Sunday, July 13, 2014

Sailor Fools

Resized by Blogger to 900p because

First off, dear friends, an apology is in order; while I may not be the biggest Sailor Moon fan on the planet personally, it's still a title that fascinates me on a lot of levels, and as such it was one I always planed to watch in its entirety, eventually. It's also something Mrs. Kentai adores, and as such it was something I should have been keeping an eye on.

Unfortunately, I've been... busy. Very, very, very busy. The Merry Month of May was mostly spent rolling up my sleeves and restoring a series for a particular licensor, a job that basically precluded sleep, sanity and - most recently - was on a hard drive that decided to take a full on swan-dive into a swimming pool full of chainsaws and landmines. I've managed to recover upwards of 80% of my work materials, thank Christ for that, but several hours of work has already been re-done, and several hours more still has to be pulled out of the deepest part of my ass. In short, if the guys I worked with hadn't been like "Hey, Gus Van Sant is supposed to direct Death Note for some reason!", I never would have known. Which seems kind of irrelevant, since ABC's Hannibal is already a remake of Death Note... but that's another post entirely.

And it's with that twitchy state of mind that, nearly two months ago, I shrugged off the notion that Viz Media, the new American overlords of Toei's 1990's version of PRETTY SOLDIER SAILOR MOON/美少女戦士セーラームーン, were going to release a standard definition master upscaled to 1080p as their new "High Definition" master as little more than paranoia over some ugly YouTube trailers. Viz had already started released Ranma 1/2 using a proper HD telecine, Toei Animation themselves have done plenty of honest-to-god HD masters including Dragon Ball Kai and Fist of the North Star. With the massive presence that this show holds in North America, I had assumed that some sort of deal had been struck whereby Viz was going to get their hands on some by that point never-before-seen HD master, at worst... Stranger things have happened, after all; Discotek's Blu-ray of Little Nemo: Adventures in Slumberland remains the only home video release of the HD master for that I'm aware of.

Oh, but how naive insanity can make a person.

This was straight from the horse's mouth, and from a time when I was spending every waking hour fixing up each and every shot of a film that I was forgetting to do things like sleep and eat, much less double check Anime News Network for what I, evidently wrongly assumed, would be pure fluff pieces:

So this show's coming out on Bluray and it's an old show from the 90s, just like Ranma. What kind of restoration are we talking about here?

Charlene: In 2009, there was a restoration done. Those are the very best materials available for Sailor Moon, and it is a 90s shojo anime, so there are challenges there. But we've been working with some companies that are really great at what they do and they've developed a way to not just do the inverse telecine but to really remaster that video. It looks significantly better than any other DVD that's come out, lots of care was put into it. You don't have to worry about any fake-widescreen, it's in a fully uncropped pillarbox, all the original colors are preserved, and a lot of care was taken to go along with our official style guides and official materials to make sure all of the colors are the way they were intended to be. Everything looks nice and crisp and clear, but you still have to understand that season 1 is a 1992 TV Anime. 

There has been no word to refute the notion that this was an upscale since, and with Anime Expo having come and gone, they would have defended that notion if there was anything to defend. 

So yeah. All that comforting talk I gave about how there's no way Viz would be dumb enough to upscale an SD master in a release that already includes as an SD DVD? I'm taking every word of that back, because they are that stupid. For all the shit I've (deservedly) given FUNimation's god-awful "Season" sets of Dragon Ball Z, at least those were an actual HD Telecine from 16mm film - not a good HD Telecine, not by a long shot, but an HD Telecine none the less.

Let's be perfectly clear, without potentially outing any constituents who don't fully approve of the things I do in my spare time: I work with a handful of film licensors from time to time here, and long term friends of the Kentai Blog probably know I've worked on one particular franchise for Toei. There was a time when said licensor asked if we could get an HD master for this title, and we were informed that Toei didn't have an HD tape*, but we were allowed to upscale the Digibeta we were sent if we so chose to. We then asked them if a new HD master could be created; we were told they had no interest in creating one, but would sell us a 35mm print roughly for cost and we could do the scan ourselves. By this point, the licensor I work for had lost all interest; they've never done an in-house telecine, and the costs to do it properly would far outweigh whatever money they'd make on actual sales. Thankfully, he shot down the idea of an upscale, because who the hell wants that? It's not like this was a digital show rendered at SD resolution; there's a 35mm negative for that title just sitting in Toei's vaults, waiting for someone to give just enough of a shit to make a new print for it. Unfortunately, Toei is all out of shits to give, likely based on how their HD masters of titles like Toward the Terra, Mazinger Z and Galaxy Express sold in Japan on Blu-ray.

* I have my doubts that they straight up don't have an HD tape for this particular title... but, that's what we were told.

I can only imagine that Viz had a similar conversation with Toei, realized that Sailor Moon was going to make a small fortune no matter what it looked like on Blu-ray, and took those 2009 Digibetas with little more than a sigh and a shake of the head. Personally, I couldn't be more disgusted that Toei is treating it's number-two money maker like this... but, this is the world we live in. I don't even think it's worth being angry about it, because neither side is willing to take the risk to give the show the quality release it deserves. Why should I be arsed to feel much of anything at that point? The most obvious angry retort is to point out that FUNimation has 16mm prints of Dragon Ball Z... but that's ignoring that they started getting 16mm prints in the mid 1990s, and Toei may not own their own lab anymore, making costs for that sort of work higher or the turn-around slower. Who knows?

Just to make it clear how incredibly awful this shit is going to get, here are SCREENSHOTS FROM THE iTUNES 1080p VERSION. This isn't just a bad upscale, it's the worst sort of upscale complete with edge-warping processing and clumpy, gross DVNR. I could accept this as a 480p DVD if the only masters remaining were analogue tapes, but Toei still owns all the 16mm negatives for this series. The only excuse for this atrocity is greed... and with Slam Dunk, Saint Seiya and Galaxy Express 999 having been given equally god-awful upscaled Blu-ray boxes in Japan this year, it appears this is what we have to look forward to for classic 80s and 90s animation from one of Japan's biggest production studios. Fuck. My. Life.

Caveat Emptor, kiddos: I was out of the loop on this one just a little too hard, and must thank a friendly Anon for pointing out that I had no clue what I was talking about. This is why I've gotten into the habit of talking about discs after I buy them... but, in this case, I wanted to make sure everyone knew NOT to buy them, unless they're fine with pretending it's a DVD set with pre-made upscales as a bonus feature. The sad part is I'm not even shocked at the news... just, incredibly disappointed. If Sailor Moon isn't "big enough" to get a proper Blu-ray release in North America without a proper HD master already existing on the Japanese end, not much else will be.

For those who aren't ready to fist-fuck this set into obscurity on principle, at least the packaging looks nice and purty; an 88 page booklet is evidently included, and the above artwork will have a shiny, foil finish. The price is a fairly hefty $79.99 MSRP for only 23 episodes, which I must remind everyone is 23 out of 200, meaning this shit will be substantially more expensive than the Dragon Boxes. Jesus Fucking Christ. Viz is planning to take Usagi all the way to the bank, and I have little doubt that the numbers of this set - upscaled or not - are going to be astronomical. It's sad, really... they've produced a new, unedited dub, they're doing a DVD/BD combo pack, and they're going for broke on the packaging. I couldn't care less about the new dub personally, but that just further shows that Viz has made this their baby, and that makes the confirmation that this is going to look like butt all the more infuriating. If it weren't for the fact that the HD master is a lying, filthy upscale this'd... basically be perfect. Hell, it reminds me of the Revolutionary Girl Utena sets, but at least those being a DVD didn't necessarily nullify the chance of a proper Blu-ray release coming out down the line! Then again, here I am three years later, and not so much as the movie has been announced... how sad.

$80 for 1/10th of a series from an upscaled SD master. Christ, why do I still buy anime!?

It ships in November, but I'm tempted to say anyone who wanted this should politely tell Viz that they're skipping the set, and will watch the show on Hulu instead. Viz and Toei still make money that way, and the quality difference will be absolutely negligible. If, on the other hand, you really want to see some Magical Girl Goodness in HD Stateside, my recommendation would be to purchase NIS America's Cardcaptor Sakura Blu-ray set. The Japanese remaster had some funky issues involving color-based sharpening and some light grain removal, but the results are dramatically better than any SD master. It ships in early August, and while Mrs. Kentai hates the package design ("Why are there stars everywhere?! STARS ARE NOT THE MOTIF OF THIS SHOW!"), I'm still tempted to buy it for her anyway, if not just to jab the spite-dagger into Toei's side a little harder for this bullshit.

What's sad is that I'm not going to tell you not to buy this show. If you've wanted the complete, unedited Sailor Moon on DVD odds are you've waited for a long goddamn time for this day, and you probably would have bought this with or without the Blu-ray. Hell, if this were a DVD only box set, I'd at least have considered it to sit next to my Dragon Boxes, Fist of the North Star Complete Collection and Revolutionary Girl Utena sets - and I'm sure plenty of people who are no less upset by this fact will come to the same conclusion. I just want everyone to be on the same page and not have to have the aneurism-courting ragedump I felt after they've already paid for it. The Kentai Blog is, at this point in particular, more of a Public Service Announcement than anything, so... The More You Know, I guess.

Thanks to a friendly Anon for not letting me forger this entirely! I owe you a shitty upscale for my prior tomfoolery.


Anonymous said...

There's only one culprit here, and that's Greed. You said it perfectly. Viz knows they will make a huge cash grab from this, and milking the whole series for $80 a set obviously shows they are willing to go through with it. This eye cancerous upscale is certainly not how you treat cel anime, especially not something as precious as Sailor Moon. Sad part is fans will still buy it, since this is the first time it's getting released on Blu-ray in America, and given how clueless most people are when it comes to remastered anime on BD, there's no doubting Viz will be swindling a lot folks of their money from this shady deal. At least we have more Ranma to look forward to. But I'm sure that's easy mode for them since Viz are just encoding the JP BD masters that Pony Canyon lovingly restored back in 2013. Oh yeah, speaking of Discotek's Nemo BD, have you seen the latest JP remaster of The Castle of Cagliostro? Sorry to keep stirring off topic, but I noticed you said you've been out of the loop for awhile, So I thought I'd let you in on what went down. Basically they DNR'd it clean of all film grain and plagued it with noise reduction so profusely that it has lost all it's filmic look. I seriously can't believe Ghibli released it like this, must have been TMS in house and Ghibli just licensed it for release. The 1080i transfer retains more information than this less than spectacular effort. :+( I'm curiously waiting to see what Discotek does for their BD.

Have a peek at the comparison.

I just can't like this newer effort. The old VAP BD looks better to my eyes, even wih warts and all.

Kentai 拳態 said...

Anon: The real tragedy here is that I'm sure most people aren't excited specifically because there's a Blu-ray at all, they're just excited at the prospect of owning all of Sailor Moon, period. The age bracket for fans of this would be old enough to remember when random episodes on VHS were the exception, not the rule, particularly in the days before and eBay allowed literally every item ever made to be two clicks and a debit card away.

There's an entire generation of young women (25~35) who grew up on the show and are now at the age where a combination of disposable income and nostalgia dictate they want to possess the show. Blu-ray isn't even a factor here, making the upscaled shenanigans all the more frustrating. Viz could have charged $75 for a DVD only collection, and the reaction would have been identical.

I've actually been discussing the "new" CAGLIOSTRO transfer with the missus and a few friends this week, because I find it fascinating how both transfers can be so incredibly wrong. The old release was a gross, digitally processed mess... but the new one has been fuzzed over so hard, what's the goddamn point? Mind you I'd rather have a soft, natural looking master than a digitally sharpened abomination like TMS' old telecine, but... goddamn it, did they have to go that far the other direction? We're missing the damned creases in Lupin's slacks!

I'm not entirely sure what to make of the "Miyazaki Collection" transfer of NAUSICAA, either. I may talk at length about it down the road, but the short version is the new transfer lowered the gamma for no particularly good reason, making the entire film look grimy and overcast for no good reason. The old transfer had a red bias I wasn't crazy about, but this new transfer isn't "better" - just... different, I guess. It's friggin' weird.

Anonymous said...

As much as I'd love to own all of Sailor Moon on Blu-ray, this is a definite pass for me. Upscaled cel animation is a big no-no, so Viz won’t be seeing any of my money.

Regarding the new Nausicaa and Cagliostro transfers; I think Nausicaa’s is definitely an improvement. Black crush is no longer prevalent and they’ve corrected the color timing for the Miyazaki Collection Blu-ray. It does look a bit gloomy in places but I do think it’s the better of the two.
The Castle of Cagliostro though, ugh. They’ve gone from one extreme to another, and I can not fathom why they thought applying DNR would be a good idea. Vap’s release looks overly processed no doubt, but least it retains finer detail.

Anonymous said...

upscale of a cel-based show is a sin. A real shame.

Kriztoffer Swank said...

Oh my good gravy god, nothing could have prepared me for how awful that upscaled footage looks. Compression doesn't even play into it: that transfer will look just as shitty on a high bitrate Blu-ray as it does a 1080p iTunes video. Baffled.

I'm really curious to see how the Blu-ray directly compares to the DVD. Wondering if the PS3 could upscale the DVD and actually make it look better than the pre-upscaled version. I could still possibly see myself getting the DVD-only sets just to see the entire series at last, because Hulu's subtitles for the series are seriously janked and off-time making it not very enjoyable, but I really don't wanna support this kind of crap. Maybe with Crunchyroll showing the new series in HD, they'll eventually stream the original show.


Regarding Cagliostro, I'd totally dig having the new Blu-ray because despite being so soft, it at least resembles film and doesn't have that heavy mess of noise, combing, and DNR. Surprised Discotek apparently won't be using the new master based on images from their blog. Was planning to buy that, now I probably won't. Guess I'll stick to the awful UK Blu-ray that I already own... *teardrop* Unless Hong Kong or Taiwan or someplace releases the new master solo, same encode.

Unknown said...

You know, I really don't think Toei *cares* about quality at all anymore, that's why the GE999/Slam Dunk BDs are just upscales of old DVDs, like almost everything else they re-release on BD. It's almost as if they hate film grain or something! They'd rather smear it in yucky filtered Q-TEC, than do a proper restoration. I know they love money, but how much penny-pinching can one company do? They have become the DNR milking nightmare of Funimation.

*See's Sailor Moon screencaps* Excuse me, I think I need to go outside and BARF.

Anonymous said...

The saddest part is that previous stateside Sailor Moon releases have been so dramatically, inexcusably, horrendously piss-poor that this still seems like a breath of fresh air. Like gee, at least the sound isn't muffled mono this time! Heehee!

I think it's been clear since the beginning, with the cropped, color-faded Geneon S an SuperS releases that Toei doesn't and has never given two shits about this. All they see is $$$. And unfortunately, since this release looks worlds better than something like the 2004 ADV shlock, I don't think the average consumer is going to know or care about the difference.

Nangbaby said...

I agree with you in all, but one point. No, one SHOULD NOT BUY if one is dissatisfied with the product. While the anime will make money anyway, why give it money for something you don't believe in. As you mentioned, Viz wanted to make this anime theirs -- they should suffer the consequences of a "half-fast" job.

Yes, I know, I'm biased. Maybe they shouldn't have blown all that money hiring a new cast for a new dub (a sub-only release would still sell) and instead put the resources into making a cartoon look nice.

Anonymous said...

Gotta admit, when I found out they were redoing this I got very excited - and immediately disappointed at the prices they were asking for. I may be a die-hard Sailor Moon fan, but I'm also balling on a budget.

A few years ago, I found a DVD set (that I'm sure is no longer sold) with all 200 episodes and the 3 movies for a mere 100.00. To good to be true right? Actually, I got pretty good quality for the price I paid. No, it wasn't digitally remastered, and you could only watch the show in Japanese with Subtitles (except for seasons 3 and 4 and the movies, given that the Clover dub didn't put in those weird scene transitions so the language could be seamlessly changed; and they never dubbed season 5 for many given reasons), which doesn't bother me at all because I prefer to watch it in its original form. Given that it's an early 90's show, I'm pretty happy with what I got. When I saw this remaster, I was kinda bummed because I wanted to own a nicer version. But I'm glad that the price turned me away, because after reading all the reviews I would have been so mad at myself until the day I died for buying what appears to be such a mess.

I may not be a videophile and am pleased with simplicity, but for once it looked like it worked out in my favor.