Review of the Month; Pioneer LD-V4300D

A new Laserdisc player review nowadays is a bit of a rarity nowadays, but so are the people reading the reviews. For the interested, here’s a low-end user’s review of Pioneer’s LD-V4300D industrial Laserdisc player.

LD-V4300D, an industrial level Laserdisc player from UK working in the Nordics

Compared to the CLD-S315 I reviewed few years ago, this time I have a frame of reference of function and quality. Let’s start with the exterior, which is pretty much what you get here; a natural white box, weighing just below 13kg. There’s not much to see outside the front and the back. I don’t have a reason to open this one up at this point, but whenever I clean in from the inside sometime next year, I’ll be sure to grab some picture to update this post with.

But first, the LD-V4300D is an industrial player. It lacks the usual bells and whistles a consumer level players would have, like a front panel for information, CD-player function and such. However, the information from the panel can be accessed via the screen itself, to an extent, and everything with a disc drive can play CDs, this isn’t exactly a huge hurdle to get over. What its nature does affect is the design, which is hefty use of no nonsense decisions. It’s built like a steel house and made to last, its looks be damned. However, it does have its charm, and the control panel being slanted slightly upwards from the rest of the face does give it a feeling that everything was designed with a purpose over looks. It’s also rather large, hitting dimensions of 420 x 125 x 433mm, which means it has more depth that most players of its size.

For some of the important info bits out of the way; LD-V4300D plays both NTSC and PAL discs, and does not have a AC-3 output. However, if you can find yourself Pioneer DA-1 and connect it to the EFM port in the back, and you have yourself digital sound.The PAL and NTSC outputs are required to set from a separate selector as the player outputs pure signal rather than converting NTSC signal to PAL. The player also uses CX system, which is automated like always. Due to its nature as an industrial player, it plays both old LaserVision and newer LaserDisc discs.

Furthermore, the machine has a linear motor, meaning that unlike most models, this player is not belt driven. It does not flip sides, but that means there’s less parts to break. Whether or not this contributes to the player’s fast access speed to disc’s chapters, with CAV discs supposedly having one second search for any frame at 50 frame distance back or forth, and CLV maxing out at six seconds.

The buttons have a very satisfactory feeling, even after nearly thirty years of its production

The most important controls of the player are clustered to its one side. Open/Close, Play, the usual. Still/Step is frame perfect step back or forth with CAV discs, which Scan essentially being Chapter Skip. Display showcases info on the screen. PAL/NTSC button selects the region of the disc inside, which is indicated on the top with the lights, next to the remote sensor window. The Power button is a bit cumbersome to access, as it sits underneath the slant and needs to be pressed a bit deeper than you’d expect, but it does have a very, very satisfying physical switch feeling to it. Power indicator is on the other side of the player, seen in the larger front picture.

The Laser Barcode terminal just below the classy LaserDisc logo is a normal stereo mini jack, and could use either RU-103 remote or UC-V104BC barcode readers. The barcode readers could be used to skip directly to necessary bits on a disc during company presentation or education situation. In home use, it’s largely unnecessary dust hole that you can plug with a proper dust cover.

Heavy duty indeed

The back has the more interesting bits, to be honest. A hooded external power cord is required to power up this beast, and the player allows around 10% throw of current to either direction. The Voltage selector is a necessary thing, considering this piece was released for European market. Next to the power on the right we have C. Sync, with  75 ohm switch. This is useful if you need to use an external sync, but somehow I doubt most home users need that. It’s a V&H Lock anyway for CAV discs. Probably worthwhile in a studio environment, but no studio uses LD players anymore for anything.

But here’s we get video and sound. The V4300D offers three options to use; BNC, RC or D-SUB9 RGB. RC is the worst option of these, whereas BNC offers a high consumer level image similar to EuroSCART, with a better quality, from what I’ve seen. The RGB of course would yield the best possible quality, though I’ve been hard pressed to find a proper cable to test this out. Apparently, the RGB decoder this machine has is the same Sony V7021 that Commodore Amiga had, which gets an approval in my books. Currently, I’m running this on a BNC-to-SCART adapter cable, with two leads going to Left and Right audio at the other side of the machine.

The lack of AC-3 support is regrettable, but that’s what high-end consumer devices are for. However, as mentioned, the EFM socket there, with DIN connector, can output digital audio via aforementioned decoder. The sound quality is what you’d expect from stereo RC-jacks; they do their job. Could be better, but so could many other things in life.  The positive thing is that you can find anything that accepts these.

As for the RS-232C serial port, it’s best used with connecting to a computer terminal or if the player is used to play Laserdisc games like TimeGal or Dragon’s Lair. Apparently, with a proper ROM card like LaserAce you could switch the player into a dedicated game machine. Seeing Dragon’s Lair and its siblings have seen re-releases on PC, DVD players and God knows what else, there’s little reason to do this outside authenticity. I’d prefer TimeGal anyway. This is a considerable bonus, if you’re into LD games. The aforementioned RS232 interface, C. Sync and the EFM socket together could be used to make this player a proper LaserDisc game machine, but you’d need something like DA-V1000 LV-ROM adaptor in the middle.

A massive brick of a remote

The remote for the LD-V4300D isn’t the usual deal either. First, it didn’t come with the remote as a standard, you’ll need to buy it separate. Second, it feel very cheap and is lighter than it seems. The keys are membrane keys, but are clicky. Not the best feeling combination, or the most tactile, but it serves its purpose of keeping splatter and dust on the outside in industrial environment. The top has its usual IR window, but there’s another audio mini jack there, which you could connect to the player’s jack if you don’t have two AA batteries at hand. Some reports have mentioned that you can use other Pioneer LD remotes with the player, but CLD-S315 remote didn’t. The remote above isn’t the same as listed in the guides either, being model CU-113A, but appears to be the exact same as in the User’s Manual.

If you’re more interested in the technical aspects of the image quality, I’d recommend checking out Not On Blu-Ray’s more testific review. While it gives the player 3/5 result, for a general enthusiast who barely has access to LaserDiscs overall the LD-V4300D is a competent player. The lack of certain things, like a straight up SCART port, the image and sound quality are good. I’ve noticed that due to the better signal quality the image quality is better than with CLD-S135. The improvement isn’t world breaking, but notable.

This isn’t perhaps the best choice for anyone to pick up as a main LD player. However, it works great as a stopgag player if you can’t find a better one and simply need/want one. It’s more specialised ports and moddability (is that even a word?) does give it an edge to Dragon’s Lair and LD game enthusiasts overall. The player’s runs with a low noise as well. When starting to play, it has few good audible clicks, which all honesty are pretty satisfying. You don’t hear such things nowadays anymore.

In conclusion, a solid unit, but as a specialised player NTSC users may want to look for something better. As a PAL/NTSC combo, it’s probably one one of the better units out there with a relatively low price.

Review of the month; Pioneer CLD-S315 Laserdisc player

I was intending to do a follow-up review on the ceramic knives I handled last year around this time, but when I checked the post I noticed that it wasn’t a review. Bugger. I’ll have to get back to those some later time with a comparative review, as the ceramic knives I got didn’t serve their purpose too long.

The question then became apparent; what should I review for this month? I’ve been doing too many game reviews in a row as of late. Initially the plan was to review Kettou! Transformers Beast Wars; Beast Senshi Saikyou Keitteisen, a Japan-only GameBoy Colour game, as it is the first honest to God good Transformers game, miles better than anything that’s come before it or than its big brothers on the PlayStation or N46.

So I went back a little bit and remembered that I promised a Laserdisc player review… about two or three years ago. Shit. The problem with that still is that gathering comparative information on LD players is rather hard because setups differ so much across the board. I’m also a horrible little piece of shit and use one of the modern flatscreen LCD TVs for my LD playback without anything in the middle to handle the image quality, so I’m automatically thrown out from the hardcore LD club.

As you’ve most likely gathered, this will be more or less a different kind of review from the other ones, because I honestly don’t have enough base information to go by. This is all my personal experience with this single player and the discs I have. Unlike with VHS, BETA, DVD or BD players, this LD player is the only one I’ve ever actually seen functioning to 95% extent. That 5% comes from the fact that I’ve never seen a VCD disc in nature nor have I managed to make head or tails how to connect that AC-3 to anything at my disposal. I would want to say that doesn’t bother me, but ultimately it does. Let’s move on with the show then.

This particular model was produced in mid-90’s, as the user manual shows printing year as 1996. Not a bad year. For technical jargon, the CLD-S315 is a Dual System player that handles both PAL and NTSC formats, plays LDs, CDs and CDVs, has a 1-bit DLC pulseflow, a D/A converter and has Analogue Sound Reproduction for NTSC side. For video it’s got horizontal resolution of 440 lines in PAL mode and 425 lines in NTSC mode, plus contains a Digital Video Processing system. There’s a lot more stuff that’s more or less relevant, and you can check the complete list on Laserdisc Archive.

Is it the best possible model? Far from it, but it’s a good entry model and for the low consumer group. The reason I went with this particular model myself was that it was straightforward and played both PAL and NTSC discs. I’ve got a collection of 40 LDs at the moment, and only two of them are of PAL format. 22 of them are from Japan, 16 from the US. It does what it’s supposed to do well enough for the time being.

420 x 120 x 370 mm of full blown disc-on-disc playback action
420 x 120 x 370 mm of full blown disc-on-disc playback action

Let’s go with the overall design first; it’s a box. It’s clean, simple player that is dictated by the sheer size of the discs themselves. All of the design is basically in the front, and it looks gorgeous. The smooth lines it consists of balance the otherwise industrial bulk it has. As you mostly see just the front, it’s a pretty good balance. The Pioneer gold stands out very well, thou the playback details and model number may be a little too small and thing compared to dominate Pioneer logo next to them. The same goes for the control panel text, but all you really need to see are the symbols. The usual Compact Disc Digital Audio logo in the middle of the disc tray is well placed, although that now means the LaserDisc text on the upper right corner of the tray looks haphazardly placed. The LaserDisc logo on the other fits just fine in the upper right corner of the machine. It’s not that you’ll be watching much the front, but it’s still pretty well realized.

It's beautifully simple
It’s beautifully simple, and you most likely noticed that part is cut out. That’s because I’m too lazy to lift the player out of its rack for now

The control buttons feel sturdy and as responsive as ever. They’re clicky, which elevates them to a higher level. The LD and CD tray open/close buttons look similar to the first Sega Saturn model. While they clash a little bit with the rest of the controls, the shape serves them better. They’re distinct and you can’t mistake them for other buttons. When the player is on, they light up too. The main controls contain slight convex spot where your finger naturally falls. The play button is the opposite and simply control the thing. The menu button on the other hand is something I just noticed, to be honest. It should’ve been similar in shape with the LD/CD tray buttons. The power button on the lower left feel right and is as clicky as all other buttons. The digital panel works as you’d expect, and the additional label just under the control buttons look like they’re in their proper place. There’s nothing special to mention about those.

It's classy green, before the days when every single thing was blue
It’s the classy green, before the days when every single thing was blue

Sadly, it’s the remote is where things fall down a bit.

Rubber and largely awful, but has stood the test of time. Can't say the same about all remotes out there
Rubber and largely awful, but has stood the test of time. Can’t say the same about all remotes out there

The remote follows the basic remote rules of the 90’s, it’s nothing particularly special. The rubber buttons are as you’d expect, and feel more or less the same with other its contemporaries, or even with something like ZX Spectrum. Nevertheless, it’s alive and works, I can’t fault that. The construction is sturdy to boot. It feels nice, but I can’t say wholly ergonomic. It’s just kinda there. I have to say that the added red rim on the POWER is nice and draws your attention to it. The same goes to the red underlining for OPEN/CLOSE. A nice detail on the remote is the lighter gray area for the main buttons about halfway down where the buttons become more irregular, but more important for the main playback. The emphasize for the PAUSE and PLAY are as expected, and with very little memory you can use the controller without even looking at it.

On to the playback then, and here we’re going to hit a stop. I don’t have anything to capture the footage out of and make a comparison, but I don’t think I have to.

The LD I’ve watched the most on other formats is Fight!! Iczer-1. When comparing to the DVD version I have at hand, the picture quality is the same, meaning that the Digital Remaster the DVD offers doesn’t have much to offer over the LD version. As a reference, the LD I use is the 1991 release, TOLH-1048. It being CAV format, it offers superb picture quality. CAV and CLV are basically the normal and extended plays of Laserdisc, where CAV could fit 60 minutes of footage on one side, and CLV could fit double the amount, but with lesser image quality overall.

Early DVDs were commonly either direct VHS or LD rips, and it took well into mid-2000’s companies to put out proper digital remasters that could rival the CAV LDs. It’s not too uncommon to see a DVD with less quality than LD if it’s not a digital remaster. It should be noted that the video a Laserdisc has is analogue, but it differs from VHS footage by simply being far more sharper. Higher end models could produce better quality, and using a CRT TV is recommended for this model.

On the sound on the other hand is superb all around. I’m using Onkyo TX-SR308 as my sound system, and with proper settings it offers better sound than our local movie theatre. It can be brutally honest with discs that have awful sound, but those with that have better audio sound absolutely fantastic, better than what most DVDs ever had. This is because LD could carry an uncompressed PCM digital audio at higher sample rate than DVDs. The aforementioned AC-3 format took advantage of this RF modulated audio, and receivers with their inputs slots could decode it into six channel audio. Even in stereo this model sounds absolutely fantastic, and I’m pissed off now that I can’t access the AC-3 audio.

During playback I don’t notice the loudness for this machine, which I guess means it’s pretty silent. Lately I’ve noticed that resonance happening when the disc reaches full spin, and I’ll have to take the top case off in order to secure whatever is causing the noise. I’ll take some pictures of the internals then.

The connectors in the back seem to be more or less a standard form for this price range; a standard Video Out, 2/R and 1/L Audio out, a SCART Out connector and a control In Out plugs. I’m using the SCART with a high quality cord, so I’m betting I’d get scorned by hardcore LD enthusiasts.

Am I satisfied with the 160€ I put into this one? Most certainly. For a well kept and maintained unit, this particular CLD-S315 plays things just right. All I need to do is to keep the discs in good shape for the player to play them, and if I end up upgrading to a higher end unit at some point, I’m sure to keep this one in good condition as well for possible future use.

LOOK AT THE SIZE OF THAT THING! A Mini-CD in the middle for size comparison.
LOOK AT THE SIZE OF THAT THING! A Mini-CD in the middle for size comparison. It’s as big as any of your standard size hipster LP, and twice the thickness. In short; these discs feel and look awesome

And before anyone mentions it; yes, I need to clean all that dust away.

Digital luddites

Whenever I complain something about modern things, I notice how I’ve grown more and more old fashioned and conservative to the extent that I give my bias to shine through without any reservations. One of these things, to some extent, is the excessive use CGI TV and film. I prefer the practical effects and every explosion that’s on the screen needs to have been there in physical form, not as something added digitally in. Same with animation, where majority of the modern animations are just 3D models being played on the screen like bunch of puppets.

However, I was taken back as I realized how little there is actual appreciation for the modern in the communities and circles I usually roll in. The aforementioned example use of 3D is one of them. Sure, the likes of Toy Story and Frozen get good comments them in being completely animated in 3D, but then when 2D and 3D are mixed there seems to be people rising on the barricades. Giant robot animation is a very good example of this, as more and more companies have moved to animate their detailed and complex with 3D models rather than animate them by the traditional methods, even thou nowadays these are rotorscoped on top of 3D models already. The pros of this is extremely consistent footage and constant quality in contrast to 2D animation. This divides people, as there are so many of those who see this a plague killing their favourite high-budgeted hand animated series. The fact in this that they’re already dead and there’s no reason to hate the 3D taking 2D’s place. We’re at a point where the old is being replaced with something new ,and to some extent is already dead and replaced as cel animation died in the early 2000’s. Embracing the new way of doing things with more detail and smoothness with less expenses is hard when you’re grown up the multilevel-shaded hand drawn animation, but without doing so the new can’t flourish.

I wonder when it began. It is hard for me to pinpoint the time when popular culture had a paradigm shift, where the new was considered inferior to old, and old was put on a pedestal over all else and claimed to be superior. That has lead us to have all these remakes, reboots and sequels during the 00’s, so we can make an educated guess that it was during the 90’s where this shift took place. Before that all kinds of new stuff was not just accepted with excitement, but also embraced and taken to a next step level as the fans wanted to see all these new things grow and flourish. Nowadays it seems all the next steps are met with highly negative criticism and wishes to return to the old. Yet, we can’t return to old all the time, we can’t repeat same things in almost same form time after time nor we can have anything new if we can’t move onwards from the old ways.

I am contradicting myself philosophically here, as you’ve most likely noticed. As someone who wishes to work in traditional means is in a world where traditional means have almost completely replaced with something new and more efficient, and I can testify that to some extent it scares me. I may say that The old way is more efficient or whatever you usually hear, but the truth is that it is outside my comfort zone and the things I personally value and have positive stance on. This has changed with the first half of the year as you’ve read, and I have no doubts most digital luddites feel the similarly. All I can say that this is a point where we need to recognize the point of growing up and accept the facts that are there. I don’t think for a minute for it being easy, but a man’s gotta do what man’s gotta do.

Which is not burn the factory.

There is some basis in resisting modern contraptions to an extent in certain fields. For example, it can be argued that pretty much all low budget films that they should not be on high definition as it shows, quite practically, everything in high detail. For example, you can see all the maskings in Friday the 13th Blue-Rei and by all means see how fake everything is. This doesn’t happen with older medias like VHS and LaserDisc, and DVD seems to be in a sort of middleground depending on the release. This can be understood, as most older materials are not meant to be seen to that detail and are designed to be seen on film from a projector or on CRT TV from a cassette.

However, it doesn’t take out the point that these formats also demand higher accuracy and craftsmanship from the modern film makers and does no invalidate how older movies are seen on the screen. Much like one can take the luddite attitude, one could take a stance of wanting to enjoy all the details that they were able to put in making the movie and see all the details no matter how low-budget or not. A well done movie is a well done movie even if low budget after all. I guess viewers can be taken out of the movie and lose their immersion if they latch on issues in the movie. Then again, most people start latching on negative issues with movies when they turn for the boring. Then again, we are taught to be analytical on pretty much anything we come across today. We lose that child like wonder on things, the enjoyment for the sake of enjoyment disregarding the technical quality. I’m generalising this a bit too much, but the point should come across.

Of course, not all new things are good or better than old ones. Nevertheless, disallowing growth of the new will be a disservice on the long run, as all things are made to be replaced and made obsolete. I will always encourage the advancements that might make my work easier, even thou I would deeply hate them.

A matter of quality

There’s always a question of quality when it comes to products whether or not we speak of artists or craftsmen. Quality is the universal measure that ultimately decides whether or not something is going to become a success of sorts.

This isn’t really the case.

How quality is measured is up to the individual customer. As a rule of thumb we can say that a certain level of quality will always succeed, whereas far too high quality will sell less, as will too low quality.

Let me use VHS, LaserDisc and BetaMAX as an example of this. The VHS had the worst quality out of the three in sound and in picture. BetaMAX was superior, and LaserDisc was even better. VHS was good enough in quality, and offered other things that were better in quality, such as price and availability. Low price is always better in quality than high price, and larger stocks are better quality than small stocks. That, and all the best films and series was were released on VHS.

In portable electronicscustomers value long battery life. If a product consumes batteries in a slow pace then it’s considered to be pretty good in quality. WonderSwan, a handheld game console from Bandai, managed to last around 24-26h with one AA battery. That’s something to strive for. Naturally, WonderSwan’s quality, as with any game console, lies in the games provided.

For media equipment this is the measure of quality; can it do the job for you? Will it be able to fulfil what you want to do with the machine? This is a question that haunts anyone who is going to buy a new a computer. Should they go for a Windows based PC or a Macintosh? Should they learn Linux or some other other OS instead? What programs will be there for them, will there be a large software support for the OS and so forth.

Windows is regarded as a high quality OS because of its versatility and how standard it is. You can safely jump from version to version and get hang ofthe new versions safely. Sadly, Windows 8 abandoned this altogether and I can see a lot of people and companies jumping over Windows 8 if there won’t be any proper and fundamental changes in how it’s usability works.

Macintosh machines work well for what they’re intended for. Personally they do not allow me the freedom I want on any level, so for me a Mac has a lower level of quality. If you prefer Mac, then more power for you. Just don’t come up to my face and start spouting that it’s the superior choice.

In film and animation the quality of the product can be measured on many levels; story, visuals, sound, acting etc. Much like with design and other creative industries, the only way to get a better quality product is to go through loads of experiences. A simple example would be a steel table; you can’t make the welding seams good if you don’t train your welding, and weak welding means a weak table. In animation you want to have people who have experience in animation to ensure the best possible product, but even then you need to take in newcomers to give them experience in the actual industry. The finalproduct might not be the best because of this, but you won’t get the best quality product in the future if you only have people who never had any actual experience.

Locally this is actually a pretty bad thing; most workplaces only take in people with experience, and you can’t really get any experience if you can’t get a workplace. It’s a vicious cyclethat should be stopped everywhere. Taking in few new workers would serve everybody’s interest, really.

You can see that quality isn’t something that’s set to stone from the get-go. There are things that do have a set standard (like a welding seam) but things like shape are completely abstract and vary from product to product and from user to user. For some a scene of animation might be bad quality, and for some standard quality.

We’ll be discussing Total Eclipse soon enough

The above, for some, is atrocious cell of animation. For some it looks like your modern TV-animation scene. I personally dig the light effect that’s going on.

While there are certain standards that do exist and are used to measure whatever, they only apply if the user, ie. the customer has the same set of values. Rarely dothe standards of industries and customers meet, even if the industry standardsshould be those of customerson appearance. Still, when talking of quality we do need to have those set standards in order to have a common ground, but even then we always deviate from those grounds because we do see things differently even from the same point of view. Just visit any game forum to witness this first hand.

The industries do have to think the standard of quality differently as well. Money is always one ofthe issues as arethe demands of the customers. Juggling between multiple issues to achieve the best possible product is no laughing matter. Sometimes there are customers whose voices need to be discarded in order to get the best mean quality possible. Serving everybody is an impossibility, and that’s why you need to aim to please as many as possible, even if its outside your own comfort zone.

Still, the last point is used as an excuse to do trophy products far too often, especially in the creative industries. Just because you can’t serve the 4/5 of the possible customer group, it doesn’t mean that you should only serve one fifth.

What is true quality is really hard to measure. Universal standards don’t seem to fit when we take individuals in account, and if we discard the individuals then the standards do not apply. Perhaps if we were cold logical machines we all could have those same standards of quality. It’s a richness that we are so different, and that richness makes things a bitch to make.

Let’s take a look at OVAs Part 2; The Couragous and the Pretty

There’s few frameworks that we have to lay down before we start speaking of good OVAs. I’m mostly speaking of same things as every other person when it comes to good animation and storytelling, but when it comes to OVAs we have the luxury of observing the coda, execution and uniqueness as well. TV-animation is meant to be sold to a wide variety of audiences and to expand the market (or at least it should be, otherwise something’s seriously wrong) while OVAs are meant for the niche audience. In this sense a good OVA is a completely different product from other animation works, even from movies as they’re more comparable to short stories from literature whereas movies and TV-series are more akin to whole novels.

As such all the series presented here might not be what you’d call masterpieces. Some of them are actually pretty meh or even bad at most levels, but excel at being what OVAs should be. I’ll be skipping the most known series just for variety, such as Aim for the Top! Gunbuster, Mobile Police Patlabor, Dirty Pair and such. There’s slew of recommendation lists out there, and while you can take this post as one, I’d suggest you to take this list as something like a glance at more uncommon and yet good shows. OVAs do not play with the same set rules as other works of animation mostly due to niche nature they have. While the overall quality can be determined by the sales (sales always determine the quality of the product over opinions, as rough as it is) OVAs have the small lax in this rule; an overlooked work might have had a small spread and print, affecting its sales overall.

The first example perhaps I can offer you is Cosmos Pink Shock, which I already mentioned in the Part 1. It’s a good 40min show about a girl crossing the universe inside a hyper-rocket that can achieve near-light speed travel in order to find her childhood sweetheart who was abducted by aliens. Cosmos Pink Shock has very nice animation, very nice designs, good music and overall the quality is up there. It only saw tape releases, even thou the animation alone would have demanded an LD release. It’s a beautiful little work that never really spread anywhere. A group called BOX actually searched for this kind rare releases for wider spread. The group has ceased to exist , but their work has been nothing short of remarkable. I’d almost call this a cultural preservation act, as they have subbed such works as Superman Locke and Queen Millenia, which both have had more than slight impact on Japanese animation and comic culture, thou their effect has become near extinct since the end of the 90’s. While BOX’s site has dead MegaUpload links, I presume my dear readers are smart enough to add “bakabt” to their Google search. Nevertheless, give Cosmos Pink Shock a shot. You might not want to stop at there thou.

Speaking of gorgeous animation, go watch DAICON III and DAICON IV from Youtube now. Never mind the quality, it can’t be helped.

There’s schlock, but then there’s good schlock, and then there’s schlock that’s like Cyber City Oedo 808.

To be honest, Oedo isn’t really bad. It’s an OVA that’s completely in spirit of the 80’s OVAs at its best; not really good, but goddamn if its not entertaining as hell. Oedo’s an example of well done Japanese cyber-punk without going all babbling like Ghost in the Shell, or all coffee on you like the Humanoid. It’s far more action packed and is more subtle on its questions on humanity and such, thou they can be dismissed quickly by the characters’ nature. It’s very dystopian, and some have drawn similarities with Judge Dredd and Robocop in certain feel to Oedo, thou I’m not sure whether or not I should agree. Oedo is unique enough to stand on its own to feet, and this is mostly because it’s well animated, has decent voicework and its execution is nothing short well paced. The story in Oedo is more akin to not-so generic cyberpunk detective/murder story, but somehow I can’t put my finger why the plot was decent. Honestly, it really doesn’t matter; Oedo’s a ride that is meant to be enjoyed, not to thought through.

If you want something more cerebral, wait one more entry when we enter the 90’s as promised. But for now, enjoy one of my personal favourites; Birdy the Mighty.

Birdy the Mighty is one of those OVAs that never really saw an end, and neither did its later 00’s TV-series. Birdy the Mighty is nothing short of your generic sci-fi detective story, but that’s not a bad thing. Birdy has a lot of charm both as a series and as a character. I’m partial for her 80’s appearance because fuck yeah 80’s. Still, the plot’s pretty simple; Birdy accidentally kills a young boy while chasing down a fugitive criminal, and to save this boy’s life her superior commands her to allow this boy’s soul into her body. When this boy, Tsutomu, is in control the body they share looks like his, but when needed Birdy can and will take her own form back. As such there’s an interesting duality going on all the time, but sadly it’s not well thought out or even used. It’s kind of there, but as with most OVAs there really wasn’t time for it. The 00’s series does it a bit better, but the show was too slow for its own good and didn’t really grasp the audience to have the final third season. As such, Birdy the Mighty OVA is flawed and could have done a lot of things better, but it’s nowhere near bad. It’s not even OK series, as the animation, acting and the concepts lift the OVA above most others even if the execution is partially sloppy. It’s the concept and idea that is Birdy’s mightiest point.

To follow with the path of good concepts and ideas, let’s move to the 90’s, and to the one of the last true OVAs that was made during that time. Enter JaJa Uma! Quartette, known as Wild Cardz in the West.

JaJaUma! could be described as a two-part pilot for a full TV-series, or so it has always felt like. The world a lot of content and is fleshed out reasonably well in relatively short period of time. A lot of things are shown and not explained, the pacing is tight and fast, and the story is honestly well written and never loses its goal. There’s also a bit of mystery in there and not everything is explained outright, which shows Studio Ox’s trust in their viewers. The worst thing JaJaUma! Quartette has going for it that there’s not nearly enough of it anywhere. Sure, it was adapted from a comic and there’s few radio dramas and a YouTube: PlayStation game but goddammit there’s a lot of wasted potential in here. With more development this series could’ve become phenomenal, and while that can be said about a lot of things, JaJaUma! Quartette has the same kind of charm that a lot of other female character driven series have had during the past ten years and beyond. There’s a lot of love and labour in here.

Now I promised something more cerebral, and here it comes; Giant Robo the Animation. I can’t do enough justice to this series, but what I can say that while I recognize it as one of the best animation works to date, it’s not what OVAs should be. Yasuhiro Imagawa is a good director and I like his works, but it took ten to twelve years to finish Giant Robo. Fist of all, it’s seven episode series, and while that’s not bad, it took most of the 90’s to finish this work. It was always late, the staff went over budget and it wasn’t successful at all. Anyway, it’s still recognized as one of THE animation works out there for a good reason.

Let’s move to the 00’s where OVAs are mostly dead and TV-animation is facing dire times.

I’m cheating a little bit with this one, but might as well as this counts as Original ‘Net Animation; Kyousogiga.

Kyousogiga has similar problem as JaJaUma! Quartette. A lot of stuff is bashed into very short time and most of the details can go by fast. At its core Kyousogiga is shinto version of Alice in the Wonderland with some Mirror thrown in there. For modern animation it’s very detailed and lively, and actually manages to avoid looking all too plastic like 99% of the TV-anime out there. I presume that much like a lot of Studio 4°C’s works, Kyousogiga was thrown in as a potential TV-series, but never took off. Which is sad, because this could have worked, but perhaps they thought that it was too surreal for its own good. Now this sounds something I wouldn’t say, but if the anime industry is dying due to lack of new and creative (hrhrrh) works, why aren’t the likes of Kyousogiga given the Green Light? Well, mostly because the people in charge have lost the touch with their audience at large and aims only at lonely otakus who sit on their computers writing about OVAs. Expanding market means getting new viewers, not taking existing viewers from other competing products.

None of the mentioned series have done anything major alone. OVA as a whole was one of the driving forces behind the VHS standard due to its popularity at the time. Nowadays pressing DVDs is cheap, but costs to make a movie or a video original have risen far too much. The current situation of the economy doesn’t help either, and the fact that the TV and movies at large do not target large audience any more but fight over the same audience, much like the game industry is doing. It’s an unhealthy form of competition and serves only industries’ own destruction at best. OVA format filled a certain slot that was open. However, OVA can’t fill that slot, but it can’t fill the newly opened slot either. It’s a format out of its time, and OVA is barely alive mainly because it has been there since the 80’s. DVD did not have to fight any format wars or punch through same kind of think walls as VHS had to, and as such we’re enjoying the kind of consumer culture. There’s a lot of good and bad in the current format/s, but we’ll get back to HD-DVD and BD in few years.

Appreciation is kind of keyword here; people don’t need to like OVA format or anything other things that have moulded our current way of consuming entertainment, but if we can’t appreciate them and what they have managed to do, then we can’t appreciate what we have now, or value them at any level. This kind of attitude doesn’t just apply to customers, but to the industries as well. Abandoning what has worked for something that really doesn’t have the same punch but is cheaper and easier to produce just doesn’t work. Sometimes it’s also the other way around, as seen in the video game industry.

The best way to revive the current animation culture in Japan would be to start developing and creating TV-series that expand the market and clean their current image, and revive the OVA format for what it was made to begin with.

With this, I’ll end this summer’s theme of OVA history. These last two parts are mostly just extra, but what the heck, most of these deserve proper mentioning. Next week we’ll return to a more normal rhythm and discuss a bit more about designing.