Back to the Grind

by Justin Sevakis,

It's a new year, the holidays are over, everyone is a good 10-15 pounds heavier, and it's freaking cold out in most of the country. For most of us, it's back to work. Frankly, I'm pretty excited to get back into normal life. And not just because I'm a workaholic. Actually, I'm just excited to be able to go to Costco or the mall in the middle of the day and actually be able to find parking. These are the joys of being self-employed...

Alexis asks:

Either you or Zac mentioned on ANNcast a while back that any future relicense of the Evangelion TV series would need to be approved by both Hideaki Anno and Gainax. Something that was unlikely due to some falling out they had with each other. Sentai Filmworks' recent 'rescue' of Nadia: The Secret of Blue Water has me wondering. Since Anno also directed that show with Gainax, is it not subject to the same issue as Evangelion? Or is this some sign of hope for someday getting Eva TV again?

No, one has nothing to do with the other. While both shows were made at Gainax, there are two significant differences from a licensing perspective: the first is that the producer and licensor for Nadia is actually Japanese government-owned broadcaster NHK. In the case of Evangelion, the licensor for the show itself is King Record (remember the logo of their division Starchild before every disc?), but Gainax is the "master rights holder" for the show and its giant line of merchandise.

You might be wondering, "but wait a minute... Gainax is the creator of the show! Certainly, given Japanese copyright law, they'd have some say over it!" Normally, that would be the case -- the original creator, or gensakusha, would get final say over whether or not a major business deal could take place. But Nadia is not a fully "original" work. Despite all the tangents and new characters, officially the show's creator is credited as Jules Verne, and the show is credited as being based on his book 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. Verne has been dead for a very long time, and that book is public domain, so it's unlikely NHK has to get approval from anyone to do a deal.

This is definitely not the case with Evangelion. Gainax gets to sign off on everything TV and Death and Rebirth/End of Evangelion-related, and Khara gets to sign off on everything reboot movie-related. And with ADV Films suing Gainax over the rights to the Evangelion live action movie that never happened (I haven't heard any updates about this case lately), neither of us could imagine Gainax would be too receptive to making a new deal with the same people.

But with Nadia, I don't think Sentai had to deal with anybody but NHK on that one.

Patrick asks:

I have a very simple question. Are blu-ray upscales of shows that have been out on dvd for years (I.E. Gungrave, Fate/Stay Night, etc) worth the money? Does the upscaling actually make a big enough difference to justify another purchase to see and possibly hear the improvements? Or is this just a cash grab by companies?

It's really hard to say. There are good upscales and bad upscales, presentations that are helped by the process and presentations that really are a step back. But overall, I'd say it's an improvement -- just often not a big enough improvement to make it worth upgrading, in my opinion.

When a show gets the upscale treatment, a couple of things happen: video is re-captured from the original Japanese Digibeta master tapes. The video is carefully analyzed, and even though Digibeta can only hold video in NTSC format (standard definition, 29.97 interlaced frames per second), a process is applied called "inverse telecine" or IVTC, which tries to restore the original 24 progressive frames per second. Once the video is properly 24 frames per second, antialiasing and scaling is applied to blow the image up to 1080p with as few visible "jaggies" as possible.

Most digipaint anime can be upscaled fairly well and easily, particularly higher-budgeted titles produced after 2003 or so. Prior to that, the production techniques for making anime digitally weren't fully sussed out yet, and upscaling those earlier titles usually doesn't look so hot. (This is likely why Funimation has never released Fruits Basket, one of their all-time bestsellers, to Blu-ray.)

Most people's Blu-ray players actually do a fairly decent job of upscaling regular DVDs, so many fans have argued that upscaling at the production end is redundant, and can possibly mess up the presentation. Some early upscales (most notably, the first Blu-ray release of Samurai Champloo) attempted to also denoise the image a bit, and that resulted in some smearing and the loss of fine detail. Japan's Q-TEC post-production studio has an upscale process that somehow keeps the image in 29.97 interlaced format AND smears the image. Predictably, reaction to those upscales has not been kind.

Most upscales do provide a benefit, in my opinion. DVD compression, particularly in the early days, did not look very good, and the English master tapes they got their video from also didn't look very good, since a lot of late 90s and early 2000s video gear still used analog cables and components here and there. Just the act of going back and reformatting the show from the Japanese master with modern equipment can work wonders, and then storing that video in Blu-ray format can result in a huge quality boost. As for the upscale itself, it's usually at least a little bit better than what even high-end home theater gear can do in real-time.

Personally, I don't upgrade all of my DVDs to upscaled Blu-rays. If the original disc looks good, it's not like there will be much additional detail in the Blu-rays that came from the same source. But sometimes it's absolutely worth the upgrade. It's a case by case thing.

Derek asks:

Is this Netflix paying somebody for the exclusive rights to stream the Knights of Sidonia series, or did somebody pay Netflix to put their show on Netflix? I understand that Funimation pays to get their stuff on Netflix, so I'm not really seeing how Netflix would make a profit from paying for streaming rights. I'm also not seeing how it makes financial sense for the Japanese to pay Netflix to stream their stuff when they could collect a fee from crunchyroll or Funimation to get the same effect (sans dub). How do you think the dubbing is going to work? Will they produce their own or will they pay BangZoom or somebody to do it?

We don't know much about how Netflix is going to present Knights of Sidonia yet, but as Netflix is not in the business of dubbing anime (or doing any actual production themselves), I'm going to bet they have a dub studio already set up to dub the show as it's made. Which one, I have no idea.

I don't know where you got the idea that anybody is paying Netflix to get their content on there. Netflix's whole business model is that they get their revenues from the end user's subscription fees, and then use that revenue to license (or more recently, produce) content. They pay content owners, not the other way around. It's not like glory-days Toonami, where Bandai and Geneon would regularly buy ad time for their own shows to try and get the show seen by as many people as possible. Netflix doesn't work like that.

The Netflix deal is interesting because it appears to not involve any of the typical players in the anime business, and it's a Simul-dub -- the sort that's only been attempted a couple of times. (It's a close-to-simuldub, but a season apart, so not really. Thanks for the corrections. -JS) Japanese producers have been looking for ways to "cut out the middleman" to the US market for some time now, particularly since license fees have dropped so low. Netflix and Hulu pay good money, and if there's a way to get shows online without having to share the royalties with a US publisher, they're going to do it.

I'm sure we'll see a US DVD/BD release at some point. But Netflix operates like a TV network, not a publisher. Even for their original productions like House of Cards and Orange is the New Black, they don't directly make DVDs and Blu-rays themselves, but lets the production company release the series according to their own distribution channels. So chances are, North American DVD rights are still up for grabs. The better question is, will any of the anime companies want it, without online rights attached?

As for the fate of the simuldub, I don't know who is managing production for Netflix on this title, but I hope to god it's someone who's used to dealing with the weirdness of Japan and their barely-on-time teeth-pulling production and delivery practices. The process is going to be rocky to say the least, and words cannot convey how happy I am to not be part of that!

And that's all for this week! Got questions for me? Send them in! The e-mail address, as always, is answerman (at!)

Justin Sevakis is the founder of Anime News Network, and owner of the video production company MediaOCD. You can follow him on Twitter at @worldofcrap, and check out his bi-weekly column on obscure old stuff, Pile of Shame.

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