So, after 16 months and 2 days of work (between the initial draft and today) AAW3.0 is finally live. The final tally was 35 initial drafts and 10 additional final candidate refinement versions between concept and the design you see now.
Among the fun stuff the new look and feel ads is a full mobile version of the site, selectable (from a desktop browser, if you’re so inclined) via the On This Page stuff over on the left of each page. It should default to that automatically, unless you prefer the full version, if you’re using an iPhone, iPod, Android phone, Blackberry, or Symbian handset, although it’s only been tested with iOS hardware currently (let us know if you get the wrong one on your phone so we can work on that!).
Some of the things that people who’ve been to the site before might not notice have changed: I’ve completely rewritten and seriously expanded the company profiles, rearranged much of the older writing on the site, added a couple of additional old photo albums from Japan that I’d prepared before but never actually published, updated a few entries in the glossary, added a new history page documenting the evolution of AAW over the past 12 years (complete with screenshots and some links to the WayBack machine, so you can actually try the old versions for yourself if you’re into nostalgia and/or making fun of my crappy 1999-era design skills).
We’re in the process of re-recording and expanding on the audio samples that accompany the Japanese lessons; we have much better recording hardware now, so the sound should be considerably clearer, and I wanted to start from scratch so it all sounds as good as possible. Currently there’s just the beginning re-done, but now that the incredibly time-consuming rebuild is complete, I’ll be working on more as time permits. They are best heard as HTML5 audio in a decent browser (meaning Safari or Chrome 4+, Firefox 3.5+, and eventually Opera and Internet Explorer 9 ); it might work with QuickTime in older browsers, but no guarantees—do yourself a favor and upgrade anyway.
Old-time readers might be glad to note the resurrection of the screencap galleries from the days of yore; we’ll see how that goes, but small galleries, including commentary on the images, have been added to about a dozen shows, with more to be added steadily over time.
We’ve also added large-sized box art images to everything. Not just cheesy “grab what Amazon’s got,” either—Akemi personally scanned every DVD reviewed here that I own. That means over 200 extra-high-quality box art images for those who like such things (the other 200 are made up of the best images I could find; if you have a copy of one of the handful of ancient VHS tapes we couldn’t come up with anything decent for, and are willing to scan it for us, we’d be eternally grateful). Note that you can click the box art on any review to get a larger version.
Our big new feature, in terms of “fun ways to find more stuff to watch,” is an analogy added to every single anime reviewed here, such that you can get a pithy answer to the question “What else is it like?” (and let me tell you, writing anything at all for 400 anime isn’t easy).
In the “new but not quite ready for prime time” feature department, we’re also experimenting with an amusingly unscientific graph of quality versus time for TV series; the first such experiment is on the Kanokon review:
I plan on adding more of these to other TV series over time.
Along with that is our first experiment in side-by-side comparisons of Blu-ray discs versus the upscaled DVD version of the same title, as can be seen toward the bottom of the Ponyo image gallery. I sort of enjoy comparisons like that, so as time permits I will add more.
Finally, in addition to the two newly posted reviews, I’ve updated about 50 older reviews with adjustments ranging from minor grammar fixes and availability corrections up through significant re-writes of about a dozen others. Some of these will be showcased in the new Pick Of The Week rotation (now fully-automated from a hand-selected queue, so if I’m asleep at the wheel you’ll still get the next pick right on time).
We’ve also decided to completely ditch a few features that hadn’t been properly updated in years, and have removed a few things that were going to hold up converting to the new look due to needing significant re-writes. These orphan pages (mostly old song lyrics that needed serious updates on the translations) will eventually sneak back in as I revise them.
Of course, some stuff is no doubt messed up; if you find such a thing, tell us and get a chance to win this month’s contest! (Actually, it’s technically next month’s contest, but you just get an extra week to find stuff that way). I hope people actually enter, because I have a whole shelf full of DVDs here to pick from.
A few additional comments for the geekier types who might be curious:
Everything on the site is, or should be, valid HTML5 according to the current state of the draft spec, and all CSS is valid CSS3 with the exception of some -moz and -webkit additions to add support for rounded corners, shadows, and alpha channels to older versions of Safari, Firefox, and Chrome. We’re using just a bit of @font-face fun, with the attractive Helvetica Neue Ultralight clone Lane as a fallback for the page subheadings for people who don’t have the real thing. The site has been tested to be at least usable in Opera 6-10, Safari 2-5, Chrome 4-5, Firefox 1.5-3.6, Internet Explorer 5-8, Camino 1.6-2, Mobile Safari in iOS3 and iOS4 (which just launched today, but that was enough time to install it and test!), the default Android 1.5 browser, the Wii and PS3 browsers, plus some archaic oddities, for fun (Netscape 4, IE5 Mac, Firebird, Lynx). It uses progressive enhancement, meaning that it’s totally usable even with no styling whatsoever on Netscape 4, all the way up to a bunch of little touches like rounded corners and drop shadows in modern Webkit or Gecko browsers. It looks pretty much perfect in good new browsers (last two versions of Opera, Safari, Firefox, and Chrome), and fine but without pretty touches in IE8. IE6 and IE7 get a somewhat dumbed-down version that looks similar custom-built for them, and while old versions of Opera and Firefox screw some stuff up they work and look pretty good. The only real disappointment is that the PS3 browser chokes somewhat (ugly but usable; the Wii amusingly is perfect, since it uses Opera instead of the embarrassingly underfeatured NetFront mobile browser Sony licensed) and IE5 Mac looks relatively bad (but also usable); not enough people use either for me to care much. (That said, c’mon, Sony, fix the browser already! It doesn’t even work on your own forums. Heck, any Android or Apple phone from the last year or two makes it look primitive.)
Interesting statistic: IE6 is now down to only 5% of AAW page views, which is a huge change from when IE6 was dominant and IE5 still had about 10% share when we did our previous design—it’s amazingly freeing to just design for good browsers and decide not to waste time on anything more than a simple version for broken old versions of IE.
Of course, if you’re the geeky type and you think we’ve done something wrong, by all means, give me a hard time. That’s how you learn.
And that about sums it up—hope you enjoy looking around the new site!