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IBNeko's Journal-Nyo~!
An interesting read...
Ethics of Fansubbing - by Red_HamsterX, summer of 2004. [mirror & mirror - can be taken down if requested, if you are Red HamsterX.]

-Notable Comments-
When a fansubber resigns, it’s usually for something urgent - less time because of school, an unexpected personal incident, financial issues, etc. The last time I read in depth about a fansubber quiting was when OnA Digital disappeared (which released high quality episodes 1-6 of Love Hina back in the day), and I think his reason was financial. This man is resigning on principle, which may seem voluntary for some but mandatory for him. For this, Red, you have my deepest respect.

I won’t deny it. I get that twinge whenever I hear that another series has been licensed. Having downloaded anime for around 5 years, here’s my thoughts on why we’ve developed that mentality today:

1. Image quality. Raws really looked raw back then in terms of what it looked like. The source was either from a tv (without spiffy video capturing hardware) or from a video that might have been played one too many times. The formats back then (rm, viv, asf) didn’t do much to help the situation, but that was the only viable option because:
a. broadband wasn’t quite there yet (anyone remember i-drive?)
b. lack of archiving material (CD-Rs)
c. small hard drives to keep this stuff in

Now? 175 mb, 640x480 resolution avi files in divx seem to be the current standard. Even now, that might be changing, with xvid and matroska gaining popularity. A long way from the 40-60 mb realmedia files I used to get. I remember seeing my first avi file - coincidentally, it was a Love Hina episode from OnA Digital. And I thought, “Goddamn, I’m never going back.”
In the past, if a series was licensed, people were happy because they could finally go to the video store and buy a tape in mint condition that they could enjoy. Now there’s almost no difference between a fansub and the DVD. Yes, there’s that Piano DVD comparison picture on the main page of this site, but clearer trees in the background won’t exactly make the average anime watcher jump for joy. And the argument “You can watch your anime on the big screen” isn’t good enough to make someone run out and buy the DVD. It won’t work for me because I have no big screen to begin with.

2. Subtitling/Translating quality. Older series didn’t rely as much on cultural and historical background, so big licensing corporations could get away on that issue. Sometimes a fansubber will take the time to explain some subleties, like in the old Hime-chan’s Ribbon tapes. Before an episode (or group of episodes), there will be some screens of info from the fansubber. If a series back then relied too much on cultural/historical info, no company will touch it because:
a. too much effort in research
b. will the viewer care?
Case in point? Kodomo no Omocha, or Child’s Toy.

As for subtitles, both fansubbers and companies used the generic yellow font. In intros and endings, companies typically alternate between the English translation and the Japanese pronunciation for the songs.

Now? Fansubbers go all out to help the reader understand what’s going on. When I was downloading Noir, I went with BakaMX because they go the extra mile in translating foreign words or providing background on historical references before each episode. For the Read or Die OAV, I kept two or three different versions of each episode because of visual and translational differences. For Haibane Renmei, I have different fansub groups for each episode because I went for translational clarity. Even now, I’m leaning towards the Triad’s version of Sensei no Ojikan because Seiichi often tells you to go to their forums for additional info instead of explaining within the episode itself. Companies don’t provide you with nearly as much info, so it feels like you’re missing out on something when you buy the DVD.

In the case of subtitles, companies are sticking to the old yellow font, minimalist style. Some people may prefer that. Me, I like having the kanji, the English translation, and the Japanese pronunciation in kareoke style for my intros and endings. Some color-coding according to speaker is also nice, if there’s a lot of people to begin with. The best example? Animehaven’s version of the later episodes in Galaxy Angel S3. Compared to this, companies seem to be doing a half-assed job.

3. Licensing time to release time. This section has a bit more speculation on my part than the other two. It seems to me that companies go on a big licensing frenzy to get all the popular releases, and as a result it takes forever for anything to come out because they’ve bitten off more that they can chew. In the meantime, people can’t get a chance to try out these new series because the rights have already been acquired. If companies waited until they were ready to get a series out quickly (without compromising quality, of course) before licensing it, that would also give newcomers a chance to see what the series is like, increasing the market potential.

The main issue here seems to be quality. While companies are resting on their laurels, fansubbers keep pushing the limits of quality, raising expectations to the point where companies can’t deliver anymore. Consequently, rather than “keeping up with the Joneses", they slap a license on anything with potential so they can lock in their market.

Red, I never really knew much about Lunar until recently. I think our UT anime club showed your version of Kimi Ga Nozomu Eien… or maybe not. However, I did check out Pugyuru, so I must thank you for the work you’ve done on that. Without you on Pugyuru, will we ever see any more episodes on that loveable, battery-powered maid-san?

Because I’m still learning Dvorak, it is now 2:20 am here. So I am off to bed. And if the layout is all screwed up, it’s because I pasted this from notepad. After losing one too many messages to IE/site errors, I’ve learned to take precautions.

Comment by DFuzzy1 — 7/26/2004 @ 2:29 am
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selphish From: selphish Date: July 26th, 2004 01:31 pm (UTC) (Link)
First of all, I've been watching fansubs for about seven years now. I remember the days he's talking about; back on 56K, I had to use something to continue my downloads if my connection closed, and there was some sort of popular website that allowed hosting of avi files. Ahhh! That's where I first got my really shoddy Fushigi Yuugi and Hime-chan episodes. <333

As a fansubber, all I have to say is that for the most part I agree. While I sub for a group that subtitles licensed anime (Geneon licensed every single one of our releases before one episode was aired), we still follow a few rules of ethics, which includes a cease-distribution once the first DVD is released.

However, while I'll get huffy about licensing when good shows are being subtitled by groups that don't do licensed series, I never accuse the companies of "stealing our series". That's just pretty silly. After all, they paid for it.

And I find myself more and more disapointed with the American-release DVDs. As I've started dabbling in timing and .2 second delays, I find myself frustrated with some of the timing in DVDs, which is often left on-screen for sporadic amounts of time. As a QCer, I've also learned to check subtitles for grammatical correctness and check the video for encode quality; while watching Infinite Ryvius a few weeks ago, I counted about twelve errors in one DVD--several were OBVIOUS spelling mistakes. Twenty five dollars for a mispelled, poorly-timed DVD whose features include previews and a tiny gallery? It's no wonder people who grew up on fansubs are becoming more and more disapointed! Not only that, but very few companies have both the romanji and translation of the OP and ED--and what amuses me, as I once talked to my friend voiddarkheart, who works at ADV about this--is that he says that ADV does not have the software to use multiple subtitles. I'm totally afraid that fansubbers have it, but not major companies like ADV that have released such popular series as Evangelion and Excel Saga.

I'm just hoping that fansubbers will continue to raise the bar for commerical releases. ADV's already done some things to impress me--such as adding the "Menchi Notes" to their Excel Saga episodes to explain cultural references, but other than that, I have not seen much improvement over the eight years I've been watching subtitled anime.
ibneko From: ibneko Date: July 27th, 2004 06:03 pm (UTC) (Link)
Mmm, I think I prefer the "a cease-distribution once the first DVD is released"... 'cause some companies do take forever.

Hehe, now you know what someone needs to make? A high quality subbing DVD company, built completely of fansubbers, subbing for fans... That would seriously raise the bar for other companies, and maybe things will get better?

How much does it costs to license a series, btw? DVD production can't be _that_ expensive... a disk is what, a dollar a piece or less, plus a plastic DVD box, plus a sheet sized cover. Then add distribution costs and general business operation costs... Advertising could be done by word of mouth... Dunno how well these things would be recieved though. Paying to support your fellow fansubbers, for high quality anime... If they could somehow keep the price down... 10 to 15 dollars a DVD, with 4-5 episodes per DVD? ('cause you do want high quality. DVDs hold a hell lot, but I think there's a reason no one's ever put 2 movies on one disk...
selphish From: selphish Date: July 28th, 2004 05:16 pm (UTC) (Link)
Well, they've got to pay for the rights, then for the cover art, then for the dubbing, then for the translator, the timer, the QC checker, the encoder, etc., etc., etc.

If anime was more mainstream, I'm sure it'd be cheaper.
ibneko From: ibneko Date: July 29th, 2004 07:25 am (UTC) (Link)
Ah, but what if we make a high quality anime-subbing DVD company, built completely of fansubbers, subbing for fans... And only doing subs, so there's no dubbing (and thus no actors and additional equiptment other than what the fansubbers are using already) involved? Essentially taking the work that everyone's already been doing, and making it legal, plus paying them a bit from whatever that's left over from sales. Sure, people who don't like subtitle will lose out, but I think a good number of people wouldn't mind? And since there's no dubbing costs involved, it'd be cheaper and much more affordable?
selphish From: selphish Date: July 29th, 2004 11:19 am (UTC) (Link)
Back in VHS days, subtitled anime was about ten dollars more than dubbed anime, because people bought more dubbed anime than subtitled.

We might lose out.
ibneko From: ibneko Date: July 29th, 2004 01:33 pm (UTC) (Link)
Ah, see, but it's much easier to apply a different audio to tape... with subtitling, you'd need expensive hardware/equipment to rerender (term?) the video, while with dubbing, it's just passing the video, and applying a different audio source... but now with digital video and software advances, it's a lot easier...
ibneko From: ibneko Date: July 29th, 2004 01:42 pm (UTC) (Link)
::blinks:: what happened to your default icon, btw? Noticed your comments haven't had a default icon for a whileish.
porsupah From: porsupah Date: July 29th, 2004 12:16 pm (UTC) (Link)
The rights issues still prevail, though - that can work out quite costly, and the licensors may not even consider a startup as a plausible distributor. I wonder if sublicensing might be possible? It might seem counterproductive for the company in question, but there could easily be clauses included to, say, prohibit in-store distribution, for sale only by mail order or at cons. Again, of course, the licensor may simply not permit that.. I recall the low number of episodes on the second and third arcs of Utena was a direct result of the licensor being unhappy with six or seven on one disc.

If such a venture could be permitted to go ahead with a legitimate release, though, I'd love to see it succeed, and indeed, would enjoy helping however I could.
ibneko From: ibneko Date: July 29th, 2004 01:41 pm (UTC) (Link)
::sighs:: alas, I'm heading for the engineering/tech fields, and not business, else maybe I'd try something in a few years. And I don't know the fansubbers personally, which would be much better in terms of hiring/recruiting them... I suppose I could start hanging out in the IRC channels or something... Should ask selphish how she got into the fansubbing "business".

Would you happen to know how much the rights to a series might cost?

I imagine a large part of the anime community would help if someone started things rolling...
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