A Whiter Shade of Pale

by Justin Sevakis,

I have nothing witty to say this week, so let's just get right to the questions.

Brandon asks:

Since Neon alley brought back shows like Ranma 1/2 and Revolutionary Girl Utena.Do you think shows like Hikaru no go and Prince of tennis would do well in today's anime market even though both shows saw DVD releases that got cancelled and was never really broadcasted on tv with the exception of Toonami Jet steam?

I'm a giant fan of Hikaru no Go so it pains me to say this, but I have a feeling both of those shows are dead, dead, dead in North America.

I don't have sales figures, but we can safely assume they both tanked pretty aggressively in the DVD market. Both are basically sports shows, which have ALWAYS bombed fairly spectacularly with North American fans. Hikaru no Go is literally about kids playing a board game (and a stuffy, quiet one most Americans have never heard of, at that). Prince of Tennis was mostly popular because of its huge female fanbase in Japan, and it never really caught the eye of more than a handful of American fangirls.

Both series are available for streaming on Hulu in subtitled form. I'm pretty sure Hikaru no Go was dubbed in its entirety, though since Prince of Tennis ends at episode 50 on Hulu, I'd bet that was where Viz stopped licensing new seasons of that show. In any event, I think that's all we're likely to get. Both shows are digitally animated in standard definition 4x3, so there's no good way to remaster them for high definition. And since both shows failed to get traction before, there's really no impetus for Viz to try again. (Being Shueisha titles it's unlikely anyone else has a crack at them either.)

Sorry. Enjoy the Hulu streams. (Edit: Hey look! All of Prince of Tennis except for the newest OAV series is up on Daisuki streaming subtitled! Check it out there!)

Stanley asks:

I have a technical question about Blu-ray transfers, particularly the film to Blu-Ray ones. I've been starting up a Blu-Ray collection recently and was looking at some comparison screenshots from a lot of classic anime titles and films to see which ones were worth the investment over their DVD counterparts. One thing I've noticed with a lot of pre digital media is there seems to be more of a difference in how the final product turns out on DVD vs. Blu-Ray, particularly with the colors. Why is this, and is this by creative choice or is it something that naturally occurs during the transfer process.

DVD's often tend to have a slightly more contrasty look, whites are generally a little more cranked up as well as the blacks, were the Blu-Rays in general seem to look more painterly like. There also seems to be a sometimes strong cyan or blue color tint to the DVD transfers looking at screenshots side by side those from recent Blu-Ray releases. It's most noticeable with some of the lighting effects such as flares, light rays and what not. They don't re-shoot these for the Blu-Ray transfers do they?

This is a really good question, and one that I've been wanting to address for a while, because it has to do with how much our expectations of video quality have changed over the years. I'm going to blow your mind for a second... When it comes to presentation of anything that came from an analog source, if you're talking about color tint, saturation levels, the amount of grain, the brightness/contrast levels, THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS "CORRECT."

A little bit of background... Back when everything was made on film, first the film was shot, then developed, then edited together, then color timed. The film would get run through a color timing machine, which was this big clumsy film viewer with three dials controlling the levels of red, blue and green in the image. Each knob only had 16 settings. The director or cinematographer would sit with the colorist, and they would go through the whole film, carefully setting the color balance for each shot, trying to make the look of each shot match the others in a scene. The settings were recorded on a long strip of paper with holes punched in it.

In the entire film post-production process, until digital came along, that was the only control filmmakers had over the coloring of their films. Before anyone could see the final product, the film would get printed through generations of different film stocks, which would be developed in different ways at varying temperatures. Each time the image got "printed" to another strip of film, it would be affected by that film's grain, variances in its color sensitivity, and the contrast would get a slight boost. By the time the final prints would go out to a theater, the look of the film often changed substantially.

Filmmakers understood this inherently -- it was the limitation of the era. The look of a movie could change from print to print, from theater to theater. The filmmakers didn't labor over the color balance of each print, or think too much about how much film grain should be in each scene. Film was a living, photochemical thing that had a mind of its own sometimes, and anyone playing with it knew and understood its inherent flexibility. Analog video was even worse. Early video gear would change brightness and shift colors so wildly that engineers used to joke that NTSC stood for "Never The Same Color". Things as trival as cables, processors and amplifiers, and even bad building wiring could change the look of the image.

Now, think about how most film-based anime was made: quickly, under tight deadlines, often using cheap lab techniques to skip steps if the final product was intended for television. Final edits and fixes would be done on videotape. We are not talking about productions where the color timing of each scene was labored over. In fact, I've spotted many OAVs that were clearly never color corrected at all!

DVD releases often came from older film or video elements that came much later down the chain of production. Having been copied so many times, they were higher contrast and lost some detail, probably gaining a lot more grain in the process. However, when old movies and TV shows are remastered for Blu-ray, the only way to get a clear enough image for HD is often to do a new scan of the original edited camera negative. The original color timing is often lost, if it was even done properly to begin with. The original director or cinematographer, if they're still alive, probably can't remember what he was thinking 20-30 years ago when he made it.

So, when we remaster the classics, the engineer can only think about what we PERCEIVE to look good to our eyes, today. What colors seem to work for each scene, how much film grain would lend the desired dramatic effect. This is all very subjective, and there's a lot of disagreement. Anime, and film in general, is a very emotional thing, and we all want to preserve our connection with a film in its purest form possible. No two people are going to have had exactly the same experiences with a single piece of film, and so while one engineer might remember vivid colors in a movie theater, another might remember the grain of a beat-up copy he or she saw on television as a kid.

Neither one is right. The detail and color reproduction of the blu-rays we get today are so much better than we ever got before, and so much time has passed since those films were made, that we can only do the best we can to reproduce those images the way we think they should be. And everyone who cares is going to have a different opinion about that.

Geoff asks:

Recently with Space Dandy premiering on Cartoon Network hours before the Japanese broadcast, it triggered my curiosity on English dubs being available at the same time as the Japanese premieres. It shouldn't be too unusual. Lots of our shows and movies simultaneously premiere around the world with foreign dubs all the time, so why not anime? It's been done before with Kurokami: The Animation, and I believe the original Ghost in the Shell film. On Hulu and YouTube, both Cardfight!! Vanguard and some show called Future Card Buddyfight are getting this treatment too. What goes into doing a simultaneous dub, and can we expect to see this happen more often, at least for bigger shows?

As luck would have it, I worked on the simul-dub of Kurokami: The Animation. Boy, was that a break-neck insane schedule. I'm a little surprised we all survived.

There have been a few attempts at making a simultaneous dub of anime in the past, and it's really really hard. What happens is, early in the show, Japan will deliver the final animation really early, the dubbing studio will have plenty of time to rewrite for lip-flap, record the dub, and do the final mix. But as the show goes on, things almost always start falling more and more behind. Anime studios have a terrible track record of not finishing until the LAST POSSIBLE SECOND, often not finishing the final touches until hours before the show airs.

So what happens to the time in which the dubbing studio gets to do their work? It's not like the broadcast can be delayed, otherwise it won't be a simulcast anymore! So, the dub gets more and more rushed. Sometimes they have to dub to unfinished animation. (Does it match lip-flap? Who knows!) Sometimes sound effects and other things will get tweaked in Japan, but nobody will tell the US dub studio, resulting in audio being out of sync with the video! (see: Kite Liberator) Japanese studios are simply not used to having their product handed off to someone else to finish, so they will habitually go right up to the line, and the dub studio is left scrambling trying to make insane deadlines.

There's a reason so few productions have attempted simuldubs before. They are insanely difficult for everyone to pull off. But it can be done! The dub of Gundam UC is definitely a simuldub, and that dub ended up being fairly popular.

I don't know why so many simuldubs are suddenly happening in the last few months, but I will say that I feel genuinely sorry for all involved.

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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