Holiday Hustle

by Justin Sevakis,

I really thought I was going to die this week. I had so many irons in the fire, so many projects going at once, that I was working 18-hour days trying to get them all done before deadline. And to think I wasn't all that busy for a couple of months before this. When it rains, it pours, you know?

At least I finished my Christmas shopping. Have you?

Nick asks:

I recently enjoyed the ANN's string of reviews of Studio Ghibli's offerings on Blu-ray. They seem like great transfers, and the couple I already own support that notion. However, one common thread I tracked throughout the reviews was the unfortunate fact that many of the subtitle tracks seem to be lightly-modified versions of the dub script - in effect, dubtitles. I already own a number of Ghibli films on DVD and I don't recall this being the case there, so what happened? Why would someone decide it was better to use a dubtitled script instead of the translation that already existed? And then there's the Castle in the Sky blu-ray that apparently decides to go back to the original's soundtrack, with its more sparing use of music. Secondly, what are our options at this point if we want blu-rays with better subtitle scripts? Buying the Japanese blu-rays is the first option that comes to mind, but I'm not sure what English scripts those are using. Are they the same scripts as the DVDs use?

The inclusion of dubtitles instead of a proper English subtitle script is definitely frustrating. As for why they're like that, I can make an educated guess that the guys at Disney simply didn't know there were two different scripts, and simply used the wrong one. This really isn't the sort of thing that comes up very often, and it's doubtful that anyone on staff knows Japanese well enough to immediately tell the difference -- heck, it's not immediately obvious even if you're fluent. Further adding to things is that like most Hollywood DVD companies, Disney has had to downsize and reshuffle their staff as the DVD market has declined. This means that whatever mistakes happened in the past had lessons learned by people who may no longer be working there.

The revised dubs for Kiki and Castle in the Sky are a little easier to understand, however, since both of those required some amount of additional work. Both of those revisions were made to bring the dubs more in line with the original Japanese version, so you can bet they were done at the behest of Studio Ghibli. Reading between the lines, I'm guessing a certain powerful someone was open to the idea of altering the music and adding a few lines back when those films originally got dubbed, but eventually changed their minds.

I looked around, and I couldn't find any all-encompasing survey of US-release Ghibli films and their language options, so I did some research and came up with my own. Please keep in mind that some of this is second-hand information, so if you spot a mistake, please let me know and I'll correct it. However, I believe this to be pretty accurate. I've included as much information as I can to help you make an informed buying decision -- not everyone has the same level of pickiness, after all.

  • Nausicaa of the Valley of Wind - Subtitles are faithful. Disney release has English credits added, causing some animation to be slightly obscured. Japanese disc has no issues, and has two additional audio-only bonus features (interviews/conversations) that aren't subtitled.
  • Castle in the Sky - Disney Blu-ray is dubtitled. The English dub has been revised to remove some added dialogue and restore the original synthesizer score, which was replaced with an orchestral re-recording on its initial release. The Japanese BD has faithful subtitles, and includes the dub with the orchestral score.
  • Grave of the Fireflies - Sentai's Blu-ray release is aces (including faithful subtitles and both the Central Park Media dub and the new Sentai dub), although it's missing some features from the old CPM 2-disc set (which are unlikely to reappear elsewhere). The Japanese version has no English dub, but does have faithful subtitles and a lot more special features (which are not translated).
  • My Neighbor Totoro - The Disney release has the Disney dub and faithful subtitles, and quite a few new features that don't appear on the Japanese disc. (The Japanese disc has more original release promo materials tho.)
  • Kiki's Delivery Service - The Disney release is dubtitled, but based on the old/obscure Streamline/JAL dub, which is slightly more faithful than the included Disney dub. Speaking of which, that dub been revised to restore the original Japanese opening and ending themes, and remove some added incidental music and dialogue. The same English dubtitles and revised dub are on the Japanese release. (The original version of the Disney dub, with English songs by Sydney Forest, appears on the UK disc, by the way. Not sure if their subtitles are any better.)
  • Only Yesterday - No Disney release and no dub, and likely none forthcoming. Japanese release's English subtitles are good, although a bit simplified and non-literal.
  • Porco Rosso - US Blu-ray release scheduled for February 3rd. The Japanese version has the English and French dub (among others), along with faithful subtitles.
  • Pom Poko - US Blu-ray release scheduled for February 3rd. The Japanese version has the English dub, along with faithful subtitles.
  • Whisper of the Heart - The US release has faithful subtitles, and pretty much all of the features from the Japanese disc.
  • Princess Mononoke - The US release is dubtitled. The Japanese release has faithful ones. Other than that, the two releases are fairly similar.
  • My Neighbors The Yamadas - No US Blu-ray release is scheduled (yet). Japanese disc has faithful subtitles and the Disney dub.
  • Spirited Away - No US Blu-ray release is scheduled (yet). Japanese disc has faithful subtitles and the Disney dub.
  • The Cat Returns - No US Blu-ray release is scheduled (yet). Japanese disc has faithful subtitles and the Disney dub.
  • Howl's Moving Castle - The US Blu-ray has faithful subtitles. Both it and the Japanese disc are fairly comparable, although the Japanese disc has a few more extras.
  • Tales from Earthsea - The US Blu-ray is scheduled for February 3rd. The Japanese disc has both faithful English subtitles and the dub (and a ton of extras).
  • Ponyo - The US release is faithfully subtitled (though you have to select the Japanese version from the menu to access the proper subtitle track). The Japanese release has faithful subtitles, the English dub, and a ton more extras (though I'm not sure if they're subtitled).
  • Arrietty - The US release has faithful subtitles and the Disney dub. (The UK release has a different dub entirely.) The Japanese disc has no English dub at all, but it does have subtitles.
  • From Up on Poppy Hill - US release from Cinedigm/GKIDS has faithful subtitles and a dub. Features English-only closing credits that are inexplicably listed as a bunch of names without job titles.
  • The Wind Rises - US release and Japanese release are both pretty similar. Faithful subtitles appear on both. The Japanese release has a music video for the ending theme, but everything else is more or less identical.
  • The Tale of Princess Kaguya - US release from Cinedigm/GKIDS is coming soon. (No street date announcement has been made yet.) As the US theatrical release was in both dubbed and properly subtitled formats, both should be on the disc. The Japanese disc came out last week, and includes both English dub and subtitles.
  • When Marnie Was There - Not yet released in home video (even in Japan).
  • So, in summary, if dubtitles bother you, the discs to import are Castle in the Sky and Princess Mononoke. Your other options include the UK releases, which are not by Disney and may be a bit different, although UK releases are generally Region B and can't be played in US players. It's also important to remember that approved Ghibli subtitle scripts are aimed at a general audience, and so they tend to be a lot less literal than anime fans are used to.

    As long as we're kvetching about language options, I do wish the old dubs of Castle in the Sky, Kiki's Delivery Service and My Neighbor Totoro would resurface somewhere, though. Those aren't perfect but they're worth preserving.

    [NOTE: An earlier version of this article stated that Ponyo is dubtitled. It is not, but the proper subtitle (not SDH) track is a little hidden, as is now noted above. Thanks to noigeL in the forums.]

    Edgar asks:

    I don't like streaming anime. I like owning things; having them around; storing them in a convenient place like a hard drive with more series that I can pop at any time. Similarly, I am not crazy about physical media like DVDs and BluRay. They take lots of space, are perishable/damageable, require a machine exclusively created to play them, and more often than not, I feel like I am paying too much for what I am getting. I am aware that services like Amazon, iTunes and XBox Live sell single episodes, but they are tied to particular devices or apps and you don't really own them and if the service eventually dies, you will lose them. What I am hoping to see is DRM-free, customer-owned episodes and series that you can download at any time, anywhere, and then store and move them across devices as you wish. Since books, games, and music are moving towards that model, do you believe we will see anime being distributed like that some day?

    I'm pretty sure that will never happen, at least not any time soon. I think your impression that other media is moving in this direction might be overly optimistic. I really don't think games are moving towards that model -- Steam is still mostly DRM laden, as is XBox Live and PSN. No major book publishers have gone DRM free on eBooks either (Tor is not what I could call "major"). It's really mostly classic and indie stuff, which would benefit more from publicity than they would be hurt by piracy, that are making the choice to go DRM free.

    The big exception is music. Music HAS largely gone DRM-free. But music is used very differently than those other forms of media. We replay the same content a lot, and we expect to take it with us everywhere, including places that are well out of WiFi and cellular range. Commuters in major cities take their music into subways. Outdoorsy people take their music camping. That portability requires downloading music, and moving it between different devices. People have also used music for things like school projects, videos, and making custom DJ mixes, all of which are impossible with DRM. Conversely, TV series, movies, books and games are mostly played while stationary. Most people don't replay the same thing over and over, either. I've listened to some songs hundreds of times, but I don't think I've seen any film more than 30.

    I'm not going to argue the ideals of going DRM-free, because it's clearly a lot better for the consumer. But that said, DRM-free media downloads of things other than music just aren't a hot button issue. Not enough people care enough about it, because for all of the above reasons, DRM isn't that big of a pain in the butt when it's not on music. DRM has also improved quite a bit: it used to be that iTunes songs could only be transferred to 5 devices. The only other game in town was Microsoft Windows Media DRM, A.K.A. PlaysForSure, which was unreliable to the point of being a cruel joke. Nowadays, more and more media is moving to cloud storage, which means it can be securely streamed. More media consumption is also moving to tablets and set-top devices, which are closed ecosystems.

    The movie studios do not want free and easy sharing of their videos. There's too much to lose. Most people only watch TV shows and movies one time, and if they don't pay for that one time, they're lost forever as a customer. There are people that watch shows first, and then decide they like them and buy them (myself among them), but we're hardcore collectors, and most consumers are not like us. And for anime studios there's an even worse fear, of Japanese customers copying those files and not buying expensive Japanese Blu-rays, which is what keeps the whole industry going. Licensors won't even let US companies release Blu-rays these days without anti-reverse-import protections programmed in. That's not something on the decline, quite the opposite.

    Music has always been free and portable. Vinyl records aren't copy protected. Cassettes aren't copy protected. CDs aren't copy protected (except for that ugly time in the early 2000s where they tried). Movies have usually had some sort of copy protection. Silent movies had hidden studio logos on sets, to prevent pirate releases by different companies. The first home video format, Cartrivision, only had feature films available as rental cassettes, which couldn't be rewound on home equipment. VHS had MacroVision copy protection. DVD had CSS. Blu-ray has AACS. While I'm not sure piracy would decimate the industry overnight if all that went away, I think there's enough antagonism towards content creators and enough cheapskates out there that, if everything could be pirated with zero resistance, revenue would almost certainly drop.

    So... no. I don't think that's going to happen. Sorry.

    Scott asks:

    Why did Geneon and ADV Films overprint their stuff so much? Rightstuf is loaded with their singles years after they went away.

    Back in the days of the anime DVD bubble, companies printed a lot because they sold a lot... wholesale. They needed to print thousands of copies of everything, because they needed enough inventory to sell to Musicland/Suncoast/Sam Goody, FYE, Best Buy, and all the others. The problem is, most of that product got returned. The publishers were stuck with both a mountain of unsold inventory, and having to give credit to those retailers towards their next order of new DVDs. It was a very unfair system that was in place because the publishers needed the retailers more than the retailers needed the publishers.

    Those returned copies often ended up being liquidated. Right Stuf bought a TON of liquidated anime discs, for very, very cheap, knowing that they could sell those discs for years even at a huge discount and still make money. Simple as that. Hard to believe the industry used to be THAT broken, isn't it?

    Tyler asks:

    Ever since I've gotten into anime I've heard a lot of conflicting reports on how involved the author of a manga is when their series get adapted into an anime. I've heard they don't get involved with the process at all since their usually still busy working on the manga, but I've also heard they work right along side alongside the other show runners throughout the entire process. I am sure there are cases where some authors are more involved than others, but on average how involved with the show is a manga author when their work gets adopted into an anime?

    You hear conflicting reports because either one can happen. Most manga artists are too busy to be all that involved, and just hang back, content to let the animation professionals do their thing. After all, they wouldn't know what they're doing. Some manga artists might have a wish list of things they'd like for their anime adaptation -- specific voice actors, for example, or for certain things to be emphasized or colored a certain way.

    And then, there are the manga artists who just won't go away. The ones who insist on signing off on everything, who insist on revision after revision of every design, color key, and layout. Those manga artists often cause a lot of behind-the-scenes turmoil (which we will never get to hear about), cause delays, and make it so that animation staff refuse to come back for a second season. This generally happens more with the more famous manga artists. Many shoujo manga artists are particular sticklers, since they were sidelined and powerless for many years and now tend to exert an insane amount of control over their work.

    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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