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Hey, Answerman!

by Zac Bertschy,

We've got some good questions this week! I'm so proud of you all! I'd mail each and every one of you a gold star sticker, but that would require way too much effort on my behalf.

Ok, I have been working on this problem for quite sometime maybe you can help.  Does everything from AnimeWorks/Media Blasters have poor quality DVD picture and sound?  I have only purchased one product from this company, but Lordy did I have a problem.  I bought the complete collection of Weiss Kruez (Knight Hunters). 
Well here's the story.  I returned the first set since the picture wiggles horrendously.  Even during still frames the characters are vibrating and bouncing around the screen!  (This excludes the famous paper-cut out movements that the characters tend to have or the old-style way of showing a character laugh.)  The second set had the same problem so I figured manufacturer error.  Then in disc 3, the large band of pixels appears across the screen.  In disc 5, English dub, the music cut out during a fight scene then came on again, then off, then on again.  A problem that was not present in the Japanese version.  Then comes the third set and the same problems persisted!  I finally gave up and got my money back.  All in all the experience sucked.
I mean older animes can have flaws; this I can accept but this was pushing it too far!  When a company asks for $90 for a set it better be good.  I have bought from Bandai, Gonzo, and VIZ without any complaints, but once from AnimeWorks/Media Blasters was enough. 
I hate that the picture and sound and overall DVD wasn't better since I liked the anime.  After 3 sets had to give up.  So I guess what I wanted to know is if this is an unusual problem (i.e. my bad luck) or par for the course with this company?  I guess I'm just frustrated and feel my little fan heart broken by this.

Sounds to me like you've had a run of bad luck or they kept reaching into the same "damaged overstock" pile to fulfill your order.

Personally, I've never had issues with Media Blasters' products; I own a handful of discs from them, and they all look and sound great to me. They did a bang-up job on their Voltron reissue, and my Genshiken set is flawless. I've never had problems with any of the discs I've reviewed, either; Oh My Goddess! looked great and didn't have any problems I could see.

That said, it's not like they've never had a flawed release; just ask the watchdogs over at Anime on DVD. Their release of 12 Kingdoms and a few other series, including Berserk, I believe, had a pretty serious mono sound problem. To my knowledge, however, they did remanufacture and replace those problematic discs.

I'm not sure entirely what happened with your Weiss Kreuz DVDs (aside from perhaps a merciful god was attempting to spare you the miserable fate of actually having to sit through Weiss Kreuz), but it's an anomaly. Generally, Media Blasters puts out quality product. You may also want to consider replacing your DVD player; it's always possible that the issue is on the hardware side rather than the software side.

Hey Answerman, I recently saw the film "Pan's Labyrinth" and I thought it was a great movie but I couldn't help comparing it to Spirited Away; I mean, they're almost the same film! Did you see the same similarities I did? I don't think it was a "ripoff" per se but they are definitely very similar films.

Actually, I've gotta disagree with you pretty strongly on that one. There's one - maybe two - surface-level similarities between those films and beyond that, they're very, very different, in tone, execution, and nearly everything else.

You're right that they share a common plot element - a little girl is swept into an ambiguously sinister fantasy realm that may or may not be real - but the similarities end there. While Spirited Away is a relatively light-hearted fantasy epic that focuses completely on the strange and sometimes menacing world Chihiro finds herself caught up in, Pan's Labyrinth is thematically a much deeper, more adult film about the horrors of war and fascism and how fantasy can be the only escape from how awful the real world can become. Although I have to say, the fantasy world in Pan's Labyrinth is much more terrifying (and sometimes grotesque) than what we see in Miyazaki's world.

In Spirited Away, we spend maybe a few moments in the "real world" and the worst thing that happens to Chihiro is that she moves to a new suburb and is particularly sullen about it. Obviously I don't need to go into great detail about the things Ofelia, the lead character in Pan's Labyrinth, goes through, but suffice to say it points to a completely different theme. Given how much of the latter film is spent in the real world, I'm surprised you see enough similarity between the two to claim that they're "almost the same film". I couldn't disagree with that statement more.

Is Pan's Labyrinth better than Spirited Away? I'm not sure - apples and oranges, to be honest. But I did think the former was, along with Alfonso Cuaron's Children of Men, the best film I saw in 2006, and I can't recommend it enough. Miyazaki's film is certainly a classic but I'm among the folks who thought Nausicaä was a bit better (and that Spirited Away was an example of the man repeating themes and even characters he's visited before). To compare the two is something that I think falls apart completely beyond only the simplest of surface-level similarities.

Answer me this. Why do character image songs so rarely appear in the anime with which they are related?

Normally, it's because character image songs are released only on secondary soundtrack albums released late in the life of an anime series, and are designed to squeeze a few more bucks out of
the fans; take a look at any of the countless Fushigi Yugi character CDs out there. Generally, they're forgettable pop tunes, and they're almost always written and released after the show's in production.

Not to mention that many of them would seem out of place in a TV show. Having a scene where there's a song being played in the background that's being sung by a character in the scene is... well, awkward, to say the least.

here's something I've been wondering.  As it's no longer such a secret on the internet anymore, there are quite a few, how do I say... underground groups of fans of many different talents that converge together to "produce" and distribute currently-airing Japanese animated programming to those of us in the English-speaking world.  Having seen a decent amount of these underground programs and now just-starting to watch officially-released R1 DVDs in Japanese w/subtitles instead of english-dubbed, I'm noticing quite the difference in the quality of subtitle fonts. 
Underground: fancy typeset, graphically crisp, nice colors (sometimes even matching with the speaking character's hair)
Official:  stocky, shaky, block-like, kinda blurry lettering, plain and ugly colors (ugh, bright green?  neon yellow? WTF?  Even white doesn't work).
So my question: when (if ever) can we expect to see the big-name anime companies start to adopt the methods of the fansub groups and get some subtitles that don't burn my retinas?  Is it a technical thing?  Is it a budget thing?  Is this a sneaky way of getting us to watch the dubbed-version?

You're going pretty far out on a limb with this, aren't you? You like fansub subtitles better so "when can we expect the R1 companies to do the same thing"? Yikes.

Simply put, there is a standard for subtitles on DVDs; they're in a readable font that will work in most every DVD player, and can be turned on and off on the fly. I've never seen "shaky" or "blurry" lettering; normally it's extremely crisp, bold yellow text that's in a generic, unassuming font. There are also technical reasons; as our columnist and longtime professional Justin Sevakis explained to me, DVD uses a simple 4-color TIFF file to render subtitles, and one of those is used for masking.
So they have a limited color selection, and they can't use anti-aliasing.

Not only that, but the font has to be something very simple and very readable; you have to take into consideration what kind of crappy TVs people will be watching this stuff on. Your monitor is much crisper than an NTSC TV, so it's capable of rendering "fancy" subtitles that won't bleed color all over the screen or blend into the image.

Personally, I prefer the no-nonsense DVD subtitles to the extremely gimmicky and often impossible to read fonts that fansubbers use; the subtitles shouldn't be distracting. I don't need the words to match the character's hair color. I don't need animation effects in the subtitles. I don't need wacky multi-color sci-fi fonts that look like they've been run through every text blending option Photoshop has to offer. I just want them to say what the characters are saying and that's it. Hell, I don't even like the ridiculously obtrusive karaoke subs they slap all over the intro; it covers up the animation. They also rarely translate the actual credits, instead putting the internet handles of whoever did the fansub all over the original production credits. It's annoying; yes, I get that SUPER FANS or whoever subtitled this episode. I don't need their giant thumbprint all over the screen at all times.

So while one day the DVD tech may change and you'll have silly fonts all over your R1 anime DVDs, I'm going to go ahead and hope that it stays the same. Maybe they'll eventually use anti-aliasing, but here's hoping they don't go any further than that. I don't need to see the entire catalog of 1001crazyfonts.com all over the anime I'm watching.

Oh boy.

Hey Answerman! I was thinking - I'm a pretty funny guy, and I also think I'm a good writer! Next time you want to take a week off, how about letting me write the column for you?

Normally I'd try and write something more amusing or indifferent here but instead I'll just respond with what my gut tells me: No. Go to hell.

As an apology for my unrelenting hatred for both you and your letter, here is a baby dolphin.

Aw. Now it's all better.

We got a lot of responses to last week's rant about YouTube so I'm going to post a couple of 'em here. Here's this first, courtesy of Mike Gaffney. But hey, it's been a while, right? The following is in no way representative of the opinions of Anime News Network, Zac Bertschy, or anyone else save the person who wrote it.

I can totally see where Pat is coming from in his rant.  But there is also a part of me that disagrees with him.

I also GREATLY enjoy the feeling that I get when I purchase an anime series (the same goes for manga, I'm not one of the kids who sits in Borders with a stack next to me.)  The feeling that you get when you own one of your favorite shows is just an amazing thing that I love having wash over me.  Granted, buying your favorite show IS expensive and can take a huge toll on your wallet, if you don't buy right.  But, I love the feeling that I can get after saving up for a while and then going out to a store or going to a website and buying that anime you've wanted for so long.  Holding a small piece of something that you love I your hands is great. 

There is the part of me that disagrees with him however.  I don't feel that you should have to go out and purchase every anime series that you even slightly interested in.  I almost never buy a series without seeing at least a few episodes in one way or another.  I have two different “tiers” of how much I like an anime.  There is the first tier that is:  well, this anime is OK; I think I'll watch the entire series, but I don't really like it enough to buy it.  Then there is the second tier that says:  WOW, this series is amazing, I'll totally buy it when it comes out on DVD.  The thing is, I don't want to buy a series that I know I'll only watch once or twice.  The entire reason for buying something is so that you can watch it as many times as you want.  I feel that buying a series that you will only watch once or twice is pretty much a waste of money.  I'll borrow it from a friend or rent it in order to watch it if I'm only going to watch it a few times.  I'm not the type of person that will go out and buy a series just to have it to add to my collection, even if I don't really like it. Just so I can say: “I'm awesome, I have more anime DVDs than you do.”  That's a waste of time, energy, and resources that can be spent on something that I truly enjoy watching.  The only DVDs that I own are the ones that I know I'm going to watch more than once or twice.

I am all for supporting your favorite show.  If you love a show and you just stream it and never buy it, then you have a reason to feel bad after it.  I would rather support my favorite shows, their directors, and the studios that make them so that they can keep coming out with high-quality anime.  But if the show is sub-par, and you're only going to watch it once or maybe twice, I honestly don't see a reason to go out and buy it.  I mean, most people don't go out and buy a shirt and wear it once and let it sit in their closet.  They buy it because they like it, and they want to wear it a lot.  I feel that the same goes for anime.  I do however understand if you don't have the money to go out and buy anime, that you would stream it.  It is really expensive.  Most of my paychecks last summer went to building up my collection.  But if you have the means, I say go ahead and buy the series that you love so much.

Here's another one, this time by "Emi".

I agree with Pat Dangle's rant on YouTube. I will admit that I partake in the watching of anime on YouTube, but I also had a feeling that something wasn't quite right about it, and last week's rant put my feelings into perspective.

I'm also an anime collector; I can't tell you how many times I've skipped lunch or refrained from seeing a movie so I could hoard my cash for the newest manga volume or anime DVD. I've been collecting for quite a few years now, and as Pat said, it's a rewarding experience that usually can't be explained to normal people. YouTube is good for some things, no doubt. Sometimes I may hear of a series and wish there was some way to sample it before buying it – this is where YouTube comes in, and it certainly has saved me from wasting a decent amount of money on a not-so-great series. But the fact that YouTube is becoming a vital aspect of the average anime fan's life is unnerving to me.

For instance, let's say I had all of “Series A” on DVD. A friend says she's heard of it and wants to watch it, so I offer to lend it to her, to which she replies, “Nah, I'll just watch it on YouTube.” Perhaps it's selfish of me to think this, but I get a sinking feeling in knowing that I can't share my series that I worked so hard to buy with others, just because they want to save themselves the time and energy by watching it on YouTube. Exhibit B: The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya was recently licensed, which I was actually pleased to hear. It's a good show and I would love to support it and buy the DVDs once they start releasing them. But the same friend simply says, “I've seen it all on YouTube, why should I waste the money?” It's a sad thing to hear for a hardcore fan like me.

At the rate it's going, I see anime and YouTube becoming like music and Napster; so many free downloads are available, that eventually, the companies will no longer have the funding that comes from fans, and they will be forced to stop producing the anime that we all love so dearly. Continue using YouTube as a sampler, but if you happen to find a series that you really love, and it's available here in the States, please do yourself a favor and buy it. (And if you're a dub-hater, don't forget that most DVDs are available with the Japanese subtitled tracks.)

Whew. So what do you think? Do they have a point? Sound off on our forums and let the discussion begin!

If you have a rant of your own and would like to see your work in this space, just follow the rules below and you could be the next featured fan in RANT RANT RANT!:

Welcome to the newest segment in Hey, Answerman: RANT RANT RANT!

What I'm looking for are your best and brightest rants: no shorter than 300 words, on any topic you like related to anime. I'm expecting decent writing, and a modicum of sensibility. Send me a well-written and thoughtful rant that's a decent length, and I'll print it in this space, regardless of whether or not I agree with it, with no further commentary from me. The goal is to provide a more visible and public space for those of you with intelligent things to say about anime, the industry, anything you like related to the subject; discussion in our forums will surely follow.

The rules? Well, here they are:

1. No excessive swearing. "Damn" and "Hell" are fine, anything stronger than that needs to be excluded or censored.
2. Personal attacks will not be tolerated.
3. The word "Rant" must be in your email subject line.
4. Your rant must be at least 300 words, and use proper spelling and grammar. Internet speak, like 'lol' or 'u' instead of 'you' will not be tolerated.
5. If you send me something that's already been published on your blog or on another site, I'm just going to delete it. Likewise, requests that I link to your blog or another site if I print your rant will also result in your email being sent straight to the trash.

Remember, your editorial doesn't have to be negative at all - feel free to write whatever you like, so long as it's on-topic. We're looking for solid, well-stated opinions, not simply excessive negativity.

Send your rants to [email protected], and watch this space next week for our next installment!

We're still on hiatus, sipping Daquiris and watching the sunset atop a giant pile of anime DVDs we refuse to give away. See you next week!

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