Carb City

by Justin Sevakis,

This week, a small group of friends I'm a part of had one of its regular dinner parties. I was tasked with making the main entree, spaghetti marinara, complete with seafood. It turned out very well -- I was a little worried, as I'd never cooked for 22 people before, but everyone was complimentary of it. I had a plate of it, and enjoyed it, and then when I went home I mindlessly ate the large Tupperware container of leftovers.

Also, a friend of mine that does some subtitling work for me sent me an early Christmas present: a large tiramisu from a famous Baltimore-area bakery.

'Tis the season to light your diet on fire.

Elizabeth asks:

I was musing the other day about my own changes in tastes as I got older as a manga/anime fan. I noticed plenty of regular licenses being among the shonen demographic. Don't get me wrong, I love One Piece. But as a woman, I saw myseld gravitating towards stories like Princess Jellyfish and other josei titles. I remember the short burst of josei in TokyoPop's history (Kimi wa Pet, Happy Mania, etc). Why do you think the American/Canadian market is hesitant to tap into said josei market especially with the generation who watch Inu-Yasha on Toonami are out in the world with their degrees? Surely enough of us in our 20s and 30s have stuck around despite families, careers, etc.

Anime based on josei manga gets the green light every once in a while, but all of them are what we would refer to as "tough sells" in the business. That is, shows without an obvious marketing hook, product tie-ins, or an easy-to-understand high fantasy concept that even the least sophisticated person could grasp onto. Those are the things that the entertainment industry revolve around, both in Japan and America. So the opportunities for more high-minded, mature entertainment to get made are far fewer. Of the few that do get made, many bomb. None of them become huge, Shonen Jump-level hits.

Believe me, I sympathize. I also love me some easily digestible Shounen and Shoujo goodness, but the fact of the matter is, once you get to a certain age, your brain wants more mature stories too. But since there are fewer of us who like that sort of thing (and those of us that do tend to be busy with jobs and kids, and don't buy as much related stuff, by and large) we are something of a niche audience. It's the exact same thing as Hollywood movies, which are predominantly big explodey blockbusters. There's a time and a place, but there's a lot of times where that's just not what I want to watch.

But, Hollywood makes what sells to the biggest, most reliable audience possible, and then gets stuck in whatever mode tastes land in. And so too does Japan.

Jeremy asks:

My question concerns the regular forum complaints about the higher brightness level on some US BDs vs Japan. Funimation, Sentai, and Viz are often accused of raising the brightness level on their releases. The higher brightness sometimes causes blacks to look washed out and often makes banding and gradients more visible that's otherwise obscured in shadow on the Japanese discs. These complaints really took off after Funimation's Lain debacle. I've seen this issue affect Japanese live-action releases in the US too. Does this possibly relate to the black level difference between US and Japan NTSC? What exactly is the cause and is there something the studios and authoring houses should be doing differently?

This is actually one of those problems that nobody ever seems to have fully gotten to the bottom of. Brightness levels in Japanese masters have been a problem for decades. You can see it in many DVDs: milky black levels, bringing out lots of video flaws that might've been hidden away in dark areas. This was caused by the difference in Japanese NTSC video standards (where black level is at 0 IRE) and American NTSC standards (where black level is at 7.5 IRE), which meant that Japanese SD master tapes had their brightness unintentionally boosted when run through American equipment. [Edited here, thanks to Mohawk52 for his clarification on this.]

At some point, the various American publishers realized that many Japanese masters needed to be manually corrected, and added that as part of their normal production process. It was a pretty easy fix: find a black frame. Bring down the brightness until that black is actually true black, which can be measured with a video scope. Export.

Then, HD came along, which doesn't have this discrepancy, and the problem seemed to go away. Black levels were no longer too bright. HDCam tapes have a better range of color reproduction than standard definition master tapes, and don't bring with them issues that might've been caused by old equipment. And then, this new brightness problem started to crop up. Except, it's not so much an issue with brightness as it is the "gamma curve" of the image: the black parts are still perfectly black, but everything else gets much brighter than it should be. This is far, far harder to correct for, because there's no easy point of reference: you just have to sort of tweak things in software until it looks more like the Japanese disc, which you might not even have access to. And that's to say nothing of the fact that anime publishers have a natural aversion to tinkering with video settings (it pisses off both licensors AND fans) unless they're trying to do a restoration of some kind.

What's causing the discrepancy? Honestly, it could be coming from anywhere. The only similar issue I've encountered was a few years back, when the method I was using to convert AVI files (used in production on Windows) to QuickTime ProRes files (used in production on Macs, and the gold standard in general). Something was getting messed up when the colors were being converted, so everything got a little brighter and I also noticed some additional banding going on. Obviously I've since found a better solution, but maybe some of my colleagues haven't yet. Or perhaps a similar thing is happening elsewhere in the process, maybe even in Japan.

Regardless, it's not pretty and I hope someone can pinpoint it soon.

Kimiko asks:

You talked about flawed video on Western anime releases this week. Since the original Japanese releases often don't have these problems, I'm wondering, why do Western releases even need to re-encode the video part of a BD? Do the extra subtitles and/or audio track take up so much disc space that the video track needs to be compressed further to make room?

Ripping and reauthoring a Japanese disc, while it does happen occasionally, is generally the last resort for a US anime publisher. The Japanese licensor hates it: the compression of the disc is something that the Japanese publisher did, and they really should be asked permission before you reuse their work or they might get upset. Also, Blu-ray replication is horrifyingly picky about the video encoding, and if there are any issues with the video (which can slip in from ripping and decompiling an existing disc) you can't really go back and fix it. You'd have to re-encode the already-encoded video, which reduces quality.

Extra audio, particularly in 5.1, does in fact take up a lot of extra room. Subtitles, not so much. However, Japanese discs have so little on them (2 or 3 episodes, in some cases) that they're usually encoded at a ludicrously high bitrate. I mean, there's no reason NOT to encode at that high a bitrate if you have the room on the disc, but there's not really a difference in quality. The resulting asset files are so huge and kludgy, it really limits how you can arrange the episodes on a reauthored American disc.

So, yeah, lots of reasons not to.

Hollie asks:

Some websites are reporting that Megan Fox might play Usagi in a live action Sailor Moon movie. When I saw this article my stomach dropped. Please tell me that this happening is highly unlikely. I do not think that having an American movie of sailor moon made would be a good idea. I feel like it would ruin the franchise and give it a bad reputation. What are your thoughts?

You can relax, I'm not putting much stock in the idea of a live action Sailor Moon movie at all right now, let alone one with Megan Fox starring in it.

I don't know why this story is cropping up again, since there appears to be no new source of information that's being leaked to the press. Wherever it originated this time, it's been regurgitated by several other trashy celebrity gossip pages. No serious journalism outlet has yet made any mention of a live action film in development. None of the articles on the gossip sites cite any real source for any information -- most of them merely float the possibility. The only mention anywhere tying Ms. Fox (who's 28) to Usagi (who's supposed to be 14 in the beginning) was from coverage of her press junket for the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie that came out back in August.

Press junkets are punishing day-long marathons of Q&A sessions with a succession of low-tier, frequently star-struck entertainment reporters at a rented space at a Hollywood hotel (usually the Four Seasons). Every 10 or 15-minutes, a new reporter and camera crew are ushered into the room, and the star must appear happy and friendly while answering a series of inane, repetitive questions over and over. Most stars can deal with it, but almost all of them get a little bit punchy and start going off-script at some point. In this case, a question was posed to her: now that she'd been in Transformers and Ninja Turtles adaptations, what other potential remakes of classic cartoons would she like to be a part of?

The first words out of her mouth? "Gundam Wing." Yes, folks, Ms. Fox, like a surprising number of attractive Hollywood types, is actually an anime fan. She also brought up Thundercats. Then, musing, she thought of Sailor Moon. "That could feasibly be made into a live action movie... I don't know how many Americans were into that. I was into that, but I don't know how huge it was here."

That's it. That is THE ONLY recent mention of a live action Sailor Moon project I could find anywhere, and the only one connected to Megan Fox. It's not plans, it's not an announcement. It's a random tangent uttered by a bored actress at a press junket. And one that even acknowledges that it's not a project. The tangent got picked up by the tabloid press at the time, which twisted it into, "Could Megan Fox play Sailor Moon???" because anytime a celebrity mentions some vaguely nerdy property it's solid gold clickbait. Journalism at its finest.

So why would an 8-month old mention in an interview start getting new coverage now? That's the way gossip pages work -- if it's a slow news week, some writer will go back through some old interviews, find some factoid, and puff it up in a bunch of meaningless verbiage until it's a story that might attract some clicks. There's also a distinct possibility that a publicist somewhere called around and got a blog to run the story, trying to keep a name ("Megan Fox") or a concept ("Sailor Moon") in the public eye. In case you haven't noticed, this is a town that runs on bulls--t.

Could a live action Hollywood Sailor Moon movie happen someday? I doubt it. Most of us have seen the miserable sizzle reel that was produced by LA-based children's TV/movie producers Toon Makers Inc. back in 1994, but I have a feeling that was made as a proof-of-concept without any sort of approval or input from Japan. Naoko Takeuchi is extremely protective of her creation, and she's powerful enough now to veto any proposed deal where she would lose control of the end result. You can bet money that the last thing she wants is a Sailor Moon equivalent of Dragonball Evolution.

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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