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WO Examines: Sailor Moon BD/DVD Release

It's been months since I've last made a blog post, and while that isn't extraordinary in and of itself, it has taken me some time to work up the nerve to write this particular article. Not only because it's a bit of a sore subject within the fandom, but also because of the fact that the subject is considered a beloved anime institution.

I'll start with what everyone already knows: VIZ Media last year—to the jubilation of the fanbase—acquired the distribution rights to everything Sailor Moon; a move that made ripples, stoked the fans, and had newer members in the community scrambling to become initiated into the deep waters of the early anime movement. To tickle us even further, they announced an all new dub to be recorded, promising faithful adaptations that were being strictly monitored by the folks at Toei and the creator Naoko Takeuchi. It seemed that 2014 was a great year to be a fan. We'd been blessed with news of Ranma's return to video with all new remasters; we'd been graced with the return of one of anime's most adorable heroines (Sakura Kinomoto), and to place a well balanced cherry on the top of the sundae... we got word of Usagi's triumphant return as well.

VIZ performed brilliantly; making grand claims, showing video comparisons, and going on nothing less than a whirlwind roadshow to push sales for their new big, really big, license acquisition. And like most things anime, this is where the ground began to perilously slip out from under their feet.

Word began coming in right on the heels of the first Sailor Moon box-set release that not all was right in the world of anime releases. Fans were noticing that their copies of the anime were sub-par in many aspects. Die-hards, unconcerned with picture quality dove right into the fray, and videophiles eager to be justified in spending fifty-plus bucks became embroiled in a heated debate. The problem was apparent: Sailor Moon remasterd on BD and DVD was less than spectacular, and had mastering issues, the likes of which none of us had ever seen make it past the quality control group.

Issues in the remastered sets, both DVD and BD were like a grocery list of problems.

Artifacting around objects on screen; ghostlike after images left behind on the screen in some places, as though there was some sort of horrible decay rate for the subject in frame; over saturation, and inconsistent color timing; and, picture quality that looked only slightly upgraded from 480p resolution, making the BDs about as good a quality as plain DVDs.

Most of these problems were exclusive to the BD version, but that isn't to say that the DVD is absent of guilt. Like those damnable, bastardized "letterboxed" Dragon Ball Z episodes that were force-cropped, Sailor Moon's episodes were mastered with forced black bars on the sides, meaning that they were deliberately authored in 16 x 9 with black boarders, rather than being anamorphic. What that means is that if you watch this on a non-widescreen monitor or TV you get a nice black boarder all the around your set with the screen inserted in the middle.

Artifacting is less noticeable if you view the show in 480 resolution, and don't enlarge it to fill a big huge HD screen, but the grains and blurs are still there, as are the ghosting effects.

In essence, the remastered release is fubar of the highest caliber.

So where did all this go so wrong, if VIZ got the original masters from Toei? How could this have happened?

To be brutally honest here, I'm gonna say that VIZ is only half-way responsible for this debacle. The fact that they attempted to upconvert the materials they received was admirable, but given the circumstances, should never have been attempted, and for that they deserve a hearty slap in the face for sheer arrogance.

The real culprit here is Toei. It has always been Toei, and it will be Toei until the end of time.

Toei for reasons unknown to us are dead set on making us look like asswipe fools. Time and again they make promises to deliver pristine masters of anime shows, and instead deliver us some shit in a bag and call it "original."

The Japanese Dragon Boxes are a prime example. The picture quality of DBZ on the JP releases were immaculate; in an act of supreme benevolence they allowed FUNimation to make a limited press of the sets, and the "original masters" and what-not was some of the crumbiest looking footage that I've ever seen. It looked as though it was reverse processed on film from some crappy stock, and drug across the floor of the editing room.

No wonder FUNimation had to resort to the Orange Bricks... it was probably the best that Toei would give them.

Now comes Sailor Moon, and with it, the same problems. According to an article that I read, Toei didn't give VIZ the 16mm film masters for SM, instead they gave them DigiBetas. Which is essentially, archival quality betamax tapes. Is this a joke? Holy mother of dancing Christ I hope so. But when I look closely at the various comparisons of SM, I'm not so sure that is a joke.

Region 2 remasters of Sailor Moon are absolutely gorgeous. No artifacting, no ghosting, and the picture looks like a million dollars. So why is it when we get the masters we're stuck with shit copy, and forced to upscale from betamax?

My personal opinion is that the people at Toei are a bunch of fucking assholes that secretly hate the American anime industry. Another theory is that they just want to maintain a firm hold on their best looking shit, and give us the dregs; knowing we'll never complain about it, because... damn! We really wanted Sailor Moon, and who can look a gift horse in the mouth?

Regardless of what it really is; VIZ dropped the ball somewhere, and are now considered even more incompetent than the technicians at FUNimation. Bravo VIZ!

The good news, and yes there is some good news here. The DVDs of the series aren't a total loss. Like I said, if you watch this on a HD 55 inch plasma TV... you're gonna be pissed a little at the quality. The BDs are more or less crap. I don't recommend buying the Limited Edition sets at all. Save that extra twenty dollars and buy a FUNi SAVE set. Another plus is the outstanding voice work that was done on the show. Everyone there deserves the highest praise. It's only a pity that the series couldn't look as good as it sounded.

In another strange turn, Australian company, MADMAN Entertainment has announced that they plan on offering their own remastered edition of Sailor Moon, stating in no uncertain terms that a HD remaster should never have been attempted with such primitive stock, and that they will offer a new restored version on DVD. I'm assuming it will have the VIZ dub.

The draw-back is that the new restored release from MADMAN is not region 1, and will require you to buy a region free DVD player if you really want it.

As a whole, I could probably make due with the VIZ DVDs. They are still superior to the ADV releases, and those stupid watermarked Sailor Moon Central rips that unceremoniously plaster the OP and ED with self-important fan-site shit; but, if I were you, I'd think long and hard about buying the Australian versions. I'm not saying that VIZ doesn't need to get something for services rendered... but holy shit, they're too steep in denial to know much about anything at this point.

The bottom line on this one, is going to be up to you the consumers. Blame who you want, point the finger at whomever, but remember to take it easy on the scouts.


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