Answerman What's The Worst Anime Release You've Ever Seen?
by Justin Sevakis,
Just curious, what's the single worst anime home video release you've ever seen? From any era, VHS, DVD, bluray, whatever the single worst one you can think of is.
In Japan, the worst release has to be of the film Gundress, which wasn't a great movie already, but also completely missed its release date. Delaying the film wasn't an option -- marketing money had already been spent and theaters were already booked -- so it was shown in theaters in a totally unfinished state, with a good portion of the footage still in pencil test stage. Visitors to the theater got handed a written apology note, copping to the condition of the film, with a coupon for the eventual home video release.
But here in the States, anime has gotten a lot of terrible releases over the years. Lots of early releases in any format have simple presentation problems, often originating from sub-par masters or workflows that haven't yet gotten fully sussed out by the relatively inexperienced production teams that tend to get hired by anime companies. It's true that anime fans tend to be pickier than most video consumers, but there are plenty of cases where releases simply got really, really screwed up.
In the early VHS era there was the legendary "Captain Harlock Collectors' Video" from Malibu Graphics: a botched re-release of a few dubbed episodes of the TV series (a poor adaptation by a company called ZIV International) with major audio sync problems and multiple music tracks mistakenly mashed together into an ear-splitting cacophony. The tape was simply unwatchable. There were other problem tapes in the VHS era (a volume of Viz's release of Video Girl Ai had the subtitle computer crash halfway through mastering; the first dubbed volume of Serial Experiments Lain accidentally was duplicated with the wrong audio track), but that Captain Harlock video takes the cake.
The early DVD era had a bunch of really terrible discs by anime companies that didn't yet know what they were doing. Central Park Media's initial release of Harmagedon tried to cram too much on a single-layer disc, and didn't play smoothly. Kitty Media's first "Best of Kitty" hentai 1-shot OVA collection changed layers frequently and randomly, causing many players to freak out. Manga Video's release of Wings of Honneamise tried to make a widescreen disc out of a letterboxed master, but caused terrible interlacing problems.
And those are just technical issues. In the early DVD era many anime companies were used to how things were presented on VHS, and struggled with how to present anime on a format that could serve dub and subtitle fans alike. CPM clumsily tried to chop up VHS dubs of Heroic Legend of Arslan (the old OVA series) and Dominion Tank Police to fit the new format, accidentally cutting out a bunch of recaps in the process. (Most of their most popular shows were also dubbed in the UK, and the NTSC-PAL-NTSC conversion on the video blurred multiple frames together.) An overly ambitious ADV Films tried to edit out the film splices from their master of Neon Genesis Evangelion, but after too many fans complained that it looked like the disc skipping, they had to redo the first disc. On a few low-end and hentai release, Media Blasters gave up on DVD features and just recorded the old VHS master directly to disc -- no chapters, no menus and no removable subtitles, but lots of weird trailers.
By the time Blu-ray came around, most of the teething problems with making discs were a thing of the past. A few discs had relatively minor picture quality issues here and there, or may have omitted something fans wanted, but there were few genuine fiascos. A few Blu-rays from Sentai Filmworks a few years ago had some pretty major compression problems (Penguindrum and Colorful, among others). Media Blasters' old Blu-ray of Moribito had similar problems -- it seems that interlaced video was something publishers had a hard time with for quite a few years. Moribito got a re-release from Viz that looks quite a bit better (if not perfect), but most of the problem discs from Sentai still need re-doing. All of those discs still look far better than the Mexican Blu-rays of Saint Seiya: The Lost Canvas, which simply mashed together interlaced and progressive video without knowing what to do with either.
Until recently I could say with some measure of confidence that the worst anime Blu-ray release is generally thought to be INTERSTELLA 5555, an interlaced, blurry upscale of a PAL conversion of a pan-and-scan 4:3 master (when a widescreen version exists). It was a mess, but could easily be blamed on source material issues rather than any outright incompetence. A runner-up would have to be Viz's first volume of Sailor Moon TV series, which took a very old master that should never have been upscaled and tried to clean it up in a way that only made things worse. (Luckily, subsequent volumes looked better.)
But all that changed with Starz/Anchor Bay's recent release of Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex on Blu-ray. I honestly don't know how you even screw up a disc this badly. The disc is already a barebones, half-assed affair: there's no sign & song subtitle track for the dub, there's no bonus features, and there's only a single chapter for each episode. Let's put aside the fact that the subtitles are just closed captions for the dub -- DVD/Blu-ray teams that aren't used to working with anime often make that mistake. What blows my mind is that the English audio track cuts into Japanese at several points... AND NOBODY CAUGHT IT!! Did nobody even watch through this disc before shipping it off to replication? I don't know how that even happens!
That's what blows my mind. This is a disc set that is clearly defective, and its manufacturer didn't even have the decency to fix it later. I find the lack of accountability for their product to be unconscionable on the part of Anchor Bay. This disc was not in releasable condition. As of this writing, it may be out of print, but it's hard to tell.
But thankfully, releases like this are very, very few and far between. I'd say 85% of anime Blu-rays these days are more or less problem-free, and 95% are good enough that I'd buy it if I liked the show. And that might even be a low estimate.
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Justin Sevakis has worked in the anime business for over 20 years. He's the original founder of Anime News Network, and owner of the video production company MediaOCD. You can follow him on Twitter at @worldofcrap.
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