Un-happy Endings

by Justin Sevakis,

Greetings! I come to you this week on steroids! Literally!

I'm not kidding. I was having such horrible allergies this week that the doctors put me on a 6-day tour of steroids. I do not feel strong. I do not feel capable. I only feel a little drowsy and full of snot.

Anyway, let's get to some questions.

Corey asks:

Sentai Filmworks announced that they will be releasing Maoyu and Henneko on Blu-ray this summer as Japanese language only releases. The concerning part of this announcement is that all 12 episodes of each show will only be on one Blu-ray disc. A representative from Sentai Filmworks responded to this concern on FaceBook stating, "an English audio track takes up a lot of space on a Blu-ray disk, and since these releases contain just one audio track (Japanese audio), there is more than enough room on one Blu-ray disk for all episodes without degradation of quality." I know you cannot speak for Sentai Filmworks' Blu-ray encoding and authoring practices, but as a Blu-ray encoder and authorer yourself, in general, how feasible is it to produce a Blu-ray with 12 episodes of anime without visual artifacts?

Sentai Filmworks already doesn't have a decent reputation when it comes to releasing quality Blu-rays. Whether this reputation is warranted or not is up to debate -- the company has definitely released more than its share of poorly-made discs over the last few years, although they've also released plenty of problem-free discs as well. When this announcement came out, I admit, I cringed. 12 episodes on one disc? There's no WAY that could look good, right?

For those who have never compressed video before, you basically add up all of the video that you're putting on a disc, add in how much space you need for audio tracks, and then do some math (there are apps for this) to come out with how much data you can give the video stream so that you're using as much of the disc as possible. After all, the more data you can dedicate to the video, the better the quality.

So, 12 episodes of a 24-minute show comes out to 4.8 hours, or 288 minutes. With one audio track (assuming stereo 16-bit uncompressed LPCM), plugging all these numbers into my bitrate calculator, that comes out to a bitrate of about 20 Mbps. Which isn't actually too bad. I've never gone under 23 Mbps on any of my discs, but anime is fairly easy to compress, so it might be enough. I've seen Hollywood features with video bitrates that low, and they've looked just fine.

That said, I would hope that they tested and scrutinized this setting, and that they were really careful before cramming that much on a single Blu-ray. I try to talk all of my clients out of putting any more than 4 hours on a disc, but with just a single stereo audio track, it might be OK. I guess we'll have to wait and see how this one turns out.

Spacesheep Kinlyu asks:

Of all the novel-based anime series that I've watched, there isn't one that comes close to ending they way it's supposed to be, and many of them (like Kamisama no Inai Nichiyoubi, The Legend of the Legendary Heroes or Tatakau Shisho) end in the middle of the main plot. How come these anime are always so short? Why do they even introduce the main plot if they never get to the end? Even for a popular series like Durarara!! there's no second season or any talk of the novels getting translated, although the manga spinoffs are still going in Japan. Can you explain why novel-based anime get so little attention?

I wouldn't say that they don't get attention, so much as the people involved in the money side of things lose interest.

When a decision is made to adapt a series of novels into an anime, it's usually done with the intent of boosting sales of that series. The exposure that an anime adaptation can provide for books is immeasurable, and it's not uncommon for the mere announcement of an anime to double or triple the sales of a novel or manga. When the publisher sponsors a TV adaptation, it's this boost in sales of the original work that they're really after. And given that, these days, nobody wants to sign on to make a show that lasts more than 13 episodes (in case it's a flop), that's all the anime production people get.

The anime staff do what they can with the existing material (complete or not) when they make the adaptation, and then it's over. Once that series is done, it can be really hard to get the fire lit again. The production committee members might not have been satisfied with the first series, or the original author might have disapproved of it. Or maybe everyone's happy but the director is already committed to do another project, and by the time he'd be available the series is forgotten. Or maybe the novel series has finished coming out and the people at the publisher charged with promoting it have moved on to other priorities.

Unfortunately, the way anime is produced these days makes it very difficult for an adaptation to do a halfway decent job in wrapping up a story. I'm sure this has to bother the people making it, but who knows if they can come up with a financially workable solution. But then, anime with unfinished storylines has been the norm for as long as I can remember.

Ian asks:

I was recently at a video store thinking about buying Hellsing Ultimate, which I heard good things about, and I wanted to watch the dub. However, it only had 8 episodes. I was sure it had ten, and when I looked it up, it said that Funimation only dubbed 8 episodes. It's been over a year since the last episode released. Why can't they license the last two? Do they ever plan to?

I'm quite sure Funimation wants to, although how badly they want to is probably a separate question. That ten-episode series ended up taking over six years to finish being released in Japan. In that time, a lot happened, and Geneon, the main producer in Japan (which still exists over there) got bought out twice. The show ended up with Funimation, who has released 8 50-minute episodes. The last 2 episodes came out in Japan in 2012, but never surfaced over here.

Fans at conventions keep asking the Funi guys for those last two episodes, and they can never give more than a cagey, "we're working on it." The thing is, that last buy-out made it really difficult for Funimation to keep releasing the show consistently, as it threw all of their contracts with Geneon into flux. And since American fans now expect anime to come in neat semi-complete packages, I'm sure the idea of releasing the series as single volumes as they were being made became less and less attractive over time, and reading between the lines a bit, it's probably true that sales suffered as a result. (Hellsing is, of course, no longer the big franchise it once was.)

And so Funimaiton is in the unenviable task of having to renegotiate for those last two episodes, and whether or not the series is still worth what the licensor is expecting to get for it is probably up for debate. (After all, once this is done, Funimation would finally get to put out a complete boxed set, which certainly helps.) I have no doubt that Funi's crack team of licensing guys are still working on it, but I would also wager that it's not a top priority.

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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