Tag Archives: fansubs

Bridging The Gap: How Oncoming Trucks In Slo-Mo Went Mainstream

Initially, I had been looking to avoid any posts on this subject after reading endless posts regarding the news in the wake of Bandai’s shuttering of new acquisitions of physical media, and now its backing out of several other regions, including France. But the ensuing talk and blogging that has come since has more or less left me feeling the need to make sure Diet readers gain an important insight regarding where the industry has been over the last several years. Most noise-making by far has been a writeup at Kotaku, where he not only professed his ignorance of the nature of the industry, but echoed sentiments often more recently heard by many within the continuously dwindling US anime infrastructure. While much of what was important about the post dealt with the media reality we all currently share, I also found it to be fraught with questionable statements, and not to mention lacking in any grounded fact. While it may be true that piracy has been a long-standing issue in anime fandom, it has also in fact been one of denying the inevitable.

A large portion of what makes Charlie Maib’s article so misguided, is that like so many contacts, associates, friends, and peers within the LA-based anime world, many seem to only be focusing strictly on ONE major point of concern, the piracy issue. Now while I consider myself to be a firm supporter of artist rights, concepts of ownership, I also find it deeply important to look at changes that affect this. If there’s a piece of media (not just anime) that I truly enjoy, I will shell out the money and pay for it. And one can also see me constantly directing interested parties to ideas and works I like in hopes of helping them survive in such a volatile climate. But the writing has been on the wall regarding even larger problems for such an absurdly long time- That physical media as a means to support an industry was fatally flawed from the start, and was never meant to last.

And this isn’t merely about anime we are dealing with here, we are talking all media, down to movies, television shows, etc. The very foundation of what was once a collector’s only club was likely only meant as such during the early days of home video. Many may not remember a time when a single VHS cassette of a film like Raiders Of The Lost Ark would go for roughly $80.00 . It was a number of years before the dreaded $24.95 price tag was even considered by the major studios. And a major reason for the change of heart was the advent of cable tv, a  growing new market that was sapping away ticket sales for films released in theaters. The world had changed, and the movie industry had to grudgingly adjust to the new reality by taking a large hit. And this is far from the first time this has happened. Since technology has gathered steam, profits for such an industry has had to rush to keep up by retaining losses in often risk-taking new ventures. This has been a constant struggle, and we see it prevalent in so many ways we collect media.

Top this off with the reality that even in the days of magnetic media, people could make copies of their own. Anyone remember your local Sam Goody? A large part of the music chain’s intake came from the sales of blank cassettes, be they audio OR video, and often sold at the counter as if to know full well what customers were doing with them. And this was in the era of stereo consoles, often packaged with dual-cassette decks. In other words, the recording industries were looking for something resembling a happy medium between consumers and the industries they support. To assume the left didn’t know what the right was doing is nothing short of selective blindness.

Which is something of an important affliction to consider, particularly when discussing the anime industry, and how it has essentially cratered due to virtual ignorance of larger changes in the world. Everywhere we turn, closures of physical media outlets have become chiming reminders that a paradigm has reached its final point of shift. And yet only an enterprising few have allowed themselves a means to survive by ways of adjusting to new realities. Even if the profit margins have been at times drastically lowered, there is at least some growth, especially in the realms of streaming video services like Netflix, Hulu, and Crunchyroll. With coding becoming more and more sophisticated, alongside great advances in how content is shared online, there has been a great deal of potential found here. But leave it to hindsight as the piracy target sees itself coated with another bright shade of red, when the obvious continues to dog the discussion…

While Maib’s ideas make the point that piracy helped lead toward this violent shift, anime as a sales-centric industry certainly did little to counter it. It wasn’t as if noone saw this coming. In fact, one can also say that once digisubs became a thing, the once laborious daisy-chaining of VHS recorders had been liberated to the high bitrate sphere of the internet, with little means of slowing down once bandwidth rates went up. Even in the days of dial-up, this was happening on a much larger scale than ever could have been dreamt of in the days of analog. Even as the american anime boom was under way, granting any new label the ability to bring out a battery of shows, often offering financial shelter to dozens of people, not to mention english voice acting talent, the simple reality that the entire party was dancing on a limited tap. As evidenced by Carl Macek who once bemoaned the idea of subtitling, let alone bringing every title under the sun to growing legions of fans, there was a glaring warning sign hovering over the proceedings that call into question; just how much of this stuff is actually worth owning?

Television series come and go, that’s the nature of the beast. And not every show is worth keeping, let alone watching more than  once. Thus comes the fatal flaw in the anime as a hard media commodity scheme. The very idea that we are consumers are asked to pony up roughly 4-6 dollars per episode for a show that may not be worth a second viewing comes at odds with the movie collector’s mentality. The people ultimately know what they want, and will pay for it. The problem comes when we are inundated with the latest, and are essentially given no choice in between. When this happens, and our homes are buried with bricks of material that we cannot even give away- it presents a serious problem. So by the time bandwidth went hi-speed cable, the very idea of mindlessly selling was rendered instantly obsolete. Couple this with the Japanese studios ignoring potentially profitable crossover titles, and opting to merely cater to the otaku market, it is not unlike cutting one’s nose off to spite their face. Anime had gone global, and the first reaction was to pretend that outside markets behaved exactly the same as theirs.

Couple this with an increasingly sophisticated new culture of fans, read and willing to watch anime without need for localization. I know twelve-year-olds watching subtitled anime, who have no predilection to having their favorite shows in english. In another of the all-encompassing ways the internet has altered the world culture, the concept of localization was marginalized into something that no longer made any clear-cut sense. Dubs were practically created as a manner of course rather than a means to highlight the very best the medium had to offer. Entitlement had suddenly become something not only beholden to the fans, but to those relying on anime to pay the bills. (gross miscalculation)

And yes, while I agree that to a degree, fansubbing helped create something of a culture of entitlement, one has to remember that with any technological advent, progress is imperative for survival. What someone forgot to do was make this a major point of discussion while the floodgates opened around 2000. Especially when the medium had shifted toward discs containing DIGITAL material. With home systems utilizing the same language, this was the elephant in the room that noone seemed ready to confront. And this was a crucial first mistake. And yet the years after saw entire sets of shows reach prices of nearly 200+ dollars. As long as they sold, supposedly all would be fine. This almost collective state of denial continued as sales began to plummet around 2004-2005, which was around the time that anime productions began to shift more toward strictly otaku-bait material. The warning signs were emerging, and yet again, noone took action on the leak in the hull. As long as the guests topside were distracted by glitter and flash, all was okay. And the longer this took place, another culture was brewing, one with even less willingness to buy anything.

Either one molds the culture, or the culture molds you. By this point, convention numbers had reached impressive levels, but sales continued to decline. The variety of shows suddenly began to wane. Even as more shows seemed to appear, their diversity began to falter as more began to feed off each other in tropes and stories. There was little for this rabid fanbase to go in regards to anything that could possibly sustain itself in a financial sense. So naturally, with hi-speed internet being what it was, and little to no streaming service ready to take on the new era, piracy reached epidemic proportions. And merely telling them to stop was in no way a tennable strategy. Much like opening a shop in a town without the best neighborhood, one cannot do so without a good, manageable storefront and security system. Without it is not unlike an invitation…There. Said it. Piracy may be a terrible thing, but it is also an inevitable thing. This is not cynicism, this is pure unadulterated reality in most senses, and not merely business. And on the flip-side, fansubs have not provided any real value outside of filling the pirate void for over a decade now. If anything, the piracy and fan entitlement issue is merely a byproduct of inaction on the part of higher-ups unwilling to face the issue directly while the technology was evolving. The Ostrich Method has never been and will never be a sound business strategy.

As long as there is a culture of not merely need, but also want, piracy will always be.  And backpedalling such a slow realization is in no way a realistic reaction. Look at how it worked for Woodstock.

So when we look at all that has happened, it becomes more important to question how we got here, and where the real problem has festered, and what it has infected along the way. In a very real sense, it hurt everyone, and everyone is almost equally to blame for believing in the permanence of a medium that was built on an impermanent foundation. When one takes into account the reality that television was not designed specifically for shows, but for selling ads, the fallacy so many had been laboring under comes into view. We were all hit by it. Noone got off clean. The fans, the pirates, AND the industry are now in this difficult spot due to a continued assumption that physical media had a continued place in the sphere. It was a grand scale change that happened over several years, and one particular group of entities continued to pretend that it wasn’t happening. Many even backing out when they could have stayed and weathered the storm. For so many, the panic button seemed far too reasonable an option. All the while others continued to see hope in a place where we could actually meet the companies halfway by sampling the product before making an informed choice. It makes me so sad that many Japanese companies up and ran without taking a bold series of baby steps that could have helped lead the charge for a new, more promising entertainment landscape.

Like the wilderness, the internet is The Great Equalizer..It’s a terrible shame that so many industries seem so unwilling to step up to the challenge.

Analog Diaries V: The Social Network

Looking at the bulk of the stories I’ve been sharing on the pages of Diet via my Analog Diaries column, I would be remiss if I didn’t give a small shoutout to a period in my fandom that so few I speak with seem to mention, let alone talk about. It is something of a footnote in the anime and manga phenomenon that doesn’t get coverage in many places online, especially since the internet can be said to be the bomb that truly blew the fandom floodgates open. But before PCs were truly widespread, and bandwidth was reasonable, connieurs of J-culture had to resort to other means to gather information, and find friends around the world with commonalities such as these to chat up.

My first brush with folks who traded tapes, zines, and materials from Japan was through the friend of a relative who had once stationed in and around Okinawa. As it turns out, since his travelling back and forth from Japan had begun to slow, it became common for this guy to have a network of pals willing to share the wealth via parcels, and classic postal service methods. There was a romance to this as it was clear that it took effort to really make these friendships last. And what would come from a lot of this would not only be some truly cool buddies from all over, care packages of stuff would often land, granting him access to things I would not see anywhere for years. This person’s room was awash in pin-up art, figures, and videocassettes, and it was something that would likely leave a burn mark within for a very long time.

Flash forward to roughly the mid-90s, and I am essentially in the California desert, many miles from anything resembling hobby shops, let alone convention venues. Access was almost completely nonexistent, save for the occasional run-in with your local geeks at the local Suncoast, and buddies. And our pally from the service had long since vanished, so it was pretty much time to either pack it in, or doggedly keep seeking out others with similar passions. When it came to learning anything about such a medium such as this, about the best ways to do so would be to save up, head out toward the Los Angeles area to forage the popular haunts, and naturally, talk to folks who really knew what was up, the elder fans. However, as in anything geek, there were many times where it felt like the only way into such a world was to “know the code”, perhaps a secret handshake, or perhaps even a little blood sharing to just get a glimpse at something else made by Miyazaki, Oshii, or even Dezaki. The walls keeping the average, passtionate fan were many if you knew noone. Simply put, if you didn’t know anyone, anime fandom was near to impossible…

…Or so I thought…

Soon after anime on VHS was beginning to gather ground, and the ADVs, Central Parks, AnimEigos, and others of the world were beginning to see an upsurge of younger fandom, I had the good fortune to spark up a conversation with someone while chatting up a mutual admiration, the manga collective CLAMP. And that’s pretty much all it took to be introduced to an already long-established world network of not only shoujo manga & anime lovers, but an entire living, breathing faction of fans with a love of the written word, as well as a humongous DIY spirit. I was introduced to the world of Friendship Books, and pen-pal circles.

For those unfamiliar; pen pal circles are as they sound, and yet offered an interesting way to get to know others without the interference, and often static that an instantaneous internet can at times elicit. To begin, one would select a fictional moniker; a name for yourself that could either be original, or naturally be that of a favorite character. (we seeing the seeds yet?) And to spread awareness of your profile to those looking for new pals to write, one would create what was known as a Friendship Book.

Apologies for this not being the best example. More in storage.


As you can see, Friendship Books cold be made out of anything from construction, to washi, to standard line stock. These books would start with a page, often decorated with an anime/manga image, and a brief opener, describing the kinds of shows you liked along with one’s mailing address. The page complete, the book could then be sent to other pen pals, and sent randomly around to other pals until the book was completed front to back, at which time the book was sent back to its author. And to see where it went was often interesting, and even moreso, was to see the creativity expressed by those placing their profiles into it. It was a fascinating process that could become messy quite quickly should one not send a few out with every replied letter. Many would even come back from as far away as Japan, or even Germany.

But the friendships that formed out of this curious move were often very cordial, and fun. Especially when con season returned. One of the more notable events each year was to be able to meet some of these fellow writers, which naturally had its highs and lows.

In all this was a truly interesting time as it was also more possible than ever to hear about current shows, as well as swap tapes of series that either hadn’t been licensed for US distribution, or even favorites that the american market would never even consider. The fansub community was still in relative infancy, so it was also a peak time for the empowered few to take their Japanese skills, and shell out free cassettes featuring anime that for better or worse helped pave the path for how anime fandom was going to burst in the near future. I would even argue that prior to the internet’s massive impact on the anime industry as a whole (rise AND fall) , it was really up to a significant, and yet largely silent subculture within subcultures. It was how I was able to first begin reading Ginga Tetsudo 999 in Japanese, as well as see shows like Escaflowne, Gundam Wing, Wedding Peach, and many others before the companies began paying real attention. And the prime motivator for all of those I met throughout this time period was less about what one had, but rather who they could share their love of all of this with. There was no malevolence, or selfishness involved, it was merely enthusiasm.

It might have been slow, but in that came a sense of build-up. Of anticipation. Even if the show was so-so, there was something of an in-the bunker vibe that came from this kind of community that made every new major show something of an event. When was the last real time we’ve experienced this?

Long before I had a net connection, and a station to type from, it was all about pens, paper, glue, and a lot of motivation(oh, and stamps).

And it is something that I at times only wish to see more of as it has the world’s fans scramble for some kind of sense of community that feels lost at the moment. And perhaps this was all because of it’s rarity. Lack of access can do amazing things when one thinks about it. Perhaps it is here that answers exist. Of course there is no going back. But one can at least hope for the kind of long form love fans have for their interests, all in the name of finding others with the same affliction. Not in the name of a cure, but in the name of understanding.

 

Understanding via creation. Isn’t that what much of this is all about?

Souten Kouro to be subbed

Beautiful sky.

An earlier review of Souten Kouro, a new spring season anime starring Cao Cao (Sousou) as its lead, resulted in several requests for an English-language version.  As of review time, there were no known translations in the works.  However, determined fans of Romance of the Three Kingdoms can take heart: Kesenai Subs have announced that they will be translating Souten Kouro. The first episode is expected later this week.

Fans interested in supporting anime should, of course, buy the DVDs when they become available.

Old vs. New Fansubs and Biblical Translation Philosophies

Paul “Otaking” Johnson is causing a bit of a stir with his half-hour Youtube documentary about why modern fansubbers are inferior to the older fansubs and official translations. He makes some excellent points, but I want to talk more about the translation philosophy he espouses–because it’s also been at the heart of debates over the main text I work with in translation, the Bible. Johnson’s views are a bit one-sided, even extreme, and I want to demonstrate why there needs to be a balance.

(The video above is only part 1; see parts 2, 3, 4, and 5. Also, be warned: this article is LONG, heavy on Biblical examples, and short on pictures. So for those of you who are tempted to comment as such, I’ll say it for you right now on your behalf: tl;dr.)

Continue reading Old vs. New Fansubs and Biblical Translation Philosophies

Thank you, ADV

Now that’s more like it. From Anime News Network:

Anime Network, A.D. Vision‘s television channel in the United States, has begun streaming Gainax‘s hit Gurren Lagann series online for free with English subtitles.Gurren Lagann‘s streaming is part of the official opening of Anime Network’s broadband service today. The streaming also launches Anime Network’s First Look effort, which presents new series that have yet to be released on North American home video. As one new episode ofGurren Lagann is added each week, at least two archived episodes will remain online for people who missed a week. 

Mike’s take:  this, friends, is a big part of the future of getting TV anime to fans; ADV is clearly taking a page from NBC, Hulu.com, and other American TV network ventures in putting up recent episodes for free by streaming online. The best thing about this is that it’s, at last, subtitled rather than dubbed too. And it happens before the DVD release. No, it’s not as fast as we would like as Gurren Lagann has already finished, but that may be out of the hands of the American side of the equation. I suppose ADV out of all the major American anime distributors is also the only one big enough to have the resources to take this kind of chance. Hats off to you, ADV! I will be following Gurren Lagann, which I foolishly put on hold long ago, in this way. (I may even blog it.)

I would like to see someone start a streaming subscription service along these lines in the near future–for, say, $5/month, you can watch all the anime you want subtitled, not just recent episodes (which should be free like it is here) but everything. For one it’d keep the review flow of this blog going. :) Offer downloads alongside it for $2 per episode with no DRM, and it’d be perfect.

Edit: Tried 3 different Mac browsers (Safari, Camino, Firefox), and none of them work for Gurren Lagann. The ads seem to play, though. I’ll try again tomorrow. Anybody got it working, say, in Internet Explorer? (I don’t have access to Windows at the moment.)

Everything we really wanted to say about the fansub debate…

…is in Anime Diet Radio, episodes 13 and the mailbag sections of 14 and 15. Justin Sevakis’s editorial said a lot of the things that I think we would have said: the companies, especially Japanese ones, must find a way to distribute electronically soon after Japanese broadcast and directly compete with the convenience of fansubs.

Justin’s piece is well-written, reasoned, and eloquent, and in a very influential forum to boot. I hope the industry listens. Give it a read, if you haven’t already.

I don’t feel like I have anything else to add, really; I’m a little tired of the topic. Personally, I think the difficulty is in large part simply because anime is a foreign entertainment product to the world outside Japan, and foreign work is never going to make enough money from DVD sales alone because it will always be a niche market. Plus, for the most part,  it’s TV. Pretty much every argument can be boiled down to that in many ways.

Odex’s Misfires Cross Oceans…

From Anime News Network and DarkMirage:

The American company BayTSP has acknowledged that it accidentally processed warning notices for allegedly unauthorized anime downloaders in France, Japan, and the United States last week, according to a Wednesday report in The New Paper periodical in Singapore. Odex, an anime licensee in Singapore, had asked BayTSP, a firm that deals with online intellectual property, to pursue unauthorized anime downloaders in that country only, and not worldwide.

Mike’s Take: I remember seeing the original story about fansub downloaders being served in the US, France, and Japan and feeling a bit of a chill down my spine. Could this be the end of the anime blogging scene based on new releases?, I thought melodramatically. Of course I suspected in the long run that the efforts would meet the same fate as the RIAA’s efforts to crack down on illegal downloads, and the chances of being caught are still close to infinitesimally small. That said, who’s in the least bit surprised that this is actually fallout from the long Odex drama in Singapore and BayTSP’s careless (or perhaps overzealous) handling of the matter?

It should be noted the US downloader who was served was on Comcast, who is notorious for throttling all BitTorrent traffic, period, legal or not.

This subject has been covered in numerous podcasts of ours, and our general point still stands: fansubs will continue to exist and thrive until a convenient and reasonably priced (and hopefully unencumbered) electronic way exists to acquire subtitled new releases not long after their airtime. I think the MangaNovel service that just opened offers a genuine way forward that I hope the anime distributors will take a closer look at.