|Uncut Sailor Moon: Worth the Wait? - Part 1 - by Dan Bednarski (September 23rd, 2003)|
With this summer and fall releases of the much awaited uncut, Japanese, subtitled Sailor Moon releases, Sailor Moon fans might be asking themselves if this was worth waiting for. An amazing show over ten years old who contributed a lot to the anime industry in North America finally comes over here in an uncut form in what many have been calling a sub-par release, which is quite the truth. In a nutshell, this release was low quality in terms of audio and video as well as having quite a few other flaws, and even an entire episode absent from the second season. With all the faults of this release, was the wait for it even worth it?
Let's backtrack a bit. In March of 1992, the anime series Bishoujo Senshi Sailormoon hit TV airwaves in Japan and was an instant hit. The series eventually grew to 200 episodes in length over five seasons, as well as some specials, three movies, and more merchandise than you could poke a stick at. In 1995, two American companies fought for the rights to bring this show over to the states. These companies were DiC Entertainment and Saban, and we all know that Toei (the company who made the anime) chose DiC. DiC created a heavily butchered watered down dub which cut about six and a half episodes from the first two seasons, the half coming from cutting the final two episodes of the first season to one episode. While the dub was good on its own, had some moments that were improvements over the original I feel, it didn't hold a candle up to the original.
DiC didn't dub anything after the second season, but Pioneer, knowing how great a series this was, snatched up the rights to the three movies, giving them excellent releases on VHS with the option of the edited dub or the original version subbed. This was much welcomed and praised by from fans, who until then could only buy various episodes from the DiC dub, not even the whole show, and who couldn't get the Japanese uncut versions. This was also about the same time DVDs were gaining more popularity, and all three movies had an excellent DVD release. Fans wanted more Sailor Moon, and in 2000 they got it. In March 2000, it was announced that the next two seasons of the show would be dubbed and air on Cartoon Network. In June, the third season aired twice, followed by the airing of the fourth season twice. However, this time around, it wasn't DiC that was involved with the TV dub, it was Toei's branch over this side of the ocean, a company called Cloverway. Their dub wasn't really any better than DiC's, some things improved (usage of the original music) while other things got worse. However, not long after the first run of the third season, Pioneer had announced that they were able to get the rights to a DVD/VHS release of the two seasons, and fans rejoiced. After a few months, we were all treated to uncut releases of these two seasons. This left two things to think about though. One, what about the final season? That has yet to be decided. And two, the focus of this editorial, what about uncut versions of the first two seasons? In July of 2002, ADV Films gave us that answer.
In this wild ride Sailor Moon has been on, DiC had finally become independent from Disney in fall of 2000, giving them more control of what they could do. Following this, they seemed to have formed an alliance with ADV Films. One of the first announcements from this new alliance was that ADV would release the DiC Sailor Moon dubs. The first two seasons started to get released a few months later, and a DVD release of them began near the end of the VHS releases. From the start of their involvement in the show, ADV had said that they were working on getting masters for the original versions. Pretty hard to get materials for a show that they didn't have rights to, as they used the excuse of not having materials for nearly two years. In July 2002 at Otakon, ADV announced that they finally had gotten the rights to these seasons and planned to box each season up. This announcement was by far the greatest Sailor Moon news to come out of 2002.
Even though production started on the boxes soon after the contract was finalized, it would be a couple weeks short of a year after the big announcement until the first season was released. Many fans, myself included, had expected a top notch release. The R2s were being released in Japan and were remastered to awesome quality, and ADV had taken about nine months to finish the box, using the next couple months to mass produce it to be ready to supply retailers with on release. Given the time and anticipation for this, things were looking up. Sadly, instead of a good release, we got DVDs that are probably of the worst quality in my 100+ anime DVD collection.
Let's look at this box from all aspects before I go any further. First and foremost is the packaging, and let me tell you that this is one of the most beautiful packaging jobs on my shelf. A plain blue starry background is found all throughout the box with shiny silver foil images of Sailor Moon. The DVDs were sorted into two four-disc cases, where the front of each case had an image of Sailor Moon, and the back having an episode list with each episode having its own small box with the title, number, disc location, and pic from the episode. The inserts use the same background style and includes a guide to all the episodes where each episode is recapped into a short passage, and mentions landmark events in the season. The DVDs themselves also use the same background style, with an outline of a different senshi on each disc. Plain, simple, and shiny, this box definitely stands out on my shelf.
Next thing to look at is the menu. Well, before you can get to a menu, there's a front placed trailer for the Anime Network before the menu pops up on every DVD. Why this was done confuses me, as ADV knows that fans hate trailers playing prior to the menu and have stopped doing this a while ago. But anyways, to get to the menu, either wait until the trailer ends or press the menu button on your DVD remote. Much like the packaging of the set, the menu is designed in a very simple manner. On each disc except four and eight, there are two rows of three windows where there's a small clip of the episode you can choose, with the name and number of the episode above. On discs four and eight, the bottom right corner episode space is replaced by an ADV trailers button, where you end up in a menu set up much like the episode menus, only instead of episodes they are trailers to other ADV anime. There is no option through the menu to turn off the subtitles or not, which although would be nice, isn't really that big a deal since a very high percentage of people would just keep them on anyways. Each menu has the OP song without vocals playing in the background in nice quality. Overall, the menus aren't really that good, but aren't that bad either, though I must admit, the design simplicity almost seems to give the feeling of being menus you would see from bootlegs.
And now the fun part, the quality of the episodes themselves. I find it funny, mentioning how the menus give off a small bootleg feeling, since the quality of the episodes themselves are very low. To start, after hearing the nice music from the menu, the audio for the episodes is mono with what seems to be at a lower volume. While this audio is tolerable, that's all it really is. I can still hear everything ok when I turn the volume up some, it's only ok and honestly the worst I've heard for an R1 anime release. The video quality isn't as disappointing, but at the same time isn't good either. Also, two pre-episode clips were moved around a bit. Originally, a pre-episode would have a small little preview, the OP, a short Usagi intro, and the title card for the episode. In this box however, the OP is first and the episode preview is between the OP and the Usagi intro. Really weird if you ask me, especially since Pioneer's release of the second two seasons didn't have this problem at all. One similarity both companies have with their Sailor Moon releases is no previews for the next episode. A final note on the content of the discs themselves is the subtitle translations. From what I have seen so far, the subtitle translations are done very well and I'm glad to finally be watching these two seasons with good subs.
Now to tear these issues apart. The quality of this release is sub-par at best. Yes uncut Sailor Moon has finally come, but at what cost? This DVD release has worse quality than the LaserDiscs and VHSs from ten years ago, completely unacceptable. Go to this page and hear for yourself what a difference the audio is. What's worse is that ADV has been quiet on that issue, they have made no statements whatsoever with this release except a cheap "we used what we got."
This little response came from a response as to why the pre-episode shorts were out of order. David Williams of ADV had given a quick explanation of how the masters came and of basic video editing works. In this short passage, he states that everything was used in the order that it came minus the OP and ED. I can almost understand the lack of next episode previews since Toei didn't give them to Pioneer either, but I can't understand how ADV can do nothing about the order of the pre-episode shorts. Pioneer had no problem in doing so, I wish there was a representative from there to tell us how their masters came. I'm guessing they came the same way as ADV's, since they only used one OP in each season, but they took the time to get the order right. Remember that that is only a guess in what Pioneer did and not a known fact. Williams in his little video editing lesson said that it would be much easier to just keep the order in the way the masters were instead of taking the time to do some cutting and pasting. I find this unbelievable, they spent nine months on this release and they couldn't take the time to do a basic cut and paste job? Completely unacceptable. It's a small issue I know, but an issue nonetheless. It remains to be the only issue on this box that ADV has said anything about, and really makes them look bad in my opinion.
If all that isn't already bad enough, we have a big problem with episode 24, the first episode on disc five. In this episode, there appears to be some authoring problems that have caused a frame rate problem. Even though I haven't gotten this far into the box myself, to make this editorial more valid, I did check out this error prior to typing this. Some pass it off as something most won't notice, others as very annoying, I fall into the second group. I'm the kind of person who really notices things like that such as a small music cut from radio waves and such and finds it hard to deal with. Sure it doesn't take much away from the product, but it really upsets the balance of things. ADV can't point fingers here, as this issue is 100% their fault. An encoding error on such a pivotal episode. If nothing else in this box is fixed, this definitely should be. ADV should take the time to fix this error and offer a replacement program for those who already own this release. It completely boggles my mind how they can spend nine months on a sub-only release having it end up this bad and belt out releases for dozens of other titles for dual languages in less time with little to no issues at all.
So what's to expect from the second season box? Well, for starters, we almost had an image of Sailor Chibi Moon on the second case. Sure this was changed to a Black Lady pic after much negative fan response to this image, but the fact they almost did this in the first place was a bad sign, especially after hearing complaints of Chibi Moon on their dub releases on both VHS and DVD. Chibi Moon isn't in R, why use her in products of the season, and why keep doing so after fans voice their discontent about it? I'm glad it was changed don't get me wrong, but it shouldn't have even been an issue at all.
The second box is out today, just a couple months after the first, which probably implies that the quality and pre-episode shorts are in the same boat as in the first season. What's sad is that's not the worst of it. A few weeks ago, ADV had announced at a con that an episode would not be available in this box set. Episode 67, the episode that was cut from the second season of the dub, will not be on this set. Yes, this episode is filler, probably the worst episode of the series even I'll admit, but it's the principle of the thing. ADV has said that for whatever reason, they were not given a license to that episode. They claimed to have fought hard for it, but in the end they couldn't have it. I don't work in the industry, so I don't know how things like this work out, but seeing the quality of these uncut releases, I find it hard to believe that they fought hard. In my view, they have spent at least three quarters of a year for these releases, and that for much of that time they were sitting in the back corner of the studio. They sure as hell look like they have. What really bugs me about this whole missing episode scenario is the amount of time it took ADV to mention it. Yes, they did wait until they knew for a fact that this episode wasn't going to be on the set before telling people at a small con about it. David Williams confirmed the con announcement not too long after people asked questions about it, but this was only on the Anime on DVD forums. Only a small percentage of consumers go there, so there was really no way for someone not in the loop to really know of the missing episode until they got home and noticed it gone for themselves. The case sides almost make it look like a typo, we all thought it was before the news came out, so many consumers would probably overlook this. It wasn't until another couple of weeks until ADV made a press release after fans had commented on them trying to hide it and weren't being honest with consumers, in which doesn't seem like it's far from the truth. Their official announcement came a bit late I think, only about two weeks before the release date. At least they made an official announcement at all.
Before I started continuing to type this out tonight, I was doing a fairly normal routine of going through a couple forums and stuff to keep up on any updates on many things. Being the release date of the second box I was also keeping my eyes peeled on anything interesting about the box. I had hoped that I didn't have to worry about anything else, that all the bases were covered, but a short post over at Anime on DVD took that hope away. Unfortunately, there's nothing but this one post on the issue at the time, and this editorial has already been a couple months in the making with the research and keeping track of the ongoing issues with these uncut releases, and I really want to finally post this up, so I must apologize in the case that there is some sort of follow up response to this issue after the posting of this piece.
The new issue that has been found appears to be a usage of the English audio for a short amount of time. In episode 68, the first episode on disc five (geez, isn't that a nice little trend there?), there is a short dream sequence of Usagi dreaming of her wedding to Mamoru. The sound is said to have gotten slightly distorted and then clear again, only it's the dub track instead, as the person says that they recognized Serena's laugh and that the music was music from the dub. The sound then reverts back to the normal Japanese track after the dream. I don't want to touch on this too much as there's only been that one mention a couple hours before the posting of this editorial, as well as that I can't compare the scenes myself to check if something was changed in the dub. Part because I'm too lazy to do so at the moment, and part that Bob has my dub tapes in which that episode is on one of them. But what I will say is this. ADV, if you thought the response from all the issues in the first set was bad, you're really going to want to hide from fans if this is a real issue.
So what all this comes down to is the question that the title of this editorial asks, was uncut Sailor Moon worth the wait? With everything the series has been through, all that it's done for anime on this side of the ocean, and a ten year wait for uncut versions of these two seasons, all we got was a release that is sub-par at its best. If I worked at ADV, with all the quality that has been put into all their other products, I would be too ashamed to release such poor box sets. What's even worse about the wait for these seasons, is that one year of the wait was just the production. Am I glad that these seasons have finally made it over here in uncut form? Yes, I'm very happy to finally have a domestic release of uncut Sailor Moon. Do I think it was worth the wait? No, not by a longshot. I'm glad that these releases are here and on my shelf yes, but I would've gladly waited longer for a better product.
Why Fan Translations Are Still Necessary - by Dan Bednarski (May 16th, 2011)
Sailor Moon Re-launch in North America: What I'd Like to See - by Dan Bednarski (January 22nd, 2011)
Can we start to put an end to the stupidity? - by Dan Bednarski (September 19th, 2010)
Goodbyes Are Always the Hardest - by Robert Wheeler (May 4th, 2005)
Goodbye SOS. Good Riddance or Fond Farewell? - by Robert Wheeler (December 16th, 2004)
The Trouble With Whiners - by Robert Wheeler (October 10th, 2004)
Uncut Sailor Moon: Worth the Wait? - Part 2 - by Dan Bednarski (January 6th, 2004)
Uncut Sailor Moon: Worth the Wait? - Part 1 - by Dan Bednarski (September 23rd, 2003)
Disliking Vs. Hating - by Robert Wheeler (April 3rd, 2002)
The Twelve Dubs of Christmas - by Tiffany Wood (December 23rd, 2001)
Optimum Productions? Flagrant False Advertising... - by Robert Wheeler (September 3rd, 2001)
The Anime Translation and American Society Problem - by Dan Bednarski (August 6th, 2001)
Pioneer's First SMS Release: Heart Collection I - by Dan Bednarski (March 5th, 2001)
Annoyance: A Letter to the People - by Tiffany Wood (February 9th, 2001)
Cartoon Network - The Hypocrite - by Robert Wheeler (January 14th, 2001)
Moonian Rhapsody - by Tiffany Wood (December 25th, 2000)
Does Your Site Suck? (Repost) - by Tiffany Wood (October 28th, 2000)
The North American Sailor Moon World - by Dan Bednarski (September 26th, 2000)
The Trouble With Dubbies - by Robert Wheeler (September 13th, 2000)
Sailor Moon Fansubs - by Dan Bednarski (August 13th, 2000)
Does Your Site Suck? - by Tiffany Wood (August 6th, 2000)