Sunday, May 05, 2013

Kids on the Slippery Slope: Sentai Filmworks and Blu-ray Shenanigans

I'm just going to throw this out here as a point of reference; KIDS ON THE SLOPE/坂道のアポロン didn't sound the least bit interesting to me at the moment when it came out. Reviews are overwhelmingly positive, and having been directed by Shinichiro WATANABE and featuring Yoko KANNO's jazz as a key selling point, odds are it's a masterpiece... it just came out at a time when a light drama about teens in the 60s singing in Engrish wasn't something that sounded fun to watch. At all. Being in a bad place emotionally makes me crave Human Centipede 2 and Bad Lieutenant, not Forrest Gump and The Majestic, so that has far more to do with how I was feeling than the show itself. Isn't subjective opinion an ass like that?

In short, I'm sure it's fantastic, but there's a time for I Stand Alone and there's a time for Ted. For me personally one year ago, the notion of the director of Cowboy Bebop making a coming of age show about kids singing in broken Engrish was just not what I needed, and so I've quietly decided to wait for Sentai Filmworks to do their thing and release the show on Blu-ray... and then, Sentai fucked up. Which they do a lot when I'm not paying much attention - more on that in a minute or two.

In the case of Kids on the Slope, episode 11 is MONO LT ONLY on the JP track. This is not the typical "2CH MONO" method, where the stereo track has been mixed down into a single mono track and repeated in both channels - you have half the stereo mix on the Left track, while the Right track is dead silent. It just isn't there. The other 11 episodes appear to be fine, making this oddity all the more frustrating.

If this were a one time flub I... well, I'd still argue that whoever does Sentai Filmworks/Maiden Japan's authoring should potentially be drawn and quartered for something as obvious as not having a complete, functioning stereo track, but I'd inevitably shrug it off and remind myself that every genre friendly studio - FUNimation, Media Blasters, Discotek, Magnolia, Shout Factory, Dark Sky, you name it - have made honest mistakes at one point or another, and while major issues should be recalled and fixed, a single, minor fuck-up here and there is going to happen, and with sales in the toilet, they have even less incentive to replace them than they did a few years ago. I accept that, and can try to ignore it, so long as it's just that: An isolated mistake, not a constant string of poor quality control.

In short, I'd be more forgiving if TOKYO MAGNITUDE 8.0/東京マグニチュード8.0 didn't have the exact same problem on Episode 8.

And episode 12 of THE WORLD GOD ONLY KNOWS/神のみぞ知るセカイ. Yes, seriously. Three titles and counting.

And as for HORIZON IN THE MIDDLE OF NOWHERE/境界線上のホライゾン, the problem is no less awful, it's just even more shocking that it even happened. The second half of episode 7 was only pre-rendered before encoding, meaning it shifts down to 360p, sub-DVD resolution. On the mother fucking 1080p Blu-ray. Have a PEEK if you don't believe me for some reason.

And for the record, no, none of these problems are on the standard definition DVD releases. They were solely authoring glitches on the BD end, and Sentai has consistently offered short, professional eMails basically saying "It is what it is, and it isn't getting fixed."

This is all ignoring the general shittiness of their 1080i products, which are slowly taking over the label's output. PENGUIN DRUM, BODACIOUS SPACE PIRATES, TOKYO MAGNITUDE 8.0, DREAM EATER MERRY, and KAMISAMA DOLLS are all 1080i60 encodes Stateside despite their JP equivalents being 1080p24. They're crappy 1080i encodes, too, with moderate to severe artifacting on consistent motion, which even's REVIEWS are incapable of avoiding (despite the fact that the reviewer gave the disc a 4 out of 5 for video quality). FATE/STAY NIGHT and CANAAN are both 1080i releases, though at least that's true in Japan as well; I can't really fault Sentai Filmworks for using what already exists, but I can certainly give them shit for using inferior 1080i broadcast materials when 1080p home video materials do exist. When this happens, you buy the JP Blu-rays and re-encode 1080p transfers in-house. If the contracts say you can only use the material you were handed and you're a stickler for details, then you only sign contracts that demand 1080p materials.  It's pretty goddamn straight forward.

There's also that mostly forgotten and never once screen-capped FIST OF THE NORTH STAR: LEGEND OF THE DARK KINGS set which is supposedly 1080p on disc 1 and 1080i on disc 2, and almost surely an SD upscale to boot; I bought the subtitled DVD set for a song, and thinking the show is pretty crap to start with I'm in no hurry to re-buy an expensive release for the sole purpose of seeing just how bad it really is. I may have to cover that hot wet mess eventually, if for no other reason that it's clear nobody else is ever going to.

There's also the PERSONA 4: THE ANIMATION Blu-ray, which is dub-only despite the DVD being a proper bilingual release. Obviously this is a licensor limitation - not a "glitch" in the traditional sense, but at that point, is a Blu-ray even worth releasing? They certainly skipped BD rights on my beloved QWASER OF STIGMATA, so it's not as if HD materials are a flat requirement... part of me is incredibly bitter that the greatest piece of fanservice-satire-overload in the history of the medium is only available on DVD, but then again, if this is how they treat their premium content perhaps it was all for the best? Is it better to shrug off a release entirely than have it and be forced to bitch about it for hours on end? Oh yeah, no BD for MARIA+HOLIC ALIVE was a kick in the dick, too, particularly when we all learned that the first season was rendered in HD as well and would have given Sentai Filmworks the perfect excuse to re-release the first half of the series on BD, too.

This show is amazing. I stand by it 100%.

Keep in mind that the last two Sentai titles I bought - GRAVE OF THE FIREFLIES and NINJA SCROLL - were perfectly fine, free of both authoring glitches or notable audio/video quality differences when compared to the super expensive Japanese imports. HIGHSCHOOL OF THE DEAD, one of their earliest releases, is a great release and I'm happy to have it on my shelf. Word is their just-released PATLABOR: EARLY DAYS OVA collection is similarly fine (though not owning a copy yet, I can't say one way or the other). And it's perhaps that inconsistency that's the most damning aspect of all; I simply refuse to pre-order anything from the splintered remnants of who I still think of as AD Vision, and going out of my way to support a company that so consistently shits the bed on their home video release as hard as these guys do isn't something I can convince myself is worth spending money on - not unless I know it's not a clusterfuck going in.

Shitty 1080i encodes already has me hesitant on both Bodacious Space Pirates and Penguin Drum, but the shows themselves are supposed to be so goddamn good I'm probably going to crack next time I see them on sale. Kids on the Slope and Tokyo Magnitude 8.0? No thanks, Sentai. Y'all can keep your shitty MONO LEFT tracks. Managing to create audio fuck-ups worse than Media Blasters wallowed in nearly 10 years ago is a clear violation of that line.

I don't want anyone reading this to flatly refuse to buy Sentai Filmworks/Maiden Japan titles, because when they don't fuck up their discs are just good as anything FUNimation puts out... I just want them to keep their eyes peeled on reviews, and know if they're supporting a major fuck-up or not before you throw $50 at a company that may or may not have earned it. Alternately, everything these guys are releasing on their streaming service THE ANIME NETWORK, and at least if the stream is fucked up you only paid $6.95 for a month of unlimited access. Just fit in 13 episodes a week and you'll have seen over $200 worth of problematic Blu-ray content for less than the cost of a Carl's Jr meal!


Kriztoffer Swank said...

Heard about the issue after my copy shipped. Was pissed.

Wrote Sentai an email, hoping they come to their senses. If they really aren't going to do anything this time around, I may not feel so inclined to support their releases. I certainly won't ever preorder anything again.

From what I've watched, Patlabor is great but has those gigantic yellow subtitles that often go outside the 4:3 frame like on Ninja Scroll, and rest higher on the image than Blu-ray subs ought to.

Is Kids on the Slope really 1080i though? The back of the case (according to the listing) shows 1080p.

If it's of any interest to you, Discotek's Kyatto-ninden Teyandee DVD has a bit of bullshit going on with it. I don't mind the weird romanizations (except for Korn. Really? Like the fucking band?!) or changing dialog/lyrics to make more sense to Westerners, but changing a line where a character asks another if he's a homo, particularly when the accusing character behaves really homotastically? Makes no sense. No sense AT ALL. The accused's reaction no longer fits because he has a bit of a shocked, embarrassed look on his face.

Kentai 拳態 said...

Ah crap, KIDS ON THE SLOPE is indeed a 1080p release - my bad. It's a bit hard to keep track of since Sentai themselves often put "1080p" on the packaging for their interlaced BDs.

Can't say I was all that interested in KYATTO-NINDEN TEYANDEE, but it sounds like their translation is indeed a bit of a mess. I doubt Tatsunoko had this translation sitting around for the last 15 years (supposedly the team that re-wrote the show into Samurai Pizza Cats had nothing to go by), so whether the edits and simplifications are the result of a lazy translator or Tatsunoko calling the shots, I can't say for sure.

Seems slightly counterproductive to hide a "homo" joke on a release specifically being marketed to adult fans who want to see the unedited Japanese version, and with that review only having covered the first three episodes I can only imagine what other awkward oddities are lurking... again, not a title my personal panties were ever in a bunch over, but it's certainly disappointing to hear none the less.

Kriztoffer Swank said...

According to this post on Right Stuf's Facebook page:

Kids on the Slope Notice:

Sentai Filmworks has issued a recall for the Kids on the Slope Blu-ray Complete Collection that was scheduled for release on May 7, 2013. (Episode 11 features only mono audio on the Japanese language track.) We have currently put a hold on our inventory while this issue is being resolved. However, a number of the Kids on Slope Blu-ray sets have already been shipped out to customers before we were notified of the issue.

If you have purchased this item from our store and already received it, a form will be made available in the next couple of days with instruction on how to return the disc.

When available we will ship out copies of the corrected disc.

Thanks for your patience - we will post the form location here soon. :)

My preorder from DeepDiscount shipped last week, so I hope I can either use this form (they're not sure if it's for Right Stuf customers only) or talk with Sentai directly to get my replacement.

Kriztoffer Swank said...

Aaaand, I'm totally in the clear! Right Stuf said that regardless where you ordered from, one can use this replacement form. No reimbursement for the return shipping I imagine, but a $5 gift certificate for Right Stuf is good.

Let's just hope Sentai didn't botch something else in the process... If I end up pining for my original disc 2, there will be hell to pay.

On another note, Don May totally kicks ass.

Kentai 拳態 said...

A day after I post this blood-soaked rant rag, Sentai Filmworks offers their first ever exchange. COINCIDENCE?!?! Yes, of course it is.

Still, gratifying to hear, and with this in mind I'll happily spring for Kids on the Slope shortly.

ADV and co. has used TRSI as both their warehouse and distributor since "the fall", so I'm not horribly shocked that they're handling the returns. They're also, effectively, the go to anime retailer these days, at least as far as physical media is concerned.

Kentai 拳態 said...

OT: I was morbidly curious, and got in touch with Discotek over the questionable SAMURAI PIZZA CATS subtitles. The translations were provided by Tatsunoko with the license, and considering how few potential customers probably even care that a subtitled version of this show exists, it's hard to blame them for not hiring a third party to re-translate the show from scratch.

Kriztoffer Swank said...

I was thinking it was probably something Tatsunoko had done. They seem nutty enough to alter the dialog in such a way. Yet while not staying true to the original wording, here they forced Discotek to get rid of the title "Legendary Ninja Cats" from the DVD art.

Discotek will also be doing their first ever (to my knowledge) replacement: disc two of Kyatto-ninden has subtitles out of sync and they'll be passing out a replacement to folks who want one once they press a second batch in June. (The first batch sold out.)

In the meantime though I don't know if I want to start the show because I sampled the episode in question and the subs are really awfully-timed... Some kind of glitch where each line is in place of the previous line, leaving words incredibly out of sync and long subs often flashing by in a second.

Aaaaand, the lead character Yattaro is played by the guy who does Nin-Nin... I'll never be able to look at Speedy Cerviche the same as I did as a kid.