10th Touhou Nico Dousai Festival — Chosen bites

I wanted to write a detailed pick-up last year. I failed mainly because of, you guessed it, laziness. What I’m going to do instead is listing all videos that I thought were of interest this year and will sometimes comment them if I have anything to say about one of them.

Before starting, a brief exposure of my impressions. As usual, content produced by fans is still in large quantity and with unexpected gems at times. All that despite the slowly decreasing numbers of participants, and despite the perceived demise of Nico Nico, and despite motivation and dedication less and less present among artists still active. But they are impressions. They might be wrong, as everyone has different tastes and perceives things differently. Unfortunately, view and mylist numbers confirm these impressions I’m having: in 2018, you can’t get popular if you’re new or don’t have an armada of followers supporting you, unless you’re producing totally awesome content. Without further ado, let’s begin with my personal crushes.

My crushes

This is the only category where I’ll embed videos directly as the HTML5 player can cause heavy slowdowns and hangs with older machines when there are many embedded players on screen.


LVgatari
This is probably the most inspired and inspiring MMDer these days. MMDers, or simply fan producing contents which are still cutting edge and ground-breaking are getting rare so let’s not miss this opportunity and let’s enjoy even more, as this might not last.


イルチヤロ
Another ground-breaking and cutting-edge MMDer. Each second sees a new idea. Each second you’re impressed. Skills are well used, in a creative manner, not to show off. I love how him and LVgatari don’t end up distracted by trending gimmicks like recurring gags and themes, overused BGMs, yukkuri-voice and so on.


Ninose Yasunori
Again, another case of simply having fun rather than showing off and trying to look cool. I’m glad Ninose is still active. That’s why I still enjoy what he does despite looking less refined than some more impressive but also more opportunist attempts. Visual and sound quality don’t do everything, it’s your personal imprint that does.


MinusT
The promising teaser of this upcoming dogfight. The worst that would happen is a meltdown from the author at this point. But it’s unlikely to happen considering MinusT’s past.


Lily KULAGE
If I’m posting one of those so-called reproduction MMDs (genre I’m not really into), there must be a reason. Seeing the author’s name might give you an idea. This time, it’s a masterpiece. It’s the first time one of these does that effect to me. You have to see it by yourself, even if you didn’t watch the movie. I think you will thank me afterwards.

Music videos and arranges

Either in MMD or hand-drawn form, my brief selection of them (with a short commentary if I have anything to say).

http://www.nicovideo.jp/watch/sm33512976 (ばっちゃん — Classy, deserves more exposure)
http://www.nicovideo.jp/watch/sm33516793 (winn — winn’s EWI series, evolves more and more to real animation with story, still inspiring)
http://www.nicovideo.jp/watch/sm33519014 (Leaf_st — Hand-drawn MV)
http://www.nicovideo.jp/watch/sm33532456 (もっそり — Back-story attempt, underrated)
http://www.nicovideo.jp/watch/sm33533816 (Aries327 — I wasn’t expecting that, this is a really nice MV)
http://www.nicovideo.jp/watch/sm33519024 (なつけい — Dance and music video mixture with a story attempt)
http://www.nicovideo.jp/watch/sm33536544 (bushow — Dance video with a bonus short story segment centred on bunnies)
http://www.nicovideo.jp/watch/sm33511726 (カワテ☆ブクロ — Rock vocal PV, arrange of A Midsummer Fairy’s Dream from Hidden Star in Four Seasons)
http://www.nicovideo.jp/watch/sm33522312 (Pizuya’s Cell — Electro vocal arrange from a big name, neat)
http://www.nicovideo.jp/watch/sm33518041 (Akatsuki Records — Rock vocal arrange of Youkai Girl at the Gate from Ten Desires from another big name, also pretty neat)
http://www.nicovideo.jp/watch/sm33505431 (Hauzer — Rock arrange of Broken Moon from Scarlet Weather Rhapsody, with オノ as a guest)
http://www.nicovideo.jp/watch/sm33498876 (kt — Another Rock vocal arrange, pretty much unfairly underrated, but that’s because its uploader only has 10 followers at present)
http://www.nicovideo.jp/watch/sm33530778 (FELT — Electro vocal arrange, movie by Mui, also totally underrated. Again, author of the MMD PV is pretty new so that doesn’t help)

Note: Some of the entries come from Quwanti’s suggestions on the thread I opened on Reddit.

Worth of mention

http://www.nicovideo.jp/watch/sm33518947 (doku — Sequel to Envy It, Parsee-san, it looks a little lazier than previous attempts but should remain entertaining for those who enjoyed the series. I wish Touhousubs was still active though, too bad a carrier or whatever opportunity he had this year took away all his free time)
http://www.nicovideo.jp/watch/sm33522671 (えすべがす — Sequel to that series, finally. The last incarnation of a skilful and ambitious MMDer with apparent care in writing, visual, animation and sound where all others bit the dust more or less. He might be one of the most skilful MMD drama makers to date, right behind qrimusic. If you miss Kani, Daba or Clearbitch and don’t mind the yukkuri voice, you can try. Personal note: this is finally becoming entertaining from that episode, I’m under the impression that the author is finally finding his feet)
http://www.nicovideo.jp/watch/sm33370763 (hissno — Tweaked yukkuri voice, if you missed him, there you go)
http://www.nicovideo.jp/watch/sm33518627 (ぜる — Reproduction MMD based on an anime called Carnival Phantasm)
http://www.nicovideo.jp/watch/sm33524923 (aftgreentea — Sequel to that reproduction MMD series based on Terminator II, quite entertaining)
http://www.nicovideo.jp/watch/sm33523588 (hanpen — Author still active, welcome effort)
http://www.nicovideo.jp/watch/sm33517551 (ぽんす — Picture-card show with animated bits, very peculiar style with no equivalent in the genre, making his works even more interesting than the usual soup)

The special mention


ビリジアン
Author comes from nowhere and lands with this apparent high quality animation. Although this is only a part of an upcoming future video, this is someone you have to watch carefully as what he showed here looks really promising. Potential is clearly there. We might get a new “Tsukimido” here considering the sample he’s shown here. Now the bad part of it is that “wannabe cool” and opportunistic tone added with the yukkuri voice all over the place which emphasis a common bad habit that’s been there for years among the rare existing or subsisting Touhou 2D/3D animators. They all seem to have pretty bad taste and seem to be able to produce the same kind of yukkuri voiced content all the time, and despite their rarity (or simply put “yukkuri voice” upwards no matter if they have a valid reason to use it or not, despite it’s cringy nature*). This is the main reason why I still prefer people like Ninose and Usahori. They’re completely outside any stupid trend and have their own imprint and creative input, not just skill to show off with trying to be popular and cool.

* yukkuri voice takes a part of its roots to yukkuri let’s players. It’s also a huge aspect in Touhou fanworks’ culture since 2008. Although it has many other origins (the yukkuri meme in itself, the Game Center Touhou hand-drawn series, 3.3mm’s Aya MMD interview series and the Freckled Marisa Person’s hand-drawns among others), many content producers falsely assume everybody is okay with it and is accustomed to hear it because of said yukkuri let’s plays. Also, most of the MMD scene nowadays is made of former yukkuri let’s players or Minecraft players which is even worse. The problem is that people with slightly different tastes or not caring one bit about yukkuri let’s plays might get irritated to hear it all over the place, to the point of possibly hating it. In my personal case, I find it a bit irritating especially on genres where it’s not really suited or when it’s used abusively with no valuable reason. Even if I prefer myself a more moderate and creative use of it, I find yukkuri-voiced works, even the best ones, to be a bit hard to follow and cause fatigue when they exceed 5 minutes, especially when they get very chatty.

The underrated

Efforts failing to gain attention because authors are newcomers, don’t have enough followers and therefore are unable to earn success despite their improvements.

http://www.nicovideo.jp/watch/sm33017330 (ジャンど — Underrated, dogfight attempt)
http://www.nicovideo.jp/watch/sm33525076 (あまふりこ — Sequel to that clumsy SF series, author is slowly finding its feet and even includes some danmaku segments now)
http://www.nicovideo.jp/watch/sm33533711 (Mido — Athmopheric MMD drama attempt from a newcomer. I like the end result but I fear this kind of works is no longer fashionable or the kind of things that viewers want)
http://www.nicovideo.jp/watch/sm33532687 (勝っちゃん — Another atmospheric attempt. This kind of MMDs is a bit of this MMDer’s speciality. While not Deco‘s or Vocahico‘s level, there’s still some charm to them. A bit bland and short but you might like if you’re tired of the other overrepresented trends I’m often referring to in this post. They’re also produced at a decent pace)
http://www.nicovideo.jp/watch/sm33537077 (オレやで — What a clumsy and awkward MMD action attempt this is. Really cheap looking with no shading efforts, stiff motion and subpar sound design. But to his credit, this is most likely a beginner and he will most likely improve. Good points for not succumbing to using yukkuri voice, unfortunately very common with newcomers)

Mayonnaise Pasta Sauce

This bizarre phrase is a reference to a single effort MMD drama that an MMDer named “memory” posted some time in late 2016. It had the particularity of being one of the worst use of yukkuri voice I ever witnessed, with gibberish being heard instead of an understandable language. Also it looked like a 10min story at first glance, but it was only a series of random scenes put together to mimic the look of a traditional MMD drama. The whole video was in fact a joke disguised with apparent quality motion, shading and sound design. To me, this looked as the most beautiful skill waste ever. This weird phrase is pronounced by Remilia at some point in the video and means absolutely nothing (who in the world eat pasta with a mayonnaise sauce?).

Following this video, I’m now using this phrase for any kind of work showing poor taste, poor artistic decisions and questionable choices resulting in a cringy mess. It was mostly yukkuri voice misuse at first but can cover broader aspects of screwing up what would have been a decent piece of work instead. Definite proof that skills aren’t everything.

http://www.nicovideo.jp/watch/sm33517020 (R社長 — Sequel to his usual series, suddenly made in a different fashion by removing yukkuri voice and trying full motion this time. Chemistry doesn’t work for me no matter what he does)
http://www.nicovideo.jp/watch/sm33518873 (てんすけ — If someone manages to tell me what the hell is this video supposed to be, he or she will have my gratitude. Too bad this MMDer started very promising but later got lazy and opportunist, notably killing off an interesting atmospheric project)
http://www.nicovideo.jp/watch/sm33487528 (赤トンボ — Looks like one of those countless MMD drama wannabee attempts with yukkuri voice and focussing again on EoSD characters in prime at first glance but then turns into a… DJ contest? Not exactly what I’m looking for to say the least. Part 2 here)

Indeed this list is far from being complete and only reflects a tiny portion of what I judged of interest. Also, this list only reflects my own tastes. You’ll find much more by searching this tag on Nico Nico.

Anti-glare coating of your CRT monitor is scratched? Just remove it! (WIP)

Another work-in-progress post. I will add the necessary photos later and integrate the existing ones directly on this post rather than linking them to my Twitter account. Also, what you’re about to read is the process of a very delicate and risky operation that MAY DAMAGE YOUR MONITOR OR HARM YOU. Please perform the following at your own risk and ensuring you already know what you’re doing. If you’re not familiar with CRT monitors, ask someone more qualified or trained instead to do the following

This is something I was hesitant to do for years. I saw some people do it on their CRT monitors and noticed it eliminated all those superficial surface scratches the monitor may have endured in its lifespan after multiple moves or simply carelessness from its previous owner (if it was bought second hand). Depending on how the monitor is located in the room, those scratches can go from unnoticeable to painfully annoying.

The Mitsubishi Diamond Plus 91. Was my companion during 4.5 years approximatively. What a delight that monitor is. Probably one of the best of its time, exceptional sharpness for a CRT monitor, very low eye strain even at 75Hz and great colour once it’s calibrated. Mine was manufactured in March 2000. This thing is 17 years old!
Its problem nowadays is not its performance but the fact that it’s completely outdated and unfitting for today’s use. In 2012, I eventually replaced it by a 23′ IPS monitor (Asus PA238Q). That monitor was great. I really enjoyed the razor sharp image and the fact that I could spend more hours on it without perceptible eye fatigue. Then, I finally gave that LCD monitor away as a birthday gift to a friend, as I couldn’t repair his NEC EA231WMi LCD monitor (backlight problem, fault is probably within the video board). That is why I’m now using that Diamond Plus 91 again. I plan to repair that NEC monitor one day, so I can use it as my main monitor if I happen to successfully fix it.

Time to remove that anti-glare!

Because I accustomed being in front of LCD monitors for many years now, I find that using the CRT as a main monitor rather unfitting for my current usage. I especially miss the razor-like sharpness which is critical if you are to upscale or sharpen a video and be sure you’re not overdoing things! CRTs, even the best ones, have a tendency to smooth out everything because of their nature. While it can be a strength, it’s often perceived as a weakness. But for the moment, I have to use that CRT as my main monitor again so I have to remove this anti-glare, as the scratches are beginning to bother me.

Let me first apologize for the lack of pictures. I didn’t plan to make an article about that so I didn’t feel the need to take detailed photos. So you’ll have to trust my words.

– In order to take the monitor apart, you have to put it with the screen glass faced down on a flat and soft surface. It can be anything from a chair to a table with something like a towel between the surface and the screen glass. Indeed, be sure it’s unpowered and unplugged from the mains before doing so. Don’t hesitate to push the power putton on and off again once it’s unplugged in order to discharge capacitors with remaining charge (/!\ warning: this doesn’t replace discharging the tube! As we’re not going to work on the PCBs directly, I didn’t feel necessary to include the CRT discharging process, BUT IT IS REQUIRED if you are to do a complete disassembly of the monitor and need to service it)
– Then you have to unscrew 2 screws at the bottom left and right of the monitor. Once done, remove the 2 remaining screws that hold the VGA connector and the ones that hold the power supply one.
– Start lifting the back cover from the bottom and carefully wiggle it at the top until it comes off completely. Once it’s off, you can play around with a compressed air can to blow off all the accumulated dust if you want to at this point.
– For the next operation, you have to put the monitor upright on its stand like if you would use it.
– Right behind the front bezel, you have 4 big screws which hold the tube in place. Unscrew all of them with an appropriate screwdriver. Once those 4 screws removed, the front bezel is still held in place to the standing base by 2 smaller screws. Remove them.
– OK, now the delicate operation. Start wiggling and pulling the front bezel until it comes off. it’s recommended to add support the tube by putting your fingers on the glass while trying to remove the front bezel. As there are no screws to hold the tube in place, you wouldn’t want it to slide towards you and destroy your monitor.
– Now it’s time to find out that there is indeed a anti-glare film covering the entire screen with its edges being apparent.
– Insert a flat knife or cutter between one of the edges and the glass screen and start peeling off. Once you did a small corner, do the rest with your hands.
– Peeling off the entire coating will bring a bit of resistance. Again, don’t hesitate to support the tube by putting your knee or something else in front of it while pulling the coating with your hand(s). That may prevent the tube from sliding forward, as I remind you it’s held in place by nothing! It’s just sitting on the standing base and the shielding around it!
– This is what the monitor will look like when you’re halfway through it:

– Once you removed all of it, you can now contemplate your scratch-less tube!

It’s now time to put everything back together.

– Start putting the front bezel back beginning by the lower left corner as it is the most difficult to put back in place. Then try to make sure you have everything aligned perfectly at the bottom (buttons and everything) before you can go to the top.
– Once in place, no space should reside between the bezel and the tube glass and all the screw holes should be perfectly aligned. At this point you can put back all the 6 screws (4 big, 2 small) you removed earlier.
– Put back your monitor face down again on a flat and soft surface. Now you can put the back cover making sure it’s perfectly aligned. Again, no space should remain between the front bezel and the back cover. Pay a special attention to the top of the back cover. This is the most delicate part to put back.
– Put all the remaining screws back (VGA and power connector+those for the cover itself) once you are sure everything is perfectly aligned.
– Enjoy your scratch-free monitor now!

Wait a bit (a few hours) before turning it on as it was previous manipulated in all sorts of positions. You should notice how the screen surface got much brighter which means more reflective to light sources unfortunately. This means black will no longer be pitch black anymore unless it’s pure obscurity. However, when turning it on, you should also notice the 15% increase in brightness from the picture:

The other added bonus is the unchanged colorimetry. The original coating didn’t alter the white point of the screen and the picture remains more or less the same without the coating. At this point, you can enjoy your new brighter and scratch-free monitor or on the other hand miss the benefits the anti-glare coating had originally. Since this is more likely not your main monitor anymore, this shouldn’t be much of a problem. However, if this is, I recommend you to buy one of those anti-glare frames if you can still find one for sale, as they’re getting rarer and rarer (noone still uses CRTs anymore, and even less non factory-coated ones). I ended up buying one as reflections were becoming an annoyance for me. After a few months of use I can certify those frames are the only valid replacement to the original anti-glare coating of the monitor (they have more or less the same properties). One more think you might think of is integrating one directly between the screen glass and the front bezel of the monitor. This might be possible if the tube is the flat type, like it is on this Diamondtron. Here’s what the monitor looks like with its external anti-glare frame on it (a 3M EX10XL in this case):

(I will post the photo later)

Also, be sure to look for an anti-glare only frame, not a privacy one! Privacy filters will alter the viewing angle of the picture and make it invisible from the sides, unless that’s what you want.

Fantasy Kaleidoscope 9 vs. The Sealed Esoteric History -Wish-, the match (WIP)

What you’re about to read here is a work-in-progress article that I never bothered to finish because of my legendary laziness. In order not to hoard it from viewers, I decided to post it. Please keep in mind it’s unfinished while reading. Also, if you’d like this to be completed, please let me know.

The most exciting news this Comiket 92 was certainly the release of Touhou 16, Hidden Star in Four Seasons. But there was also something pretty exciting for those who happen to enjoy animation too, the release of second episode of The Sealed Esoteric History by Kyoto Fantasy Troupe. This episode boasts 41 minutes of animation, which makes it the longest Touhou derivated animated feature to date. But besides was also the release from a competing circle, Manpuku Jinja, of epsiode 9 of Fantasy Kaleidoscope. Within any sensible mind, it would naturally appear that Manpuku Jinja now has something to worry about. Indeed, with the recent PoFV and Hisotensoku arcs debacle, Manpuku is clearly not at its advantage, especially when the other circle managed to produce an excellent episode 1. But how things will turn out this time? Kyoto Fantasy Troupe is taking a long shot while Manpuku is finally finding a balance within their artistic decisions. So competition may be tougher than expected. And that’s what we’re going to study, step by step and find out if there is a winner at the end.

Packaging and presentation

Manpuku gives us a standard slim Amaray case containing the disc and a tiny booklet (or small art book) presenting all protagonists playing a big role during the arc. Inside the disc is a standard DVDISO structure with menus (with subs, without subs, or both in sequence, all without voice) and nothing else.

Fantasy Troupe gives us something that looks like a digipack containing the disc and a slightly bigger booklet or art book. On the disc itself, we have an single 1080p MKV file with two audio tracks and a subtitle one (Japanese only). No extra pictures this time unfortunately. However, we now have a DVDISO structure present on the disc too, which makes it playable on a hardware player now (the DVD Video part is PAL 720×576 with a single PCM audio track, for the curious).

So no winner on this round, as both presentations are pretty similar. The Amaray case vs. digipack aspect is only a matter of preference.

Price tag and cost

Manpuku’s strength? Well, let’s put things back in perspective again. While Manpuku’s disc is clearly cheaper, we also have less content. On the other side, the price tag of JPY3,500 was maintained despite the big duration. Even if we take both parts of The IN arc, we end up with JPY4,000 total (JPY2,000 per episode approx.) which clearly puts Fantasy Troupe at advantage here. So, Fantasy Troupe wins this round.

Storytelling and writing

We all know that’s Manpuku’s Achille heel. With their poor decisions and weird sense of priorities they managed to divide opinions among those who gave a chance to their animated works, and give us the impression that all that talent and skill was somewhat wasted because of that. Well, it looks like they’re trying to set the record straight this time. I’m happy to announce that the path they’ve taken since part 1 of the Imperishable Night arc is still maintained. Interesting things still happen all the time and the handling of time space shows less and less waste. There’s a good balance between relaxed moments and serious ones. The so-called fan service is now reduced to a minimum (and so are grimaces, only present during relevant segments). Will it be enough to face the other animated feature?

Now let’s talk about Fantasy Troupe’s case. I feared they would screw up because of the duration of their work. After watching, it is clear that on the other hand, this is one of their strength. But as I said, the bet was risky, as they in fact “cheated” a bit. Well, they “cheated” a lot. By “cheated”, I mean the story we have here is no longer connected to canon. While the story in itself is very nicely written, it’s getting a bit far from what we’d expect from a Touhou animation. For one, we have an original character to fill in the holes of ZUN’s universe and bases. For two, the tone shown here doesn’t let a place for action scenes or things like that. The story is more or less told through that original character who is supposed to be a relative to Sanae. While they did an excellent job at telling their own story despite the lack of elaborate animation (most time is spent within that relative’s shrine telling about her memories around a table, with Renko and Merry), some of you might be surprised and not like this approach. The problem with it, as some on /jp have pointed out, is that you could remove any Touhou reference it wouldn’t even be noticeable and would work on its own as an original story.

So for this round, we finally have an improvement from one side and a (well managed) risky bet on the other. This makes things even tougher. I’m going to make Fantasy Troupe win this one (by a very short margin) because they did manage not to screw up with such an audacious choice, unlike what I feared. Both animations were really pleasant to watch.

Character portrayal and personality building

This is, IMHO, Maikaze’s weakest poi… oh wait, this isn’t about Maikaze at all! ‘Scuse me. Well, in all honesty, this is also the category I’m feeling the least at ease to talk about because of my lack of knowledge about canon. One of the hottest debate on Touhou discussion places is how characters should be portrayed and sometimes how established canon can sometimes severely clash with one’s vision of the characters. Because of my ignorance to canon, I’m going to talk about the characters’ tempers and how tangible their personality feels, even if far from canon. When referring to Manpuku’s effort, opinions are mixed and multiple. There are people like me who think they do a good job and others who feel they’re far from what they should be like or behave. I genuinely think Manpuku has always been in the right direction, and this is even truer during this arc. I really like how Marisa reacts to Alice’s warnings in episode 9 for instance. This brings up background and depth to characters and I like that. Also, since their episodes have always been quite chatty, their characters always look like they have “interesting” things to say.

On the other side, since storytelling has always been their strong point, it is natural that their characters’ personalities also feel solid and tangible. This is what helps a characters being endearing and not being just a façade. I may have one grief with how they portrayed Renko and Merry in episode 2. They look rather childish and immature (and now it’s Fantasy Troupe’s turn to inaugurate a grimace feast), not the kind of behaviour you would expect from university students (okay, that makes them cuter and more irresistible but still) but again I’m not the right person to judge this.

Tie for this one. They both do a respectable jobs at trying to give those characters personality, unlike what I usually witness on another side from another competitor whose name begins by a “M”. I’m not the best person to talk about this particular area but I think both efforts look equivalent.

Overall tone and mood

One of the controversial aspect again in Manpuku’s effort. Everyone remembers when they first introduced their venerable and incredibly classy PVs back in 2009 or 2010, if I remember correctly. Fans were unanimous about them. I bet some of them even dreamt of a potential animated adaptation at that stage. Then came the aforementioned animated adaptation and bam! Everything collapsed. Well, hehe… no. I’m just exaggerating a bit. Still I remain a bit surprised to this day to the first reactions I saw when episode 1 just came out in summer 2011. So what could possibly have happened? Well, the classy PVs basically turned into a rather empty cartooney mess which barely managed to make itself look as classy and refined through the care put in visuals, animation and sound. Not exactly what one was expecting from such a rather ambitious initiative. And I did have my own fears when they announced they would make an animated series. Come on! They have no experience at all. A PV and an episode aren’t the same deal at all. It is clear they had absolutely no experience in making a longer animated feature. But, IMO, they managed pretty well. Chemistry worked fully and that particular ambiance of Touhou fanworks was still there. People’s reaction were (and are still) a bit overdone on the negative side but it did have a good impact in the end. But it took them a lot of time, efforts and episodes to finally find their feet. Despite the classy PVs, the tone remained light and rather childish, which somewhat clashes with the overall design. This is for me a rather failed attempt at catering the widest audience possible among Touhou fans interested in animation. We had to wait the Imperishable Night arc for the circle to find a good balance and get closer to what should be expected from an animated adaptation of that calibre.

For some reason, Kyoto Fantasy Troupe started with a clear advantage. They, from the beginning, gave the impression of knowing their topic. Everyone was pleasantly surprised to see that they didn’t mess up for their first attempt. Everything was spot on, either scenes with light mood, action scenes, serious scenes… Nothing cartooney or out of place. Then came this episode 2. Things are a bit different this time. They perhaps realized they did a bit too much on episode 1 and tried to lighten the tone. As a result it feels less classy, cheesier and more plain. Despite the quality of the story some of the attempts of easing the mood look a bit out of place now. Renko and Merry now offer us a grimace feast on their own. A few of the voices can sound pretty cheesy too (Suwako, Reimu and Marisa notably but they appearance is short so it’s not disturbing in the end). So the overall tone is this episode is definitely lighter and that may disappoint some of you.

Many of you would be tempted to give the point to Kyoto Fantasy Troupe this time because their efforts better match what fans would expect from a Touhou animation. But again, it’s not that easy. It’s not because Manpuku’s attempt looks like a cartooney mess from a distance that it actually is one. Fantasy Kaleidoscope also has the opportunity to shine thanks to its wonderful music and classy and epic battle scenes. So in the end, only episodes 5 to 7 deserve their share of negative criticism as they give no room for classy battles and characters begin to act like caricatures, just like in… oh well… that summer thing which takes a lifetime to produce as I suspect its circle to be rather careless. So I’m giving the point to Manpuku Jinja despite the missed efforts because they manage to be spot on during the arc they’re covering and because Kyoto Fantasy Troupe borrowed a few of Manpuku’s bad habits this time.

Overall aesthetics, visuals and animation

I saw a big increase in quality starting from the IN arc in Manpuku’s case. Did they take Fantasy Troupe’s previous effort as a reference? I don’t know. I like how they work their environments and still maintain the same quality of animation. Also, no more whoopsies since that arc. In Fantasy Troupe’s case, we now have a more traditional and plain looking (but also less disturbing perhaps) styling. Work is also palpable on environments but their animation looks only fine now, but not stellar. The fault lies with the fact that there is no action scene or something that would make the animation shine. However, Fantasy Troupe’s style still looks pleasing to the eye.

The winner for this round is Manpuku Jinja, as they still manage to amaze to this day. Animation is clearly their strong point. And now they have background work an par (if not superior) to Fantasy Troupe’s work.

Sound and music

Because of the different styling and narration choices, sound and music won’t have the same function in both animations. Strong and fitting BGMs are Manpuku’s main feature. In Fantasy Troupe’s case, BGM really serves as background music as it’s only here to support the narration. So it’s less memorable than in episode 1 (also the fact that voice plays a bigger role now makes a lot for that). Sound effects-wise, both are equivalent. Fantasy Troupe’s sound design no longer sounds cheap an care is really palpable.

Winner is Manpuku by a very short margin (more memorable BGMs) because Fantasy Troupe now have a very nice and pleasing sound design.

Authoring, visual and sound quality

Manpuku’s weakness until episode 4 where they managed to maintain the same acceptable visual quality despite the huge limitations of DVD video’s specs. The fact that they choose to author a true SD DVD Video even in 2017 is beginning to look outdated and hardly relevant. On the other side, Fantasy Troupe chooses to put a video file inside the disc, so that it won’t have the limitations of the format. So, they have an advantage here where they can offer a nice and pleasant 1080p image while in Manpuku’s case you’ll find yourself play around with waifu2x or nnedi3 to get a decent picture on a big TV set. Encoding-wise, both circles made the correct choices and we have variable bitrate for both. No more constant bitrate and bitstarving nonsense as there was on Sealed Esoteric episode 1.

Now sound-wise, while perceived quality is high on both attempts, Fantasy Troupe still uses lossy assets for their audio mixing projects. In order to guarantee the best quality you have to avoid using lossy assets (especially BGMs). Some more discriminating audiophiles might be able to pick up the quality loss. Manpuku, on the other hand still uses lossless assets, I’m pretty sure of that. Other non negligible detail, Manupuku decided to make their audio signal a bit hotter than usual, especially on busy action scenes (to give the impression of “epicness”, you know that “louder is better” meme) while Fantasy Troupe still maintained their low level in order to give room to the voices (also, OP and ED themes now have respectable volume). Both maintain a good level of headroom and have good dynamics. I wish Manpuku’s sound was 2dB quieter in this case however, as I often find myself reducing the volume of my HT receiver by 2dB while watching it.

I give the winning point to Fantasy Troupe this time, as their content is presented in HD, rather than the outdated DVD MPEG2 format. In other aspects, they’re pretty much equivalent.

Voice acting

Logically, the point would go to Fantasy Troupe, as it is full voice, right? Well, it’s not as simple. While the Chinese circle clearly has an advantage with its high grade cast (as opposed to somewhat dodgy fandubs you’re forced to seek out if you want voice on Fantasy Kaleidoscope), both approaches are completely different when it comes to “tell the story” and create an overall atmosphere. Manpuku manages to give that pleasing and entertaining experience without the use of any voice. While this can be disturbing on first watches, you get used to it as chemistry works perfectly. It’s so well put together to the point you tend to forget how “chatty” it is.

On the other hand, Fantasy Troupe relies on Sanae’s relative’s narration to convey the mood and tell the story. Also, voice seems to be better used in this episode 2 of Sealed Esoteric. But wait, it’s not over. There’s an extra audio track on Fantasy Troupe’s animation, with voices removed from the mix. Apparently, there was a demand for that, so they included it as a bonus (note that it’s only present on the supplied video file and not the additional DVDISO structure). However, unlike the first episode, it really feels empty without voices. All the mood is conveyed through Yayoi’s (oops, spoiler) narration and her voice actor does an excellent job. So all that is lost with the voiceless mix. However, it can work as a curiosity feature, if you want to listen the work done on sound effects, or if you really dislike having your 2hus talking. You can’t replicate Fantasy Kaleidoscope’s particular atmosphere just by removing the voices. Try listening to that additional audio track and you’ll quickly find yourself switching back to the full voice one. Clearly, full voice from the start was the best decision they made for that episode, as it suits its narration style completely. You might remember the things I said about “fanmade cachet”, etc. Well, we have to reconsider this, as Fantasy Troupe’s effort proves once for all that full voice can work wonderfully on a Touhou animation if done right (at a cost of a slight cheesiness). And I still insist on the “if done right” as it is very easy to screw up if done wrong.

So, who wins this time? I’m really tempted to give a tie on this one. Yes, really tempted. Because, Manpuku still manages to give us a wonderful experience without the use of any voice. On Fantasy Troupe’s side, the lack of voice becomes a weakness where it remain a strength (I’m maintaining it) on Manpuku’s one. But we have decent voice acting made by professionals on one side and dodgy voice acting through fandubs on the other if you want voice on both. So, I declare a tie for this round.

Cameos, fan-service, possible memes and other extras

Aaah… That aspect. Yeah, that aspect. It’s the one /jp people love to insist on when talking (often bad) about Fantasy Kaleidoscope. And with good reason. It was Manpuku’s featured bad habit since episode 1 of their series. They always felt forced for some reason to include (sometimes rubbish and annoying) references to fanon which were often either completely outdated or rather unfitting because of their overuse in other more or less exposed fanworks (hand-drawns, illustrations, fan videos, MADs, MMDs, etc.). The other speciality was the time and screen waste by imposed fan service scenes which have nothing to do with the story (everyone still remember that hot spring scene in episode 4 stealing focus to the battle between Marisa and Patchouli). I’m pleased to announce that those have been tamed down a lot since this arc. They even have the gut of mocking their (I hope) old bad habits during the Tewi segment. It may be unintentional but I appreciate how it turned out.

On Kyoto Fantasy Troupe’s side, all those things if there were any have always been introduced in a much subtle manner, and only through the shape of short cameos which are welcome and add some rewatch value. In my knowledge and unlike Manpuku Jinja, those never harmed the presentation of their episode or the story they’re trying to tell. However, things changed a little bit since episode 2. Creators now let it go a little more and offer us some rather borderline and evocative shots between Renko and Merry (that scene when they’re about to fall in a small pond for instance). It’s not flagrant and blatantly obvious but still.

Even if we have improvement from Manpuku Jinja, I’m still going to give the point to Kyoto Fantasy Troupe in this round as they always mastered that particular topic. By a small margin, but I’m making them win this round.

As said in the beginning, if you’d like this to be completed, please let me know. There are parts that may look incomplete or unfinished because I’m still adding things to this article.