanted either of these shows.
Now that Bobobo is actually in customers hands, there's one vital element for any foreign series missing; the goddamn subtitles. Lemme quote S'more on this one, since if I don't you probably won't believe me anyway...
It appears there are some issues and confusion over the fact the packaging on “Bobobo…”alluded to the fact the episodes were viewable in English or Japanese with English sub-titles. This was an error on our part that wasn’t caught by anyone here and more importantly, not caught by anyone at TOEI who went over the package design with a fine tooth comb. The episodes can be watched in either Japanese or English language only but rest assured, there was no intent on our or TOEI’s part to mislead the fans.
All 70 plus episodes of the series were never available in a sub-titled format (I understand a small number of episodes were sub-titled in a previous DVD release) and neither TOEI or S’more could justify the cost of creating new, sub-titled versions of the series. DVD sales have plummeted to the point where most companies wouldn’t be willing to commit the money needed for packaging and authoring but we felt the series was important (and fun) enough to justify the risk.
I’ve dealt with serious fans before, starting with The Monkees, MST3K, Transformers and Battle of the Planets so I understand (and respect) their attention to details. It wasn’t our intention to mislead anyone and I’m hopeful that you and other fans will embrace the series as presented and appreciate the effort that went in to creating these packages.
The 2nd “Bobobo…” box set (that completes the series) will not have sub-titled option, the error will be fixed. On GE999, after listening to input, we will only offer the episodes in the Japanese language with sub-titles. There are no English language tracks and we will not be creating them for this release.
Wow... So, let me make sure I've got this right, it's not S'more Entertainment's fault that THEY announced the title as having subtitles (and then never once made a public correction) - it's that dastardly Toei's fault for not fixing the box to reflect that it DIDN'T have subtitles! If nothing else you've almost gotta admire the massive stones it takes to pass a buck like that, particularly when you're catering to an audience that has an almost zero general bullshit tolerance policy.
That said... well, I'm not going to give them any grief over the rest of what they've said. As I've mentioned before, the market just isn't what it used to be, and having stayed in contact with film licensors of varying stripes, sales are downright pathetic in 2012. Licensors are surviving by the skin of their teeth, trying new strategies and increasingly crazy ideas because the old methods simply don't turn out profits like they used to. When a release comes out missing an announced bonus feature or has a couple of minor subtitle errors or the menu doesn't quite work, I don't expect a repressing anymore; they can barely afford to press that first batch, and if something doesn't work, too fucking bad, kid. I understand their plight as the market shifts towards digital streaming, and applaud them for trying to make any headway into keeping physical media alive... but that's still no excuse for lying or being too cheap to translate a show who's original language wasn't English. We're about one step away from getting a 1:1 copy of the Japanese DVD and having licensors shrug and say, "Hey, YOU already downloaded a fansub anyway. Whatcha gonna do, cry about it?"
If, at any time, S'more had said something along the lines "You get dubtitles, deal with it." I'd still be upset, but at least I'd understand - that's the scripts they were given, thus that's what we, the consumers, get... but they're actually being even shittier than that. They're flat out NOT using any scripts and are including the raw, untranslated Japanese audio as a bonus feature. Which would have been fine, I guess, if they had advertised the set that way from the start! How did we even get into this messy situation where a film licensor is looking their target audience and telling them "YOU don't spend enough money for US to treat it properly"? That's a level of transparency, nay, of visible weakness that would have been unthinkable in this industry prior, even when labels are being shut down for not making any money!
On reflection, I think I know what happened. Back in January when the announcement was made, S'more was likely getting all of the materials for the show together and saw that "English Scripts" were among them. They thought, "Awesome, subtitles!", but didn't immediately inspect them, only to inevitably confirm that they were - essentially - the approved first-drafts of the English dub scripts. Realizing their mistake and knowing they had a target release date already in place, they just shrugged it off and figured not mentioning fucking anything might somehow make the problem go away for the thousand or so consumers who have already pre-ordered... a dick move if their ever was one, but I applaud RightStuf for - upon confirming what happened - essentially putting every single order on hold, eMailing customers, and making sure they still wanted what, in effect, was a dub-only release. Shawne "The Dark Lord" Kleckner, you've had my respect for years, but this is exactly why I generally don't bother ordering anime from anywhere else*. You and yours are willing to lose money on this deal because you don't want to see your customers getting lied to, and that's awesome.
*Unless it's really, really, really cheap and you're charging close to MSRP. Sorry man, those Amazon sales are irresistible! You've already got my balls in a vice with all of those Aniplex imports, so let's just call it even?
This why for years I never, ever wanted to watch a Leiji Matsumoto series.
Seriously, is Tetsuro a potato alien or does he just have The Downs'?
But at LEAST Matsumoto's vintage TV series adaptation of The Galaxy Express Three-Nine should be fine, right? That's a show that's already available with English subtitles on various streaming and Download-To-Own platforms, so what could possibly go wrong?
Welp, according to the S'more on the Facebook, this happened;
We'll schedule GE999 once we take delivery of sub-titled masters. There has been some confusion on what elements they can provide. Best guess for initial release would be July-August.
I hope I'm misunderstanding every word in that sentence, but it... sounds like they're requesting hard-subtitled masters from Toei? They likely already have them in storage due to their slightly ridiculous plot to sell relatively low-quality download files for a few bucks an episode a coupld years back, but now these jokers aren't even going to take the time to generate optional, bog-standard DVD subtitles? What the fuck, did we hit a timewarp a couple months ago and now it's 1994 all over again?! Cripes, I guess we should be glad they aren't selling this poor beaten dog of a series on VCD...
Whether or not I was going to pick up either of these shows was up in the air to start with; Bo^7 is a marathon of lulzy bullshit best described as Shonen Jump Magazine's answer to Excel Saga, which is... kind of awesome? It's great nonsensical fun in 20 minute chunks, sure, but much like Robot Chicken I think the ADD experience would shift gears from engrossing to grating after more than an episode or two. Galaxy Express, however, I was curious about; despite still thinking that Matsumoto's drawings are on the wrong side of retarded for me to wrap my head around why people love them, the two Rintarou-helped "999" feature films are fantastic, particularly the Adieu film which is neither quite a remake nor a sequel; I've been curious if that melancholy and grim sense of facing death to grasp the value of life was the product of the director or the original creator for some time now, but if "burned in" video generated subtitles is the way the DVDs are going to be, I'll wonder a while longer.
If you want to watch Galaxy Express 999, and I hate saying this from the very core of my being... your best bet is to just watch it on Crunchy Roll. I won't link to them and give them the satisfaction, but even those "Legit Pirates" who have slowly turned the amateur world of fansubbing into the professional world of anime distribution are still smart enough to use player generated subtitles. For Bobobo, well... I think that less than inspiring S'more Entertainment DVD will be the only legal option around, for better or worse.
I don't want to cut a new studio down before they've even out of the gate. That means they don't even have the opportunity to better themselves. Rather, I want anyone who has the slightest interest in either of these shows to write them - call them, faceplace them, eMail them, send a damn carrier pigeon if that's what gets you off - and tell them not to be so fuck'n retarded. Don't SAY "fuck" or "retarded", but... you know, explain to them that no subtitles and hard-subtitles are both bad ideas and make you much less inclined to spend your money on their products, which is a shame because we want to see more older niche anime titles on DVD. I'd also rather not even think about how terrible the Bo^7 OP sequence is going to be at an average of 4,000 kb/s, but if that doesn't bother you, feel free to ignore it, you lowest common denominator YouTube watching heathen you. S'more Entertainment has the potential to be a lifeline of great things, but they're off to a shit start... with any luck they'll realize this isn't going to fly and their third announcement won't be a string of terrible ideas stuck together by a $50 per SKU price tag.
In the meantime, if you're looking for quality vintage animation, feel free to throw all of your money at Discotek/Eastern Star, and Nozomi Entertainment. The former is releasing a special edition of Golgo 13: The Professional in June, and the latter is releasing a set of the Dirty Pair features in May. Pre-order in good faith that they'll both have optional subtitles, to say nothing of a subtitled commentary track on the former and two separate English dubs on the latter... y'know, just in case you're into that.