23 January 08
I’ve often been asked about my opinions on various issues with anime and manga. One topic that keeps popping up is that of Fansubs. I’d consider myself to be neutral between companies releasing anime, and the FS makers who enjoy their favourite series.
First of all a little something about me. I have been studying Japanese since September (2007) at Leeds University (UK). As a student, my income is incredibly low. This means that I don’t have Digital TV (which shows a few anime titles a week), a TV Licence (terrestrial channels showing even less often), only DVD access. With DVDs from local shops at around £15 to £20 each, it’s always an expensive risk if I want to get into a new series. This in turn gets to be even more costly should I decide to get the whole series (and in the majority of the time it does). Because of these reasons I admit, if there is a series that someone recommends to me, I will probably watch an episode or two on the likes of YouTube to see if I can get a feel for it, but normally no more than two.
There are also some series that have currently not been licenced over here and because of which are not available in English. Reputable sites such as Gendou and Baka Wolf offer users fansubs of a very wide variety of anime that you wouldn’t normally be able to watch (without much confusion unless you speak Japanese) for free. These sites also have friendly forums where users can also discuss the series’ and talk about possible releases. Both Gendou and Baka Wolf are also very honourific to the industry and remove fan sub series when they are licenced. They also encourage the users to delete the files and buy the series, however because they can’t enforce it there are a select group of users who do naturally refuse to support the industry in this way.
However, something to remember is that most fansub sites are US based. This means that series get removed when they’re licenced for America. For those of us in the UK and other non USA anime fans, it means that we’ve got nothing to go on until either an eventual local release (which to be honest with some of my favourite series doesn’t look like it will ever happen), we import region 1 DVDs (not popular for those with single region DVD players), or use YouTube and illegal fansub sites. I name them as illegal because although in a sense all fansubs are technically ‘illegal’, I personally consider those sites who keep distributing after the real versions are made available to be bad for the industry, in particular the few sites who charge users and aim to make profit from the service. At present I’m waiting for news of releases for Lucky Star and The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, but may have to wait and take a region 1 route.
One thing I have come accross on many forums is the perpetual need to moan at fan subbers for ‘getting it wrong’. Let’s face it Japanese is not the easiest language to learn, and likewise English in itself is pretty bizarre. This will also lead to the innevitable error or two. However, the majority of people I see moaning have either not studied Japanese and are going from the very little Otaku-esque words they presume they know every meaning for (baka, kuso, and gohan are common for these), or people who forget that a lot of the time meaning is down to the context of the conversation and scenario. Now like I said I have been studying Japanese properly for only few months and have seen subtitles where I might interpret things differently, but thats what many people forget. Fansub’s are not literal translations but they are interpretations. Sometimes things will have to change slightly in order for them to make sense, otherwise sometimes there’s a little explanation as to why certain jokes were told but you’ll have to pause your viewing to read it.
I believe that fansubs are for the time being essential in helping the growth of the non-Japanese speaking anime market. Hare & Guu now sits proudly on my shelf which had it not been for a fansubber I’d have never bought it (or even heard of it for that matter). It is also with the help of reputable sites that we can find out about more exciting titles for ourselves than have to wait (and in the UK we really have to wait) to see it in the shop and take a gamble based on what’s written on the back. However, I don’t agree with sites that continue to distribute after the licence has been granted. That being said, what about UK Fansub sites? Should they remove files when a series gets licenced in America, or here? Obviously if they wait until they get released here there’re going to be some cheeky American’s who’ll choose to download from the UK site. But at the same time, a UK site following an American release schedule may as well be just another American site. I guess all we can do is wait and see how our own market grows, and whether we will be any closer to more variety in what comes out in region 2 format with a lower general price.