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Category: Reviews

Otakon 2011 In Review

My first Otakon was back in 1999. I went for just one day, but for little 17-year-old Mike, it was quite an eye-opening experience. Bootleg CDs were obtained (how was I supposed to know what SonMay was?!), anime was watched (Hiko Seijuro walking on-screen during the Rurouni Kenshin OVA received the loudest applause I’ve ever heard), and fandom was confirmed.

Things are different in 2011. I first submitted an AMV in 2001, and then regularly from 2003-2008, nothing in 2009, again in 2010 (finally winning at Otakon with that one!), and doing many AMV panels there throughout the years with our generational cohorts. Shockingly (more so to us than maybe to anyone else), we actually skipped watching the AMV contest entirely this year — it conflicted with other events we had more interest in. All three of our panel submissions were declined, so unlike 2007 and 2010 with DragonBall-related panels (and other years in there sprinkled with AMV panels), we had nothing to prepare for in that regard. Even our hotel roommates had to bow out toward the end (through no real fault of their own), so it was the first time in around ten years that it was just the wife and I attending as regular ol’ attendees.

Having gone to the convention with that mindset (“I am just another person here!”), I felt like I actually had a lot to say about this year’s convention. Maybe some of it is helpful to someone. Maybe some of it is too rose-tinted. Maybe some of it is too critical. Maybe some of it will guarantee I never get another panel at the convention again. Oh, well.


No, not of our own — never done that before — I’m talking about everyone else! I am of course drawn to the DBZ cosplay throughout the convention, but I notice a few other things here and there. Still a lot of Fullmetal Alchemist, still a bit of Ouran, a lot more Pokemon than in the past, still a good amount of Final Fantasy VII and Kingdom Hearts… you know, the usual suspects. What would normally annoy me (moderately disruptive behavior) was somehow one of my favorite examples of literal cosplay (as in playing it out in costume): the three dudes decked out in full Beastie Boys “Sabotage” outfits ducking and spinning down the hallway blaring the song on a boombox. I applaud you, good sirs.

Only managed to snap a few shots of DBZ cosplay this year, unfortunately:

Quite a few other good ones (Uub, Selypa). I should probably make more of a concentrated effort to take these types of photos. My bad.


The plan was to catch the Otakon debut of Trigun: Badlands Rumble and then head on downstairs in the short buffer period to get in line for Fullmetal Alchemist: The Sacred Star of Milos. I was led to believe both would be subtitled, but it turned out the Trigun movie would be dubbed, followed by a Q&A session with Johnny Yong Bosch. Having zero interest in the latter but still having an interest in seeing the movie, we crammed into line for the HD theater. A good portion of the folks behind us were told they would not make it inside, so I consider us somewhat lucky that we got in at all. Things ran about 15-20 minutes late, but with that being the norm for these types of events, nothing was particularly frustrating.

The dub was thankfully solid (not that I didn’t also think the same of the TV series dub, but it’s a Japanese production — I want to watch it in Japanese at a Japanese animation convention with one of the Japanese guests being the head of the movie’s Japanese animation studio [follow all that?]). As I’ve heard described elsewhere, the three main returning characters had re-castings that were so close to the prior actors that undiscerning ears might not even be able to tell the difference: Milly was a dead-ringer, Meryl was pretty close, and Wolfwood was better (from what little he spoke, anyway). I’m really glad we got a chance to see it first during a convention with such a massive audience, because I’m not sure it would have had some of the emotional impact just by ourselves, even at home in HD with surround sound. The instant Vash appeared screaming on the ground in the opening, the crowd erupted in laughter and cheers. The first moment Wolfwood’s gun/cross got unwrapped, the applause rivaled what I remember from Hiko slashing the Hell out of grunts back in 1999. These were magical shared moments, and ones that I will treasure for a long time to come. Without the audience? Next time I watch the movie, I will likely start picking apart some of the needless exposition, dragging pace of certain scenes, and occasional cheap 3D animation integration. Until then, every time I think of the movie there will be a smile on my face.

Like I said, the plan was to then run on down to Video 1 to get in line for the new Fullmetal Alchemist movie, but the overwhelming crowd and lack of a room-clear following the AMV contest left us in a weird situation: do we wait it out and hope we make it in, and what else could we be doing in the mean time if we decided to just bail? In retrospect, it sounds like we would have been able to get in if we stuck it out, but I’m OK missing out on one movie after having just sat through one immediately beforehand. Besides, without stadium seating, the poor short wife might not have been able to read the subtitles! Insert annoying “chibi” joke / FMA reference here. Funny, right?

We ended up walking on over to the Sailormoon / DBZ panel, instead. More on that later. Much more.


We buy less and less every year. We at least grab the obligatory gashapon to add to the display in our basement, but unless something major catches our interest (like the DBZ movie 4 program guide from last year), there really isn’t anything to pick up at a convention that I don’t already either own or have on pre-order elsewhere.

We perused the hanger in shifts this year: halfway through on Friday, and halfway through on Saturday. During our Saturday run, we happened across an enormous table filled to the brim with DBZ figures! Most dealers have a few figures and plushies from various series, but this guy had an entire table dedicated to just DBZ stuff. He (unfortunately) wanted to keep a low profile and had no business card or contact information (and declined an interview), but near as I could gather from what he let slip, he grabs a metric crap-ton of stuff when he goes to Japan, and when he needs to pay his daughter’s next college tuition fee, he heads to a convention and sells the stuff. What was most amazing to me was how reasonable his prices were — he easily could have added $5 to the price of any small figure, $20+ to the price of the larger stuff, and I would not have batted an eye.

picture swiped from our buddy TanookiKuribo

I had already grabbed the Piccolo “Creatures” figure elsewhere, and we picked up a few new ones from this dealer. Good little stash, I’d say.

I saw the program guides for DBZ movie 2 and the 10th anniversary movie, but I wasn’t willing to spend $25 a pop on program guides again this year. I almost walked out with a boxed copy of Famicom Jump: Hero Retsuden for the Famicom ($40), but the figure purchases changed that plan.


Something we had never attended before, Otaku Idol was at least a quick check-in for us this year with our friends Peter and Katie being participants. Due to what I assume is not wanting to overly criticize poor otaku souls, the largest dissections by the three judges were limited to things like “that song was within your range / maybe a little outside your range” or “great job moving around / I wish you moved around a little more”. We watched the ten finalists do their thing, and just about all of them were impressive in their own right. It was no surprise to hear that Peter ended up winning it all in the end based solely on his amazing “GA-GA-GA, GA-GA-GA, GAO-GAI-GAAAAAAR!” first-round performance.


Since we didn’t make it to the Fullmetal Alchemist movie, we also had time later on to attend Iron Editor. After sitting around for a little bit waiting for the event to start up, we got the request to be judges yet again. I love that the AMV winners are played during the second half of the event, but that also means that we literally sit up there for one of the two hours and do absolutely nothing (well, we watch the videos along with the audience). I’m not sure how I feel about that. If we are asked again to be judges (which I certainly enjoy!), I will have to toss some ideas over to Peter (who took over hosting duties this year and did fantastically) in terms of how to make the judges appear to be more than dead weight on the stage. In the past we would choose some of the audience participants for contests, but even that isn’t enough. What else can we do? Hmm…


We were mostly excited to see the Otakon debut of Fanboy Soze, but it sounded like there were a couple other new items being played that might also be fun to check out.

Our own Obligatory EVA Trailer was played Friday evening — that was an interesting experience. We put that together in 2003 when Sealab 2021 was still new. It actually won “Grand Prize” in the 2003 Anime Weekend Atlanta AMV Expo contest! I still love it to death and think it’s genuinely funny and well-put-together, even without any familiarity with either source material (Sealab and Evangelion). In 2011, though? Barely any response. Wow. Really goes to show just how much comedy is subjective, especially to an audience so many years removed from when it was originally created. Honestly, it was somewhat embarrassing. Really puts things in perspective! I wonder how many of our AMV-related works will stand the test of time — will any of them? I have an entirely different perspective since I actually worked on them, and can’t always remove myself from their creation process.

Fanboy Soze, the new parody from NoN.D.E. Fan Films, went over fantastically. The wife and I were discussing how we think the underlying plot point about how many series (particularly DBZ) getting re-released so many times in different formats may have went over the audience’s head a little bit, but everything else made up for it. All the right jokes hit home, and some that seemed like they may be too old or obscure for today’s fans (such as when “West of Home” in the Zork parody came up) really surprised me with how amazing the reaction was. Conventions really are the best place for parodies like these, and with both the video and particularly the audio being set up pitch-perfect this year, it just made everything all the more awesomer. For those interested, Scott has put together a jam-packed DVD with tons of extras. It’s currently available in a multi-part download via their forum.

The biggest surprise in the parody block Saturday night was Macross 7.5 1/2. Especially for a one-man production, I was absolutely blown away. The entire thing could have ended after the 1-2 minute introduction, and I would have been satisfied, but the fact that it went into a full-episode parody hit it out of the park. There were a couple instances where it dragged or became a little confusing, and of course a little extra production help could have helped, but all-in-all you can color me impressed.


Oh geeze. Where to start?!

I guess I have to preface this by saying that I absolutely adore panels. When done well, they can be some of my favorite experiences and memories from a convention. I’ll never forget the discussion at Shoujocon one year equating Jem and the Holograms to American shoujo, the genre’s/classification’s relevance to something like Escaflowne, etc. The gekiga panel at Otakon a couple years back was a fascinating look at where hilariously-manly storytelling could go above and beyond shonen and seinen. Every year in between I have attended a panel that blows me away with the amount of research, knowledge, and professionalism that can be presented by mere fans to their comrades.

The other side of panels is what drove me to start doing my own, not to mention the podcast over at Daizenshuu EX. You know the ones — a dude or two sitting up front that simply like something and want to talk about it. Hey, remember that time Person X smashed Person Y in the face? Yeah, that was awesome! What do you think about Event Z? Yeah, that was pretty sweet. Any other questions? No? OK, let’s attempt to be funny for the next fifty-five minutes.

There is a time and a place for that type of conversation, but a panel at one of the largest anime conventions is not it.

Here is a break-down of all the panels we had the opportunity to hit up this weekend. This isn’t even cracking the surface of what was offered, but it might be a pretty good surface-level glance at the type of stuff available to attendees:

  • Remembering Satoshi Kon
    Presented by Daryl Surat (Anime World Order / Otaku USA), I knew what I was getting into with this one — a deliberate format, examples to back up claims, microphone etiquette, and all the other stuff that goes along with a fantastic panel. I learned new things, I remembered things I forgot, and gained an even larger appreciation for the late Satoshi Kon than I already had. Daryl gives himself a hard time by admitting that much of his research extends to on-disc extras and basic online research (indeed, much of what he covered is listed in the Satoshi Kon Wikipedia article), but it’s the way that it’s presented in-person that makes it so engaging. I can’t say enough good things about this panel.
  • Becoming a True Pokemon Master: An Introduction to Competitive PKMN Training…
    We arrived just after the start of this panel (thanks to having to run from the convention center over to the Hilton), and it was filled up enough to have to wait for a couple folks to leave before we were let in. That means we unfortunately missed the beginning portion, so I have no idea who presented the panel and how the first half went, but I was impressed enough with what I saw. Things were a little rough around the edges (you don’t need to read entire paragraphs off your PowerPoint presentation — please learn how to outline!), but the content was solid. I had never heard of “RNGing” before, so I can definitely say I learned new things. The content was excruciating for the wife who had zero knowledge and interest, so this was definitely one for the hardcore fans, and them alone.
  • Anime News Network
    Chris was at least aware of how bad this was and acknowledged it at the beginning, but the panel was basically just “what do you want us to talk about?” I can understand how that is somewhat appropriate for a mainstay website/panel like this, so it gets a little bit of slack. Nothing particularly enlightening or enthralling either asked by the audience or answered by the panelists, but them’s the breaks. Lots of prizes for the audience, so at least the bribes were appropriate.
  • FUNimation
    The only industry panel we attended this weekend, FUNimation’s was by-the-books, covering recent releases, current statistics, upcoming plans, and a few light announcements. Nothing earth-shattering out of the panel (still no Sailormoon! Blargh!), but for the DBZ superfans, we at least got some preliminary clarifications about the upcoming Blu-ray sets (un-cropped, apparently a new remaster). It sounds like they had one or two more announcements they were hoping to make, but the ink wasn’t dry and they had to hold off on them. Oh, well!
  • Deculture! A Macross Panel
    Walked out after the first ten minutes. The panelists did not introduce themselves, could not get their words out, seemed woefully unprepared, and did not know how to use a microphone anyway. Having recently watched the original Macross TV series (finally!), we have still been riding a high of enjoyment about the franchise. An overview of all the series and some new tidbits of information sounded like a great time. Unfortunately, this seemed like it was destined to be the exact opposite of a great time.
  • Unusual Manga Genres
    We only managed to catch the second half of this one as presented by Erin Finnegan (Ninja Consultants / ANN), but it was still a great time — endless examples of every niche genre spanning hilarious to serious and back again. She knew what she was talking about, was aware of the time constraints and adapted appropriately where necessary, spoke loud and clear… again, another fantastic panel that both enlightened and entertained, the two things I want out of every panel.
  • Masao Maruyama Q&A
    Despite him attending the convention for years, I think this was actually the first time we had a chance to stop by the Madhouse director’s general Q&A panel at Otakon. Another by-the-books professional panel with the expected questions from the audience, but a great and honest commitment by Maruyama to secure funding for and complete Satoshi Kon’s unfinished work (The Dream Machine) was a testament to his own professionalism and integrity.
  • Noburo Ishiguro Q&A
    Why waste time talking about things like Yamato and Macross when you can spend 20 minutes talking about the production of Cream Lemon?! That’s how things roll with Ishiguro! Lots of fantastic anecdotes dropped in this woefully-ill-attended panel.
  • Birth of a Generation: Dragon Ball Z and Sailor Moon
    In the interest of full disclosure, I should note that we submitted detailed proposals for two DBZ-related panels (one was media-focused regarding parodies and homages in both Japanese and American popular culture, while the other was a more formal dissection of how and why the franchise seemingly failed in Japan this past year). Neither were accepted. I can deal with that — we got our panel last year, it went well, and I suppose you can have someone other than the folks who run the oldest-currently-running and largest English-language resource for the franchise who do this stuff on a daily/weekly basis run a panel about it (ugh, sorry for how amazingly egotistical that sounds… but I’m also not sorry…). This was going to combine TWO FRANCHISES, so I totally get it: twice the potential audience. Makes complete sense, and I might make the same decision. Unfortunately, it was quite possibly the worst panel I’ve ever attended in my life. To be fair, we arrived about 25 minutes into the one-hour block. It looks like they had a PowerPoint at some point, but by the time we arrived, they were already well into a line-up of questions from the audience. The two panelists admitted they weren’t really experts (they just like the series), could not answer any of the legitimate questions asked of them (one regarding “the lost movie” from DBZ), and spent far more time bantering about whether Tuxedo Mask, Moonlight Knight, or Super Saiyan Vegeta would win in a fashion contest, or just how friendly Goten and Trunks really were with each other. The audience walked all over them, the panelists let them and indulged them with each and every painful question, and I struggled to convince the wife to stick around and watch the rest of the train wreck with me. Here’s the conundrum, though: the audience seemed to love it. They cheered with each and every Q&A, kept running up to ask more questions, and seemed to be having a great time. Plenty of people walked out, too, but plenty of people walk out of every panel, so I can’t really make a call in that regard. It just flabbergasts me. These people had absolutely no authority, no real preparation, no presentation skills at all, and yet received both a time slot and free compensation. I’m sorry, what world am I living in that this is not only OK, but appreciated by the audience? Am I the crazy one, here? One of the reasons I love doing panels is that I get a chance to share information and adoration with fans who don’t already partake in that stuff online. They have questions, I have answers, and everyone leaves in a good mood with knowledge they didn’t have an hour prior. That fulfills me in a way that I don’t get in any other fashion at conventions these days anymore, and with the personal interaction that even the podcast doesn’t truly have. At this point, I just don’t even know what to do about it.
  • The Abridged Panel
    A perfect example of a lackluster panel for me, but an extravaganza of awesomeness for others, and one that I totally understand and respect. People attend these panels to see their favorite “Abridged” series creators do some voices, share some new clips, yell things when bubbles appear on the screen, and gracefully accept the random fortune cookie tosses. Thrown in the mix you have people asking the obligatory questions like how to get into abridging on their own, and at the end of an hour, you’ve got a fantastically-attended panel full of laughs. I get it. Not for me, but I get it.


With no panels of our own, we didn’t even bother trying to set up some type of community meet-up. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that if I was putting in so little effort, I wouldn’t be meeting too many new people! Major props to Doug (“Drabaz”) for recognizing me during the Friday evening fan parodies block. Having just recently spoken with him on our podcast about his custom LittleBigPlanet level, it was great to chat in person for a bit. The only other new meeting took the entire weekend, but I finally got a chance to man-hug our buddy MasakoX from TeamFourStar after the giant “Abridged” panel Sunday morning. It would have been criminal for him to have flown all the way out here and then never get a chance to say hello at some point, so I am incredibly grateful for him taking the time out of autographing gazillions of program guides, DVDs, books, bare chests, and whatever else fans were throwing his way to instead briefly hang out with us.

There were of course all the catch-ups with old friends, but two new people? That’s it? Lame, Mike. Very lame.


Otakon 2011 was pretty fantastic. We saw a lot of great people, saw a lot of great things, had a great time, and I don’t see why I won’t be back in 2012 for my 14th consecutive time to the only convention I actually still go to. Some things still need work, but they always do, and I look forward to seeing it continue to evolve.

Bonus Podcast: “Kintoki” Review

I was just going to toss this up in the Daizenshuu EX podcast feed, but hey… I have some space over here, too, and I said I would only release podcast episodes as a part of this blog when I honestly had something interesting to say and do… and this seems relatively interesting…

In September 2010, it was announced that Weekly Jump would have a special series of one-shots called “Top of the Super Legend” starting with issue 45 and going through issue 50. Current Jump artists would be contributing these new, short stories… but a certain “legend” of the recent past would also toss one into the mix: Akira Toriyama. A little later on, we learned that the story would be called “Kintoki“, and that was about all we got.

Toriyama’s work, KINTOKI: 金目族のトキ (Kintoki: Toki of the Golden-Eyed Tribe), was the last one of the bunch and released within issue 50. All of us from the extended Daizenshuu EX and Kanzentai communities are big fans of everything Toriyama has done over the years, but beyond comparing DragonBall to his prior works (especially its direct predecessors such as Dragon Boy and Tongpoo), we never have an opportunity to go in-depth about them about on our DB-centric sites.

Well, nothing’s really stopping us.

I decided to do a fun “bonus” podcast, and invited on Heath to talk about the new one-shot with me. Much like the “Manga Review of Awesomeness” recurring segment on my main show, what we did was recap the actual story of the manga, and then dove head-first into all sorts of things: name puns, correlations to other Toriyama works, our own thoughts on this new one, etc. It runs around 45 minutes, so it’s a pretty decent length show without going completely overboard (especially considering the one-shot itself is only about thirty pages!). We definitely had a fun time with it, and if you enjoy it and want to hear more like this in the future, let us know! We will probably do it anyway just to amuse ourselves, but it would be nice to know that someone out there actually wants to listen in, too.

OP/ED: “Riding on a Time machine~サイケデリック☆55” by Hironobu Kageyama (from the album Cold RainCDJapan / Amazon Japan)

“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.

Two Quick Movie Reviews

Hey, everyone. It’s been a while since I’ve posted anything up over here. As you can probably guess, the move to the new house has put a temporary slowdown on updates across the board for me. I’ve put a couple quick things up over on vgconvos, and I was able to record episode 20 of lo-fidelity with Jeff, but everything else is still settling back down into normalcy.

Making it even worse was coming down with a cold over the weekend. However, my sickness benefits you, because it gives me something to blog about. See… when I’m sick, I like to watch terrible movies. There’s nothing more comfortable to me while blowing my nose and drinking endless glasses of water than curling up on the couch with a cat and denying myself the privilege of watching something genuinely worthwhile. Yesterday, those two movies were Hancock and Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer.

These will not be long, in-depth, helpful reviews. Remember my state of mind while watching them.

Hancock was interesting for half of its length. Once the big “plot twist” comes in (and is literally thrown through the wall of a house), it immediately becomes garbage. Similar to the most recent Hulk movie where I found Banner a more interesting character wandering around South America trying to keep himself under control (rather than Hulk-ing out and smashing things), I found Hancock a much more interesting character trying to deal with his public image and vices. The same could be said about characters like Batman, and in more recent American comic book film cash-ins, Iron Man. The faults and demons of these characters are far more interesting than the BANG ZOOM CRASH aspects. Sure, coming around the same time as Iron Man and having a superhero with a drinking problem is a little strange, but Tony wasn’t flying through the sky drunk dropping cars on buildings. All in all, it wasn’t a terrible movie, but lost its purpose and soul by going the flash route midway. As one last point, I would like to say that all children in this movie (especially the very first one you see, and the main child throughout the rest of the movie) were terrible actors beyond belief.

Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer was almost entirely garbage, on the other hand. I wish I remembered more about the “first” (well, prior) movie, but I saw it in theaters when it came out, and I have a difficult time remembering anything about movies I’ve seen, anyway. I know comic fans had a problem with Galactus being a giant space cloud, but knowing next to nothing about the series, I found it an acceptable change (unlike “the giant squid”, where I have problems with both the original and movie-changed ending). The overall story, however, was laughable. The acting was only acceptable, with Jessica Alba being exceptionally terrible, yet again. The cheese factor goes above and beyond comical to ridiculous with scenes like the bachelor party dancing (do kids think this stuff is funny, ‘cuz I sure don’t…?). I would like to say more about the movie, but despite seeing it less than 24 hours ago, I am already forgetting nearly everything about it.

I certainly don’t regret watching either movie. They were the perfect type of ridiculous (if not “stupid”) popcorn action movies I look for when I’m sick and need to take my mind off of just how terrible I feel. What about you all? Have you seen either movie and have some thoughts you’d like to share? How about things you like to do when you’re sick?

“The Legend of Zelda” Manga Review

I decided to start up a new category of postings over here on WTF EX. It makes sense to review things on blogs, so that is exactly what I will do! I can’t promise just how often I’ll actually review anything, but since this struck my fancy, I’ll just go for it.

As you may or may not know, I’m a somewhat big fan of The Legend of Zelda. In fact, two of the series’ games make up my top three games of all time. I have a strange history with the series after 1998, though. I found myself really wanting to enjoy Ocarina of Time, but simply losing interest (and quite frankly, becoming horribly bored with the game) after getting about halfway through. I tried playing another three times since then, and each time I got through less of the game before it bored me to tears. I started Wind Waker and got to the second dungeon before my now-classic “randomly dropped the game” syndrome kicked in. I didn’t play Twilight Princess at all, and instead watched Meri play through the entire thing. See, she’s the 3D fan for the series, while I champion the 2D games. It all works out in the end.

Regardless of this fact, I still adore the story and implementation of Ocarina of Time in nearly every way, even if I never got through the game. To know that there was a manga series about it certainly raised a nerdy interest in me, and when I heard that Viz would be bringing it state-side, I was all over that.

I think it’s really important to take a quick look at the ways in which I’ve viewed Link as a character, though. With the exception of Zelda II‘s wonderful, “I FOUND A MIRROR UNDER THE TABLE“, Link has essentially been mute from his debut onward (with the additional exception of fighting noises from the N64 era onward). This, however, is only in gameplay. There have been other areas in which Link has fleshed himself out a little bit, and I wanted to look at some American and Japanese examples that form my idea on just who exactly Link is before diving into the manga review.

With the games themselves out of the way (and ignoring anything and everything on the CD-i), there’s no getting around the Super Mario Bros. Super Show‘s special Friday inclusion of the Zelda cartoon. Link suddenly became a snarky horn dog, far removed from the emotionless splash of pixels we had all become used to playing. The iconic, “Well excuuuuuuuuse ME, Princess!” ended up defining Link as a character for many fans for many years, probably up until around the time that more games came out to help wash away the memories (don’t get me wrong; I enjoyed the show!). It seemed like an all-too-obvious American, 1980s/1990s take on the character, and is certainly the most distinct of any incarnation.

Let’s jump over to Japan, though.

The first Zelda manga I ever picked up was actually a gift for Meri sometime shortly after 2000; it was one of the 4-koma comic series. For those unfamiliar, think of your typical American comic strip in a newspaper. The panels are the same size, run consecutively/chronologically, and tell a short (usually humorous) story. Series like Azumanga Daioh also were released in the 4-koma style. In this particular manga, there are a whole bunch of these very short (funny!) strips throughout the issue. Picking up bombs, finding hidden places… all the usual scenarios you would expect to play in a Zelda game are represented. While I cannot fluently read any of the text, the artwork is enough to get the hilarity across.

At Otakon 2007, one of the Japanese bookstores was unloading cheap copies of Akira Himekawa‘s manga, so I picked up two random volumes. These would be the versions that Viz would eventually bring out to the US about a year later. I didn’t do much other than flip through them, but I could tell that Link was at least talking with other characters and going about with his adventures almost exactly as we saw (and played) in the respective video games.

This takes us up to the American release of the manga, and the actual “review” of it (geeze, it seemed like it took a long time to get here!). With all of these “versions” of Link in mind, it was tough to jump into this and figure out how to accept him as a character. Add to that the fact that Viz brought it out under the “Viz Kids” label, and as a guy in his mid/late-20s, you start really wondering how or why you should read it at all.

Yes, there will be “spoilers” in this review (both for the original story from the game, as well as new plot points added to this manga).

Since this particular manga tells the story of Ocarina of Time, I found myself assuming the role of that Link in my head, and I did so pretty easily. I knew where the story was going and how it was going to get there, but also knew that some plot points may be different.

It was a little tough to get used to a character that was so verbose, especially since Ocarina of Time (the video game this manga is based on) really solidified the “mute” Link. He clearly has “conversations” in the game, but you only ever get the OTHER characters’ side of it. Instead, the manga presents us with a character not afraid to show emotion both with his body and his voice, and even has plenty of internal monologue moments. It makes sense, and most likely wouldn’t work too well as a manga without these traits (though I’m sure plenty of doujinshi have explored this).

The story had enough nods to exact scenes from the video game to satisfy that itch, but also presented enough new plot points and character development to make me want to read it rather than just go play the game for myself, instead.

Things directly from the game that I liked included Saria waiting for Link by the bridge on the outskirts of the forest, carrying Princess Ruto around for a while inside Jabu-Jabu, and shooting an arrow into the painting to fight against the ghost/spirit version of Ganondorf.

Some of the new elements are what really help the story shine, though. The Stalfos that gets personified as something more than just a random, nameless bad-guy (it meets and battles Link both in the past and future) was a nice touch. One of the most heart-breaking parts of the manga was Link’s little dragon friend that was corrupted into an evil beast, which Link was forced to behead and kill in order to save the Gorons.

Even with a couple of these more “intense” story moments, they are not enough to bring the entire package to anything more than standard kids fare (and at times, maybe a little too childish). The Zelda franchise wouldn’t attempt to show its slightly darker side until Twilight Princess (though I’d argue that the Nightmares in Link’s Awakening did it first), so while it does make sense to have this particular manga be so heavy on the children focus, it might partially alienate the fans that have grown up with the series looking to jump into the manga. Sure, the manga is eight years old at this point, but I don’t see myself having too different an opinion on these elements eight years ago, either.

At the same time, what else should I expect? Nothing, really. I expected a children’s manga, and that is exactly what I got. Perhaps I was hoping for a couple extra bits here and there that might be more “adult” in tone, but it was not meant to be. That being said, I don’t mean to diminish what is actually presented and done well, which is the vast majority of what I’ve read.

I found the artwork a little busy and confusing at times (I had the same thoughts recited back to me by Meri, so I know I’m not alone). The logical flow didn’t always seem so logical, and the fading of edges and spreads could be misleading. The art seems to be very shoujo in style with trends of shounen story development (and with “Akira Himekawa” actually being a pen name for “A. Honda” and “S. Nagano” [both women], and the Zelda series also having a strong female fanbase, this makes a lot of sense).

One thing that made my inner-nerd rise up in protest (both figuratively and literally, in that I couldn’t resist pointing it out to Meri) was the note on one of the in-between-chapter pages showcasing Link on top of Epona which says, “It’s unusual for him to hold his sword in his left hand.” Sorry, ladies! Link has exclusively been left-handed throughout his entire history, and wouldn’t be shown holding a sword in his right hand until the Wii version of Twilight Princess at least six years after this manga’s publication! Sure, it’s just a minor thing, but if they were going to make such an obvious note of it, that note should not be so glaringly incorrect!

One important “defect” with this particular Viz version of the release is the misalignment and binding of some of the pages (mostly toward the middle and later on in the volume). It seems to have been placed too far into the middle of the book, rendering the ends of some sentences completely unreadable. Hopefully this is fixed in future printings (this particular version I own is the first printing from October 2008).

While I have only gotten around to reading the first volume of the Ocarina of Time series (of two total), I look forward to grabbing the second volume and all subsequent releases (hopefully Majora’s Mask, etc.). Volumes one and two are available now from Viz under the “Viz Kids” label for $7.99 a pop. It’s a nice way for me to quickly re-experience games that I enjoy in theory, but can just never fully get into when I sit down to play.

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