DVD Purchasing 101: FLCL

It’s no secret that next to manga, the second thing you’re likely to find on my shelves is DVDs.

While some may find it hard to wrap their minds around, DVDs have come a long way in the time they’ve been dominating the markets, and in some cases are even considered something more along the lines of a collectible rather than something merely for home video release purposes.

That said, the actual process of DVD-purchasing has become that much more difficult. With releases and re-releases for certain series only inevitable, consumers must become well aware of the current changes during the release process, from release date, to box art, to everything else between, before, and after. But that’s what makes it fun.

Let’s take for instance the release of FLCL. For those not in the know, FLCL (or Fooly Cooly if you want to be fancy) is a 6 episode original video animation essentially telling a coming-of-age story in the most indirect and confusing way possible. Because of such, the series received quite the amount of talk back when it originally aired and has become something of a cult hit in the mere 11 years it’s been in existence.

Initially released to DVD in the states in 2003 with a complete series set released in 2007, the releases soon became out of print—understandably so, considering how the anime industry is especially suffering thanks to the internet granting access to torrents and the like for free. This is where things get interesting for DVD enthusiasts.

For a series as popular as FLCL, it was only a matter of time for another company to pick up the license for the series with a re-release soon following. And with the price of the out-of-print copies being sold with three-digit price tags, you can guarantee that I wasn’t the only one playing the waiting game.

With North American anime distributors dropping like flies, I think everyone was anticipating Funimation, one of the few surviving companies English-speaking countries could refer to for their anime needs was basically expected to pick up FLCL sooner or later. The especially eager fans would park it in front of their computers, continually refreshing their amazon.com searches for the show, hoping a new listing would pop up eventually. And as expected, January 6, 2010, Funimation announced that they’ve “acquired home entertainment and digital rights to the six OVA sci-fi comedy anime series “FLCL” from Production I.G.” Now all that was left was a release date.

For a while, the announcement was the only clue that a new release of the series would be coming. Well… that and a splash page with a stock image from the series and some text declaring a release in 2010. Something of a rule of thumb when it comes to home video releases, though: release dates are never set in stone. As days turned to weeks and eventually months, December 2010 came and there were no listings on any online retail sites for the new release at all. The optimistic like to think release date delays are to ensure that the release itself is the best it can be—crammed to the brim with special features and the like; the pessimists like to think it’s nothing more than a marketing strategy, building up more hype and anticipation for when the series eventually does get a release. Either way, the waiting game continues.

Oddly enough, with only a handful of solid information actually provided for the release, I always find it interesting how fans get so hyped over the series’ release regardless. As such, I can only imagine just how extra-hyped people get when the inevitable happens and the surge of release information arrives. Funimation is no stranger to this and as of the seventh of this month, a trailer for FLCL was uploaded to their YouTube channel, making way for that much more discussion building up to its release next month, picking at practically every aspect of the trailer if only to kill time before actually picking up the release once it’s out.

One thing I’ve always found annoying when it came to re-release trailers is the sort of backwards hype given to the series. While it was true that Evangelion added to FLCL’s original hype back in the day, I always find it strange when companies tack on their more recent projects when “reverse-hyping” their old projects. The same thing happened when Toy Story 1 and 2 were coming back to theaters, with Pixar hyping it up by bringing up their later titles like Monster’s Inc. and Finding Nemo. As good as those titles were, I always feel like I’m being lied to when newer things are being used to hype older things. Something tells me there’s room for a Justin Bieber / Kurt Cobain stab in here, but I’d rather not.

Next up when putting the “anal” in “overanalyzing trailers” is the audience clearly being pandered to. While some trailers are able to directly take from the series it’s hyping, without taking any kind of new direction to it (I guess you can consider the series itself already pandering to a certain audience, but I won’t go into that) there are other instances where I can’t help but think I’m being pandered to in the most negative way possible. Taking out any of the footage from the series itself, the trailer is made up of bold text put to neon colors literally flashing in and out of the screen. And while neon colors may have meant something else ten years ago, I can’t help but think Funimation is hyping the series as something for, ugh… hipsters. Sure, the level of pandering isn’t as bad as say the online trailers for Toy Story 3 with their auto-tuned version of “You’ve Got a Friend in Me,” but that doesn’t mean I’ve gagged slightly less after the trailer’s finished.

But what most people will get out of these kinds of trailers is without a doubt the release’s cover art. Sure, you may already be sold on the product itself, but wouldn’t you actually like to see what you’re gonna be putting on your shelf? Here’s where a couple kinks in the whole “home release process” come into place, though. Even with something as solid as a release trailer, things like cover art are far from finalized. Heck, not even a full week since the trailer’s been released, signs of new box art have already popped up on amazon.com’s listings, which bring me to my next point.

With online retailer listings also come your basic release specs. Although your basic info on special features, run time and the like are also not necessarily set in stone, that doesn’t stop fans from picking at every bit of new information they can find. Is the aspect ratio maintained from before? Is it actually worth getting a Blu-Ray release for a series never animated for such? Does the run time include special features along with the episodes? Such are the basic questions that must be asked for a proper purchase to be made.

One tidbit of info that nearly all consumers out there who don’t wipe their fanny with $100 bills will consider is the price for the release itself. As a general rule of thumb, the maximum I’d expect a release to be will come out to about $2 per episode in the release, and even then that’s pretty pricey. But when it comes to something like an OVA, FLCL in this case only totaling at 6 episodes total, would it really be worth hocking over more than $12 for a re-release? Some factors besides individual episode cost I consider are: box art, special features, and (most importantly!) personal enjoyment of the series… also known as its replay value. Personally, for something as enjoyable and out-there as FLCL, I’m willing to pay something around the lines of $20. And, of course, amazon.com being the demi-god it is has slashed the price of the DVD from its $40 retail to the predicted $20. Sweetness.

But wait, there’s more! Before I’m actually willing to put down the pre-order price for this thing, the most important thing I’ve got to do now is compare it to its previous release. The chances of me actually getting my mitts on the original 2007 American release are less than likely, but regardless, comparisons must be made. So far, specs indicate the new release will only contain one disc for all 6 episodes (reasonable), while the old release had four discs, two episodes for the first three discs, and a handful of bonus features on the final one (a bit excessive, especially considering the special features are nothing but music from the show and a bit of dub-bloopers as far as google research has told me). Second up would have to be comparing the packaging: it should be safe to assume that like most of Funimation’s recent releases, FLCL will be in a standard DVD package, with a slipcover for the case at the most. Meanwhile, the 2007 release went over the top, with the discs in a digipack (+10 presentability, -10 shelf space) which may or may not be a pro depending on your sense of packaging taste.

So that’s pretty much it. After the pros and cons have been done, a purchase is made, I thoroughly watch every bit of whatever I just got before putting it on the shelf and the process repeats itself. This probably explains why I’m severely lacking in textbook money right now.

DBKai: Back with a Vengeance?

In a day and age where anime have left a majority of American cable networks, I guess it’s only suiting to talk about one of the return of a series that helped pave the way for other series like it—Dragon Ball Z.

Beginning its run in the states in the mid-nineties, DBZ soon became a hit, becoming one of Cartoon Network’s most prized possessions originating from Japan, leading to action cartoon block Toonami airing other anime, such as the Gundam series and even more light-hearted works like Hamtaro. But as popular is it became, DBZ has always suffered for being one of the pioneering anime to hit the states. As expected, excessive violence as well as some language and suggestiveness at times has led to major visual and audio edits, also pertaining to the dubbed script itself. Also being the sequel to its predecessor series Dragon Ball, multiple instances in the plot have called for prior knowledge which wasn’t accessible to American audiences for the longest time, leading to people having to fill in the blanks themselves. Add to this hokey voice-acting and you’d think the series wouldn’t last a month on cable TV.

Well, it’s been a good seven years since the final episode of DBZ aired on American TV, and the series is back for more in the form of Dragon Ball Z Kai on Nicktoons Network. You’d think after so long, there would be less nonsense to deal with, but with this being another DB series and it being American cable, new forms of nonsense have wormed their way through.

First off would be the title itself. Dragon Ball Z Kai is better known outside the US as Dragon Ball Kai, and started airing in Japan (on the 20th Anniversary of DBZ’s original airing, no less) in April of last year. Although being tagged under a new name, the series itself is simply a re-editing of the older series Dragon Ball Z, taking footage from that series and cleaning it up a bit, re-tracing some scenes where deemed necessary (read: “at random”) and removing a majority of filler scenes. Having taken footage from a series that originally started broadcast in 1989, the footage was animated in fullscreen 4:3 format. However, since the norm for all Japanese Networks has become widescreen 16:9, Dragon Ball Kai has been aired in Japan in widescreen format. Furthermore, since this “new take” on the series begins in the “Z” portion of the series, viewers are again at a disadvantage, not knowing of a good chunk of plot information from the original Dragon Ball with exception to the handful of scenes spliced in as flashbacks. Never have I used the term “hot mess” in my daily vernacular, but I think it fits oddly well in this case.

As you may be led (and correct) to believe, my own personal thoughts on Kai aren’t exactly the best. While it does a good job of keeping the series in the public eye, the fact that all footage is ultimately originating from a series I’ve already seen hundreds of times before is a complete turn-off. In defense of the series, though, I will say that it makes the franchise as a whole that much more accessible to non-fans, condensing the series significantly without losing any material vital to the plot. Personally, though, I’d have been much more appreciative of a complete re-working, animation and all. I mean, if Fullmetal Alchemist can do it, I don’t see why the DB series (er, “series-es”) can’t do the same.

… ask me about its airing in the US, though, and you’ve got a completely different opinion.

Although the series is again being heavily edited for violence at times, I must say that as a whole, I thoroughly enjoy watching Dragon Ball Z Kai on Nicktoons Network. Edits done for DBZ back in the day were horribly obvious, with newfangled things like digital paint and the like being incredibly easy to spot out in the old footage that DBZ is. So while things like the re-coloring of beer to resemble water, or putting dirt and scratch marks where blood used to be tarnishes the series, at the least it’s not so noticeable this time around. Furthermore, the release schedule for the series on DVD and Blu-Ray is at a much better pace than back in the days of Toonami, when 3-episode-count DVDs would be released years before US airing in the worst of cases. And even then you would have to be a heavily informed consumer, knowing that both an edited and uncut version was available. This time around, home distributor Funimation has made things much easier, releasing the series in 13 episode chunks, all uncut (and in their proper 4:3 aspect ratio, which is a step up from Japan for once) and available in either dubbed English or original Japanese, leading me to my next pro of watching the series.

While edits could be avoided simply by purchasing an uncut copy of the series, back in the day the English script was so horribly inaccurate when comparing it to the original Japanese script that watching the series in either language made for two incredibly different viewing experiences. While the gist of some things were kept, details and direct lines spoken by characters led to the most nightmarish of online arguments between people claiming to know the series. Thankfully and appreciatively, such is no longer a problem, as the script itself has remained intact for this new series, with a majority of the cast kept from the previous series. Now, in the 13-ish years Funimation’s own voice cast has been working on the series, some serious improvement has gone down, the cast finally having broken-in to their characters to the point that what comes out of each voice-actor’s mouth is more natural sounding and less “Saturday Morning Cartoon.” The Goku in voice-actor Sean Schemmel has developed, finding a respectable norm between poster boy superhero and home-grown hick; Chris Sabat as Vegeta has well separated himself from the gruff wrestler voice of episodes past, developing a more natural deep tone.

On top of improved old voices, re-casting for several characters has led to much fan-appreciation (well… for the most part). Colleen Clinkenbeard, known in more recent works as Luffy in Funimation’s dub of One Piece, takes over as the new voice of Gohan, finally providing a suitable voice for who is supposed to be a toddler. But what is probably the kicker for most fans is the re-casting of Freeza, from Linda Young to Chris Ayres. Gone is the elderly woman with a voice-scrambler and much welcome is the calm, calculating effeminate male voice people have long given up on. And while heated debate goes on in the fanbase, further splitting people from “subbies vs. dubbies” to “subbies vs. old dubbies vs. new dubbies,” I could honestly care less—seriously these voices are crazy awesome with a matching script, t’boot—what more can you ask for given what’s given to work off of?

Dragon Ball Z Kai is currently airing on Nicktoons Network, Monday through Thursday at 5 and 8 PM, making at a crazy good pace, more than likely ending the Freeza Saga around the end of July. So take a load off of that summertime idleness, sit back and relax with your TV dinner to the soothing tune of well-casted accurately translated burly men beating the ever-loving crap outta each other.

External References:
daizEX forums

Fooly Cooly

Back in my freshman year of high school, I remember one of the first (if not the first) titles the anime club showed was FLCL. I entered the room, tip-toeing through backpacks to an empty desk to eat my lunch as the club president in front of the teacher’s computer monitor started up the episode. I ate my sandwich as what I would later learn to be the third episode of the series, “Marquis de Carabas” started up. Quick action scenes featuring guitars and a TV-headed robot flashed on the screen all while narrated by some kid no older than me at that time. While the episode played out, I could overhear the president and his friend talking about the series, discussing how it’s a play on childhood, blah-blah-blah, and how he had some of the CDs from the series, willing to burn some copies for anyone that wanted one. As the beep for the following class sounded off, I packed my things and left, thinking something along the lines of “this has got to be the crappiest artsiest anime title I’ve ever seen.”

Revisiting the series five years later, I will admit that my opinions have varied somewhat from those of my past-self. For one, “Marquis de Carabas” has got to be one of my all-time favorite episodes of the series and in general.

Having just marathoned through The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzuumiya last summer, I wondered just what other titles I missed out on and figured FLCL should be first up on the list. Similar to Haruhi, explaining the general plot of the series is difficult as all heck in that it’s one of those series that doesn’t exactly focus on the plot itself, but rather all the subtexty crap going on in the background. So, I’ll just say that it’s a definite watch as long as you’re fully aware of what to expect (er, I guess “not expect”).

Getting into the series rather late, I was pretty disappointed to have not thrived in all the cultural impact stuffages going on with the show, ranging from Lord Canti figures to the show’s band, The Pillows, holding a concert in the states. Every couple of months after finally watching the series, I’d look through amazon and eBay to see rip-offs of the series on DVR, with legit out-of-print copies going for way more than six episodes should cost, sad that the show so many people before me has yet to get a re-release in the states… until now.

Be excited.

%d bloggers like this: