Sunday, August 12, 2012

Do You Remember Hate?

Anyone expecting me to get down on my knees and suck the cock of SUPER SPACE FORTRESS MACROSS: DO YOU REMEMBER LOVE? / 超時空要塞マクロス 愛・おぼえていますか - also sometimes known as "Superdimensional Fortress Macross", and more commonly, "Attack of the Bionoids" in its butchered US home video premier - will be a bit surprised. It's not because the film doesn't deserve its fair share of knob-gobbling; the film is absolutely a masterpiece on a technical level, and it, perhaps intentionally, sewed the seeds for a lot of the bizarre genre-fusion and pandering fetishism that permeates Japanese pop-culture to this very day. It also bears a certain uncanny resemblance to Ridley Scott's Prometheus as well as H.P. Lovecrafts At The Mountains of Madness, but that's... neither here nor there, I guess. Even if it is kind of kick-ass.

Rather, it's because that pole has been slobbered for so goddamn long and by people who love the whole Macross-slash-Robotech canon so much harder than I do, it'd just be a waste of your time. It's a cultural icon unlike any other; the "perfect form" of the seemingly unending Macross legacy, an early cornerstone of Japan's Anime Invasion - in its unedited form a forever legally-unattainable status symbol to the first generation of the American otaku community, the film has a unique legacy and support that few pieces of home-grown animation outside the gilded walls of Disney and Warner can lay claim to. People love the shit out of this movie, and if you want to know why... ask them. They're the guys you want to see get pumped. If you want to see ME sound like a crazy fanboy, just ask me about Hokuto no Ken or Urotsukidoji... I'm afraid I only have so much fervent love to give on a daily basis!

That said, I'm totally not above bashing the ever-living shit about the freshly released Japanese 30th Anniversary Edition Blu-ray, available in both the expected STANDARD and FUCK YO' MOMMA SOLD-OUT LIMITED editions!

The Japanese text reads something like "Disc may not be as awesome as described."

So, first and foremost: IT'S FRIGGIN' CENSORED. As y'all reading this probably know, one of the lead animators on the film (and original Macross TV series) was none other than ITANO Ichirou, who's ridiculously complex and expertly rendered-by-hand missile battles were given the nicknames "Itano Circus" by fans. Itano is also the sociopathic madman behind some of the most brutal and violent animation of all time, including Angel Cop, Gantz and Violence Jack: Evil Town. With that in mind, it seems almost quaint that he snuck in a pair of hyper-violent gags in the film's rapid-fire action, which included both a very shot (4 frames or so) of a man's skull being crushed until his eyes and jaw literally explode out of his own face, and another gag during the finale where a falling building crashes down on a hapless bastard so quickly it decapitates him in a way that's... far more hilarious than it probably sounds. The former simply has a massive gaussian blur thrown over the last few frames of grue, while the latter not only blurs it up but adds a sudden flash of white light, implying that he was vaporized instead of torn to shreds. Because, you know, being exploded is so much less violent than getting crushed? Curiously enough, a shot of a Zentradi's kisser being melted off is left intact just a few seconds after the first censored scene, so why they only decided some of the more extreme violence had to go is anyone's guess...

Oh wait, I do have a theory! See, limited or not that "Blu-ray" also comes with a new PS3 game. Japan's home video market hasn't really taken to compulsory video ratings, but their game industry is an absolute slave to them, and with substantially higher ratings given to graphic violence than we typically see in the West, game developers tend to tread very carefully on how bloody their computer entertainment can be. The Computer Entertainment Ratings Organization has a pretty straight-forward rating system that goes from "A" (all ages) to "B" (12+), "C" (15+), "D" (17+) and "Z" (18). The actual PS3 game included in the set is rated 'A', while the film got a 'B' rating, effectively knocking the whole package from an All Ages to a PG-13. I can see Bandai-Namco wanting to see this game sell like gangbusters - developing an original video game costs a hell of a lot more than a new film transfer, after all - and perhaps these edits were made specifically with the goal to get the whole thing down to a lower rating? Whatever the case, you guys know I abhorrer censorship in all forms of art, and considering the film has been re-released on VHS, Laserdisc, and as far back as 2007 on DVD without issue, to edit the film now seems more than a bit silly...

What's even worse is you can select "THEATRICAL VERSION" from the menus... but it's a filthy lie as both are equally censored. See, there's two differet cuts seamlessly branched, with the alternate version being the "COMPLETE VERSION". The only difference is that the latter includes a text scroll at the start of the film, and a new graphic at the very end, so... yeah. The one surviving director on the project, KAWAMORI Shoji, has literally Lucasified this fucker by making the opening look like a Star Wars movie. Stay classy, Shoji!

 ...shit, I forgot he always looks super serious.
I can't even tell if I've pissed him off or not...

Oh yeah, there's also an instrumental snippet of some thematic importance missing from the 5.1 remix, right before... "that" song starts. (You'll know, trust me.) Some of the animation has been fixed, as per the 2007 Remaster, and the Blu-ray features the original theatrical end credits (ie: white text on black). There is no SUPER SPACE FORTRESS MACROSS: FLASHBACK 2012 footage over the main staff roll like there was on the 2007 DVD, but the Limited Edition BD did include it on a separate disc... upscaled to 1080i from the same analog video master we first saw 25 years ago. Supposedly the film masters were lost, and seeing as how Flashback was edited on video specifically for the video market in the late 80s, I can see preserving the "raw" 35mm footage as not being seen as a high priority. A shame, but I guess it is what it is...

And as for the actual Blu-ray transfer... well, I can't speak from having watched the disc itself since, god-fucking-dammit, I'm not spending $100 on a censored Blu-ray. What I can say is that there's a BUNCH OF SCREENSHOTS floating around there on the internet, and holy hell, they aren't good...

I'll post a few relevant examples, alongside the 2007 "HD Remaster" DVD, with the BD on top and the 2007 HD Remaster DVD on the bottom. All of them came from the forum linked above, though I've re-compressed them to high quality JPGs in the hopes that they won't randomly disappear due to mild traffic. (Goddamn ImageShack...)

Pay close attention to the black outlines on the right-hand side, on the guy's arm and the folds on his shoulders... notice anything funky about the Blu-ray? What you're seeing is ghosting, data repeated from prior frames because the information is "similar enough", even if it isn't exactly the same. That's basically how grain removal works, and the above is a perfect example of what can go wrong if you try to smooth over between separate frames just a little too hard... a shame the HD version has this fairly obvious defect, since in this shot especially it looks pretty good otherwise. (Besides the crushed/smeared shadow detail, but more on that in a second!)

At first, the Blu-ray looks like a pretty substantial improvement; grain is better defines, outlines are substantially crisper, and of course there's none of that bullshit four-sided windowboxing to deal with. But look at the background, specifically the "lights" behind the two Zentradi commanders; they're actually blurrier on the Blu-ray! DVNR works in two ways, averaging between frames (temporally) and within a single frame (spatially). Ghosting is the temporal side-effect, blurring is the spatial equivalent. Both are an unfortunate side-effect of digital grain removal tools... and how, you ask, can I be sure that they even used grain removal?

I'm not going to lie; I haven't seen the master print they used for DYRL, nor have I seen whatever HDCAM-SR master the Blu-ray was pulled from. That said, I'm DAMN sure that a cartoon from 1984 was animated on some form of film stock, most likely 35mm in this case, and while the DVD has a pretty stable and natural looking level of grain, the Blu-ray just... doesn't. The grain looks like it just barely creeps in around the edges of moving objects and darker areas of the screen, which just isn't how celluloid crystals work. There should always be some level of visible grain on 4-perf 35mm, and the moment you see areas literally devoid of grain, you have every reason to be suspicious.

Oh god, I think I just threw up a little! So, the BD master clearly pushed the contrast and chroma saturation harder than its DVD equivalent, and doing that can enhance the original grain into the harsh shit you see above. Add some temporal filtering on top that's designed to keep SOME frequencies of noise which may or may not be outlines - you know, hard contrasty bits - and the results... look like shit.

Shockingly enough, this image was shown to establish that - in many ways - the Blu-ray IS actually an improvement over the DVD... but even here, the upgrade isn't exactly night and day. The enhanced resolution has made the lines all the more detailed and the boosted contrast does help them stand out a bit against the oft-muted midtones of the DVD, but even at the best of times, the DYRL Blu-ray appears to be something of a modest upgrade... a shame, that. I really wanted this to be something I'd be so wowed by that I'd still spend a small fortune to have it on my shelf, but if the best it can muster is "somewhat better" than the uncut DVD, then forget it.

If I had to guess, I think that the 2007 DVD and the 2012 Blu-ray are from the same initial HD telecine, but that the BD was "punched up" via contrast/saturation boosting, and the resulting exaggerated video noise was toned down with DVNR. The framing is virtually identical, and while it's possible to boost the contrast and clip highlights - as the Blu-ray seems to have done, in direct comparison - none of the comparisons I've found suggest that the BD actually has better highlight or shadow detail. The alternate possibility is that Bandai Visual have created a brand new scan that's worse than their prior efforts, but I'm going to swallow sadness at the mere thought and go with my initial "Recycled 2007 HD Master" theory, until someone can come up with a reason for me to doubt it.

Now, I'll admit one thing before anyone has a chance to rub my face in it; Do You Remember Love has always looked pretty crumby, in no small part due to the special-effects heavy nature of its production. This was produced before computers could do anything particularly useful in terms of animation, and so every time more than a few animation elements had to be on the screen, they were compiled together using multiple strips of film and an optical printer. As such, shots that are grainy, out of focus, and just generally pretty goddamn ugly have always been the norm for this film... and if that's all that was wrong with it, I'd have nothing to complain about. My issues are with the cranked-out contrast and almost total lack of grain on the shots that SHOULD be a straight scan of either the original negative or a master positive. In trying to smooth over the age and production seams of the material they've managed to make the whole damned film look underwhelming, and that's a shame.

So, is the DVD better than the Blu-ray? No, not at all. The limited resolution and bitrate alone mean that the Blu-ray wins by default, and as you can see, even the limited clarity of the film elements shine harder when it comes to crisp outlines and swathes of bright color in HD. Sadly, the DVD looks less processed than the Blu-ray, and teases us with a glimpse of how much better the Blu-ray might have otherwise been.

The promise of Super Space Macross: Do You Remember Love? looking and sounding notably better than ever is a hard Siren's Song to resist, I know, but the combination of random censorship and a "meh" transfer leave me more than a bit shocked. For one of Bandai Visual's flagship titles to have been handled so poorly is almost unprecedented, and with this being a part of the Macross 30th Anniversary celebration, it's likely the last new edition we're going to get for a good long time. Don't get me wrong, if you still have that old 'CLASH OF THE BIONOIDS' tape in the basement, and figure one more edited version with a new 5.1 mix wouldn't hurt, by all means, go for it. But if you're expecting this to be the definitive edition of what might be the Golden Age of Anime's transcendent masterpiece to not, in any way, involve Miyazaki, you might just be left wanting for another 500,000 cycles.


BluMeino said...

What would you say have been some of the better BD transfers out there? As harsh as the Venus War's BD looked, the grain was always present and moving, resulting in an overall good picture retaining all of the detail wonderfully. I expect at least that quality, and it's a shame when it's never reached. There's also the opposite spectrum with the Galaxy Express film BDs, DNRed completely so you have soft fuzzy edges and an abnormal plasticine sheen over the expanses of flat color. I'll always take the flickering grain over that.

Kentai 拳態 said...

NAUSICAA - Probably the best ever.


THE SECRET OF NIMH, WIZARDS, FOX AND THE HOUND - Just as good, just not animoos.



There's a lot of variables that go into my personal, potentially arbitrary decisions of what does and doesn't look "good"; Some of the less impressive BV titles look every bit as good as their best except they have edge sharpening, and if that sort of artifact doesn't bother you, you might actually prefer them to the slightly more naturalistic transfers they've done. Similarly, where the heck do I put something like the KENSHIN OVA Blu-rays? There's some minor processing on the 35mm footage, but overall it looks very good... but, then there's the ugly-ass SD upscaled footage. Does that instantly nullify its quality, or do we give it a pass due to its production methods, as I'm sure I'll eventually do when we get the '86 Fist of the North Star film on BD?

That's why I try to review each title that deserves it and show examples of what it is (or isn't) doing right. Don Bluth's ALL DOGS GO TO HEAVEN and Bakshi's LORD OF THE RINGS look completely different, but both are great and film-like transfers in their own right, based on the production process and materials that exist. (Neither is 100% perfect, but they're damned good all the same.)

VENUS WARS' HD master has some issues, sure, but the positives absolutely outweigh the negatives, if the screenshots and discussions with at least one big fan are anything to go by. It's a shame Discotek isn't doing BD yet, but I have little doubt that they'll piece together the best SD release humanly possible using that Italian master and whatever else they can get their hands on. I'd also love to see them do a BD for the SPACE ADVENTURE COBRA movie, but only time will tell...

Kriztoffer Swank said...

Discotek have a few BDs in the pipeline. Little Nemo and Shin Getter Robo vs Neo Getter Robo have been announced.

Sentai have also announced a BD for Grave of the Fireflies. Wondering if they're using Ghibli's transfer or one of their own making? Hoping it'll be good; if the JP transfer is considerably better and more filmic, I'll have to spring for the eventual HK release.

Probably mentioned this before, but one of my favorite cartoon BDs is The Transformers: The Movie release by Metrodome in the UK. Great filmic transfer. No touch-up work so lots of dirt and debris, but it looks incredible.

Kentai 拳態 said...

True enough, Discotek is dipping their toe into the HD waters with LITTLE NEMO before the end of the year, and having spoken with more than one source close to that release I know it'll be something special. Unfortunately, Discotek doesn't think the cost of the format is worth it except on titles they know will sell in droves, so while I could see HOKUTO NO KEN getting a BD release, something like SPACE ADVENTURE COBRA or VENUS WARS probably won't. It's just a matter of raw economics, and it's hard to blame Discotek and Nozomi for taking the approach they have by sticking with DVD, a format you can replicate for peanuts in a market where selling 2,000 copies is a smashing success.

Wish I'd grabbed that TRANSFORMERS BD while it was still in print. If you can find it, they start around $60 MSRP, which is a hard price to swallow for someone who's nostalgia has faded and crackled to little more than bitter ash. (The film probably is pretty good, but I haven't seen it since I was a lad, so I'm not willing to trust Nostalgia Goggles... not for that price tag, anyway.)

Buster D said...

I was wondering if you'd do a blog post on DYRL. Nice job, a pity about the DNR and contrast (already knew about the censorship, the CERO rating seemed to be the likely culprit to me as well), but I guess it's not too surprising given all the complaints about the grain in the DVD.

As for The Transformers The Movie BD, the AU release ( is still available and uses the same video encode for the main feature (it has PAL extras, not sure if any 50hz content prevents playback of the main feature in US players), but it's missing one of the English audio tracks that was on the UK BD (either the 5.1 DTS or the 2.0 downmixed Dolby Digital, I forget). All of the audio tracks on the UK BD were crap anyways, since they had additional sound effects added at one point and then they tried to remove them or something, muffling many of the original effects in the process.

I synched up the PCM audio from the JP LD (and mixed in the "Oh shit" line from the audio from the DVD), but that's not such a great source either. I suspect it came from the optical track from a release print. The 192kbps Dolby Digital 2.0 from the Sony DVD might be better in some ways, but I can hear too many compression artifacts in it. Maybe I'll give the 5.1 track from the Sony DVD another listen someday. The film was originally released in Dolby Stereo (which I assume means Left-Right-Center and mono surround like theatrical Dolby Surround) so I'd prefer to just use the LD's 2.0 with Prologic II, but the Sony 5.1 might've been fairly faithful.

Kriztoffer Swank said...

That's the one thing I dislike about the TFTM BD: weak audio. And considering the movie is such a pummeling adrenaline of music and SFX, it's a pretty big flaw.

I remember the 2000 Rhino DVD sounding pretty good, but it's been a while since I've watched it. I own it, though.

I almost bought that Australian BD set until I learned that the open matte transfer is standard def. I like watching it 4:3 because of all the extra animation and BG art. Just fun to watch.

Excellent film by the way, and I don't even just say that wearing nostalgia goggles. Holds up as well as Batman: Mask of the Phantasm and other animated movies I adored as a kid.

Kentai, do you know anything about the Right Stuf DVD set for Gasaraki? My bro's movin' out soon and I was about to rip all his DVDs, but found out there was a new set released earlier this year. Just wondering how the A/V compares to the ADV discs (which I think were like three episodes a disc). Might just have to order me a copy, especially since Right Stuf have really sexy packaging that doesn't hog your shelf.

Kriztoffer Swank said...

*a/v (since apparently doing the letters capitalized looks like sheeit)

Buster D said...

I'm pretty sure the Rhino 5.1 was based on an old mono source. The English audio tracks in the TFTM LD in the 2010 LD box and 2nd standalone LD release from Pioneer were also mono. The Sony DVD was the first release since the 1st JP LD to have a true stereo track since they remastered the audio/video.

Anonymous said...

Right Stuf's Gasaraki doesn't have the text overlays that the ADV release did, no idea about anything else. The show had a LOT of video postproduction vs. film work so it looks a bit rubbish no matter what.

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