October 22, 2008

Engineer's Disease: Haruhi

I'm rewatching Suzumiya Haruhi no Yuutsu. Just had a thought about it, and I'll probably have more. They'll all be spoilers so they go below the fold.

Why did they decide to get rid of Yuki's glasses in the battle with Asakura?

Because it represented a continuity change as a result of the battle, one that Kyon couldn't deny. Having Asakura vanish is a continuity change as well, but it's one Kyon could rationalize.

The point for the directors was to make it so that Kyon couldn't convince himself that it was a dream, or a hallucination. If it were one of those things, why would Yuki stop wearing her glasses at just that moment?

Which, in turn, makes him more open to "six impossible things before breakfast" later in that episode.

In episode 3 (of the six) the three club members all tell him about what they are. In episode 4, all of them end up proving it. Koizumi is the only one who does so deliberately, but it remains the case that he sees all three of them do things which only make sense if they are what they say they are -- or if Kyon is dreaming.

UPDATE: Well, two of the three. Koizumi does his esper thing in ep 5.

UPDATE: The translator blew a big one. There's a Japanese term he translated as "the human principle". I'm sure that was supposed to be "the anthropic principle", especially based on what Koizumi said next. Maybe the translator didn't know the English term, and instead translated the Japanese term Koizumi used (which sounds to me like "ningen gandi"; I'm sure about the "ningen" part, at least).

Posted by: Steven Den Beste in at 06:32 PM | Comments (19) | Add Comment
Post contains 282 words, total size 2 kb.

1 "She", wasn't it? I could have sworn Rika translated that one.

Posted by: Avatar_exADV at October 22, 2008 10:27 PM (pfysU)

2 Anthropic was how a.f.k. translated it in the fansubs.  That's just one example of why many fans were incensed over the "professional" subs.  Add the horrible font to it, and given the fan expectations for this show, they really shot themselves in the foot.  When the professionals look more amateurish than the volunteer fansub groups, it is not going to win anyone over the cause of corporate gouging IP rights.

Posted by: ubu at October 22, 2008 10:29 PM (fcO+a)

3 I think the horrible fonts in licensed DVDs are the result of the lame system DVDs use for subtitles. (Correct, Avatar...?)  The ugly font that the DVD system provides is one thing, but the idiotic way they have to be placed in the "safe area" annoys the crap out of me.  I mean, who has a TV that overscans by 20% any more?  Sadly, I've checked out the sub system on BluRay and it is a bit better, but not anywhere near as good as it could have been.  Grr.
I haven't yet seen a licensed sub-only release, but one would hope they use hard subs like the fansubbers.  Properly sized and placed hard subs are one thing about fansubs that is almost always vastly superior to commercial releases. 
As for translations: in my experience, while the fansubbers are sometimes better than the pros, they are much more often worse.  In general, the pros tend to make bad (or "non-fan approved") word or phrase choices here and there.  The fans get whole sentences wrong, or make errors early on in a series that propagate for numerous episodes.  Or they have a serious lack of consistency, with the translation of terms, etc., wobbling all over the place.  They also have some bad habits, such as always translating certain words the same way--a pet peeve of mine is the way "asobu" is almost always translated as "play" (try "have fun" or "hang out" for a change, guys). Another bad habit is that when a borrowed English word is used in the original they almost always try to fit the original English into the translation.  News Flash: sometimes the English term has mutated severely in meaning in the Japanese usage. 
But it all depends on the fansub group/team, and the series.  Some teams would be a valuable addition to the industry, but reliability is always a problem.  As I know from comics, it doesn't matter how good you are if you can't meet a deadline, turn in consistent work, and finish the job.  Amateurs write when they want to; pros write when they have to.

Posted by: Toren at October 22, 2008 11:54 PM (UDqSH)

4 And one more abuse of Steven's bandwidth: ubu, do you really think IP rights are "corporate gouging"...?  You can't be serious, right?

Posted by: Toren at October 22, 2008 11:55 PM (UDqSH)

5 do you really think IP rights are "corporate gouging"...?

What else would you call, say,  EA's anti-piracy schemes, for example?

Posted by: Wonderduck at October 23, 2008 05:52 AM (AW3EJ)

6 Fansub fonts look fine on computer screens (if you can read them at all), but would be a complete disaster on a DVD player connected to a standard interlaced NTSC tube. It's a very limited platform, and the DVD subtitle standard was written to work under awful conditions on players dumber than my alarm clock.

One of the key reasons Microsoft bought WebTV was for the custom chip that handled text rendering on television sets; we were way ahead of everyone else, and a lot of the hardware guys ended up on the Xbox team.


Posted by: J Greely at October 23, 2008 06:56 AM (2XtN5)

7 What else would you call, say,  EA's anti-piracy schemes, for example?

Idiotic, that's what.  I don't think a single game released with SecuROM has avoided being cracked and distributed over the internet within a week of release, if that late.

I have no problem with companies wanting to get paid for their work, but the best that can be said about draconian copy protection is that it doesn't work.  And if it doesn't work, than it is an active offense for them to inflict it on the legitimate customer base.

( I suspect that for at least some in the industry, draconian copy protection is viewed less as a way to stop piracy, and more as a way to move towards 'software as service' and eliminate individual ownership of software packages. 

Its those steady streams of income that WoW and other MMOs produce, the other companies want in on it.  They just don't want to pay to actually generate continual content and value, like Blizzard et al do. )

Posted by: metaphysician at October 23, 2008 07:04 AM (h4nEy)

8 Toren, partially correct. It's certainly true that there's an upper limit on how nice a DVD subtitle font can be, and that limit is based on the technical limitations of the resolution of the NTSC display and the total lack of post-processing capability by the DVD player. (Actually, the spec is more simple than it had to be. If it allowed for more colors at once, you could get some faux anti-aliasing with software designed to take advantage of that. But the current standard is admirably low-bandwidth, so you don't have to be concerned about the affect on the video quality...)

Haruhi's font, however, was a Godzilla font. I actually was doing some subcontracting for the guy who did those subtitles when Haruhi came out. Of course, the font's really easy to read. However, it also imposes a strict (or more like "draconian") limitation on how many characters can be in each line. ADV's old standards were 35 cpl, though in reality the font let us get away with as many as 38 or so, on average (naturally, iiiiiii takes up less space than mmmmmmm...) That font had a limit of 28 cpl or so, so basically the subtitler had 20% less space to work with. I clock in around 36 with the stuff I'm working on these days, and the font I'm using is still pretty fat...

Fewer characters per line mean more instances where you have to compromise meaning to shoehorn it in. That doesn't mean that the opposite is necessarily a good thing - too many per line and you sacrifice legibility - but those subs were definitely forcing more compromises than average, and this is one of those.

However, the error Steven spotted doesn't look like it was caused by that; I'd wager it's just from the translation. I... can't really comment about Rika's translations, given that I'm working off of them for Lucky Star. At the same time, I'd hesitate to generalize this comparison to fansubs as a whole. The Haruhi fansubs were damn fine subtitles, well above average quality.

Posted by: Avatar_exADV at October 23, 2008 08:41 AM (pfysU)


Wasn't trying to start that flame war on Steven's blog again (So why weren't you less provocative, eh?)  What I was alluding to is this:

If a company wants to put out a superior, or at least competent product, and demand consumers respect its (IP) rights to profit from that product, it's one thing.  If they want to put out a terrible product and make the same claim, then charge a premium because it was wildly popular in its native form, then it's gouging.  Yeah, some groups suck.  Their translations are not that good, or they get ridiculously fancy with their subtitles. You get what you pay for -- but the flip side is:  if I pay for it, I expect it a reasonable quality.

Face it, the show would NOT have had the huge sales without the incredible buzz created by the efforts of a.f.k. to accurately and speedily sub the episodes.  Thus a.f.k. effectively peformed 90% of all the advance marketing work, and then the actual IP owners cashed in by supplying an inferior product.  That's not how to gain respect for your "rights."

Two wrongs don't make a right, so I own a licensed copy of SnHY. But I regard it as inferior in several regards to the one obtained for free off the internet. 

Finally, given that I don't use a TV or DVD to watch anime, the NTSC is as irrelevant to me as the airspeed of an unladen swallow.  The market can supply us with Blu-ray DVD players, but couldn't do anything about crappy sub-titling?  Then screw the market, I'll play in my little fansub niche.  I am Consumer. Hear me roar.

Posted by: ubu at October 23, 2008 09:21 AM (i7ZAU)


I haven't yet seen a licensed sub-only release, but one would hope they use hard subs like the fansubbers.  Properly sized and placed hard subs are one thing about fansubs that is almost always vastly superior to commercial releases.

Toren, haven't you watched Kirameki Project yet? That one is sub-only.

I don't think anyone will ever release a hard sub DVD. I sure hope not; I'd hate it.

(Strike Witches was hardsubbed via Crunchyroll, though.)

Posted by: Steven Den Beste at October 23, 2008 09:53 AM (+rSRq)

11 I hear that argument a lot, but honestly, it's a little overblown.

These days, the intersection between "good shows with wide appeal" and "shows that someone is fansubbing" is essentially 100%. So it's difficult to determine exactly what kind of effect fansubbing has on shows, because it's not like the show being any good or not is a variable independent of sales. In an environment with no fansubs, consumers would still have various methods to gather information about the quality of shows coming out in the US, and good shows are still going to sell better than crappy ones.

Haruhi was plenty good. It sold pretty well. (By anime standards, of course. Which is to say, much, much worse than the worst Hollywood films.) How well would it have sold without the fansubs? Tough to say. There's people who saw the fansub, liked it, and bought it on DVD; that's Steven, ubu, and me, for that matter. There are people who saw the fansub and didn't buy it, because they had seen the fansub already. (We can assume there's a sliver of that who would have bought a higher-quality presentation, but frankly, anime fans are not that discriminating.) But of the people who saw the fansub and didn't buy it, a good percentage wouldn't have bought it anyway, because they're totally broke. But then there's also the segment that might have bought it, if they hadn't reprioritized their entertainment budget away from buying anime DVDs because they're downloading ten hours of fansubs a week from this season's shows for free...

Sigh. This stuff is complicated.

Posted by: Avatar_exADV at October 23, 2008 10:01 AM (pfysU)

12 I'll come right out and say it: I bought Haruhi because of the AFK's subs.  It was a good show, AFK made it a great one, simply because of the translation job. 

The "professional" subs turned it back into a good show.  But to reward companies for getting GOOD shows into the pipeline, I not only got the DVDs, I bought the collector's versions.

J said "Fansub fonts look fine on computer screens (if you can read them at all), but would be a complete disaster on a DVD player connected to a standard interlaced NTSC tube."

When The Librarian and I watch a show, we do it on The Pond's tv; we've watched a few fansub-only shows, so I have some experience with this.  I'll actually disagree with J here.  IF the fansub group is on the ball (like SS-Eclipse and Clannad, for example), they work very well on a standard TV.  AFK's subs, though, not so good on a TV; too small and/or too many characters to a line. 

For what it's worth.

Posted by: Wonderduck at October 23, 2008 08:32 PM (AW3EJ)


Mr. Duck, the AFK fansub was a hardsub. That meant they were able to do their font rendering within an 853 pixel wide rendering space.

DVD subtitles are rendered in a 720 pixel wide rendering space, which is then either shrunk or spread depending on whether the show is 4:3 or 16:9.

I am sure that the AFK font looked fine in a hardsub, but if that same font had been used in a real DVD subtitle, it would have looked a lot worse.

Posted by: Steven Den Beste at October 23, 2008 08:51 PM (+rSRq)

14 Actually, Mr. DB, the AFK fansub is the one that looks awful on a TV.  Great on a computer, though.

SS-Eclipse actually seems like they expect their episodes to be burned to a DVD and played on a TV.  Large high contrast fonts, and not afraid to use two lines for them.

Don't get me wrong: both are great on a computer.

Posted by: Wonderduck at October 23, 2008 09:04 PM (AW3EJ)

15 One points out that a really good fansub script can play a little faster and looser with the actual dialogue, compared to a professional one. "Supersize me!" references are great for a laugh, but a bit of a stretch. (I still regret not adding the All Your Base reference to Lost Universe back when...)

Not anything we can do about the DVD subtitling spec but go to Blu-Ray, and to put it bluntly, I don't have any Blu-Ray authoring tools. ;p

Posted by: Avatar_exADV at October 23, 2008 11:41 PM (pfysU)

16 Lordy, anime is expensive enough, I'd hate to think what moving to Blu-Ray would do to that. . .

Posted by: metaphysician at October 24, 2008 07:12 AM (h4nEy)

17 Well, I'd make a few comments here and then let it lie.  I don't want to clog up Steven's blog on this contentious subject.
*:  First of all, let me state that the best argument I have ever heard for "let a thousand fansubs bloom" is the simple fact that most anime is released originally as TV broadcasts in Japan.  However, in that case the creators are at least paid something.  Still, it's an excellent argument.
*:  The infuriating anti-piracy schemes of EA and others are not a general IP issue, but a customer service issue.
*:  Regarding the commercial release of Haruhi, the fact remains that the creators of the show will only get rewarded for their work via Bandai USA sales.  And from that standpoint, it doesn't matter in the slightest how popular AFK made it if that doesn't translate into royalty-earning sales.  This does not absolve Bandai from the problem of poor execution, but I think you see my point.  Fansubs can make a show popular but that doesn't feed the bulldog.  If I like a series, I always buy it, even if it may sit shrinkwrapped on my shelf forever.  That's the only way to reward and encourage the creators.  Maybe the licensees should set up donation sites where those who watched the fansubs but won't buy the DVDs can donate to the licensors. I would find the results of such an experiment illuminating.  Will the fans walk the walk?
*:  ubu, if people are not buying, they are are not consumers.  They are leeches.  I'm not flaming here, it's just a fact.  Considering your stated ruthless position on never watching anime in DVD format, it's very responsible of you to buy the DVDs sometimes, simply because there is no other way for you to support the creators.  The fact that doing this can encourage the licensees to continue producing an unacceptable product is a difficult issue to resolve.  As Avatar said, "This stuff is complicated."
*:  I almost never watch fansubs on my computer.  I hate watching stuff on my computer.  I usually burn them to DVD-RW either via Nero Vision as regular DVD format, or, when possible, as PS3 readable MP4 files.  I have had no trouble at all with hard subs.  They look great, and are almost always perfectly readable.  In fact, I'll often shrink MKV subs during the conversion to AVI because with a 50" plasma even very small subs are readable, and they cover much less of the screen.  This is important for me since I don't always read them and the less screen real estate they take up, the better.  I also read very, very fast, so a ton of characters on a line is a non-issue.  So I disagree that DVD hard subs need to be unusually large, in most cases.  As long as the image subtends roughly the same visual arc on the computer monitor and the TV, there will be no difference in readability.
(continued in next post)

Posted by: Toren at October 24, 2008 10:34 AM (UDqSH)

18 *:  Steven, hard subs can be burned at the full 853.  They get converted to anamorphic just the same as the rest of the picture and blow out along with it.
*:  I have Kirameki Project, but it hasn't floated to the top of the pile.  I should take a quick look today to see what the subs are like.
*:  I agree on the fansubbed/popular release comment.  It's just an undeniable fact, rare TV-driven instances like Dragonball and One Piece notwithstanding.  I doubt the IP owners are happy with it, but that's the way the market is and it needs to be dealt with realistically.  On the manga front, these days we just publish the series and it either sells enough to be worth it or not.  We long ago gave up worrying about scanslations, although I still deeply resent the people who scan in our published versions.  At least the scanslators make an effort!  However, it's a waste of time to play at being King Canute.
*:  I found Avatar's comment that fansubs play fast and loose more so than the commercial releases quite surprising.  In my experience, it has been the opposite.  Unless you consider errors to qualify as "fast and loose"....  I find the hard core fans to be much more stiff-necked about the issue and to prefer transliteration.  (As tempted as I am, I won't get into my own philosophy on translation here.)
*:  BluRay prices have been tumbling, and are already within 20% of DVD prices in a lot of cases.  However, I feel they are almost completely unnecessary for anime, which looks about as good as it ever will just from upscaling.  I doubt the companies are creating it at 1080p, although I could be wrong.

Posted by: Toren at October 24, 2008 10:34 AM (UDqSH)

19 One theoretical use for Blu-Ray in anime would be to put entire seasons on one or two disks; sadly, I doubt this will ever happen much.

Posted by: metaphysician at October 24, 2008 10:42 AM (h4nEy)

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