All posts by Dioxaz

Review, final part – The Sealed Esoteric History -moon- (秘封活動記録-月-) – personal verdict and some thoughts

The Sealed Esoteric History -moon- (秘封活動記録-月-) review, final part (personal verdict and some thoughts)

Really good days for both animation and Touhou lovers

We are in a point of time that has never been so good if you’re looking for Touhou animation. We now have three series which all have their own imprint (on top of them you can add Sound Holic’s PVDs and Touhou M-1 Grand Prix and some other less major efforts). Let’s detail what I don’t like with A Summer Day’s Dream. The overall tone, the pet-like characters, all that laziness and shortcuts to fill in the time and space along with the really slow pace and completely silly plots. I can’t understand how can some of you consider it as “better”. It sure has entertainment value, with the really lovely voice acting that drives most of its tone (I really like what some seiyuu do to the characters by improvising a bit) but some of the voices are just… no.

Memories of Phantasm set a new mark or standard for Touhou animation. Allying efficiency with rapidity and unmatched care in both art, animation and sound departments. However, its target is clearly pure entertainment and a cartooney, light tone to appeal the highest number of potential viewers. It also allows itself some obvious liberties by incorporating questionable elements and not really focussing enough on storytelling. They are, at Manpuku Jinja, in a more “let’s just enjoy ourselves as that’s what really counts, as we’re over the top anyway” approach than others. Maybe they’re right after all. What I like the most is the audacity of not wanting to include voice acting. You would not see that in traditional and commercial TV animation. Ever! Yet, not only Touhou allows you to transcend the rules seen in the industry and art schools but it can also prove it can work if done more or less properly. In fact, Memories of Phantasm is a concentrate of really well thought and smart compromises when thinking about it and stepping back. Also… yes, I myself do prefer Touhou derivative works (and some other fan productions) to be unvoiced. That’s an aesthetic and personal preference (I also find characters to look a lot cuter that way, especially considering it’s an all female cast, don’t ask me why).

Now our lovely OVA from Kyoto Fantasy Troupe. Truly one of the nicest surprises of 2016. I really like how it tries to compensates for Memories of Phantasm caveats by focusing on storytelling and going easy with gags, grimaces and fan service. For a first attempt, I consider it as truly astounding. Gone are the days of that dodgy attempt Sound Holic offered us in late 2007. Some awkwardness is inevitable but I think it coped very well.

Now, my personal verdict

The moment everybody is waiting for. Do I consider this as better than Memories of Phantasm? The answer I’m going to give may surprise you or make you jump. I’m sorry, I just can’t distance myself from my usual anti-conformism.

Well, as good and neat Kyoto Fantasy Troupe’s anime is, I still think Memories of Phantasm still have its word. The lighter and more accessible tone, along with better mastered art clearly act in its favour. So, my folks, no. It is not superior to Memories of Phantasm, even with its own questionable artistic choices (mainly for Episode 6, as I consider it way too cartooney). Artistic choices and elements that you choose to include don’t make everything. Don’t forget we’re talking about Touhou derivative works, not your average TV programme that a network purchased to be aired on a given time slot. It’s all about alchemy. An alchemy that works regardless of what you put and how you’re doing it. I guess it has something to do with the soul that is blown into it. I really wish some fine/amateur animators and MMDers could take that into consideration rather than following crowds and trends. Maybe it’s just a question of open-mindedness… or I’m just going too far with my reflection (we’re just talking about a small self-product OVA).

In any ways, I heartily recommend it, especially if you’re not fan of the cartooney aspect of Memories of Phantasm and want something more “mature”, less childish to watch, something that can bring actual reflection rather than amusement. The gorgeous art is really what strikes the most in it.

Okay, a final thought…

Well, one of the anime’s weakness doesn’t reside in the sold product actually but rather in the circle’s own communication strategy. They clearly have lot of work to do on that domain. If you compare Kyoto Fantasy Troupe’s blog to Manpuku Jinja’s one, differences are striking. It looks like KFT doesn’t like giving too much info or leaking too much material. The problem is that it prevents the future viewer of being aware of how the final product will look like. Sure we had come sketches early in development, 3 trailers and some animated GIFs later but that’s all we had, really. It looks like the circle is a bit too discreet in my taste. They clearly need to work on their advertising.

Okay, I think I’m done now. I hope my review wasn’t too long or boring. If I actually made you want to buy this, it means that I did my job well and that the circle could take inspiration from it and think about what they should say from what they shouldn’t. Thank you for your reading. I really wish the circle good luck for the future.

Review, part3 – The Sealed Esoteric History -moon- (秘封活動記録-月-) – picture and sound quality

The Sealed Esoteric History -moon- (秘封活動記録-月-) review, part3 (picture and sound quality)

The technical side: what is the quality like?

That’s why I’m sad I can’t post screenshots. You’ll only have my descriptions as to how to gauge the overall quality.

As said earlier, we have 4 files. 2 720p files of 318MB of size and 2 1080p files of 1.8GB of size. The one I watched is the 1080p subbed one. This one should have been almost flawless considering the high bitrate (8Mbps variable bitrate AVC)… except that’s not totally the case. Relatively calm parts look clean, but once it begins to have some action, some degradation and blocking start to appear (I also checked frames individually on my computer too, with a 23” Asus IPS full HD monitor, if that is any comfort to you). Indeed, action go generally pretty fast so you’ll not likely to notice it. But beware if you’re watching it on a 50+ inch TV. I really wish they used constant CRF instead of what I assume to be 2-pass encoding.

On the left, we have a calm scene and on the right a busy one (battle with Suika). I know I didn’t have permission to show direct screenshots, but Idon’t think this should be harmful as the product is not really recognizable directly. Notice the quality drop when something busy happens. Thankfully, it doesn’t go worse than that.

Audio is AAC 317kpbs with a 48KHz sample rate on all files. Again, it should be flawless… except, hum! Analyzing the waveform through Adobe Audition’s frequency analyzer reveals a lot of frequency drops at as low as 16KHz on many BGMs, meaning they used lossy files as sources when editing! How can on earth someone serious could do that? Considering the music was most likely commissioned and not downloaded. On the other hand, opening and ending songs don’t show any sign of frequency drop (they go up to 20KHz but not over, which is okay for AAC audio). In all honesty, if you’re not obsessed with audio quality you won’t notice it. But if you’re an audiophile… Again, something to work on for the next time. Never use lossy files when editing sound if especially on something of that ambition, unless you have absolutely no other choice.

Click on each to enlarge. Notice how the graph doesn’t go above 16KHz on one of the BGMs heared throughout the OVA. That’s the sign of lossy audio thrown in the mix. Notice also how the ending only drops at 20KHz, which is what you would expect from AAC audio of a bitrate that high.

I quickly looked through one of the 720p files. I think it’s safe to consider them useless, unless the device you’re using to watch has trouble with high bitrate and 1080p files (some old BD players or multimedia gateways might struggle to play them), as they are basically Youtube-tier quality.

On the practical side, let’s look through the subtitles. Well, first surprise, they weren’t positioned with overscan in mind. They’re a bit too close to the bottom edge of the screen. On a CRT TV, subs might be either be plastered over the bottom edge of your bezel or cropped/eaten up. On a modern TV, it should be a bit better. I still recommend to disable overscan on your TV if you can, or unzoom the picture if using Kodi or XBMC on an old TV. The other complaint I have is how fast some of them are shown on screen. Most subs really go too fast to be read entirely. I think they wanted all their lines to be one-line only, which has never been a practical solution. With at least 2 lines, you are wasting a bit of screen space but at least you can read them (this is what Memories of Phantasm did perfectly). Also, it seems that TPD-Subs based their timing on the original subs, which made most of their lines a bit too fast to be read as a result. If you’re not a fast reader, that will be a problem. I highly recommend looking for lines that are too short in their file in order to merge them with lines after them (probably what I’ll do).

Now, something nobody will talk about (except me), the overall loudness. This is the aspect I feared the most. That was a pleasant surprise. In fact, only the opening and ending songs can be misleading as they are quite loud (in fact they reach 0dBFS). But the rest is fairly quiet with lots of headroom. I’m happy on this point.

Just like Memories of Phantasm, a lot of headroom is given so that various sound effects can breathe and so that it doesn’t sound squashed or assault our ears. However, opening and ending songs should have been lowered by at least 4 or 6dB, considering they were mastered with some loudness in mind (just like any other modern song, Touhou doujin music including ZUN’s own albums is no exception).

To be continued on part4 (personal verdict and some thoughts)

Review, part2 – The Sealed Esoteric History -moon- (秘封活動記録-月-) – artwork and story

The Sealed Esoteric History -moon- (秘封活動記録-月-) review, part2 (artwork and story)

Artwork, sound, music and writing

The visual part is probably what this OVA is best at. Sincerely, this was ravishing. The background design is amazing of detail (thank you miss High-definition) and the animation feels really smooth and neat. My only gripe is the slightly awkward character design. Some characters might look a bit weird to some of you. Also, background detail is so high it is even visible on my SD CRT TV! I think they really outdid themselves. Also, as a side note, this makes me realize how outstanding the background work is on Memories of Phantasm too.

The background design is absolutely amazing. Look at that detail. Also, watching a 1080p file on an SDTV? What the hell is wrong with me? For the info, this is a retrogaming-media center PC which is plugged to it. The resolution that’s actually shown is 1280×576 50Hz interlaced with 16:9 mode enabled, coming from VGA-to-SCART conversion (this TV has a 600-TVL tube by the way so the 1280 pixels get smoothed out in a fashion similar to subpixel smoothing in Cleartype). Also, the picture of this TV looks a lot better in real life than it does on these cheap photographs. More details about this setup may be given later on this blog.

The sound part. Probably what we really can’t make an idea about when not having the product in hand. Well, it works. Let’s begin by sound effects. To be honest, they feel a little cheap at times. This is especially true for hard sounds (footsteps, cloth sounds, etc.) and everyday life sounds (lol at the same looped crowd noise we hear at every place Renko and Merry walk around… well, honestly, it’s not that noticeable :P). You can argue it adds a charm. Also, considering there is no voice, this is the only thing your brain will hold (along with the endless lipflaps) and the fact that sometimes they’re a bit too upfront doesn’t really help. All in all, it’s not that disturbing frankly. I think they have a little work to do on this part. On the other side, all other magical, spell card, attack, explosion sounds or anything that’s not supposed to be realistic sound really nice and is on par with Memories of Phantasm.

About sound, what I like the most is the music. Yonder Voice or whoever scored that did a wonderful job. Instead of the fast and rhythmic (and sometimes “mickeymoused”) things we had in Manpuku’s anime, we have a very nice and atmospheric score which deserves its own original soundtrack in my opinion.

Now, the writing… Umm… As I don’t speak Japanese, this will be very hard for me to judge that part. Just like Memories of Phantasm, the characters look like they all have something interesting to say, which I hope is the case (and it is, more or less, read below). In fact, one quality that almost everybody ignored from Manpuku’s anime is how the dialogue is really well written. However, in the meantime, TPD-Subs group released English subtitles (a link to a cleaned up ASS file will come soon) which helped me a lot to understand better what is going on. So, basically, Renko and Merry are considering a trip to the moon but appear to be short on money. While discussing about that, they begin remembering an incident that occured ten years ago (if I understand correctly) where youkai from the Earth tried invading the Moon in order to steal the Hourai Elixir (Elixir of immortality in TPD’s subs) I presume. That’s why we go back and forth between Renko and Merry in what appears to be a futuristic world and events on the moon during the whole movie.

All in all, I really liked how Kyoto Fantasy Troupe tried to push settings and characters not commonly seen and build something around them. That really brings some fresh air (the circle even makes fun of this at the end of the anime). All that makes it a very interesting watch. Also, I don’t think we have original characters there. They seem to be coming from the Cage in Lunatic Runagate story but I can’t recognize the male characters, as TPD probably didn’t transcribe them properly (they can’t be found anywhere on the web and the wiki, the only thing I found were the gatekeepers). I might be mistaken but if it’s more or less basing itself on or taking elements from Cage in Lunatic Runagate (which I didn’t read), we can consider it close to canon… but again, I’m not the best person for that. This alone makes it very desirable over Memories of Phantasm where dialogue is the only thing that add depth to their stories.

Update (2016-3-25): I got confirmed that some of the male characters we see are original and do not come from Cage in Lunatic Runagate, which would explain why no info exist on them. I guess there was some grey area on this aspect of the story that was not detailed in CiLR (I presume) which explains why they improvised a bit. I think they made more or less the right decision (even though some people criticized this decision because it moves away a little bit from canon).

No fan-service, but some unexpected and amusing cameos. Not shown here, but there’s a part showing some posters advertising fictional Touhou events, and Kyoto Fantasy Troupe made its own advertising on them! Also, in case you doubt it, the characters you see are probably cosplays, which makes sense because of said Touhou events.

To be continued on part3 (picture and sound quality)

Review, part1 – The Sealed Esoteric History -moon- (秘封活動記録-月-)

You probably already read it on the Maidens of the Kaleidoscope forum but I’m reposting it here for better clarity.

The Sealed Esoteric History -moon- (秘封活動記録-月-), part1 (contents and presentation)

After all that time waiting, I finally had a chance to watch the awaited animation by Chinese circle Kyoto Fantasy Troupe, The Sealed Esoteric History -moon-.

Indeed, I wasn’t stupid enough to wait for downloads to pop up on the net. I ordered it from Melonbooks with help of a proxy, and did so on December 24th 2015. I just got it on January 18th.

In case you missed them, here are all the buying options I listed for that animation, as of January 22th 2016 (indeed, if reading this way after its publication date, chances are that all these links will be obsolete or the product out of print):

Melonbooks: (out of print)

Toranoana: (out of print)

Akiba Hobby, through Buyee:

Otaku Republic: (out of print)

Suruga-Ya, through Buyee: (JPY890 as of January 4th 2017!)

Now, here are all the questions you might all ask to yourself while reading this text:

– How does it compare to the two other existing animated series (A Summer Day’s Dream and Memories of Phantasm)?
– What is the story like?
– How is it close to canon?
– Does it have any fan service?
– How is the overall tone of the anime? And its pace?
– Does it use any lazy tricks/shortcuts?
– How good are the music and sound effects?
– How is it presented? Does it have voices? Subs?
– How good is the animation, character design and backgrounds? And compared to the other series?
– How is the sound/picture quality?

Throughout this review, I’ll try to answer all these questions… I said “I’ll try”. Because I’m hardly a Touhou expert, especially canon-wise, I’ll leave my opinion as someone who discovers it with a fresh eye (and not a stupidly biased and jaded view like 4chan folks had on that thread they did).

So, what are going to begin with first? To put it shortly, this animation puts A Summer Day’s Dream to shame. I watched episode 2.5 the other day… Umm, well… such concentrate of laziness is amazing. On the other hand, Memories of Phantasm still has its own arguments to present. But we’ll see all that at the end. Let’s look at the package first.

/!\ WARNING /!\
Before starting this review, I’d like to inform you that I failed to have permission from the circle to show video and picture content (I only got a quick response from their part redirecting me to their already existing teasers). Also, they really do not want anything to leak from their DVD, including goodies. It is clearly stated in their readme file and the answer I got after mailing them clearly goes in that direction, even though they didn’t give me a clear and frank response. So you’ll have pictures of my old CRT TV (Sony 29” Trinitron SDTV) instead of high-def screenshots. I can’t do anything about that, I’m sorry.

What are the contents like?

First surprise, the DVD comes in a standard Amaray box, not a slim one compared to other existing OVAs. Second surprise, unlike what the box artwork suggests it, this is not a Video DVD. If you put that in a standard home DVD player, it won’t play. As the following screenshots show, this is a data-only disc:

The first folder contains goodies (wallpapers). The second one contains our movie. Not one file… four files!! Technical details will be given later but the animation is presented in two resolutions, 720p and 1080p and both with and without (Japanese) subtitles.

Back to the box, you also have a nice booklet inside detailing all the staff with very nice artwork. I really appreciate that, as that was lacking from the other two. As you may have guessed, I’m reviewing the regular version, not the collector set.

Now let’s talk about how it watches and how it is presented

As it was more or less obvious from their previous blog entries, it is presented in the same exact fashion as Memories of Phantasm. It feels like a regular OVA episode with animation backed up by music and sound effects, but doesn’t have any voice. The interesting part is how it watches compared to the latter. To be honest, as this relies a lot on dialogue to tell the story, even more than its competitor from Manpuku, you might find that disturbing and awkward. Some scenes are almost completely silent with sometimes quite long lines “expressed” by a character. But the good thing is those scenes are generally short and not in significant number. The rest of the time, we have a very nice atmospheric music that goes alongside. Now, the fact that this lack of voice, even if awkward at times, is what adds its charm and cachet to it is completely up to you. You may like it or find it jarring or not give a damn about it. Personally, I wished they would have taken that more into account when making the episode. Keep in mind full voice was considered and kept in storage as an idea within the circle (remember the survey they did in February 2015).

Compared to Manpuku’s attempt, I was pleased to see that it watches very smoothly, even with no voices. It’s not fast-paced, obviously, but it’s not the soporific we had with Maikaze’s attempt either. It’s in-between. The half-hour this OVA lasts won’t feel long and boring.

The overall mood is also completely different from what we watched before. It presents itself as relatively serious with only a few tidbits of funny attempts (you won’t see a grimace fest like in Memories of Phantasm). I also like how it tries to put the storytelling very upfront by developing relationships within characters and events that occur. Unfortunately, if you’re a bit lost behind regarding canon and can’t speak Japanese (just like me), this may feel a bit complicated to follow. Like in Memories of Phantasm, character psychology seems okay and tangible enough (compare that to the caricature we had in A Summer Day’s Dream). You might find all those characters endearing.

One quality I like about it over Memories of Phantasm is how low it relies on fan-service and some lame and dated puns. You won’t find any of these here. For some people, that may be a huge plus. Also, it doesn’t feel as cartooney as Manpuku’s anime.

To be continued on part2 (artwork and story)

The Leaf Forest Zone finally moved, it was time!

Some of you may wonder what the heck has happened to The Leaf Forest Zone. And why I moved it to another place (it’s here if you’re looking for it). Let me clarify a few things.

That website was abandoned since 2005 as I gradually lost interest in sprite comics. I attempted to put a new type of gallery upfront, in the vain hope that little gems would pop up and awesome artists would come. Instead we had only a bunch of noobs always doing the same Sonic-related things. Worse, most works we’d receive for approval were completely subpar and eligible of the worst facepalm awards of all time. It looks a bit like the actual situation on the MMD scene that is over-saturated with the same MV clones over and over, the same picture-card shows (basically, MMD dramas with static images) and the same pun-based MMD dramas. Except that on the MMD scene, there are still some awesome and really passionate artists who really enjoy what they’re doing. Besides, quality works always pop up from time to time, either by new artists or existing ones. On the sprite comic scene (at least the French one), there were awesome artists and productions but in way too low number for my tastes. Also, sprite comic quickly became a very conformist and closed minded discipline, which really upset me, as that’s not what I’m looking after.

In the meantime I gradually lost interest in the Sonic The Hedgehog franchise, as every place I went to became either an elitist mess or a noob one, with no in-between. I guess this was the end for me for hanging around Sonic places on the web, as I felt I didn’t fit there anymore. Also, the quality of the games began declining during that period, which didn’t help. Don’t worry, I didn’t ban Sonic The Hedgehog from my interest, I happen to play the Genesis episodes from time to time and am still keeping an eye over the franchise.

What also happened during the period is the gradual interest I gained with another franchise, Touhou Project. The reason why it became my main centre of interest should be obvious to you all. This all began some time in 2007 where my first exposure was… ahem… you know… that flash video featuring a catchy upbeat techno song with Alice in it (I’m not going further, you all know what video I’m referring to). Then from late 2007, it never stopped. That franchise is one of the most amazing resource of high-grade and state of the art artwork (music, drawings, videos, animation, fan games, etc.) that exists. It’s hard to believe it’s based on a danmaku game series (that I only began interested in only a few months ago… because I became extremely lazy and even gaming was a chore for me). I still suck at them (because I’m bad at STGs not because the games are that hard) but I frankly realized I missed something by not playing them earlier.

So here am I now, with a stable job and possibly a new home outside that abomination of big city that is Marseilles (living with my mother at my age does stink hard) in the hope that my legendary laziness can finally vanish.

Also, the layout is still temporary. I still need to have a custom theme of my own.

Welcome to my blog

As you can see, a blog is now taking place here. I’ll post anything related to my interests here (reviews, commentaries, photos, reflections, etc.).

If you were looking for the old Leaf Forest Zone sprite comic website, don’t panic. I moved it here.