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|Title:||Fansub Future Shock|
|Published:||Mon, 19 Apr 2004|
Fansubbed episodes of our favourite series have massively contributed to the rapid growth of anime in recent years, there is just no doubt about that..., yet strangely, it still remains a rather controversial subject to discuss between devoted fans.
On one side of the fence, we have the fans who believe fansubs have given anime an unprecedented amount of exposure and helped usher in a new generation of watchers.
While on the other side, there are the fans that believe the whole practice is unethical and about as close to legal anime bootlegs you can get!
In this editorial, I'm not going to present my personal feelings on the subject, after all - in this situation, their just as irrelevant anyone elses’. Instead, I plan to look at fansubs, what they've managed to achieve and just where they can go in the future. Controversial!
A Strange New Era
In the mid to late 90s, free fansubbed anime was a rare breed. Restricted to the dying VHS format, these early efforts often suffered from poor quality translation and picture. No competition for the global anime publishing companies then.
However, as the year 2000 dawned, the world welcomed the broadband revolution and it suddenly became so much easier to share large, cumbersome video files recorded off RAW Japanese TV.
The year is now 2004 and the online fansubbing scene has quickly become a vital component of the anime community. Fans are finally getting a chance to catch anime just days after it's been shown on Japanese TV instead of having to wait months (or sometimes even years) for someone to licence and release it in their own country.
There-in lies the initial problem though, since people no longer require the publishers to watch their favourite anime, are the publishers needed at all?
Evidently YES, given the steady rise in both anime releases and sales. Maybe fansubs are serving their initial purpose in raising awareness of anime without replacing the official distributors?
The picture and sound quality of fansubs have become frighteningly good.
In the past, such unofficial efforts were often snubbed in favour of the official releases. However, given massive improvement in certain areas (like video editing technology) over the last few years, fansubs are now edging closer to DVD quality than ever before. That's not to say DVDs aren't still superior, because they clearly are - I'm just saying this to emphasize that gap is getting smaller all the time.
This is something global anime publishers like ADV and Bandai must be worried about. If clear picture and good sound can now no longer sell anime alone, what else can they do to make their products look attractive?
North American publishers definitely have the right idea by including many 'goodies' with the series they release. A free t-shirt and beautiful boxset will always help and I'm almost certain these kind of perks have convinced otherwise cynical buyers to part with their hard earned mula. We have yet to see these kinds of deals over here in the UK, but I'm sure it's just a matter of time.
Back to school
Lessons must be learnt from the whole online music/MP3 revolution. Given people can now easily preview an anime series before buying it, titles will no longer fly off shelves purely on name alone. This scenario will only loom larger over time as more people discover the virtues of fansubs.
Indeed, a digital file on your computer is no replacement for a beautifully decorated DVD box; chock full of exclusive features like director + cast interviews. And as long as anime publishers remember this, they will always find a market of willing customers.
Free is free
No matter what happens in the future, there will always be people unwilling to part with their money for a DVD if they can get it elsewhere for free. That's just basic human nature, and unless you’re someone consciously trying to support the anime industry, you’re almost certainly going to be tempted by this.
At some point, I'm in no doubt that creating and distributing fansubs will become an illegal practice. However, it's foolish to assume this will automatically stop people from doing it. Where there is a demand, there will always be a supply and the fansub community will only become more intricate because of this (don't forget that even today, while fansubs are only supposed to be produced for anime that are unlicensed, certain fansub groups will often work on series that have been licensed anyway).
The gradual rise of the Internet has brought with it unprecedented freedom for the individual. We now have to make a conscious choice; shall we pay for this DVD or just download it in a few hours?
The above situation will only continue to spread across the world as net connection speeds continue to rise.
No doubt, this will make ominous reading for anime distributors like ADV and Geneon, whose main source of income is in their DVDs.
But the fact remains that above all, society is beginning change and with every day that passes, it's becoming easier to download anime rather than buy it.
The future of the anime industry (as we know it) is clouded in doubt, and its eventual outcome is balanced firmly on the shoulders of me and you as consumers. Make of that what you will.