Tuesday, December 23, 2003

I've been greatly enjoying my new Maison Ikkoku DVD set.

Back when the only people translating non-SF/Fantasy anime was Vancouver's own Prince of Darkness, William Chow of Arctic Animation, Maison Ikkoku was the most-anticipated part of any shipment of tapes to Quest Labs of State College. I think I brought a tape or two back from one of the monthly marathon copying sessions in a Lawrenceville library basement (old-line fan club in Pittsburgh - Anime Keiken), and most everybody in PSSFS loved it, even though it didn't have science-fiction or fantasy elements like Kimagure Orange Road.

The translations of Arctic Animation were famously haphazard and erratic. "Cry rusted clock" became PSSFS shorthand for Maison Ikkoku, due to a typically wacky translation of the first opening animation song on that show. The fansubbing operation which briefly ran out of Quest Labs State College joined an umbrella fan project to properly translate and sub Maison Ikkoku; we called it "Project Haruka-chan" for in-joke reasons that will only make sense if you've seen the whole show. Bill Johnston went and bought the Japanese box set for the source material. It must have cost him somewhere in the range of $1200-$1600, at a time when he was putting himself through college while working at McDonalds and supporting himself. We never got that far into the project - we might have completed eight episodes before the ravenous beast that was Otakon devoured all of our free time. But if you search for my name on Google, you might find an old message prattling on about a cultural/religious reference in the first episode.

Viz bought the show, and then screwed up royally in selling and marketing the story. Viz certainly isn't the most incompetent marketer in the business - CPM and AnimEigo and a host of lesser lights certainly out-compete them in that respect - but they certainly aren't very good at it. They just didn't have any idea how to sell a non-action, non-fantasical neighborhood-comedy to American fandom. I'm not sure that they're doing any better these days, but a rising tide lifts all boats, and the relatively cheap prices on the current DVD sets can't hurt. The video quality is acceptable for a mid-Eighties TV series, and the sound quality is absolutely gem-like in comparison with the sloppy mess ADV defecated onto disc for the Sailor Moon box sets.

It's been so many years since I've seen the show, that it feels like watching it for the first time. Strangely, without disturbing this new-viewer innocence, I can almost recite the Japanese dialogue as it plays. This is, no doubt, due to the many incompetent hours I spent trying to time these early episodes for Project Haruka-chan, or listening to Bill's or Dave Asher's timing sessions. Thus my strange, faulty memory allows me to both enjoy the story on its own merits, and bask in the glow of a sort of deja-vu nostalgia.

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