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Daizenshuu EX Removed From YouTube

I was both anticipating (expecting, really) and dreading this day — today was the day that the “daizex” YouTube account was removed due to “copyright infringement”. What makes it so delicious is the “third strike” which resulted in the take-down:

One of our “Inconsistencies” videos.

For those who are unfamiliar with them, over at Daizenshuu EX we created a series of (so far) three videos in our “Inconsistencies” line (itself a multimedia extension of our “Filler Guide“). In conjunction with a podcast episode (where we discussed the same topic matter among several hosts), we would create a short, narrated video that showcased the differences between the original manga (comic) version of a scene from DragonBall and its later TV adaptation. In our first video, we presented a scene where one character (Vegeta) sees another character’s transformed state (SSJ Goku) in the TV version, which never actually happened that way in the manga, and what the ramifications would be from this. In our second video, we presented a scene where the villain (Freeza and Dodoria) who murders a character (Cargo) is changed when adapted to the TV version. In our third video, we presented a scene in which there is a slight change in the order of events in a scene (Piccolo pushing Goku out of the way of a blast from Freeza).

In all three videos, panning and zooming shots from the original manga version are presented with original narration. A short clip from the corresponding TV episode (with subtitles of our own creation, since we are using the original Japanese version of the show) is played. To conclude, we recap with a couple more panning and zooming screen shots from both the manga and TV versions.

They are basically nerd-erific showcases of dedicated love for the franchise. While we have not quite seen anything exactly along the lines of what we created, other examples do exist out there — our buddy MistareFusion created a great video that has fun analyzing what appears to be a very intentional nod to Star Trek in one scene from the DragonBall Z TV series:

Are we using copyrighted works “without permission”…? Sure. Does that extend to even things like using music from the TV series, in addition to showcasing an actual scene from it? Absolutely. There is no delusion here.

Is it “fair use”…? Let’s hold off for a minute on that.

The way that the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) works is that if any kind of provider or host (let’s say YouTube) is notified by a rights holder (let’s say Toei Animation) that one of their works is being improperly used, stored, transmitted, etc., that provider or host must immediately remove or otherwise take down the infringing material. There is no review process until after the material is removed — if and only if the creator of said infringing material (let’s say me) chooses to file a counter-claim (in which they are saying that the material is not infringing, may actually be fair use, etc.). Basically, if you are notified to take something down… you take it down without question, or face further action. The rights holder faces no immediate repercussions for issuing take-down notices to content providers — this means they can issue take-down notices willy-nilly in blanket rollouts and hope for the best under the (safe) assumption that everything will be taken down with no argument. There is the potential for a horribly chilling effect on free speech when organizations hide behind the DMCA to remove legal commentary (for example, issuing a DMCA take-down notice on something they simply don’t like, rather than something genuinely infringing), but that is not the subject of this post, and not something I have enough familiarity with to authoritatively rant about.

YouTube works on their own personal “three strike” rule, whereby an account that receives three take-down notices from rights holders will be immediately deactivated. My main “daizex” account had received two notices of take-downs from YouTube regarding two prior videos:

  • While working on my review of Ayumi Hamasaki’s “Rule” CD single and DVD, I edited a short video clip from the music video to include on the page. Within minutes the video was removed from my account with a take-down notice from the music rights holder in Japan.
  • On April 1st of this year, we received a take-down notice on the opening theme to the video game DragonBall Z 3 (“Budokai 3”) for the PlayStation 2 (which can still be viewed here and here and here on YouTube via other users’ accounts). We subsequently removed other game-related videos from our account. This was legitimately just a case of, “We think this is cool and will post it up for folks.” There were no “education” or “review” pages associated with it.
  • This morning, we received the following e-mail:

We have disabled the following material as a result of a third-party notification from TOEI ANIMATION CO.,LTD. claiming that this material is infringing:

DBZ Filler Inconsistencies: Video #3
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b_Y3KQRusWY

This is the third notification we have received alleging copyright infringement in one of your postings. Consequently, your account has been terminated.

If one of your postings has been misidentified as infringing, you may submit a counter-notification. Information about this process is in our Help Center.

Please note that there may be severe legal consequences for filing a false or bad-faith notice.

Sincerely,

— The YouTube Team

Were the first two claims pretty accurate? Sure. Does that diminish the accuracy or weight of the third claim? That’s up to you to decide. Personally, I think if anything is going to be called “fair use”, it is a video like one in our “Inconsistencies” series.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) breaks down the area of fair use as such:

There are no clear-cut rules for deciding what’s fair use and there are no “automatic” classes of fair uses. Fair use is decided by a judge, on a case by case basis, after balancing the four factors listed in section 107 of the Copyright statute. The factors to be considered include:

  1. The purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes — Courts are more likely to find fair use where the use is for noncommercial purposes.
  2. The nature of the copyrighted work — A particular use is more likely to be fair where the copied work is factual rather than creative.
  3. The amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole — A court will balance this factor toward a finding of fair use where the amount taken is small or insignificant in proportion to the overall work.
  4. The effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work — If the court finds the newly created work is not a substitute product for the copyrighted work, it will be more likely to weigh this factor in favor of fair use.

(A-1) Was our video commercial in nature?
No. We were not enrolled in any revenue-sharing program via YouTube. We do not make any money off of Daizenshuu EX — while we do accept donations, any money received is put immediately back into the site for things like product reviews, hosting, etc. If you care to know, we’re in the hole. Always have been.

(A-2) Was our video educational in nature?
Maybe. While not a scholarly work in any way, an authoritative presentation of information could be considered “educational”. At the very least, it was “insightful”… or so we like to think ^_~.

(B) What was the nature of the copyrighted work?
Well, the copied work was creative (a fictional, animated TV series).

(C) What was the amount of copyrighted work used in relation to its larger whole?
Within our three-minute-and-sixteen-seconds video, the vast majority was original narration and still-shots from the manga and TV versions. Footage taken “verbatim” (for lack of a better phrase) plays between 0:30 and 1:26 (including fades in and out), meaning it is less than one minute in length, and less than one-third of the short video. As for an amount in “comparison” with the original product, are we comparing in relation to the one particular episode? An episode is roughly 22 minutes long. Are we comparing in relation to the entirety of the TV series? DragonBall Z is 291 episodes long, while its preceding and proceeding series have 153 and 64 episodes, respectively…

(D) What is the effect upon the potential market?
Our video is clearly not a substitute for the original product, in that we are constantly interrupting scenes with original narration and swiping them away to move onto the next point. We discuss roughly one minute or so of content from one TV episode of a long-running series. Furthermore, in this particular video we do not even discuss (never mind showcase) what is typically regarded as the most substantial and important “part” of the episode (Goku’s first SSJ transformation) — I personally think that is relevant to this fourth defense point, but you may disagree.

So where do we go from here?

I am not entirely sure. I think it is worth it to file a counter-claim with regard to this particular “Inconsistencies” video, but it is a lot of work for little value in return — which is exactly what the rights-holders are hoping for from an attitude out of those they issue take-down notices against. There is also the fact that some of the material on the channel as a whole was more legitimately “infringing”.

In the long run, though, I do not need YouTube to host these videos. I could just stream them myself on Daizenshuu EX all on my own! One of the reasons I put them up on YouTube, however, was — of course — the massive audience potential. We serve such a niche audience with our website that it can be difficult to find the right ways to reach out to and extend that audience. Our goal is simply to spread our love and enjoyment of the series (and specifically the original Japanese version of it), and a lot of fans out there just have no idea where to look for something like that. We have had plenty of new, regular visitors tell us they found us video YouTube, via our podcast listing in iTunes, via seeing us at conventions, etc. They are all great ways to reach out to that audience, so it made sense to explore that avenue.

The other side of me just wants to abandon it (YouTube being the “it”), though. We all know how ridiculous the comments are, and if we are not greatly expanding our audience there, then is it really worth it to keep producing for it? I am well aware (and have been constantly reminded), though, that the majority of people simply watch the video, smile, enjoy it, and move on with their lives. I consume media online in very much that same way. Positive feedback can be difficult to come by! While I joke that the negative feedback on the videos (from folks who generally are not our target audience to begin with) acts as a pretty huge hurdle to overcome in wanting to produce more, I recognize that plenty of folks out there actually do enjoy them and would not mind seeing more. With that in mind, I actually made a video showcasing the Bandai Playdia video game system exclusive to our Facebook page.

So. Uh. Thoughts?

(Oh yeah… curious to see that “Inconsistencies” video that resulted in the channel take-down? I tossed it up over on our Facebook page. Enjoy! We’ll see how long that lasts!)

Japanese DBZ Video Game Hilarity

Every so often I like to just kick back and read through all of the various boxes and instruction books for my old, Japanese DragonBall video games. I happened to be scanning through the Super Famicom stuff this morning when I re-discovered the fantastic, not-entirely-“Engrish” splash text on one of the most acclaimed games for the generation, Sûpâ Saiya Densetsu (“Legend of the Super Saiyan“).

One of the things that I love about the box is its use of “Super Saiya-jin” rather than the standard (even for Japan) “Super Saiyan“. Pronunciation issues and differences aside, “Saiyan” has almost always been the de facto standard for Japan’s own romanization of the term, so it is a little shocking to see an outlier like this.

More than anything, though, the splash text as a whole just reeks with dramatic awesomeness, and at least one fantastic mis-spelling. Can you spot it?

The strongest man in the space. SON GOKOU fights the series of the terrible baitles for our space. That’s where the legend of the Super Saiya-jin starts from. Burning blood!!

What more is there to say? I have a bunch more examples like this to share… just gotta remind me every so often, folks!

My Podcasting Setup ~2010ver.~

It has been over a year since I last wrote about and shared how the magic of podcasting goes down at Casa de EX. A lot has changed since then, but I just have not gotten around to writing up a new version. Our buddies over at the Unofficial One Piece Podcast asked the other day what we were using for a mixer, and when I pointed over to that blog entry, I realized just how out-of-date it was!

So here we go. I am happy to present to you the ~2010ver.~ of “My Podcasting Setup“. As always, I do not claim to actually know what I am talking about. I am probably wrong with much of what I do, and writing about how I accomplish it is most likely only perpetuating bad habits and sharing mis-information.

Oh, well.

I have killed two computers over the course of doing the show for Daizenshuu EX. First I blew the sound card in our Shuttle, and then its power supply died. Both are easy fixes, but it just sits over there on the other desk because I have been too lazy to open it up. Once that went down, I shifted over to using Meri’s old desktop from ~2000/2001 as a secondary recording rig. I tossed Ubuntu on it, and as described in the prior article, I used it to line-out for a dedicated Skype track recording.

All that is old hat.

Over on the Mac, Jeff uses a great application called Übercaster to record us locally and any extra, isolated audio tracks (such as Skype, bumper music, etc.). I’m running a standard ol’ Windows XP install both on my desktop and my laptop, and I have gone with a little Skype plug-in called Call Graph. It just works. When running alongside Skype, it automatically records the entirety of a call once one begins, recording your own audio in the left channel, and the other side (be it a single person or a conference call) in the right channel, spitting out a stereo WAV (or MP3) the instant you conclude the call.

Near as I can tell, though, it only records at 11 kHz — even if you tell it to record a 44 kHz MP3, it still records an 11 kHz WAV which it then converts to a 44 kHz MP3. This… is mostly serviceable. When you have folks like Julian who are just running a standard Logitech headset, anyway, the frequency of the audio file is not really taking much more of a hit than it already is due to the hardware. When we are done recording, I take the WAV into Audacity, split the stereo audio track, delete the left channel (myself), tell the right channel (Julian) to act as mono, and export the new, entirely-isolated audio track. Voilà.

(If I am recording with someone who knows what they are doing, I sometimes just have them record locally on their own end and send me their final audio once we are done recording… though I always am recording a back-up just in case.)

What about my own, local track, though? That I do not allow Call Graph to handle — I still record in Audacity at my standard mono, 44 kHz dedicated audio track. The two tracks (my own local track + Skype track) are easy enough to line up in Audacity for editing later on, either through a “1, 2, 3, clap!” or just from doing this for five years and understanding how a conversation is supposed to sound.

I still use a combination of Levelator and Audacity’s built-in noise removal for my post-processing — nothing special there. I am also stuck in my own ways by using Adobe Premiere to line up the segments with their respective bumper music tracks for the final mixing and export. I just really like the block-based dragging and snapping for that final step, I guess.

With that in mind, though, let us turn back over to the hardware.

The driving force behind everything is still my Behringer Eurorack UB802 (~$50-60) mixer. It is a great, compact little guy with two XLR inputs, phantom power support, decent gain/volume control, plenty of line-in and out support, etc. The UB802 seems to go through phases of being available versus unavailable, but the standard Behringer 802 (~$60) is something I picked up for Jeff over the last holiday season, and it is essentially identical to my own.

The main difference these days is that I have indeed jumped over to using a USB device to grab out the audio, rather than running an analog RCA-to-1/8-inch line-in cable. The Behringer U-Control UCA-200 actually came with the (larger) mixer that I use at work. It is their standard pack-in version with mixers, but the stand-alone UCA-202 (~$30-35) is what you will typically see for purchase online. I had spoken before about how the device takes over as the entire sound device for the computer — for example, I was unable to listen to the audio I just recorded through my headphones while it was plugged in. Once I stopped being an idiot and looked around a bit, I found that I could tell Audacity to still use the internal sound card for playback and use the U-Control device for recording, allowing me the same convenient usage I had always experienced.

For any recording where we need more than two local microphones (such as a “Manga Review of Awesomeness” or something for vgconvos), I no longer daisy-chain the RadioShack mixer into the Behringer. Instead, I have Jeff bring over his 802 and daisy-chain that into my mixer. We use the same process of RCA cables going from “Tape Out” on his to “Tape In” on mine that would have been used from the old RadioShack mixer, but now it is done with higher-quality equipment. It still introduces extra analog noise that I would rather not have to deal with, however. I have my eyes set on the Mackie 1202-VLZ3 (~$300) mixer with its four XLR inputs and non-Behringer, genuinely-high-quality parts. Behringer stuff is “OK”, but I have had a few issues here and there with the mixers to the point where I probably will not buy their stuff again.

Over on the microphone side, things are still pretty much the same… with the exception of what holds it for me. I am personally still rocking the MXL 990 condenser microphone (~$50-70), though these days it is supported by a boom stand. I am fairly certain it is the Samson BL3 (~$30), due to it not coming with a mic clip… but I no longer have the box to double-check that. Whoops. Sorry. The MXL 990 is just a tad bit heavy for it, but adjusting the three-legged support and balance of the boom extension will grant you just the right placement for comfort and not-falling-over-ness.

The main reason that the microphone is hanging on its side is because I accidentally stripped the screw-tightening mechanism for the shockmount, and have not felt like spending the money for the replacement MXL-90 shockmount (~$35) just yet. When you can buy the microphone (which itself comes with a shockmount) for just a couple bucks more, it is difficult to build up the desire to spend money to replace one that is just hanging on its side and not entirely broken.

Meri is still rocking the Shure 8900 dynamic microphone ($50). It is quite the handy mic to have around, since its included XLR-to-1/8-inch audio cable plugs in to the video camera I use at work, giving me a choice of a either a lapel mic or a hand-held mic. I double-wind-screen for Meri since her “pphf” sounds are a little harsher than my own. She is also still rocking the RadioShack “Heavy Duty Microphone Stand with Cast-Iron Base” (~$30), though it may be time to upgrade her to the Samson boom stand — they are just so nice to have! Comfort galore!

I guess the last thing to address is live recording and broadcasting that we occasionally do. Lately we have been using Stickam for no particular reason above any other service. We tend to broadcast Lo-Fidelity live more than anything else, mainly because it is just the two of us in one local recording area, so anything that happens can be broadcast with no extra effort — everything is right there in one place. When you start tying in things like Skype streams… sure, it can be done, but it requires more effort than it is really worth for such a budget setup like our own. Live recordings typically have two computers: one is a standard podcasting station like any other show, and the second is usually my laptop running the webcam. Our mixers have the “Tape Out” / RCA output that we typically use to output to the computer, but there is also the “Main Out” — I run a variety of cables and cord adapters to get that 1/4-inch stereo output down to an 1/8-inch plug. This runs to the line-in on my laptop, mirroring the exact same sound that is otherwise heading out to another computer for the main podcast recording. Sure, there is some (negligible) extra noise being introduced/lost going through all those adapters, but since that particular stream of audio is exclusively going to the live broadcast (and not the archived version for editing/release), it is not that big of a deal.

The next upgrade is going to be the room in which we record. Since moving into the new house, all recording has been done up in our loft. This is where we keep the computers, the old TV, CDs, DVDs, etc. It is a fantastic location (minus all the cat destruction, like my poor chair), but it is in a very open area. Sound bounces all over the place. When we have any more than two people, it starts sounding very “airy” in the recording, both due to the number of people (and thus the number of mics to adjust and compensate for) and the voices bouncing along the ceiling and down to the living room.

We have a finished basement with several rooms. Right now, “the brown room” (which is the second room off the main area) is a disaster of storage space. Boxes, appliances, and assorted things of nothingness take up all the space. It is perfect for a little recording studio, though. It is just the right size, the walls are not tall, the door can be shut… lovely!

Our Wi-Fi reaches down there, and since an entire show can be done with just one computer, there is nothing stopping me now from cleaning up that space and creating a great little recording studio in my basement. I might even get some extra sound-proofing padding for the walls… can you imagine how hot looking that place is going to be?! Speaking of “hot”, that is another perk to setting up shop in the basement — heat rises, and our loft starts boiling in the summer. The basement? Cool as can be!

I think that more-or-less covers how everything is rolling right now. Does anyone have any questions about any aspect, or better yet, suggestions on ways to do things even better? Specific articles to read to bolster some mad audio skillz? I still consider myself a total audio n00b, though I think I have a couple other skills that I have picked up over the last couple years that at least helps put together some decent shows…!

“Rocket Knight Adventures”: Genius Level Design?

You are going to get a little bit of meta-material and genuine game analysis in a single post. That is awesome.

A few years back when I first pitched the idea of “vgconvos” to Andrew and Jeff, one of the first show concepts was to give the other person a somewhat-obscure game from your youth that was played extensively, allow them to play this game they otherwise had never heard of for somewhere between two weeks and a month, and then get back together to talk about it later on. This concept semi-evolved into the “Record Exchange” every nine-or-so episodes over on Lo-Fidelity, but it just never happened with video games. The main reason was that we are all simply at a point in our lives where we cannot guarantee that we will have the time to get together every month to do a podcast, never mind dedicate a couple weeks to a video game and then come back to also talk about it…!

It is still an incredibly worthwhile idea for a show, and one that has somewhat been done in a couple different ways, such as the “Backlog” or “Game Club” sessions on things like Rebel FM. I really wish it was something we could do on a regular basis, but it just cannot happen. Andrew and I even had a few games that we would have used to toss at each other (Boomer’s Adventure in ASMIK World from me, and Rocket Knight Adventures from Andrew). I just absolutely adore the idea of giving something (a video game, an album, whatever) that has such a deep meaning to you… or at least just some rose-tinted memories… over to someone else with zero familiarity and seeing how it holds up.

I have always kept the idea in the back of my head just in case something came along that would work out for the website. You know from reading our posts and listening to our shows that we are no strangers to diving back into older games, either just for the heck of it, or to legitimately see where this modern era of gaming all came from if we happened to miss a step along the way. You have seen me write about FPS games from ten years ago, and most recently, what many consider (myself among them now!) the best 16-bit Japanese RPG ever created. Sure, Andrew and Jeff may or may not have played some of those, but it was more a conversation with myself that you all happened to be able to peer in on.

This one is a little different. Not entirely, but a little bit.

I stumbled across a new store called Game Trader at the Quakerbridge Mall here in New Jersey. If you did not stop to look at some of the cases, it looked like any other generic GameStop-esque store… but then I saw the old video games! There was a splattering of the standard, big NES games and such, but one particular game caught my eye, and I walked out of the store pretty content with myself!

About $7 scored me a copy of Rocket Knight Adventures, a cartridge I have not seen sitting around on any retro-store shelves in quite some time. Remembering that it was a game Andrew would have potentially tossed my way, and also knowing it will soon be seeing another sequel/revival for modern download services, I snatched it up.

I am fairly sure I had never played the game before last weekend. Andrew and the rest of the Internet always spoke highly of it, so I settled in with the ol’ SDTV in the loft for some old-school gaming action. I would like to go on record as saying that my Genesis controller extension cable was one of the best purchases I ever made in the 1990s, and it was a nice help in getting my rear-end reaching to the couch instead of the floor.

I was expecting something like a cross between Sonic the Hedgehog with some of the other typical 1990s mascot platforming action all mixed in nicely with some Contra shootin’ and slashin’ (courtesy of Nobuya Nakazato)… and that is exactly what I got.

The enemies seemed a little sparse in some of the levels I reached, but there was a really nice balance of standard enemies, terrain obstacles, boss fights, and more. In fact, it seemed rather spastic in how often it would toss those different elements at me, and I could never really be sure how “far” I was into a level. I would be swimming and attacking enemies that shot scattering, blue lasers at me… only to find myself wading through a single screen of a terrain obstacle before I was then on another to the next area.

It felt as if the level designers all came up with interesting little ideas completely independent of one another and then hastily had to stick them all together toward the end of the design process. “Hey, you… you worked on a water level, right? Me, too. Let’s just put them next to each other! Oh, and put that mine cart level right after us.

The obligatory 1990s platformer mine cart level should have been obnoxious, but I found myself both cursing and laughing at it — much like a Mega Man game where part of the fun and challenge is remembering all of the nuances to avoid and jump over, I had a genuinely good time dying, instantly repeating the level, and getting just a tad bit further each time.

What really blew me away, and what I will talk about with anyone who will listen, was — yet again — another obligatory stage for a 1990s platformer: the lava stage. The only enemy is the lava that continuously rises and falls, giving you ample opportunity to run across to the next ledge that places you just out of reach. If you are paying attention, the game gives you an immediate hint at where this level is going… but for first-time players who are not being particularly observant (like me!), a tiny bout of confusion followed by the “Aaaaaaaaa-HAH!” light bulb moment is what follows.

You soon reach a point in the level where the overhang begins to obscure your vision of the ledges in front of you, eventually blinding you completely. How on Earth are you supposed to get across?! Impatient players may charge up Sparkster’s flying attack, used on prior levels to bounce around and over top high ledges. If you simply take a moment to analyze what the game presents to you, its genius soon makes itself apparent.

It seems so simple, but I cannot think of a way to describe it other than it “blew me away”. Much like Andrew and I have discussed about Sonic games (specifically Sonic 2), you are forced to slow your ass down and actually analyze your surroundings. Without paying attention to the reflections in the lava, which is shown as soon as you start the level (there is that genius game design at work), it would be impossible to progress through the level.

You have all the tools at your disposal, and the game hands them to you in bits and pieces as you need them — it is the platformer equivalent of something like the typical Zelda game design, where with each new weapon or tool you think back to areas that were previously inaccessible.

Kudos to Rocket Knight Adventures for impressing me seventeen years after its original release. Now if only there were more tunes in the game… goodness, does that music get repetitive and over-used…

Yes, one little aspect of one stage in an old video game prompted me to write a blog entry. That is just how I roll, folks. Fun little things that I notice and care not if anyone else gives a rat’s ass about is what drives my Internet content creation. I cannot be the only one, though, right…?

How about you all? Is Rocket Knight Adventures a game you also hold in high regard? Was this a game worthy of our original podcast idea as Andrew suggested? Am I crazy for wanting to write about it just because of a silly lava level?

Pokemon HeartGold/SoulSilver American Save File Problem?

Yesterday, I headed down to summon/fight/capture Lugia in my copy of Pokémon SoulSilver Version for the Nintendo DS. I had originally started the game on my “DS Phat”, but for the last several days, I had moved over to playing on the wife’s DS Lite. Never once did I go online with the game in either system, though I had locally traded between it and Pearl. I had been leveling up my Farfetch’d (since I planned on using False Swipe to reduce Lugia’s HP to 1). I had also captured a wild Farfetch’d and stole its stick for my own. I had taken “Shuckie” from the dude in Cianwood City to the daycare center with a Ditto to breed my own Shuckle. Once I had the egg and it was hatched, I tossed my new Shuckle into a PC box and returned the borrowed one to the maniac in Cianwood City. I loaded up on Poké Balls and surfed on over to the Whirl Islands. Right outside the cave entrance, I saved yet again (having done so many times along the way, of course).

My battle against Lugia did not go as planned — I carelessly did not bring enough Poké Balls.  I reset the system and loaded things back up to try again with a better plan.

I was outside Cianwood City. Farfetch’d was five levels back. He did not have his stick. All of my Poké Balls were back in my inventory. Interestingly, I no longer had my own hatched Shuckle, but I did have its egg, and “Shuckie” was back at the daycare center.

… WTF?

It was not just that the save was rolled back to a prior one… it was both that and a weird corruption of prior events. Is that even possible…?!

I was idling in the Daizenshuu EX chat at the time, and immediately vented my frustration. It sounded like others may have had a similar situation occur, but there was some uncertainty about whether the game had actually been saved in the meantime. I next went to Twitter, where I almost immediately received a response back from someone that had a very similar thing happen to them… around the Lugia event, as well. Many folks told me about the Dutch release of the games, which had an issue with save files, themselves.

My game seems to be fine (having saved a bazillion times, turning off the system, and restarting to confirm I still am where I think I am), though now I am retracing my steps. I have captured a dozen wild Farfetch’d again, and none of them have my precious stick…!

I am going to have a lot more to say about this game in the near future, but this was certainly not something I expected to be writing about. In the near-200 hours I have logged on both FireRed and Pearl, never once did I ever encounter any errors that hindered my progress or rolled me back. Had this error been even the slightest more severe, it could have potentially made me drop playing the game all-together. Those that know me know how much I rail against back-tracking and replaying segments of games. I am extremely hesitant to turn off the system now in fear of losing progress — and not only progress, but legit legendaries in my PC boxes and on my team, carried over from the aforementioned FireRed and Pearl.

I am not deeply ingrained enough in any Pokémon communities to know where to discuss this, so if any of you happen to be the VegettoEX of Pokémon… by all means, please share my story and offer any advice you may have.

Conversation 009: Shooting the Shit and E-mails

It may take us six months, but we eventually hit you back with a show…!

When we realized (upon gorging on pizza and beer) that the core group was actually all together at the same time and had a free evening, we decided we may as well just go ahead and record a show! Episode nine of the podcast is the embodiment of everything the show aims to be — a bunch of friends sitting around pontificating about video games. Sometimes we say stupid things and sometimes we say brilliant things, but the end result is a good time, and hopefully with a few guys you want to hear from.

Andrew told us about playing everything from DJ Hero and Civilization IV. Jeff has been playing everything from Angry Birds to Boom Blox. Mike has been playing everything from Heavenly Sword to Final Fantasy 1. You all had e-mails with some top ten lists, and questions about everything ranging from English translation ambivalence to relationship advice.

For your amazing convenience, here are some of the iPhone and PC games we spoke about during the show, as well as one article:

Special thanks to all the folks who hung out with us the other night during the live recording of the episode! After you listen to the show to let us know what you think (and chime in on any of the opinions or questions), let us know how you best want to be notified about new posts and live recordings. Does the site warrant its own Twitter feed? A Facebook fan page? What do you think?

Enjoy! Hopefully we’ll see you again sooner than six months’ time! Expect some blog posts from all of us in the meantime, of course!

“Honey & Clover” R1 DVD Review

I would like to preface this post by putting it out there up front that there will be a lot of frustration contained within. It will also be kinda wordy and ranty. Perhaps that “spoils” the “review” too quickly, but I guarantee it will not be in the way that you might think. Do not misunderstand — there is a huge difference between the content of a show and its presentation. Be sure to keep those separate in your head as you read on.

I have spoken at length how one of my favorite aspects of shônen is the camaraderie. This same concept showcased and executed in other anime “genres” works just as flawlessly on me — it is somewhat fascinating to watch this concept go from my standard shônen fandom over to josei, but how themes can cross over “intended” audiences and strike a chord with someone is what I have always loved about anime so much. For an obvious example, DragonBall is a show for young boys, and yet I still love it.

For those of you who may have followed some of my other online adventures over the years, it should come as no surprise that Honey & Clover was one of my favorite shows in recent history.

I conceived the above video in 2007 and created it together with Meri and Jeff over the span of about six months. It was one of the best projects I have ever worked on, both in terms of the actual collaboration process, and seeing my vision come to reality.

Needless to say, I had been waiting a long time for a domestic release of the show. R2s are nice, and fansubs are nice… but the convenience of a domestic DVD box set is always the sweet spot for us fans. Viz announced their license of the show way the heck back in July 2007, and while episodes would trickle (dubbed) to iTunes, the first DVD set would not hit until September 2009, over two years later.

I do not want to focus on the content of the show too much. I have seen it be “hit or miss” to some folks, with them either latching on to the characters and enjoying the progression of time with them, or being put off by the somewhat-spastic timeline jumping (suddenly we are months later in the story, and yet there is some excuse for a party every episode). “Hagu” can also be a dividing character, occasionally dipping into what feels like the dreaded “moe” territory with her petite size, stress-related frailty, and Morita’s insistence on dressing her up and putting her into wacky photo poses (all of which is strange, since the series is intended for older women… but far be it from me to comment on the desires and fantasies of the josei audience).

Personally, I feel like the show hits on nearly every level. The characters do not deliver trite and groan-worthy dialogue. Everything they say and do feels completely “real”. You feel for them when they have their epiphanies — the look on Ayu’s face, realizing she has been acting the same way with Mayama, after receiving the confessions from her fellow-generation peers…? It is heart-breaking tough-love. I have given a lot of shows a chance in my time, and few have hit me from their very start with such a mature and realistic way of sharing life stories.

Even if I wanted to expand upon the content of the show in greater depth, any review of the DVD releases from Viz will ultimately have to focus on their numerous pitfalls, giving the amazing content there-in a total shaft. And that really sucks.

Given/Family Name Subs
No, I am not fluent in Japanese. No, I did not take a bazillion years of the language in college (although I did take a bit). Yes, I know people who are fluent. Yes, some of them have translated purely on a fandom level. Yes, some of them have translated on a professional level. No, their work does not directly affect or grow my own personal understanding of the language. Yes, in some ways it does help. Yes, I have been watching anime for something like 15 years. No, I do not think that fact alone gives me the knowledge necessary to make 100%-accurate translation decisions all of the time.

With all this in mind (and feel free to take whatever I say with a grain of salt), I have always had a huge problem when a translator decides to place a character’s given name (their “first name”) in the subtitles when the character speaking aloud is clearly using their family name (their “last name”), regardless of any suffix being or not being used (-kun, –san, etc.). I feel that it speaks volumes about the relationship the characters have with each other, which is something that can (and does) regularly change over the course of a series. The audible and visible disconnect that occurs when I hear “Morita” and read “Shinobu” drives me slightly bonkers. If I did not already know what was going on and have a general knowledge of the language and personal interactions between the characters, I might be slightly confused. To make matters worse, some characters will refer to someone by their last name, while others will refer to them by their first name. Some characters exclusively call everyone by their last name. Some characters are always referred to by their first name. You cannot consistently subtitle something like this when you make a conscious effort to change what text appears, rather than going with what is actually being spoken aloud.

I can only imagine these intentional changes combined with utter carelessness leads to examples like what I will share below. “Shu” (Shuji Hanamoto)…? He is not even in this scene, never mind on screen. That’s Morita running away (sorry for the blended fields!). Does anyone even bother to proof-read/watch this before it gets pressed…?

You might be able to convince me to excuse a one-off mistake like this. It could have been an honest fluke. What if it kept happening, though? What if names that do not even belong to any character in the show begin to appear? Sure, perhaps they meant “Takumi” (again, even though it is clearly “Mayama” being spoken aloud)… but at what point does this become inexcusable? At only seven episodes in to the box set, a wrong name has appeared twice.

In another scene, Mayama (first name “Takumi”, but almost exclusively referred to by his last name) describes the location of Ayumi’s home to Shu. It is the “Yamada Liquor Store”… except the subtitles read as “Ayumi Yamada Liquor Store”. Really? Ayumi runs the place by herself? She owns it? Did someone just do a global search-and-replace, or something?

As the series moves on, the subtitles’ translation/adaptation of Hagu’s “Shu-chan” changes from “Shu” to his full first name of “Shuji”… despite the tone, delivery, and intent remaining the same as “Shu-chan” throughout. Why the inconsistency?

Far too often I find myself nerd-raging at the screen for a name being incorrectly-adapted for the bazillionth time each episode. It just bugs the Hell out of me… but maybe it’s just me.

“Hard-Subbed” Sign Translations
No, I will not go to the extent in proclaiming that “hard-subs” (subtitles or translations that are “burned in” to the actual video track, rather than being optional a la traditional dialogue subtitles on DVDs) somehow “defile” the “purity” of the “art”. They are, however, ridiculous in modern times. They look ridiculous in fansubs, and they look even more ridiculous in professional releases. You do not need to erase some Japanese text and replace it with English text. You do not need to stretch and curve English text around some available white space next to the Japanese text. You do not need to plaster giant text on-screen when what you are translating is one-third the size. Simply putting a translation (if one is even necessary) at the top of the screen is more than sufficient. It doesn’t take me “out of the moment”. Trust me. It’s OK. I give you permission.

One of these silly examples is a scene in which Takemoto returns home and winds up in a batting cage with his mother’s new husband. The “Home Run” sensor is hit, and the characters talk for a little bit about how funny and great it is. The phrase “Home Run” is used several times. It is clear what’s going on. When the frame heads back to that sensor one last time, Viz felt it was necessary to complement the ホームランwith “Home Run” plastered (and hard-subbed) in large font below it. Hey guys? I’m watching the show, too. I got it.

Of course, the old Solar fansub did the exact same thing (immediately followed by a verbal “Home Run!” subtitled at the bottom of the screen), but that is to be expected from fansubbers… though expectation does not excuse behavior.

Yes, yes, yes. It is a simple little translation that explains what is on the screen. We do need them from time to time. I am not so crazy that I do not think sign translation tracks should not exist — they serve their purpose and should always be welcome. It is just the almost-unnecessary ones like this that make my scratch my head a little bit, and only truly dislike them when they cross the line into intrusive hard-subs. Is the “Home Run” example “intrusive”? Not particularly.

What about this example, though? Check out Viz’s version, where “Lottery Ticket” has been hard-subbed onto the ticket, itself… as if you would be completely unable to tell from the context of the conversation.

Amazingly enough, the Solar fansubbers, in an age where digitally plastering text on as many things as possible was (and still is) the trend, chose not to do it.

I do not expect (or want!) perfect consistency between fansubbers and the domestic licensee. If anything, it is simply interesting to compare the two and try to decide how and why one of them felt it was necessary to translate or adapt on-screen text so differently from the other.

Post-Episode Previews
Be careful what you wish for, anime fans. Domestic licensing companies may not receive every single last bit of audio and video for things like next-episode previews (something North American DBZ fans have dealt with for years), and a compromise must always be made. In the case of Honey & Clover, something is missing, leaving a horribly confusing and seemingly-haphazard next-episode preview. It is an empty background screen with a sample of the opening theme playing. It feels half-complete, because it is half-complete. Would we have been better off without them? Perhaps changed around somehow?

The most interesting part of this specific inclusion is that they are not included on the original Japanese R2 DVDs! I can’t even tell what the darn thing is! Is it a sponsor card…?

What Do We Get?
I fully believe that more fans need to put their money where their mouth is and support their favorite franchises, whether that is through a purchase of a DVD set, merchandise, or some other way. You could argue that it is less about the consumer and more about the raw business model… but if you like something so much, you should at least try to support it somehow. So what exactly are we paying for with a release like this? Is it the sub-par video transfer? Is it the inconsistent name translations/adaptations? Is it the amateur hard-subs?

I desperately want to be able to support the official, domestic licensed products and the companies spending the money to bring them over to me in a convenient package. The question that has been asked so often in recent memory, though, is: when the free and infinitely reproducible product (digital fansubs) are leagues ahead of, or at least in the same ballpark as, the paid and scarce physical product (domestic DVDs)… where is the incentive?

What am I paying for? Did I just pay for the salary of someone to inconsistently name characters? Did I just pay for a dub I am never going to watch? Or did I just fund a future endeavor with another great show that I love…? Will it help bring that show over to me? What if the treatment is the same as what I just saw with Honey & Clover, though?

So many of the issues with this release seem so avoidable, which is what disappoints me so much. I would probably look past the hard-subs if the name translations were at least halfway consistent. I might even excuse some of the extra video compression since we are getting the set for a decent price. Toss all of these factors together, though, and you have a situation where you hold the set in your hand, make that weird deep-breath through your teeth as if you are unsure about it, and put it back on the shelf.

When we have so much of a choice with our entertainment, I have a really hard time justifying the purchase and support of a product like this. I love Honey & Clover to death, but other series that I love are being treated extremely well right now, and those are the products that need and deserve to get first-dibs on my cash.

There is the conundrum, though — how do you speak with your wallet when the action of “speaking” itself is to not pay for something…? The message being sent is that I am not interested… which is not the correct message at all. I am very interested, but not with the way it is currently being handled. Does a measly blog post by some dude that likes DBZ send the right message? Somehow I doubt it.

And that really sucks.

“Final Fantasy” (Yeah, That First Game!) Design Choices

So I finished up Chrono Trigger about a week ago. I have written at length about it already, and am wavering on whether or not I want to write any kind of “final thoughts” on the game. I do not have much more to add to the conversation, really — nothing particularly blew me away in the final five hours or so. I did start up a New Game+ and beat it again the instant I showed up at the End of Time. For the record, I received “Ending 5” on that go-’round, which is the one with the Nu critters sleeping over top the credits. How enthralling…!

But this is not about Chrono Trigger, so now for something completely different.

I use the phrase “fall off the wagon” when I talk about Pokémon. While I am far from a super-fan (I do not EV train, and I do not follow every single last bit of news and community events), I do get pretty heavily “into” the games when I play them every few years. Back in October 2008 I wrote about my experience with the games — right now I have ~180 hours logged in FireRed and ~120 hours logged in Pearl (and maybe a negligible ~10 hours sunk into Emerald before I got bored). Other than downloading event critters at GameStop and such, I have not actually “played” any of the games in something like a year and a half, though.

Here is where the drinking analogy comes in: I pre-ordered SoulSilver.

That will be a topic for another post in the future, but it was important information to set up the rest of this post. How it relates to right now is the fact that I have a couple weeks before I pick up the game. I was looking for a shorter RPG to take up my lunch breaks in the meantime.

I decided to go with the very first Final Fantasy. I picked up the Dawn of Souls version on GameBoy Advance a few years ago, but I have never actually played the game before. I played maybe 10 minutes or so on the NES as a kid, but all I remembered was running into the castle and starting an adventure. I know the general story thanks to the GameTrailers retrospective series, but I still wanted to have a game play experience with it all on my own. It just felt like something I should probably do one day.

For those who are curious (because you know you are), my team is as follows: Mike (warrior), Julian (monk), Meri (white mage), Deluxe (black mage).

I am not here to talk about ancient design decisions from Square’s first game in a long-running franchise. To some degree, that would not be fair coming from someone like me. It certainly warrants discussion, but it is not something I am interested in doing and probably would not be able to talk about with the most authority in the world. I know some things are changed, such as the way magic is handled, but I do not know all of the little intricacies. I felt like I could talk about Chrono Trigger in a different light, which is why I gave it so much attention.

Instead, I would like to bring up one of the most ridiculous and misleading design choices in this particular re-release. It is something that should never have been done the way it was, but I will save my own thoughts on the matter for a little bit later.

Let me explain.

I had just made my way through the Cavern of Earth and defeated Lich. I knew what areas of the map I had access to at the moment (by foot and with my pirate ship), and was not sure where I would be heading next. After touching the crystal prize, the game broke away to show a prior location. Oh, OK! I remember the Earthgift Shrine! That was that cave right by Corneria at the beginning of the game. There was a weird demon-looking thing blocking a path. He just faded away. Gotcha! I will head there next!

I headed on in. I grabbed some of the treasure along the way. The next area was a desert. Oh, no! I never like desert areas in Final Fantasy games! After wandering around for a while and catching on to the looping going on, I found my way to the center oasis and the staircase to the next area. I fought and guided my way through yet another area with the additional treasure chests and monsters.

Everything seemed totally fine. The monsters were a somewhat-appropriate level for my characters to fight against, and since I knew I was over-leveled, my triumphs against them did not make me question a single thing about my journey.

Son. Of. A. Bitch.

I was apparently wandering around a re-release-exclusive bonus dungeon, the end of which housed four bosses making cameos from Final Fantasy III. It had absolutely nothing to do with the general progression of the regular game. This cave area does not even exist on the original NES/Famicom-version game map:

Why on Earth would they break away to show me this area so early in the game if it was a bonus dungeon that had nothing to do with the current story progress (especially if I was no match for the bosses)?

I can only chock it up to the fact that the programmers and intended audience (those who had already played the game before, perhaps many times over) were so drastically familiar with the source material that they overlooked such a major presentation flaw. The last time the game cut away to show me a new area opening up was when the bridge to the north was built — there was absolutely no reason to show this bonus cave area at this particular time. It was misleading and time-wasting.

Thankfully, after losing to the first boss I encountered, the game brought me back right outside the cave. Everyone was alive and down to 1 HP, but I was not kicked back to the title screen, and I did not lose all of the experience and items I had gained along the way. That was, perhaps, the only “smart” design decision in this entire game so far.

Let it be known that I still actually have no clue where it is I am going next in the game. The dancing girl in Corneria even told me she has nothing let to say to me right now. Really? You are the single helpful NPC in the game that I thought I could always rely on, and you have nothing else to say to me? Sheesh! Thankfully, I have a bit of help in the form of a blast-from-the-past. Rather than looking up any FAQs, I have an item that I accidentally borrowed from a friend in high school something like ten years ago. I used it to find my way to Lich a little faster, and I suppose I can refer to it one more time. It is absolutely fascinating to look back at the way the characters are depicted (traditional high-fantasty style as opposed to referencing Yoshitaka Amano’s designs) and the verbiage differences between the far-too-few-letter-namings in the NES version as opposed to the re-translated and modern-consistency namings in the GBA re-release.

While I have a huge issue with that one aspect of the game (and one that is only related to the re-release, no less), do not misunderstand — I am having a really fun time exploring this first game. It is crazy that I never got around to playing it.

Will it be one that I complete (III, IV, VII), or one that I ultimately drop (VI, VIII, X)…? I have a good feeling about this one…!

Seven Things That Have Blown Me Away In The Second 10 Hours Of “Chrono Trigger”

I was very concerned as I crossed the 10-hour mark in Chrono Trigger. Those first ten hours were amazingly good on so many different levels. The game had actually managed to deliver everything I wanted and anticipated. I loved the characters, the story, and all of the artistic elements that brought the package together. I commented that after sequences like the raiding of the Fiendlord’s Keep, I was afraid it had blown its proverbial load already, and while the rest of the game would probably be “good”… it would whimper on to the end like many RPGs of the day, hindered by an ever-growing cast of characters, poor pacing, and extraneous side-quests.

Thankfully, my fears were completely unjustified.

(OK, minus this “Inner Sanctum” area which was apparently new for the DS version. That’s pretty awful.)

To be fair, the second ten hours are not as good as the first ten. The game introduces so many of its iconic styles and mannerisms that even when variations on them are introduced with perfect execution later on, they do not have the same impact as the first go ’round. Do not misunderstand — like I said, the game has been amazing, and a “Not Jaw-Droppingly Amazing Chrono Trigger Sequence” is still leaps and bounds above most of the other garbage I have tried before.

It is with this game that I continue to question my gaming habits and supposed preferences. I have dabbled into so many different genres and play styles in the last two years that I no longer feel like I have any particular allegiance to a type of game, or even specific franchises. I joke to the wife how there was a monkey bridge in Link’s Awakening… lo and behold, monkeys come to the rescue as I watch her replay Twilight Princess. I look around in shock, wondering if I’m the crazy one that does not love the play style of New Super Mario Bros. with its floaty-controls. I compare the two above examples, coming down harshly on one series for recycling an old trope, while simultaneously criticizing another for not being familiar enough, and wonder how I can be so hypocritical.

That may be the subject matter for another article in the future, though. For now, Chrono Trigger is the sole subject of my attention.  I sit wide-eyed on the train, during lunch, and on the couch at home as I clutch my DS. A game from 15 years ago — a game that I should have played and yet continuously overlooked — is one of the reasons I have been questioning my supposed gaming affiliations. With 20 hours now sunk into the game, here is a list of things that have blown me away in those second 10 hours. Spoilers are in full effect.

Continue reading

Cropping Complaints (Sorta) Justified Three Years Later

I almost feel like it is not even worth bringing this up. I mean, honestly… the FUNimation cropping fiasco of 2007 is three years old. Not only is it old, but it is irrelevant with the release of domestic Dragon Box sets.

This just makes me smirk a little too much, though. When Mike smirks, it usually manifests itself as a blog post. And you all have to suffer.

In case you have been living under a DBZ fandom rock for the last half-decade, there was a lovely bit of controversy in 2007 when FUNimation released a so-called “remastered” version of the DragonBall Z TV series on DVD in North America. Among things like lies about the remastering process, the whole thing was brought into a new 16:9 aspect ratio presentation by cropping 20% of the footage (the top and bottom of the screen) to fit it into that viewing window.

Hilarity ensued online.

Daizenshuu EX is (obviously) at the forefront of the English-speaking fandom in a variety of ways. We have been following the series as a website since 1998, which includes all of the North American releases. We have a wealth of knowledge and experience with the franchise as both an original Japanese entity and a domestic “reversioning”. We took a stand against the cropping. Many of the casual fans could not understand why it was an issue for us… and understandably so. If you simply wanted to watch the show, the cheap orange bricks were a wonderful way to legally to do so (something we agreed with from the get-go). These types of fans (of which there are plenty) met the opposition with well-written, researched, and thorough arguments on how we were all just a bunch of fags, should shut up, and just be thankful we ever got the show in the first place. Why do we care so much? These fans do not even notice the cropping, and would prefer that the picture fill up their awesome, widescreen HDTV.

(Wondering why Daizenshuu EX would care about the aspect ratio of DBZ would be like wondering why the health care industry has an interest in American health care reform. We bitch because we love.)

Two years later, DragonBall Kai began airing on Japanese TV, also cropped into a 16:9 aspect ratio (though it was actually being produced in a full 4:3 which was later presented as-is on the Blu-ray release). Some of the scenes were adjusted for more carefully-presented cropping (sliding them up or down a little bit to adjust for a center of focus), but overall, it was a similar process to the FUNimation release from two years prior.

Episode 43 of DragonBall Kai aired on 06 February 2010 in Japan. Almost immediately, there was a bout of fan outcry… on several different forums… on how ridiculous it was that Toei could be so sloppy as to not finish drawing Goku’s arm:

There were actually two camps, to be fair. While there were definitely (1) those that placed the blame on Toei’s art department (assuming it was a completely re-drawn scene that was never completed), there were also (2) others who were quick to place the blame on Toei’s cropping department — these folks knew the whole story (keep reading), and knew that it was an awkward and inadvertent cropping.

Sure enough, if you look at a different encode and frame of the episode as captured from Japanese television, you get a little more insight:

The slightest bit of Goku’s arm is visible at the bottom of the frame. Checking back on the original animation from the actual DragonBall Z TV series, we get the whole story:

What this says to me is that even without some prominent website that has a ridiculous interest in the presentation of the series pointing it out to them… certain fans still noticed a problem with the cropping. Not only that, but they brought their complaints and ridicule online to share with their peers.

The hypocrisy is a bit silly. Why was it unjustified to bring FUNimation to Elitist Weeaboo Fanboy Court over their cropping of the series, but it was totally fine to go after Toei for the exact same thing? Was it just an extension of the complacent American fan culture that has no problem with their domestic releases, but Japanese stuff is OK and funny to laugh at? Lolz Goku sounds like a girlie and his arm is missing?

Sure, it was totally just this one minor scene during one episode of Kai that gave us some laughs online. It was nothing compared to the FUNimation fiasco in terms of prevalence and significance. On some tiny level, though, it made me feel something resembling justification for my complaints against the domestic cropping.

People do notice this kind of stuff, even when it is not specifically pointed out to them. That’s all there is to it.

Oh, and just for the Hell of it, here’s how it looked on FUNimation’s faux-“remastered” orange brick numero tres. It looks nearly identical to the recent shot from Kai. Did anyone complain about it back in 2007…?

Thanks to Hujio and Kaboom for a bit of screen shot assistance!

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