Order Arrived

Yep, spent some of yesterday catching up on Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, English dub version (and rewatching some of the Japanese, just to make sure my memory wasn’t faulty). I got DVD 1 of the english dub in last month, but I held off until I also had DVD 2, so I could watch all the way through the first arc in English. A few notes:

Fansub text beats the crap out of corporate subtitle text. It’s not even close. Amazing how much better the fansubbers do.

Wendee Lee as Haruhi: No. Hell no. She doesn’t sound maniacal at all. She doesn’t even sound like a teenager; she honest-to-god ends up sounding like a full grown woman trying miserably to pretend to be a teenager. It’s confirmed: there is only one Haruhi, and Aya Hirano is her name. Thank you, Bandai. Not.

Crispin Freeman as Kyon: The U.S. Post Office thanks you for your support, but I object to your mailing in this performance.

Johnny Yong Bosch as Itsuki: Enh. He’s not oily enough. He comes across as a goofball, not someone that you’re unsure whether to trust at your back.

Mischelle Ruff as Yuki: Very credible performance. Much better than I expected, but it was often hard to hear her. They should have boosted the gain on her track some more.

Stephenie Sheh as Mikuru: Absolutely. Outstanding. Performance. She nailed Mikuru perfectly. It took a few seconds to adjust to hearing that kind of voice in English, but after that I had to remember I’d ever heard it in Japanese.

Seeing the show in all its HD glory makes me sick to think how much we lose from .avi encoding. The level of detail was so much greater, I had to go back and doublecheck some scenes from the series because I thought they’d re-done them for the DVD.

Also spent some time listening to the Misaki Chronicles soundtrack. It does include the OP and ED, but it does not include the music from Divergence Eve. Makes me want to go back and rewatch the series, but I don’t need that kind of emotional wringer right now. Sora brings back enough of it that I don’t want to try it.

Still to come: Vandread (legal and presumably superior) and Ikkitousen.

Pictures below the fold. Examples of bad subbing, IMHO.

Fansub DVD

My points about both the picture quality and the subbing should be obvious here. The fansub version “flows” better; by keeping it in the same font as the computer text, it’s not nearly as jarring. Arguably, it might be harder to read, and maybe that’s an issue, but they didn’t even try. If this is a limitation of the software used by the big boys, then let’s hear it for lean and mean, because they’re obviously using the wrong software. Group a.f.k. turned out their fansubs within one day, week after week.

Not to mention, what’s with the horrid translation by the so-called professionals? The evolution of autonomy? WTF?

I’ve got a nasty feeling that someone at Bandai said, “Screw doing a perfect job, just shove it out there. They’re gonna buy it anyway, the idiots.” And I’m not really happy about that. Listen guys, don’t TRY to drive me to to fansubs — what happened to “you get what you pay for?”

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13 Responses to Order Arrived

  1. I like Michelle Ruff; she has quite a range and while easy to spot, her performances are almost always good.

  2. AvatarADV says:

    Keep in mind that there are limitations of the DVD subtitle spec, the author of which is doomed to die should I ever encounter him. Also, when you’re producing stuff intended to be watched on TVs, you can’t run subtitles all the way out to the edges – you have to keep them within the “title safe” area, which limits your flexibility. You also are limited by what displays well on an NTSC device, so yellow with black background really is optimal there.

    That said, the font used in the Haruhi subs is just plain fat. Max 27-28 chars per line, instead of a more reasonable 35-40. Doesn’t sound like much, but it’s the difference between “time travelers” and “future men”… ;p

  3. Ubu Roi says:

    Yeah, they looked particularly fat. But I an more impressed by the fansub group ability to mimic the art style of a given series–or in this case, of a particular scene. I’ll do some screencaps and post them. EDIT: See the update above.

  4. You’ve screwed up the links to the full-sized pictures.

  5. Ubu Roi says:

    Fixed. And a further note: the fansubs scrolled onto the screen with the Japanese text, which was more natural for the eye to follow. The DVD sub flashed on, so that the eye was constantly being pulled from the scrolling Japanese text to the rapidly changing sub and back. Never mind that the fansub translation just plain makes more sense.

    Edit: oh wait, you said the DVD subtitle spec was the problem, not the software used by the companies. Damn. That’s a bit harder to get around… you’d have to code into the picture. Bad idea.

  6. Subtitles in the DVD spec are a 2-bit plane stored as a bitmap. Think of it as a cutrate GIF file. You may specify three colors in the palette and the fourth color is reserved for transparency.

    The bit plane is 720*480. It has to be resized along with the video and is placed on top of it. But there are limits to how nice of a resize that can be used, and I bet a lot of DVD players don’t try to do any smoothing at all. They just do a pixel-level resize.

    For a widescreen show like SHNY, the nominal resize is from 720*480 to 853*480, representing an 18% increase horizontally.

    Fansubbers don’t have that problem. They’re embedding their text directly in the video — which is why you can’t turn it off — and have full access to the display resolution. But if you want something like normal aspect-ratio characters in the subtitles, then the characters in the real bitplane have to be 15% narrower relative to height, so that after an 18% horizontal stretch the aspect ratio is right.

    I took a look at your examples. The string “evolution” appears in both the fansub and the official subtitle. In the fansub it’s 192*29 pixels. In the subtitle it’s 205*34, including the dropshadow.

    So the fansub is 6.6:1 and the subtitle is 6.0:1. In other words, the subtitle is narrower relative to height than the fansub.

    …what were you complaining about?

    The big problem for the subtitle is that if they make the characters too narrow then they’ll be butchered by the resize.

  7. Ubu Roi says:

    My complaint is largely aesthetic. Especially in the English dub, you’ve suddenly got these fat characters appearing that look jarringly different from the rest of the text simultaneously appearing on the screen. Although I didn’t show it here, there’s even one scene where the subtitle is directly on top of the Japanese text, making it hard to read.

    And you can’t tell it from still photos, but it’s distracting to have one set of characters scrolling onto the screen, and another “flashing.” I’ll allow that maybe it’s because I’m used to following the scrolling (not quite the correct term, but it will have to do), from having seen the fansub first.

    However, while it’s true that the subtitling is burned directly into the video in .avi and .mpg format, the newer .mkv format does allow for the subtitles to be in a separate stream and turned off.

  8. Nick says:

    Steven has it right, though I have seen cases where the official subtitling was superior to any of the fansubs I’ve seen. Cat Soup was one example; since there is no spoken parts in the entire movie, it depends entirely on text-bubbles for dialog. The DVD subtitle actually places a circle over the existing Japanese text and overlays the English translation over that. I was impressed as to how well timed it was: even in cases when the camera pans across a scene, the soft subs disappear right when the scene moves and reappears in the new area right when it stops in a way that’s almost unnoticeable. It was quite nice in that the subtitling doesn’t present another hurdle while watching the movie itself. The only fansub of the movie I found only placed the translated text beside the existing word bubble (though it did have the advantage of moving around with the scene).

    I was really hoping that the newer HD-DVD and Blue-ray subtitle specs are a major improvement over the DVD specs, but I’m not so sure that is the case. I haven’t read them myself (not planning on going to HiDef media for some time), but I’m pretty sure foreign film and TV show viewers aren’t a large part of DVD sales as a whole.

  9. AvatarADV says:

    The companies have tried doing text overlays in the video. Huge hue and cry resulted. “Don’t edit our video!” Can’t win, so go with the solution that involves relatively cheap DVD subtitle editing (hey, I ain’t minimum wage, but I run a lot less than time on a video editing suite!)

    I’ll say that I definitely admire the care and effort put into subtitle appearance on many fansubs, especially for captions – they’re embedded into the video quite skillfully. If the DVD spec gave you better resolution and a larger color palette, that sort of thing isn’t -impossible- to do with soft subtitles (though timing gets wonky depending on what DVD authoring program you’re using – Spruce always kicks it two frames off, for example).

    Actually, you can do caption subtitles that appear on the screen more or less where you want them to, but that’s highly dependent on what subtitling software you’re using. You can do it -fully manually-, in which you get an artist to whip up the text, you open each subtitle picture in Photoshop, and paste the corresponding caption in at the appropriate location. This is very manpower-intensive (actually, more woman-power – I did the timing and the calculation of what went where, the artist would do the captions, and the production coordinator would actually paste the pics.) You can imagine how many weeks of overtime Excel Saga required through this method. We later replaced this method with a software package from a British firm that allows you to WYSIWYG the whole thing on the fly, and that allows you to spot captions wherever you want on the screen even in the middle of dialogue. However, that’s several thousand pounds sterling of investment, so freelancers aren’t going to be running it…

    My favorite professional example of this was done by Neal Barnes working on the re-release of Nadesico. Whenever appropriate, he subtitled shots of characters watching Gekigangar with the subtitles for the Gekigangar dialogue coming up on the Gekigangar screen – i.e. to make it look like Akito and company were watching the show with subtitles. Not easy, even with that software, and frickin’ hilarious too.

    What you -can’t- do is the fancy appearance-matching – you have yellow, bright white, and black to work with, and at the end of the day you’re making this for people watching on NTSC televisions, so you need things like text borders even if the original Japanese didn’t have any.

    I’ll say this – if you have a complaint about the quality of subtitles, -tell Bandai- or whoever. If they’re not getting complaints, they’re going to assume that things are A-OK. If they do, maybe they won’t let things like font choices be made by sub-sub-contractors with the above results… (Also, they may hire competent scriptwriter/subtitlers more often, especially ones that comment on this blog! ;p)

  10. Kayle says:

    While the DVD subpicture specification (which is the primary method for subtitiling) has quite a few limits, its nowhere near as bad as suggested. Most of the limits are due to conventions adopted by DVD producers for readability reasons. Subpictures are basically paletted image sequences with a transparency color–similar in concept to animated GIF. The palette is small, there are quite a few restrictions on the complexity of each image, but the possibilities are there. Some of the possibilities can be seen in some of the more elaborate DVD title menus, where producers often feel less obligated to follow subtitle readability conventions.

    While the software toolchain is rather unpolished, it is possible to convert the subtitle format that most fansubbers use and generate DVD subpictures, which closely match the results on the vast majority of scenes.

  11. AvatarADV says:

    Kayle, not with any professional suite -I’ve- seen. SSA and its derivatives simply don’t do SMTPE timecode; every other step in the process requires it. Sure, you could bang a video together that way, but don’t expect to be able to drop it into Scenarist…

    The palette, though, is the real killer. Since fine color-matching is essentially impossible, the subtitles are going to stand out regardless of what else you do; given that this is the case, then maximizing readability is definitely the proper way to go, right?

  12. Kayle says:

    I did say the toolchain is rather unpolished, didn’t I? Google MaestroSBT. It creates the stuff needed for Scenarist and other professional DVD authoring tools from SSA.

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