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Guilty Crown (Blu-ray), Early Review
Mobile Suit Gundam (DVD), Review
Who Is the Man of Steel?
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Monthly Archives: May 2010
Otaku in Review Podcast Episode 16
By Marc | May 28th, 2010

I’m a guest in the new episode of the Otaku in Review podcast.
Go check it out
Otaku in Review Podcast Episode 16: PAL has nothing to do with it

Categories: Feature
Lost Outside America: Space Adventure Cobra
By Samuel Savage | May 19th, 2010

Greetings viewers! The name’s Samuel Savage but I’m better known as PirateBeck these days. You probably haven’t heard of me before and considering my line of work is very different to that of a reviewer, I can’t honestly blame you. However, it’s something I’ve had an interest in for quite some time so Marc’s giving me a shot. Anyway, to cut the introduction short, I’m from the United Kingdom and while we may not get that many series released here due to many different licensing issues, we have been lucky enough to receive some exclusive anime releases, such as the upcoming Summer Wars and Professor Layton movies. So I’m here to tell you what’s worth importing and since it hasn’t been released yet in the USA, I’m going to touch upon a shonen oldie…

Space Adventure Cobra is the film adaptation of the manga series of the same name, originally released in the late 70s. The movie itself was released in 1982 and I believe it’s an adaptation of the entire manga story (don’t quote me on that). The UK disc was released in August 2008 and can be currently ordered from Amazon UK for around £3.99 ($5.95 as of May 2009). Is it even worth that? Let’s find out… Continue reading

Categories: Anime Review, Feature, Reviews
Why Doesn’t Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood Look Great On Blu-ray?
By Marc | May 11th, 2010

After looking at my review of Brotherhood on Blu-ray, some people may be wondering… why doesn’t the Blu-ray look pristine?  After all, it is a brand new series, shouldn’t it look glorious in 1080p on Blu-ray?  Funi even gave it the first ‘Native HD’ tag they’ve ever labeled with.  Is it really an upscale and they lied?
Let’s start with that.  No, it seems very unlikely that Funimation lied.  But then why doesn’t it look good?  That is what this article will explain.
For this article, I recommend clicking an image to see it at the full resolution.  All images in this article are lossless PNG files since image quality is of importance for this article (and due to it being based more on quality than on color there are no easy to view image comparisons, you’ll have to open the images and compare them.)

As you can see above, Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood on Blu-ray doesn’t look like we expect it to.  So here is an explanation of why that is.
To start with, let us look at Brotherhood as it is stored on its DVD counterpart.


On DVD video is stored at 720×480 (480p.)  When someone is talking about an upscale, it is likely made from an image that looks exactly like this.  When you use an upscaling player these images are upscaled, a method of resampling the image and attempting to fill in problem areas by figuring out the colors around them to attempt to make it look its best at 1080p (based on your TV it may upscale to 720p or 1080i, but 1080p is the example we are using since it is Blu-ray’s resolution.)  When a company does an upscale, in most cases at least, they use an image that looks very close, but won’t have MPEG2 encoding artifacts (MPEG2 being the type of video all DVDs are.)
You may be wondering why those images look incorrect.  It’s because they actually have a digital ‘flag’ that tells your player to stretch them to the proper aspect ratio.  Here is a look at both caps stretched to be their proper aspect ratio.


Others may be wondering what any of this actually has to do with the Blu-rays.  Just giving background information and showing what they look like on the normal DVD as an example.
Having looked at the DVDs it is time to take a proper look at the same frames taken from the Blu-ray.


Once again, doesn’t look so great.  There is stuttering and some pixelation, not to mention edge enhancement. Details and some colors also don’t appear as vivid as you might expect. So once again, the question is why?
Based on looking at information both from its TV run in Japan and the Japanese Blu-rays, it appears it is because Brotherhood was actually animated at 540p.
As for why it was animated at 540p, no idea. There are many potential explanations: a lack of time or limited budget, among other possible reasons. Let’s figure out what the animation being 540p means overall.
It means that the Blu-ray doesn’t have the same level of detail that 1080p or 720p animation would.  It looks cleaner and has a bit more detail than the normal DVD does though.
The 540p number was found during the HDTV airing of Brotherhood in Japan and checked again when it came out on Blu-ray.  Based on playing with screencaps from the American Blu-ray, the same appears to be true here as well.
So what happens when we take the Blu-ray, and downscale it down to 540p?


Outside of a bit of edge enhancement and a few other things introduced seemingly during the upscale process from 540 to 1080, it looks nearly pristine.  So yeah, Brotherhood is 540p.
But Funimation labeled it Native HD… in fact, this is the first time they’ve added a label to indicate if the show is native or upscaled, so why does it say native when it is an upscale (not an upscale from DVD resolution, but a bit higher.)
It is because as far as anyone is concerned, it is 1080.  It aired in 1080i on Japanese TV and the Japanese Blu-rays were 1080p.  Funimation was likely given 1080p masters from Japan and may have had no knowledge of any of this (conjecture on my part) and even if they did, if the Japanese licensor says these are the 1080p masters, can’t really argue with them that much.
So Brotherhood’s 1080p Blu-rays are actually based on 1080p masters that are based on 540p masters…
But how do we know for sure Funimation didn’t just upscale masters themselves and slap the native tag on there to mislead people?
Let’s compare the Japanese Blu-ray with the American Blu-ray with a different screen cap than the ones I’ve been using.


The top is from the Japanese Blu-ray, the bottom is the American Blu-ray.  They are effectively identical.  The only noticeable difference is the American Blu-ray is brighter. Older (specifically analog) American and Japanese TVs have slightly different black levels (about a 10% difference.) Why is it still consistently done when Blu-ray and nearly all modern sets are digital nowadays and (as far as I’m aware) that brightness difference doesn’t exist anymore… I’m not the guy to ask about that because I have absolutely no idea.
The story of Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood’s resolution ended up being a slightly more complex one than many people would imagine.  Not technically HD, but not a straight upscale from a 480 master.
You have to admit it is ironic and a bit funny that after many of us asked Funimation to label their Blu-rays that the first disk to get a label would have an odd twist to it.  Funimation definitely didn’t lie, but in this specific case, the contents aren’t what many of us would consider ‘Native HD’ either.  Although even that has become murky.  Quite a few HD games aren’t even 720p.  The recent ‘Call of Duty’ games are all 600p, Halo 3 is 640p, and the recent Ghostbusters video game was 720p on Xbox 360 but 576p on Playstation 3.  And all of those are labeled as HD games.  This is one people are going to have to decide yourself.
Do you consider Brotherhood HD or not?
If you’d like to read a review of the Blu-ray of Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, we actually have one (it is actually what ended up leading to this article.) Feel free to have a read: Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood- Part One (Blu-ray), Early Review


Fullmetal Alchemist – © HIROMU ARAKAWA/SQUARE ENIX, MBS, ANX, BONES, dentsu 2004. Licensed by FUNimation® Productions, Ltd. All Rights Reserved.


Categories: Feature
Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood- Part One (Blu-ray), Early Review
By Marc | May 10th, 2010

One of the more popular anime and manga series of the past decade returns.

Yes yes, Fullmetal Alchemist returns.  Rather than a sequel to the first anime series, this new series is taking the true to the manga route.  Is Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood already a shining piece of steel in its first 13 episodes, or does it come up a little… short? Continue reading

Categories: Anime Review, Early Looks, Reviews, w/ Anime Episode
Dragon Ball Z Kai: Part One (DVD), Early Review
By Marc | May 5th, 2010

I bet you are wondering why I’m reviewing Kai again…

I decided since I have both on hand to not leave our DVD only friends hanging without proper caps and a review.  When it is appropriate I’ll be using text from the Blu-ray, but anything that is different for the DVD version (packaging, video quality, audio, etc) will be freshly written.  And as a small note: Any grades I give here will be specific to what is expected or wanted from a DVD, so if a video or audio grade is higher here than it was in the Blu-ray review, it does not mean the DVD is superior. And if you want to read the Blu-ray review first: Dragon Ball Z Kai: Part One (Blu-ray), Early Review Continue reading

Categories: Anime Review, Early Looks, Feature, Reviews
Dragon Ball Z Kai- Color Differences Comparison
By Marc | May 5th, 2010

After doing the review of Dragon Ball Z Kai on Blu-ray I decided to check the DVD.  Very quickly I noticed a difference in colors in the remastered Z footage.  When I showed some screen shots to a friend to find out about the Japanese Kai Blu-ray, he actually ran it over right then so I could take a screen shot for a comparison.
I’ll let the image and my notes on it speak for themselves.  Feel free to share.  I didn’t include the Japanese DVD because I don’t know anyone who has it.  Click on it for full size.

Each version has its own odd quirks and I’m quite sure arguments over which of the three has superior colors will go on for years.  It’d also be interesting to find out who tweaked each version and why any tweaks were made (did Funi tweak their versions or did Toei? If so, why the Blu-ray and not the DVD?)
After doing that image comparison, I decided to check the intro, which has entirely new animation. Each one is different in the intro also, but in different ways than in the episode itself, which suggests each intro was tweaked separately from the episode. (Click to see full size)

For the remastered footage you could argue any of them could be better based on how you feel about color in general, but for the brand new animation, the American Blu-ray clearly seems superior.
It’s worth mentioning that a slight difference in brightness between an American disk and a Japanese disk is normal. Japanese and American TVs have different black levels, so tweaking of the brightness is normally done to make them match when being viewed, but this doesn’t appear to be the tweaking that caused these differences (especially since there are three clearly different examples instead of two.)
Think I should update the first image with other DVD versions of Dragon Ball Z for comparisons sake?
Update- I chose to leave the original comparisons up as they are more relevant seeing as they all have the same and proper aspect ratio, but I’ve made an updated version that adds the Japanese DVD into the mix.
Thanks to Hujio from Kanzentai for the lossless captures of the proper frames.

The show content itself is interesting in that there is a slight addition of footage on the side and that (once again) the colors are different.
Although frankly the shot of the intro is a bit crazier

Yeah… it’s pretty terrible. It is definitely the worst of the four in this case. It definitely makes it appear that DVDs from Toei were a late addition to the plan for Kai in Japan, as no care seemed to have been taken with the encode at all.
If you’d like to read a review of the Blu-ray of Dragon Ball Z Kai, we actually have one (it is actually what ended up leading to this article.) Feel free to have a read: Dragon Ball Z Kai: Part One (Blu-ray), Early Review


Categories: Feature
Dragon Ball Z Kai: Part One (Blu-ray), Early Review
By Marc | May 4th, 2010

The franchise that will never die returns, but on Blu-ray in a new ‘refreshed’ version.

Yes, Dragon Ball Z returns as Dragon Ball Z Kai.  After stacks of releases in the USA, including the Dragon Boxes, is the modern refresh of Z on Blu-ray the new high bar for the series in the USA? Continue reading

Categories: Anime Review, Early Looks, Feature, Reviews