Tuesday, May 20, 2014

In the Name of the Moon, I Boycott You.

Is it weird that I'm sad this isn't a Laserdisc cover?

So... let's talk, however briefly, about a girl I like to call "Bunny". You know, just to rile up both fan-bases at once.

Viz Entertainment has announced, as of Friday, both the upcoming PRETTY GUARDIAN SAILOR MOON CRYSTAL/美少女戦士セーラームーンクリスタル TV show, and the original 1992 PRETTY SOLDIER SAILOR MOON/美少女戦士セーラームーン TV series. Their current plot to Take Over The World involves both re-releasing the original 200 episode TV series completely unedited, both in Japanese and with a fresh English dub, first as a simulcast on Hulu and then later in DVD/Blu-ray box sets. As far as I'm concerned huzzahs are in order, no matter which way you roll.

That said, this is awesome news... for fans of the show. And with all due respect to Naoko TAKEUCHI and the talented bastards at Toei Animation, I'm just not among them. I've seen a dozen or two episodes over the last 15 years, and while I can confidently say that I completely understand why the show is a massive, eternal hit... it's all just a bit too frilly for me. Well, I say that, but I thought Cardcaptor Sakura was friggin' awesome, so I guess the more accurate statement would be that I just don't see why I'd want to invest 200 episodes' worth of my life into the franchise at this point. It's the same problem I have every time I think about watching Saint Seiya or One Piece - I'm sure they're good, but fuck me, I can barely find an hour a week to watch Game of Thrones these days. Maybe the dozen or so original volumes of manga would be the less daunting option? That was the only way I got through the Dragging On of Dragon Ball, after all...

Have I mentioned how generally awesome these are, Mister Popo's lips aside?
 I mean, he's still a fat, uneducated, negro manservant... why did they even bother?

In any case, the big shocker here isn't so much the Blu-ray. Despite "Toei be all Toei 'bout things!" having put dampers on personal projects, they aren't stupid; they know that this will be a Dragon Ball Z level property, and considering how that all-important nostalgic nerd audience has taken to Tumblr and decided that it refuses to spend money on anything without an at-least equal vagina to penis ratio in the main cast, they couldn't have picked a better time to drop this little feminine-empowerment* bomb on North America. Little girls who watched the adventures of Serena and the Sailor Scouts are just old enough to be fascinated by the unaired final season and no longer worry if their parents give a shit that the Outer Senshi are, in no uncertain terms, a pair of lesbian mothers and a second mother (because fuck your rules, man), while an ever-growing audience of young anime fans to whom streaming is just a normal thing have a chance to experience it for the very first time, as if it were any other new program. This also lets them prime the New And Improved Dub for release on any number of cable outlets, and despite Sailor Moon being "old", it's one of the very few anime titles to have had such an impact on its release that I have little doubt these will get some old-school cable action alongside the future of streaming.

* And, yes, that's "feminine empowerment", not "feminist empowerment". One of the most fascinating aspects of the series is that it explicitly suggests that you can be powerful and beautiful, which is a combination so rarely approached in any medium without immediately diving into exploitation territory. I suppose Sailor Moon's successor, Futari wa Precure, took this idea into its ultimate evolutionary state by having frilly, cute magical girls who literally whup evil's ass with DBZ kung-fu... but, yeah, I've never been a Precure fan either. To be fair, I have little doubt that I totally could be, but as with so many things in this world, I just haven't found the time...

Also, this is happening. Just in case you forgot.

In short, it's a damned good time to be a Sailor Soldier. Or Sailor Scout. Whatever. It depends on which version you fell in love with, y'see; fuzzy VHS fansubs of the Japanese original version, or the Carl Macek approved American broadcast release that toned down same-sex romantic relationships, re-worked the soundtrack, localized the show to American sensibilities and went as far as to edit out entire episodes to avoid the occasionally shocking levels of violence and "adult" thematic elements that put Sailor Moon juuuust clone enough to the Impending Apocalypse end of the spectrum that I always suspected I'd love it, if I ever gave it the chance. I don't know anyone at Viz personally, but I know they've done damned fine work with that I-still-can't-believe-it-exists first Ranma 1/2 box set, and with Sailor Moon being the only girls' title in Toei's massive catalog of magical girl anime to get a sizeable English following, I have little doubt that they'll deliver the goods. Obviously the very nature of a weekly-produced anime series from the early 90s shot on 16mm film is going to show its age, but to fans, I say be patient, and have faith. If there's one title Viz would rather eat a bucket of razor blades than released on upscaled Blu-ray, it's this one.

But, see, it's that previous "Whatever" that really forced my hand to say something, though. See, I know that titles which people strongly associate nostalgia with are, by their very nature, a bit of a hot button. We associate things from our youth with warm, fuzzy memories, and the way these things were presented to us play a big role in that. Ask anyone over the age of 30 what their favorite song from childhood is, and there's a chance that they'll tell you the title - and then add "but only on vinyl". Despite crackles and hiss not being an improvement on a clean, digital remaster of whatever the master recording was made on, the Pavlovian response to those bizarre, half-remembered feelings are tied to certain sensations and concepts. That's not to say there aren't, occasionally at least, absolutely legit reasons to want to read 30 year old comic issues versus a modern reprinting, watch vintage films on actual 35mm or even want to have a cracked and peeled-sticker "original" Transformer over a virtually identical (and comparably priced) re-release... but more often than not it's less the thing itself that matters and more the way we remember said thing.

Want a simple example of what I'm talking about? Two little words, friends: Mutha' STAR to the Fuckin' WARS, baby. I'm talk in about GOUT, which hasn't even existed since today's Jedi who cut their teeth on the Clone Wars were just a bunch of rat-tailed Padawan. You feelin' what I'm shootin' first, wookie?

Boom. Done. Everyone reading this just popped an instant hate-boner.

No, I'm not going to get into a big thing about Star Wars because... I don't have the fucking energy to. The last time I legitimately cared about Star Wars enough to be angry that George Lucas had done something incredibly stupid was about 15 years ago, and I have far better things to be angry about. Things like corn allergies, climbing the corporate latter, and how I tend to sleep 5 hours a night because I'm actually a double-sleeper agent being used by Latvian mind-control experts to perpetrate daring, but inappropriately silly jewel heists without my knowledge. See, without getting too deep into it, I'm going to state something painfully obvious, and hope nobody within earshot will stab me for saying it: The original Star Wars Trilogy, even back in 1983, is a wildly uneven collection of fundamentally silly movies (partially!) written and directed by a lovable hack who got incredibly lucky, and accidentally crapped out an evolution of Hollywood film as a byproduct of simply being true to his inner nerd - a decision that, ironically, . Yes, the original Star Wars is fun and The Empire Strikes Back is legitimately a good fantasy epic unto itself, but Return of the Jedi is a hot mess and the trilogy is so full of logical leaps and plot holes that it feels like it was made up as George Lucas went along... because it was. When you get down to it, Star Wars is just a fun hodge-podge of Kurosawa films, Flash Gordon serials and Muppets. None of that makes them bad movies, and I don't think there's any crime in loving them - hell, I still adore ESB, and think that despite the massive overall failure of the Prequel Trilogy, there are moments of a genuine vision lurking in the parts of Revenge of the Sith that don't openly and loudly suck wampa balls through a boba straw. Star Wars is fun and likable, but for the most part, that's as far as it goes.

 Also, this happened during the "golden years".
Takes the franchise credibility down by at least two pegs.

And yet, we fucking love it. We ALL do. We get angry when George Lucas, the only man who has any right to touch these films as creator and franchise-runner, does exactly what's within his right as the God of his own universe. Why do we get angry? Who really cares if the ewoks blink, or if Christian Haydensen gets CGed into the end of Jedi in a weird raised middle finger to Sebastian Shaw? Aren't we all grown up enough to not get upset about if a bunch of midgets in teddy bear costumes get digital dust in their eyes? There's a specific reason, and it's one so fundamentally selfish that it's almost laughable. We get angry because we remember. We remember the first time we saw these films. The first time we realized they were an epic, interconnected saga. The first time we thought, goddamn, I'm a nerd who spends all his time watching dumb shit nobody else around me seems to like... could I be the next George Lucas?

No. You can't. But those feels are still there, and there's nothing you can do to turn them off. For christ sakes, George Lucas MADE THE PREQUEL TRILOGY, and the original three films still have fans. Think about that. That's the sort of love that just happens because there's something innately lovable about it. They don't have to be the Citizen Kane of... anything. They just have to be fun, and stay fun for decades to come. There's no crime in being fun, but that doesn't make them perfect - and it doesn't mean that

Plus it's hard to stay mad at a guy who sold Star Wars,
then donated a cool $4 Billion of it to arts-education charities.

What I'm trying to say is that nostalgia is a powerful little bastard. It makes us wary of reboots and remakes, assuming the worst by default because we already love and cherish our memory of something so hard we can't even comprehend the notion that something else could equal it - forget improve it, that's just crazy talk. Star Wars is one of those unique situations where the entire world shares in that basic nostalgia - Jedi and nerf herders alike - and so we've created this massive echo chamber to agree that not only is Star Wars good, but the changes made to it are bad. It isn't that people are wrong for being upset that Han Danced First or whatever the fuck is up with the latest Blu-ray iteration, it's just that we all feel the same way, so it doesn't feel like externalized nerd rage over someone fucking with our childhood memories. It still is, mind you... we just don't have to feel like we're openly begging a corporate entity to not change something we liked when we still wore Spider-Man underoos under our Sunday best. Assuming, of course, you still don't do that. I assume everyone over the age of sixteen just goes to church wearing a butt plug under their corduroys, but I'm not Catholic or anything so I'm not sure what's considered proper shame-based attire these days.

And I bring all of this up not to trash on Lucas specifically, but because friends, I want you to see something...

Let me read the most important quote anyone has ever typed in the English language aloud for you. In text form. Shut up, I don't do Vlogs. Yet. That you know of.

Now imagine if George Lucas has in addition to making those changes, stated Chewbacca was actually canonically a lesbian and changed the scenes to make that very obvious...

I think we're officially done as a species, ladies and gentlemen. Humanity has reached the zenith of creation. Nothing that you ever say, or do, or think will ever top this "what if" scenario. Just let that sentence sink in for a second. "Imagine if Chewbacca was, canonically, a lesbian." This is an argumet someone used for asking Viz to release the bowlderized, heavily edited, English dubbed DiC version of Sailor Moon.

This person, this Goddess among heathens, is using the name of George Lucas specifically to argue in favor of a heavily modified version of an original work. I can't even I don't understand who and why and where in the fuck holy shit I THINK I CAN SEE THROUGH TIME AND SPACE ITSEL--

...it's like that moment when you first see the Über Gott peeking through the perception you once had of reality. We've all been there, right? ...right...

What's even more impressive is the fact that this is just the tip of the batshit iceberg. Go up to the top and check out WE WANT SERENA,  which is just... honestly, I can't tell if I'm looking at the most incredibly dedicated aspergers case in the history of fangirlism, or if this is a Level 8 Troll, the likes of which I haven't seen since Andy Kaufman still roamed the Earth. Either way, it's the funniest goddamn thing I've seen in ages, and if I didn't let the world know that people are still so obsessed about the DiC Bastardization of Sailor Moon that they're insisting it be re-released over the unedited original, I wouldn't be doing my... well, I guess "job" isn't the right word. It's more like a higher calling, isn't it?

In any case, all of this rage is rather silly, even in context. The fact is the complete, unedited version of Sailor Moon's original run has NEVER been released in its entirety in North America, so that's getting priority. That's the version 90% of its current fanbase wants to see - and the fact that they're creating a brand new English dub for the unedited version, similar to what ADV did when they re-released the uncut version of Science Ninja Team Gatchaman, is nothing short of insane. This is a release catering to everyone who liked Sailor Moon and wants to see what Junichi Sato, Kunihiko Ikuhara and Takuya Igarashi created with Toei Animation, in its entirety. It's a beautiful over the top endeavor, and everyone who ever liked this show and has even a passing fancy to revisit it should be thrilled. Viz is not only doing the right thing, but they're doing it so amazingly above and beyond what they should be doing that it's nothing short of mind-boggling. I don't even want this show for myself, and I'm thrilled to see the level of dedication going into it. That's what you call respect, and the more Viz begins to catch up .

Besides, there's likely nothing preventing Viz from, eventually, doing a "Fighting Evil By Moonlight Collecton" that includes the first two butchered American-broadcast seasons. You know, like FUNimation did with Dragon Ball Z's "Rock the Dragon" collection once they'd squeezed the Dragon Box market for every bloody penny they could. But that's just me being a cynical little fucker again, isn't it?

Anyway, pick through the crazy above and have a good laugh. We'll talk about something a bit less hilarious next time, I promise you that.

Thursday, May 08, 2014

Best Fucking Music Video Ever

G.I. JANE (Fill Me Up), Jackson and his Computerband

A friend of mine who's been encouraging me to music a bit more more often sent me this the other night and holy. Fucking. SHIT. It's like everything awesome about Japanese animation circa 1989 just exploded all over your face, and then told you to lick it clean before it took the last train home. The song itself ain't bad, but if the above three minute eyegasm doesn't leave you twitching and drooling with joy, you have zero business reading this in the first place. It's fucking amazing, and I want more. More! MORE!!

This deliriously minimalist ode to Toshio Maeda's Legend of the Overfiend, Yoshiaki Kawajiri's Wicked City, and even Hiroyuki Yamaga's DAICON IV was evidently directed by French pop-art absurdist tag-team Mrzyk & Moriceau. The song itself is available on Jackson Fourgeaud's 2013 album GLOW, or as a single on modestly priced VINYL with a totally appropriate jacket and the requisite remixes.

There's really nothing more I can say. I mean, fuck me - just look at it.

Monday, May 05, 2014

ADVENT TIME! With Griffith the Hawk, and Guts the Human

Oh hey, look what came out when I wasn't paying attention.

As I've already discussed at length in public at one point or another, I have very mixed feelings about this BERSERK: THE GOLDEN AGE ARC/ベルセルク 黄金時代篇 - a trilogy of feature films produced by CG specialist STUDIO4°C, and directed by the largely video-game experienced Toshiyuki KUBOOKA, covering roughly books three to fourteen in Kentaro MIURA's original Berserk manga. The final film in the cycle - THE ADVENT - covers the final days of the "Golden Age" storyline, and covers the dissolved of the Band of the Hawk, and the traumatic fallout which turns Guts into The Black Swordsman, Caska into his emotionally shattered mute companion, and Griffith into something much worse than either of them...

Since I've already spoken about the film at-length, let's just talk about the broad technical details in brief. This isn't much of a review, I admit: Just a few bullet points for anyone who may have been on the fence about these films who want to make sure they aren't wasting twenty bucks on a crappy release.

First and foremost, Viz should be applauded for one thing: This is the complete, uncensored "R-18" version of the film deemed too risque for Japanese theaters. I'm sure they had to fight to include this, since it's considered a bonus feature on the import release, but the "Theatrical" version is nowhere to be seen. I'd have loved for the censored footage to have been included as an Easter Egg just as a curio, but as that would put Viz in the uncomfortable spot of literally including MORE RAPE! (TM) as a selling point on a title that's a stone-throw shy of pornographic, I guess I'm not terribly surprised by its omission.

As with the previous two Viz Entertainment Blu-ray releases in the trilogy, what we get is a 1080p 24fps transfer with a somewhat thin bitrate of 13,179 kbps in its original 2.35:1 aspect ratio. The transfer has a subtle diffusion filter over everything to try and blend the 2D and 3D elements together as best it can, and there's a level of omnipresent digital banding that creeps up in a particularly obvious way during darker scenes, but it's safe to assume that they're native to the animation process, not a glitch on Viz' mastering end: There's no chromatic subsampling errors, edge ringing, macroblocking, or anything else that would suggest obvious mastering gaffes.

Audio is a similarly suitable Japanese 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio (16-bit) track with English subtitles, as well as an optional English dub up to the same technical standard. English subtitles are forced on the Japanese track, as was the case with the previous two discs, but the more this becomes the norm the less salty I get about it. It's annoying on principle more than anything, and I'm slowly coming to feel that if you're hardcore enough to watch the film in its original language without needing subtitles... you're probably hardcore enough to afford the Japanese import. Or at least smart enough to be using an HTPC with AnyDVD HD. It's worth noting that the uncensored "R-18" version released in Japan only has stereo audio, so this presentation is technically a superior package to the $65 import version. Neat!

Surprisingly, the DVD release actually contains fewer extras than the Blu-ray - both releases include
the five minute "Breakthrough" animated music video used to promote the film, a pleasantly compressive collections of trailers, teasers and TV spots, and a production gallery. Nothing incredible so far, but all appreciated content in its own right.

The first Blu-ray exclusive is an eight minute long interview with Studio 4°C producer Eiko Tanaka hosted at San Diego Comi-Con 2012, conducted in Japanese with English subtitles. The original pilot that's so far only been glimpsed as leaked camera photos was discussed (though seemingly will never be released for public consumption), as was the fact that this was originally set to be a 2 and a half hour single movie, but lengthened when they realized how much content was necessary for even a bare-minimum adaptation of the complex tale of Guts and Griffith. This new bit of information actually explains some of the weird pacing and surprising omissions, including Wyald, Guts' childhood, and Guts and Griffith's "moment" taking a bath early on in their brotherhood at arms. This was recorded when the third film was still in production, so Tanaka - accurately enough, I would say - says that they're approaching this from the perspective that, like Shakespeare before it, the violence and cruelty is an integral part of Berserk's drama, and hopes that adults who don't typically watch animation will give it a chance regardless of the fact that the film is animated.

The next featurette, sadly, is much less interesting. "The Battle For Doldrey: US Premiere Highlight Reel" sounds like it had the potential to be something fun, but in actuality it's a wafer-thin two minute promo showing off some spectators getting some cool swag from Viz, and then a handful of soundbytes from very excited fans who, in my estimation, were giving the film more credit than it rightly deserves. The thing is so cheap and poorly made that all dialogue comes out of only the left speaker. It's nice that Viz tried to promote the film, I suppose, but there's just nothing to chew on here.

Viz has, to their credit, blown at least one of my expectations away by presenting over 50 minutes of English dub outtakes. Normally this is the sort of thing that would make my flesh crawl, but anyone familiar with NYAV Post's dub of the TV series produced back in 2000 will know that the outtakes were the sort of guilty pleasures you don't get very often outside of intentionally badly dubbed movies like Kung Pow! Enter the Fist or What's Up Tigerlilly? Sadly, I've got dishes to scrub and sexy party to get to, so I haven't had a chance to see if these are also a gut-busting gem, or just an hour of dreck, but with much of the NYAV Post dub cast having returned, you can expect at least a few moments of eye-roll inducing gold.

The Japanese release has an entirely different "Premiere Event" feature and a running audio commentary with the production staff, but their omissions here aren't particularly surprising. Disappointing, perhaps, but at a third the price I just can't convince myself to complain.

So, there you have it. Viz managed to release the uncut version of the controversial Berserk finale, they did a damned decent job of it. Odds are it's kicking around at your local Best Buy for no more than twenty bucks. If you're a fan of Berserk, or epic fantasy/psycho drama in general, getting all three films now are a no-brainer.