Embattled Anime Industry Looks to Digital Streaming

An interesting and very informative article on The Daily Yomiuri Online about the North American anime industry's push towards digital streaming.  Their business, collectively, has taken some heavy blows in recent years, as online piracy has eaten away at sales and revenues.  There is hope that digital distribution will prove to be a salvation, as the changing media landscape throws everything into flux.

These are very interesting times for the anime business.  It will be interesting to see if Bandai's withdrawal from the DVD and Blu-Ray market in North America will reverberate to other companies, if this will lead to further consolidation, or further reliance on online distribution as a business model.  Stay tuned.

The Secret World of Arrietty - Official Art Book Available in US

Viz Publishing has released Studio Ghibli's official art book for The Secret World of Arrietty, and should be available online and in bookstores near you.  I'm always a big fan of these "Art of..." books, and every fan should have a full collection in their library.  These are always very large and very thick books, containing sketches, drawings, production notes, interviews by the artists, and hundreds of full-color paintings.

In addition, Viz has released the official Arrietty picture book and film comic, which appeal to a younger audience.  These smaller books are a good way to win over your children and family.  These are also a fine addition for the diehard Ghibli collector.  Kudos to Viz for doing an excellent job, as always, and strongly supporting Studio Ghibli over the years.

Amazon currently has The Art of "The Secret World of Arrietty" on sale for $22.62.  Also, you can order the book directly from the Viz website.

Mondo's My Neighbor Totoro Posters

 Mondo, the art collective branch of Alamo Drafthouse Cinema, unveiled their first in a series of new Studio Ghibli movie posters last week.  As I'm sure you're well aware, My Neighbor Totoro was made available for sale for a short time, and sold out almost immediately.

Olly Moss is the name of the artist responsible for creating these Totoro posters, and they're both terrific.  The only difference between the two is that one is written in English, the other Japanese, with palette swaps complimenting the design.  I really love these posters; they're wonderfully stylized, capturing the appeal of the natural world, which is the real star of the movie.  Totoro's iconic face emerges out of the hills and trees.  Very nice.

Personally, I would hope that more prints could be made, to at least give people a chance to buy one.  There's no doubt that these Ghibli posters would be big sellers, especially to the international audience.  Yeah, I know, artists aren't supposed to be concerned about such trivialities as "making money."  It's a nonsense notion, an infantile notion.  Oily Moss and Mondo have earned their money; they should make their creations available to all.  I know I'd be thrilled to own a poster, wouldn't you?

Porco Rosso is expected to be the next Ghibli poster, although no specific date has been announced.  Expect it to arrive soon, as Mondo intends to release posters to all 15 of the Studio Ghibli movies playing at the Studio Ghibli Film Restrospective that is touring across North America this year.

In any case, here are photos of the new Totoro posters.  They look terrific!  Wish I could send Mondo some money for a poster print, hint hint.

Ghibli Blog Comix Vol 1 - Free Download

Ghibli Blog Comix Vol 1 - Free Download

Well, folks, I have some good news and bad news.  The good news: due to popular demand, I'm kicking Dracula Burger down to my sister blog (Daniel Thomas Vol 4) and off The Ghibli Blog.  The bad news: I'm replacing it with a bunch of cartoons that are far worse.

So, instead of spending my evening doing my homework assignment (a series of posts on Farewell, Beloved Lupin), I stayed up half the night creating 30 Studio Ghibli-themed comics, all one-panel wisecracks inspired by years of watching Mystery Science Theater 3000.  And now I am making the full set available as a free download.  Just click on the above link and it's yours.

You're all perfectly free to do whatever the heck you want with them.  Scatter them across the internet, pass along with your friends, print out and use them as Valentine's Day Cards.  Heck, create your own wisecracks and make your own Ghibli comics.  These are all basically ripoffs of internet "meme" comics, anyway.  As long as you have a good laugh and some fun, that's all that counts.  So burn, baby, burn!

Enjoy, have fun.


Lupin III: Series One - A Video Review

I spied this most excellent video overview of the original 1971-72 Lupin III television series ("Green Jacket"), and thought this would make an excellent conversation piece as we start up the hype machine for this spring's hotly-anticipated DVD release of Lupin Series One.  If you're not familiar with the original Lupin anime, this video does a very good job of covering all the major points.

I'm a great fan of Lupin Series One, so you know I'm going to be the first in line to pick up several copies.  In a lot of ways, it's the best Lupin, the purest, the most honest, probably the closest to the spirit of the original Monkey Punch comics.  Indeed, many of the early episodes are ripped straight out of the comic book pages.  This was very much a landmark anime series, the first of its kind aimed at a more adult audience, and the early episodes are laden with hardboiled plots, violence and sex.  There's also a great attention to detail on machines, cars, and guns - this is the mark of series mastermind Yasuo Otsuka.

There's a clear divide between the early episodes, directed by Masaki Osumi, and the later episodes, which were directed by Isao Takahata and Hayao Miyazaki, who had just escaped from Toei Doga.  Each strain of the series has its good and bad moments.  I think the transitional period, around episodes 8-10, are probably the best, as they contain Osumi's gritty, violent vibe, matched with the slapstick wit and more more confident pacing of the Takahata/Miyazaki team.

Lupin III never had the time to really find its groove, and there is an uneven quality across its 23 episodes.  The first couple episodes are a bit rough, and a couple of the latter ones are too silly and goofy.  But there are some spectacular episodes throughout, and the series goes out on a high in its final episode.  Personally, I think the Series One finale is a better episode than the much-loved Series Two finale, "Farewell, Beloved Lupin."  There's a sense of chaotic fun in this original series, and once the characters gelled, they were perfect.  For some reason, they remind me of the cast of Seinfeld.  Yeah, that's right - Lupin III is Seinfeld with guns.  Print that on the box, Discotek!

So what are your thoughts on Lupin III Series One?  Do you agree with the video review's take on the series?  What's your take on the Charlie Kosei's jazzy musical score?  Personally, I love it.

At some point, I want to write detailed essays on all 23 episodes of Lupin III...but I really should get Future Boy Conan finished first.  We'll get to work on all of these things, kids.

The Making of The Ghibli Museum's Giant Robot

Now this is super cool!  These are video clips of the making of the giant metal robot that stands on the roof of the Ghibli Museum in Mitaka, Japan.  It's a very large and very impressive replica of the giant robots from "Castle in the Sky," which is itself a slight reworking of the giant metal robot from "Lupin III: Farewell, Beloved Lupin,"  which is itself an homage to the giant metal robot from the Superman cartoon.

In addition, the giant Superman Robot (as I call it) was swirling around in Hayao Miyazaki's sketchbook for years.  He was bound and determined to use it somehow, before finally settling on his premier movie for Studio Ghibli.

I do wish there was more footage of the sculptor creating this statue.  The person who uploaded these videos to YouTube has only posted these three so far.  I would love to hear the artist discussing the project in greater detail.  In any event, this is very, very cool.

Dracula Eats a Burger - Manners


Heidi, Girl of the Alps - DVD vs Blu-Ray

Completing this trilogy of Heidi-themed posts, I'd like to show some DVD and Blu-Ray comparison photos.  I wish there were more shots available, but this is a good start.  You can see how sharp and colorful the new box set looks.  Details, textures and colors are far more vivid than ever before, and Heidi appears almost timeless.  This series could have been created today., and I'm amazed at the sheer scale of work that was required to bring it all together.  Is this the definitive Takahata-Miyazaki anime?  Add in 3000 Leagues in Search of Mother and Anne of Green Gables, and I'll proudly say, yes.

Studio Ghibli's movies are like wonderfully condensed short stories.  Heidi, Marco, Anne...these are the epic novels.

Photos - Heidi, Girl of the Alps (Japan Blu-Ray)

Some screenshots of the new Heidi, Girl of the Alps Blu-Ray box set.  It really looks fantastic, thanks to a newly-struck 35mm master (expanded from the original 16mm film negative).  Perhaps, if we're lucky enough, some publishers will pick up the series for release around the world.  That shouldn't be too difficult, since Heidi was exported to nearly every corner of the globe in the 1970s.

The picture quality is nothing short of amazing.  The older DVD version looks terrible, awful, washed-out.  This new version smashes it with a hammer.  I loved the paintery look of classic anime, the brushstrokes of the background artwork, the rich color tones.  Something significant was lost when animators put down their paintbrushes and pencils, and embraced the computer.  I would be thrilled to see what today's generation of animators could achieve if they were challenged to create a series like Heidi.

Heidi, Girl of the Alps Arrives on Blu-Ray

Last month, Japan was handed the coolest Christmas present in the History of Ever - Heidi, Girl of the Alps on Blu-Ray disc.  This massive box set is horrifyingly expensive (the page literally shows an arm and a leg), but the package is extremely impressive.  The 52-episode series is remastered from a newly-struck 35mm film print (converted from 16mm), pressed onto nine discs.  Also included are three booklets containing interviews with all the major players of the series - director Isao Takahata, layout maestro Hayao Miyazaki, character designer Yoichi Kotabe, and others.

The picture quality is fantastic.  I can confidently say that Heidi has never looked better, even on television in 1974.  The DVD version is embarrassing by comparison; faded colors, scratches and smudges everywhere, an over-reliance on heavy contrast and edge enhancement.  I suspect this is a key reason why anime fans are so reluctant to touch the classic series from the 1970s.  Everything looks so terrible!  Thank God for Bandai Visual for their BD release.

Sadly, tragically, and all-too predictably, there are no English subtitles.  Heidi remains the sole anime in the Takahata-Miyazaki canon to not be translated into English.  And it just happens to be their most important work in their career.  D'oh!  Let's hope the fan-translators can deliver the goods this year.

I cannot overstate the importance of Heidi to Japanese anime.  Is there a greater anime milestone than Heidi?  Maybe Horus, maybe Lupin III, maybe Akira.  My two great wishes for this year: the Heidi Fansub finally emerges, and the Heidi Blu-Ray box set is brought to the West.

More photos of the Heidi Blu-Ray box set are just after the jump, including photos of the Takahata/Miyazaki interviews:

From Up on Poppy Hill Blu-Ray on Amazon France

From Up on Poppy Hill Blu-Ray

From Up on Poppy Hill (La Colline Aux Coquelicots) is in the middle of its theatrical run in France, but is already looking forward to the inevitable Blu-Ray and DVD release.  An official release date has yet to be made, so don't expect any announcements anytime soon.  The movie still has to play in other countries first!

As always, Japan will have the Blu-Ray release first for 6-8 months before Australia, the UK and France.  We Americans, as always, will be the last ones at the party.  If we're lucky, Disney will try a US theatrical run next year.  In any case, kids, Poppy Hill is coming.  Start saving your pennies.

Watching Miyazaki in Film Class (Espanol)

When Hayao Miyazaki conceived of his first Studio Ghibli film, "Laputa: Castle in the Sky," he didn't know just what that word meant.  He took it from Johnathan Swift's Gullivers Travels, without quite getting the satirical angle of the story.  "La puta," as every Espanol speaker knows, is a really really naughty word.  This allows for some real comedy when Castle in the Sky is shown in movie class.  Comedy mayhem ensues!

Thanks to Generacion GHIBLI (Brazil) and the Studio Ghibli Weblog (Spain) spotting this comic.  I've separated the panels, to make it easier for viewing.  The first panel lies below, and the rest lie after the jump:

Support The Ghibli Blog - An Appeal For Tip Money

And now the tip jar comes out.

The Ghibli Blog is nearly six years old.  Since its humble beginnings, it has become, more or less, a full-time job.  I have to write and edit articles, create the art assets, and scour the internets for the latest news, as well as interesting bits of Ghibli-themed trivia.  It's a lot of work, but very satisfying, and I'm very thankful for this opportunity.  Now I'm asking for your support.

If you enjoy this website and the content it provides, then show your support with a donation.  I have added a PayPal Donate button at the top-right of the page.

If every one of Ghibli Blog's monthly visitors would donate $1 per year - just one dollar - I could quit my day job and operate this site full-time.  Is that likely to happen in the immediate future?  No, most likely not.  But it is an attainable dream, and one that would enable me to raise this website to the next level.

I would very much like to redesign the site, modernize it, and that would require hiring skilled web designers.  I would like to attend press events, movie premiers, and film festivals, and report back to you.  I would like to expand this site's coverage to include more anime and animation.

Advertising revenue is not a revenue generator for most websites.  Ad revenue brings in enough money to pay for domain names and hosting fees (another option I would like for this site).  Nearly all of the support comes from the readers themselves.  You are the reason blogs can become full-time jobs, and to be perfectly honest, I would prefer it that way.  Can you really trust someone whose livelihood depends on ad revenue?  Can you really trust me to give an honest opinion with, say, a huge Disney banner on every page that pays my rent?  Of course not.  Take a look at video game magazines and websites if you want to see that corruption in action.

So, friends, I am pulling out the tip jar and asking for your help.  If you enjoy the work I do, support Ghibli Blog and its skilled staff of writers.  Which is just me.  Ahem.  My deepest thanks to everyone who supports Ghibli Blog - visitors, fans, industry people, fellow websites.  Muchos gracias.


"10 Years of Studio Ghibli" - An Essay

In 1996, Studio Ghibli published the first of several volumes chronicling each of their feature films.  Titled, "Archives of Studio Ghibli," these excellent books contain production notes, posters, artwork, interviews and articles in the Japanese press.  This is a terrific resource for collectors, historians, and Ghibli Freaks who want to know more about these great movies.

Ach, I sound like a telephone commercial.  I ate too many tater tots tonight.

Anyway, here is what I wanted to share from "Archives Vol I" - an essay written by Toshio Suzuki in May, 1995, marking Ghibli's tenth anniversary.  At this time, the studio was beginning to court the international market, and introduce their films outside Japan.  Suzuki-san's essay, and the Archive books, are intended to introduce us to Studio Ghibli, its founders, artists, and history.  When written, Princess Mononoke was in production, and its release would catapult the studio - and especially Hayao Miyazaki - into (domestic) blockbuster and (international) celebrity status.  All of this makes this essay a highly valuable piece of history and a brilliant time capsule.  Here is a portrait of Ghibli captured just before the moment of their most explosive success.

This is a terrific essay, and I hope you enjoy reading it.  Feel free to share it far and wide across the internets.  The first page lies below, and the next three pages appear below the fold:

My Neighbor Chewtoro T-Shirt Design

This is a really clever mash-up of Chewbacca and Totoro, and was created as a t-shirt design by Brooklyn-based outfit Castlepop.  The shirts were available for sale at for 24 hours, but that has long since past.  Too bad; I'm sure a lot of us would love to buy these.

Let's let Castlepop introduce themselves, and hope they bring back their Chewtoro shirts.  I'm looking forward to seeing more of their designs:

We are a husband & wife design team from Brooklyn. The husband uses his pop culture-addled brain to come up with a vague concept that hopefully gestates into a fully-developed idea. Then the wife does all the actual work: sketching the idea, inking the idea, and spending countless hours at the computer coloring the idea. Meanwhile, the husband wanders the apartment and makes an occasional suggestion.

We hope you like the results.

Update: Castlepop's Chewtoro shirts and hoodies are now available for sale!  You can buy your very own for under $25. Follow the link and show them your support.  And could we please have more Ghibli-inspired designs?  Here's another Protip*: Create a Heidi shirt and sell it to Japan.  You'll make a ton of money.

And this is even better - Chewtoro design for your iPod and iPhone cover.  Yeeeaaahh...Grape Ape.

(*I used to freelance for GamePro magazines back in the mid '90s, so I get to hand out Protips.)


The Secret World of Arrietty - "Borrowers" Clip

Disney today released a promo clip for Arrietty, in anticipation of next month's theatrical release.  This is a short clip, but it should give you a good idea of what to expect from the Disney dub.  Oh, and be sure to pay close attention - there's a big surprise at the end.  Heh heh.

I expect that Disney will release a few more clips online; when that happens, we'll be sure to post them here on The Ghibli Blog.  Feel free to share your impressions here.

Poster: From Up on Poppy Hill (Japan)

Poster: From Up on Poppy Hill

Here is the second Japanese movie poster for Goro Miyazaki's From Up on Poppy Hill. Very nice, a little reserved in tone and color, but promising a nostalgia-tinged teenage romance that is sure to entertain everyone (the story is set during the 1964 Tokyo Olympic Games). I'm sure the collectors already have a copy hanging on their walls.

Meanwhile, Poppy Hill is playing in theaters across France, and Amazon France is now listing the upcoming DVD and Blu-Ray release, which will appear later this year.  No specific date has been mentioned as of yet, but expect it to arrive in Japan and Europe sometime this summer.

Dracula Eats a Burger - Pickles

My Neighbors the Yamadas - DVD vs Blu-Ray

I don't know about the rest of you, but I absolutely love My Neighbors the Yamadas.  The watercolor-and-pencil art style, the zen design that emphasizes emtpy space, the endlessly funny comic timing.  The extravagant musical numbers, where the movie soars in three dimensions, bookend the movie perfectly and add much-needed variety.  This is a brilliant, subtle, smart animated movie, and if nothing else, you have to respect Isao Takahata for having the moxie to make it.

I wonder how many Westerners know Yamada-kun is adapted from a newspaper comic strip?  That's another key reason why I enjoy it so much.  I've always been a fan of comics, especially Peanuts, Bloom County, The Far Side, and Calvin & Hobbes.  And I've long believed Takahata handled that adaptation perfectly; this movie feels very much like reading through one of the many Calvin books, weaving together several major themes and mini-story arcs, several stylistic shifts, and a warm-hearted, generous tone.

Yamada-kun looked very good on DVD, and the Blu-Ray version improves in every way.  The differences are far more subtle than, say, Howl's Moving Castle, but that's mostly because of the film's zen design.  Once you see the screenshots in their larger native resolution, the advantages of BD become evident.

I love the painterly look of this movie.  In order to achieve a purely watercolor style, Studio Ghibli converted their entire production to computers, at great expense.  Earlier films were notoriously cautious about CG, and dabbled only here or there (On Your Mark, Mimi wo Sumaseba, Pom Poko, Princess Mononoke), but My Neighbors the Yamadas fully immersed itself in the modern technology.

It wouldn't be until Ponyo in 2008 that Ghibli began to dial back the computers, eventually scuttling the computer graphics department entirely.  So this marks an interesting era for the studio - their full embrace of Modern Computer Technology.  Still, even then, all their best work in CG lie in the short films, like Ghiblies Episode 2 and Yoshiyuki Momose's Capsule trilogy.

Yamada-kun infamously tanked at the Japanese box office, overtime and over budget, where it was mugged mercilessly by The Phantom Menace and the first Pokemon movie.  It also led to Takahata's retreat from directing movies, and possibly a souring of his working relationship with Miyazaki.  On that front, I'm largely speculating; it remains a great and unsolved mystery that I still wish to piece together.  Caveat emptor, as always.

Anyway, not to ramble on too long, but My Neighbors the Yamadas is criminally underrated, even among Ghibli Freaks.  I think it's a smashing film, wildly funny at times, touching and humane at others, always full of surprises.  The two wedding sequences at the beginning and end are among Ghibli's greatest triumphs.  Oh, and the music is wonderful and unforgettable - a Takahata trademark.

The Yamada-kun Blu-Ray, of course, looks terrific.  Maybe I should send Disney a photo of my money, with a post-it note attached: It's Yours if You Want It.  More screenshot comparisons below the fold:


Studio Ghibli Zippo Lighters

Okay, wait...what?  Studio Ghibli Zippo lighters.  Huh.  I honestly did not see that one coming.  It does get points for style, I'll give it that.  But sometimes I don't think Studio Ghibli quite groks the whole concept of "merchandising."

Then again, Hayao Miyazaki is the same person responsible for this little gem of '70s pop culture.  God bless you, sir!

GKids Studio Ghibli Film Festival - 2012 Schedule

Having just finished its run in Dallas, GKids' Studio Ghibli Film Retrospective is opening today in Los Angeles, and will be appearing in cities across the US and Canada throughout 2012.  According to their Twitter feed, this is the ongoing festival schedule for 2012:

December 2011 - New York
January 2012  - Dallas, Los Angeles
February - Boston
March - Austin, Toronto
April/May - Washington DC
June - Seattle
July - San Francisco

GKids is still working to secure deals with more cities.  Chicago is "a certainty, most likely this Summer." Columbus is likely in the fall, but no firm dates are set.  Minneapolis is in negotiations (let's hope it goes better than the Vikings stadium debacle), and Ghibli Blog has offered to help.  Milwaukee is "a long shot."

I will keep this post updated as details emerge.

Howl's Moving Castle - DVD vs Blu-Ray

Howl's Moving Castle was a sensational movie on the big screen.  I watched it several times at the Uptown Theater in Minneapolis, which boasts one of the largest screens in the Twin Cities, and was overwhelmed each and every time.  The DVD format, however, never really did this movie justice.  Pencil lines were too thick and bushy, colors too washed out, objects too pixelated.  Now Howl is available on Blu-Ray and it's a brilliant revelation once again.

I've done several of these comparison tests for the other Studio Ghibli Blu-Ray discs, each showing a dramatic improvement over DVD.  But I've never seen a leap of quality quite like this.  I'm stunned, and if my money wasn't so seriously tied up at the moment (a wife is far more important than a movie), I would already have my Japanese copy in tow.

Take a look at the above screenshots in close-up.  The clarity of BD is astonishing.  Color and contrast are far richer and more lifelike, yes; this is what we've come to expect from Ghibli.  But notice the added detail of the brushstrokes.  Notice the texture of the wood and metal.  Observe how horribly blurry the older DVD photo appears; it's quite difficult to detect any real texture at all.  Much of the grittiness of Howl's world is simply lost in a low-resolution haze.

I can only imagine this difference on a decent-sized screen, say, 42" or more.  This is the visual equivalent to having cotton pulled from your ears.  Now you can hear the full symphony!  Miyazaki's sweeping romanticism is on full display in warm, rich tones and sharp detail.  You can appreciate the Impressionish, painterly quality of this world as never before.  This sprawling mess of a romantic epic requires paint and brushstrokes and sweat.  It requires passion.

Feeling impatient for Disney to release Howl BD here in the States?  I know just how you feel.  That $80 import price is starting to look almost reasonable.  Some more amazing screenshots lie just below the fold.  Enjoy!

Studio Ghibli Film Festival Begins in Los Angeles

GKids much-anticipated Studio Ghibli film retrospective comes to Los Angeles tonight, courtesy of the American Cinemateque.  Titled, "Castles in the Sky: Miyazaki, Takahata and the Masters of Studio Ghibli," 15 feature films will be shown on the big screen, in stunning new 35mm prints, in both subtitled and dubbed versions.

The festival begins tonight with Porco Rosso, a favorite film of mine and one that I'm sure you'll love to see up close.  Closing out on Feb 13 will be The Secret World of Arrietty, just ahead of its American theatrical release on the 17th.

Miyazaki's films are going to be amazing, wonderful, thrilling, and awe-inspiring.  I was lucky enough to see My Neighbor Totoro, Kiki's Delivery Service, and Princess Mononoke at the late Oak St. Cinema some years ago, and I assure you that these movies are meant to be seen on the big screen.  Howl's Moving Castle looks especially grand on a larger canvas (the DVD really never did it justice), and Nausicaa?  Wow.  If I had the money, I'd already be on an airplane to California and live in the movie theaters.

Even more exciting for Ghibli Freaks is the chance to see Isao Takahata's masterpieces in full display.  You're about to meet the world's greatest living movie director.  I've praised Omohide Poro Poro for years (it's just about the greatest animated film ever made), and now Americans will finally discover for themselves.  They will finally discover Ghibli's naturalist side, seen in Poro Poro and Whisper of the Heart and Ocean Waves and My Neighbors the Yamadas.

If you live in the Los Angeles area, stop everything you're doing, throw your TVs out the window, SCTV-style, and go to the Studio Ghibli festival.  GKids will not be bringing their festival tour to Minneapolis-St. Paul, tragically - the Home of The Ghibli Blog, left uninvited to the big party!  That's quite a humbling thought, kids.

Enjoy the movies, everyone.  You're going to have a terrific time.


Disney's New 60-Second Arrietty Trailer

I understand Disney is beginning their ad campaign for The Secret World of Arrietty on the Disney Channel.  This 60-second trailer is now making the rounds.  It focuses on the voice actors and their roles in the film, a nice little setup of the story, and it all comes together nicely.  Now let's hope that Disney puts this movie on enough screens to actually make a difference.

Oh, and release some more DVDs and Blu-Ray discs, too, please.

Panda Go Panda DVD Coming April 17

Discotek has announced that April 17 will be the release date for Panda Go Panda on DVD in North America.  This is a very welcome return for the pair of Isao Takahata-directed short films, which have been out of print and out of circulation here for a number of years.  The new cover design is the same one that's been used overseas, and I've always enjoyed it.  Studio Ghibli's DVD release, naturally, remains the best.

I really do hope we get the uncut credit sequences.  I don't want to see that title hack-job that appeared on the Pioneer DVD release.  We will be watching closely, and hoping for the best.

Update: On their Facebook page, Discotek confirms that the original, uncut title sequences will be on the DVD.  Excellent news!

Lupin III Series One - DVD Box Set June 26

Discotek has announced that June 26 will be the release date for the Lupin III Series One DVD box set.  This is the original 1971-72 series, the original anime Lupin, and to many eyes, the best.  Yasuo Otsuka was one of the creative masterminds of the series, and he was later helped by his good friends and Toei Doga alumni Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata.  A 22-year-old Yoshifumi Kondo (Whisper of the Heart) got his big break on this series.

Why release Lupin III on DVD and not Blu-Ray?  "There's no point in doing the Blu-Ray.  The Japanese version looks worse than the DVD version, and we checked.  We're only going to do something on Blu-Ray if it's a significant improvement over the DVD.  It's a waste of money to just slap it on a disc. We would rather spend that money on more licenses."

I am sooo looking forward to this box set.  Hey, Discotek, I'm still available for essays or commentary tracks!

In related news, Discotek has also promised that more Toei films are coming soon...but which ones?  Obviously, you know I'm lobbying hard for Horus.  But all of the classic Toei movies are terrific - consider this a good time to finally get Puss in Boots (1969) and Animal Treasure Island from the Discotek website.

Whisper of the Heart - DVD Versus Blu-Ray

I enjoy showing how the new Studio Ghibli Blu-Ray discs compare to their older DVD releases.  It's quite an eye-opener.  Mimi wo Sumaseba (Whisper of the Heart should be no different.

No doubt I've already made this point once or twice, but I'm struck by the luminescence and richness of the color on these Ghibli Blu-Rays.  The colors were somewhat washed-out on the older format, a necessary compromise to fit onto such a tiny space.  Now we can see something that is far close to its original vision.  I really love how vibrant these images appear.

I love the finer pencil lines to everything on the BD version.  The increased resolution, the cleaner color tones...heck, it's such a thrill to finally be rid of that "dusty," pixelated look.  The film grain effect is far more subtle and far better.  I think the picture is a little brighter, too.  Animation, as always, benefits tremendously from the Blu-Ray format.

Animation in the service of a coming-of-age story, a teen romance that finds magic in the everyday world instead of mere escapism - this is a revelation and a miracle.  We in the West should aspire to create animation like this.  We need more movies like Mimi.  It's honest, and for an art form defined by lies, that means something.

More DVD/Blu-Ray comparison shots below the fold:

Dracula Eats a Burger - Steak and Cheese


Dracula Eats a Burger - Half-Off

Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you the premier of my newest comic strip, Dracula Eats a Burger, inspired by Toei Animation's laughably bad 1980 made-for-TV movie, "Dracula: Sovereign of the Damned."  I hope you enjoy, there's plenty more to come!


Dracula Eats a Burger (From Dracula: Sovereign of the Damned)

Why?  Because he can, that's why.  That's why he's Dracula and you're not.

Studio Ghibli Feature Film Blu-Rays

As of January, 2012, these are Studio Ghibli's Blu-Ray releases in Japan.  We're currently at eight feature films - Nausicaa of the Valley of Wind, Castle in the Sky, Mimi wo Sumaseba, My Neighbors the Yamadas, Howl's Moving Castle, Gedo Senki (Tales From Earthsea), Ponyo on a Cliff by the Sea, and Arrietty.  The next round of BD releases have not yet been announced, but if tradition holds, then From Up on Poppy Hill should arrive in late summer.

It's fascinating to observe how closely Ghibli holds their strongest cards close to their chest.  Their biggest films - My Neighbor Totoro, Princess Mononoke, and Spirited Away - are probably coming sooner rather than later, as the studio is locked in production of Hayao Miyazaki's next feature film (by all accounts very long and complicated, and NOT a Porco Rosso sequel).  At least, that's my guess.  I'll bet money that one of these three films arrives on Blu-Ray in 2012.

Personally, I'm hoping that Ghibli continues its current pace of releasing four BD films per year (at Summer and Christmas), and maybe accelerated a little.  I know, I'm impatient and want all the Hannukah presents now now now.  But I also feel that Blu-Ray isn't going to have as long a lifespan as DVD or VHS.  As Terence McKenna would say, history repeats at faster and faster cycles.  Already we are seeing the emergence of the first televisions for 4K resolution (meaning, 4,000 vertical lines of resolution, compared to BD's 1,080 lines).  More importantly, online digital distribution is galloping ever forward and will begin to devour into the "physical media" market.  Studio Ghibli cannot casually assume another decade for the Blu-Ray, 1080p format.

Anyway, that's my theory at the moment.  Please don't consider it anything more than that.

Which brings us to Disney.  Look at those movies above.  Studio Ghibli has eight feature films on Blu-Ray in Japan.  How many are available in the United States?  Two - Nausicaa and Ponyo.  Presumably, Arrietty arrives on BD later this year, so that makes three.  By that time, Japan will have added Poppy Hill and be up to nine.

The UK, Europe and Australia all manage to release their Ghibli BD's only a few months after Japan.  What is the problem here, Disney?  Is it because you can't sell stuffed Totoros or dump No-Face into the Ice Capades or turn Nausicaa into one of your Stepford Wives Fairy Tale Princesses?  Is it because these Blu-Rays and DVDs don't sell enough?  Is you still mad about Mononoke?  I know, I know, the Weinsteins were only suggesting they be allowed to make a few cuts into the picture...and then Miyazaki dumps a samurai sword in your mailbox.  With an inscription that read, "No cuts."

I really don't get this.  Disney and Ghibli have had a successful working relationship since 1997.  The rest of the world is able to see these movies, so why not us?  What's the hold up?  What's the plan?

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