As reported by Anime News Network, FUNimation made an interesting announcement at Kamikaze Con:

Funimation also announced that, at upcoming cons, they would be circulating petitions in order to bring the Sakura Taisen games to the US.

Personally I’ve still associated FUNimation with bad Dragon Ball Z anime episodes, but I’m seeing that this is no longer the case.  Because of a discussion over on Matthew’s Anime Blog, I remembered I had a copy of the first volume of Fruits Basket, which was put out by FUNimation.  Fruits Basket was brought up as a really nice release because it came out on only 4 DVDs, even though there were 26 episodes.  Having gotten a DVD burner recently I’ve really learned how low bitrates can really destroy a video, even on DVDs.  Most companies (anime and otherwise) still seem to prefer DVD5s, which hold about 4.7GB.  On these, if you have extras taking up space as well, 4 episodes is about the max you can get on it and have really good bitrates and video quality.  If the company’s willing to fine tune the encoding, 5 is also possible, but this is unfortunately rare.  DVD9s on the other hand are dual-layer and can hold a littler over 9GB of data.  You can pack more episodes on these discs and keep a high bitrate for a quality picture.

So, I wondered which FUNimation had done.  Was it 6 episodes + extras crammed on a DVD5 with noticeable video quality problems, or had they used a DVD9?  A quick check and it was clear, the first volume contains 6 episodes and is around 7GB.  Additionally I checked the bitrate through the first episode or so and it became clear it had been fine-tunes quite a bit.  The rate varies quite a lot, I’ve seen it around 2mbps, and as high (so far) as 7mbps.  I’ve yet to see any noticeable video quality degradation.  In fact what I watched looked simply stunning!  When the video needs the higher rates it has it, and when it doesn’t (and there are a lot of low/no motion scenes in these episodes) the rates goes down to save space.  The only real problem I can find with it is the audio is only encoded at 256kbps.  I suspect this is done to save space for the inevitable volumes with 7 episodes and they wanted to keep the audio encoding consistent across volumes.  That I can live with.

So back to the main point now.  It’s obvious to me now that FUNimation is not the company I remember, they’ve changed quite a bit and are doing quality work.  What impresses me the most here is that this is on a shoujo title, something other companies seem to treat like an unwanted stepsister compared to their other titles.  Add to this that they’re trying to get the Sakura Taisen games brought over and, well, wow, what a change!

For those who don’t know, the Sakura Taisen games aren’t exactly like standard dating sims, but there are components of that in them, something that no one seems to think a US audience would be interested in except the bishoujo H games.  Personally I think there’s a market for dating sims in general here, at the very least there’s lots of guys who don’t have any luck with women who would likely enjoy them.  I think there’s a bigger audience than that though, they can appeal on many levels: trying to win the hearts of the girls  you like is fun, and in a game it’s not nearly as painful if you goof things up; most are set in high school, I know to me there’s a LOT of appeal to being back in high school again when things were much simpler; and many would enjoy the different culture as well.  Anime fans can relate to this one, not only is it a dating sim, but it’s a return to high school and a chance to experience virtually a bit what it might have been like to go to school in Japan.  (Granted it’s not very realistic, but it’s a game and it’s the closest we’re going to get. ^_^)  Do note I’m not talking about H games here, I’m talking about the non-H dating sims.

Sakura Taisen though adds in the whole story that we’ve only seen bits and pieces of in the OVAs and TV series.  I understand there’s much more to what’s going on and the whole story is quite intriguing on its own, even without the dating sim aspects.  I think they would do well here.  Not blockbusters, but they’d do pretty well, certainly enough to cover localization costs.

Incidentally I do know of one game released in the US with dating sim aspects.  Thousand Arms for the PS1 is a RPG.  In it you’re a “spirit blacksmith” and you forge skills into your weapons, along with one of the girls.  What skills can be forged depend on your relationship level with the girl.  You have to go on dates to change the relationship levels, and you have options you have to pick to try and get the best date possible.  Annoyingly you really have to tick them off sometimes too to lower the relationship level to add skills to new weapons you acquire.  Still, the dating sim aspects were there.

Too bad I will most likely not be attending any cons, I’d like to sign the petition, I urge everyone else to do so as well!  Even if the Sakura Taisen games aren’t your favorites, if this is successful it may lead to other titles being brought over that we never thought we’d see.  I know I’d like to see Tokimeki Memorial come over sometime, from what a friend’s told me about it I think it’d be great fun. :)

(Please correct me if I’m wrong, I haven’t played them but have seen them in action and have a good friend who’s played them all, but I do not claim to be an expert by any means.)

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Mar
17
Filed Under (Other Stuff) by Maestro on 17-03-2005

Non-Anime/Manga related but I thought this would appeal to some people, especially with the Men’s NCAA Tournament going on.

Free 2 year subscription to Sporting News
Dead now, hope everyone got a sub. :)

I use this site often, I already have Sporting News through 2007 or 2008 one. :)  In two years of doing this I’ve never gotten any spam from them so they’re totally legit.  There are limited numbers of free subs so please let me know if the link stops working so I can edit this post to let everyone know.

Basketball Fans also check out Matthew’s NCAA Tournament Challenge Group to see how good (or in my case most likely bad) everyone’s predictions are!

For other free subs, check out Fat Wallet’s Free Stuff Forum and do a search on magazine

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Mar
16
Filed Under (Site News & Info) by Maestro on 16-03-2005

Just a heads up, I know the comment popup is behaving odd, mainly it wants to reload the main page after submitting.  I’m working on it but it’ll be tommorrow before I can fix it.  In the meantime, just close the window after your comment submits. :)

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Mar
16
Filed Under (Manga, News) by Maestro on 16-03-2005

(Full Disclosure: I’m not a big fan of ADV.  I’ve seen them ignore their customers’ legitimate complaints over things ADV did with releases far too many times.  Still I’m trying to be objective here, and the reasons I don’t care for them have contributed to the problems leading to their current layoffs.)

Publisher’s Weekly has put up a report about ADV laying off and restructuring its manga unit.  Reportedly up to 40 employees have been laid off, although ADV won’t confirm those numbers, only confirm that layoffs took place.  Some quotes from the article and my comments are below, along with a final summation.

John Ledford, cofounder and president of ADV, says the company faces a saturated market and more discerning customers. “Anyone can see that there’s only so much shelf space available to manga and to anime. We’ve adjusted our schedule to keep pace with the opportunities for shelf space.”

Truly I’m not sure if I should laugh or cry in response to this.  Frankly it sounds like Ledford’s placing the blame on the market, retailers (shelf space) and customers.  True all of that played a part, but what he fails to comment on is why ADV tried to muscle into the very firmly established Manga market in such a big way (around 80 titles last year).  When I saw the first ADV Manga titles at the bookstore my first thought was “are they nuts?”  Most of the titles weren’t big name titles, and ADV was a virtual unknown to Manga fans who don’t like/bother with Anime.  Sure Del-Rey/Bantam Books also made a highly publicized, and largely successful, push into Manga as well last year but they’re already a very well known name to book buyers as well as readers.  (Being known to buyers is highly important, as bookstores are more likely to devote shelf space to a publisher they know and trust.)  Even so Del-Rey, wisely I think, decided to differentiate themselves with top tier titles and a more meticulous approach.  While there has been some inconsistency in translation, all of their titles have excellent liner notes, cultural references, extras and full explanations of honorifics, justifying the higher price of $10.95 vs. the more standard $9.95.  Del-Rey also published far fewer titles than ADV did, another wise move (especially looking at it in retrospect now.)

ADV is refocusing its manga publishing on “winners,” Oarr says, and . . . will focus on properties “where we have both sides”–both the manga and anime licenses–pointing to the upcoming release of the much publicized Cromartie High book and anime series.

If I worked in what’s left of ADV’s manga division I’d be printing up resumes and job hunting fast!  Some of ADV’s titles will do great, but thats for older, established series that already have a huge fanbase.  Things like Cromartie High are not likely to do as well as ADV hopes.  Had anyone heard about this title before ADV started advertising it?  Has anyone, besides me, seen the Manga preview in this month’s Anime Insider?  It wasn’t that good.  Perhaps it’s because they took chapters out of context, but it doesn’t appear to matter much, it’s non-sequential humor.  I’m predicting it’ll do poorly, maybe not an absolute bomb, but nowhere near what ADV is hoping for it to do.

ADV also publishes NewType magazine, a category leading anime/manga fan periodical, and much of the editorial and production work for the manga books has been shifted to the staff producing the magazine in a new publishing division.

ADV certainly could use some help on NewType USA!  Most of the “Now Playing” episode synopsizes aren’t even close to what happened.  I can tell this from watching raws on my own and I understand almost no Japanese at all.  Whoever’s being paid to write those doesn’t even seem to be watching the episodes first.  NewType USA is also highly ADV-centric.  Try flipping through one sometime, the majority of the shows showcased, and even the advertising, is all for ADV titles.  If I was a company in competition with ADV with Anime titles I wouldn’t want to pay to advertise in Newtype USA.  Why bother when the majority of magazine caters to the publisher’s titles?

I should note that ADV has caused plenty of ire in the anime industry.  ADV had a tendency in the past to grab up rights to portions of series that another company had already started doing the distribution for.  Normally this might seem like a good business move, but it annoyed many customers too. Having the distributor change mid-series leads to mismatched cover art/naming/etc.  While their competitors have never said so publicly, they’re only human and I doubt they cared for this strategy either.  In more recent years this has been less of a problem since companies are moving to license the whole thing at once, but it may come up again in cases like Girls Bravo which has separate 1st and 2nd seasons, and likely separate licensing as well.

I think the scariest thing is that all indications are that ADV doesn’t realize they dug their own hole with this.  Since there’s still things wrong (Newtype USA and counting on new, relatively unknown titles) they really need to take a good look at what they’re doing and fix the problems.  Otherwise this will likely be only the first of many reports of bad news from ADV.

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Mar
15
Filed Under (Anime, Classic Anime, Nadesico) by Maestro on 15-03-2005

Originally Aired: 1996
Length: 26 TV episodes, 1 Movie, 1 Spinoff OVA

Martian Successor Nadesico was a huge hit right off the bat.  Its crew of misfits defy any normalacy to take place, and subtly (and sometimes not so subtly) poke fun at anime fandom.  Let’s start off by explaining who’s who of the main cast:

  • Hikaru Amano: Mech pilot, doujinshi artist and anime otaku (of Gekiganger 3 mostly)
  • Ryoko Subaru: Mech pilot, very brash tomboy, totally clueless about handling romance
  • Izumi Maki: Mech pilot, master of bad puns and jokes (so much so that her dialouge is/was hard to translate into English, even for the subtitles!)
  • Yamada Jiro: Mech pilot, Nadesico’s ace pilot, insists on being called “Daigouji Gai”, complete and total Gekiganger 3 otaku (to the point of thinking he’s living in the Gekiganger 3 universe)
  • Akito Tenkawa: Cook & Mech pilot, just wants to be a great cook but can’t seem to avoid fighting, grew up on Mars colony and is a childhood friend of the captain’s
  • Yurika Misumaru: Captain, 20 years old, brilliant tactician, daughter of an admiral, is deeply in love with Akito, can be a bit childish at times
  • Megumi Reinard: Communications officer, formerly an anime seiyuu, is in love with Akito
  • Minato Haruka: Crew/Ship manager, was a secretary before joining the Nadesico crew
  • Ruri Hoshino: Ship’s Computer operator, 11yo child genius, her favorite word is “baka,” has a crush on Akito
  • Jun Aoi: 2nd in command, in love with the captain (Yurika), although she’s only interested in Akito
  • Seiya Uribatake: Chief engineer, an engineering genius, has a family but chose to escape them to join the Nadesico
  • Inez Fresange: Engineering designer, she designed the Nadesico’s phase transition engines based on alien technology discovered on Mars, of unknown origin and age, her hobby seems to be explaining things to the audience

There are more crew members, and while their roles are important, the above cast’s roles primarily define the series.

As you can tell from the character descriptions the Nadesico is staffed by a crew of misfits.  Each character is well defined, and their characters are developed over the course of the series.  While the crew may be a bunch of misfits, they are dedicated to their cause and hope to end the Earth/Jovian war.

One of the things that drives Nadesico to greatness is the fact that it is more than just the sum of its parts.  While the crew make up alone leads to plenty of humorous situations, there are serious storylines entertwined into the plot.  For example, at the beginning no one knows who the Jovians are, as they only send mechanized forces to attack Earth and its colonies.  As the show progresses the crew of the Nadesico discover the startling secret as to who the Jovians really are.  Another example is the crew’s obsession with Gekiganger 3.  It starts out mainly with Gai and Akito, but as the series progresses more and more of the cast become obsessed with the show.  Later on the ship actually throws a mini anime convention to celebrate Gekiganger 3.  All of this sounds like the Gekiganger 3 stuff is there just for laughs, but it’s not.  In fact the Jovians know about the show as well, and it plays a huge role in defining them and their actions.  Through all of this Nadesico manages to show both the good and bad sides to anime fandom. 

Nadesico has something for pretty much everyone.  It fails (probably purposefully) to be pigeonholed easily into any genre type.  While there are lots of girls chasing after Akito, it’s not a harem show.  While there’s lots of mech battles, it’s not a giant robot show.  Even though it pokes fun at anime and anime’s fans, it’s not  a parody.  Even the storytelling is creative, episode 21 takes place non-sequentially, with the story playing out in a series of flashbacks into the past.  Along with that, the main crew are playing an illusionary “Memory Mahjongg” because their memories have been linked together.  Even here small details are important.  Events hinted at in this episode are finally shown for their true significance in the final episode.

In 1998 a movie was released, called “Prince of Darkness”.  The movie’s story takes place 5 years after the end of the TV series, and stars a now 16yo Ruri as captain of the Nadesico-B.  A lot has changed since the end of the TV series and the movie doesn’t delve into what happened very much.  A game was released for the Sega Saturn that covers the events in that missing frame.  A single OVA of the show within the show, Gekiganger was produced in 1996 as well.

If you’ve never seen Martian Successor Nadesico you really should try to see it sometime.  A lot of in-jokes are commonly used both in the fan community and even other series that originated here.  This is one of ADV’s earlier titles and has now been re-released in their value line, you can find the series for around $18 a DVD so it’s a cheap buy too. :)

Note: Mostly finished, will be adding links to some things later.

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Mar
14
Filed Under (Manga) by Maestro on 14-03-2005

A recent article talks about the controversy of public libraries adding manga to their offerings.  As seems to be usual for this type of “controversy”, the naysayers appear to not have bothered to check their facts before spouting off.  Perhaps it’s simply misperception, but there’s no real excuse for it.  You should have the facts before you form an opinion, and you most definitely should have the facts before you make a fool or yourself to the news media.

Some of the arguments are so far off base that I just had to respond.

some people dispute the value of books that feature female characters dressed in sexy outfits

Well yes, that can be a problem, but your kids see female characters dressed in far sexier, skimpier and more revealing outfits daily on TV, in magazine ads, on billboards, etc.  If this is really a concern for you, manga is the least of your problems.  At least the characters in manga aren’t real females dressed scantily!

and sometimes behaving in ways that conform to sexist stereotypes.

Now this is really getting silly.  While they’re not depicted so in actual pictures, there are many classic works of fiction that depict women in sexist stereotypes.  Laura Ingle Wilder’s (famous for Little House on the Prarie) entire series of books does for instance.  Why?  Well she grew up in a time period where women didn’t even have the right to vote and she wrote about her life.  This is just one example, I’m sure there are plenty others, but would these people want Wilder’s books banned as well?

In a recent column in the Deering High School newspaper, senior Colleen Hagyari questions why the school is spending tax dollars to buy “written garbage” such as the “Mew Mew” series, which averages six words a page and features seventh-grade girls who learn to “dress and act like floozies” to get what they want.

Well Ms. Hagyari, I highly recommend you work on your reading comprehension, or perhaps the problem is you didn’t do more than give the Tokyo Mew Mew manga a cursory glance.  I own this whole series, the English translation in fact so we’re talking about the same books here.  The average words per page is much higher than 6, on average throughout a volume it’s probably a good 20 or higher.  Yes there are some pages with very few words, but the art is the focus on them, and the art does all the speaking necessary.  After all, pictures speak louder than words, the same goes for art.  As for the girls “‘dress[ing] and act[ing] like floozies’ to get what they want,” sorry, nope, not even CLOSE.  Their cover is working at the cafe, and they don’t have a choice in the uniforms.  This is, in fact, a standard Japanese practice for businesses to provide the uniforms and employees change at work.  Beyond that if she’s talking about the outfits they’re wearing when transformed, they don’t chose those either, they come with the super powers.

What’s perhaps most telling about this is that Tokyo Mew Mew was written with a young female audience as its target.  To be fair Hagyari is older than the target age (which appears to be middle school age), but that doesn’t excuse her vastly misinformed words.  It’s hard to take a critic serious when it’s blatantly obvious they didn’t actually read the books/manga they’re criticizing.

The cover of another book, “Peach Girl,” depicts a girl with her pants unzipped wearing a shirt that barely covers her breasts, she says. It was promoted on a school bulletin board.

Sure it does, but it’s far less risqué than most magazines targeted at teenage girls.  How can we forget the way Brittany Spears dressed back when she was popular?  Peach Girl’s covers are quite tame in comparison.

“The innuendo is so heavy,” Hagyari said in an interview. “By buying something so trendy and obviously new and exciting, they want to bring kids to the library. But it wasn’t done carefully.”

Quite frankly it appears they were far more careful and responsible than Hagyari was in her criticism.  I fail to see how she thinks she could do better when the librarian(s) actually read the material first and she didn’t.

The school librarian, Ellen McCarthy . . . writes that “Peach Girl” explores racism by telling the story of a dark-skinned girl in a Japanese culture that prizes pale skin. The American Library Association recommended it for high school girls.

This is quite true, in fact I first learned about this form of racism by reading about the story in Peach Girl.  (I’ve never read the manga, but I know the basic storyline.)  What she doesn’t mention (because she may not be aware yet, it happens later on) is that Peach Girl’s story will delve deeply into the horrors of rape.  From what I understand it’s very frank and open about the subject when it comes up and that’s great as it does not flinch away from the truth.  Hopefully no girl will experience rape, but if they have, or do, it cannot hurt to know that what they’re feeling is normal.  It might just make the difference between living and dying as many rape victims try to commit suicide.  (This is something I have dealt with personally as an online friend got date raped and tried to kill herself.)

“I hope we don’t get censors pounding at the door to get the books removed,” McCarthy said. “A lot of people might say they shouldn’t be in a school library, but kids are reading them and they appeal to reluctant readers.”

I find it somewhat amusing that almost the exact same arguments have been made against the Harry Potter books (“they promote witchcraft and the devil!”).  Why is that people will complain their kids aren’t literate but fight tooth and nail to keep the things they WILL read off of library shelves?  Does having a kid mean losing your common sense or something?

In the end though there’s a ray of hope (and sanity):

[Rawding] checks each graphic novel before [her son] reads it, she says, and they discuss it together. At least he’s not hiding the books, she says. “At this age, I’d rather keep everything out on the table.”

Imagine that, a parent actually parenting and taking responsibility for their own kids morals and ethics.  It’s sad that this appears to no longer be the norm, we need more parents like Rawding!

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