The Purpose of Anime Fansubs in the Digital Age
Streaming Anime May Negate Need for Fansubbing
Fans would translate shows on their own in order to create a bigger fan base for anime that had not yet been licensed in America. But in recent years the amount of anime being licensed has risen, and it has even become possible to watch official streaming video of the anime, with both subtitles and English dub work, online and for free. Anime fansubs have always been an illegal practice, but before there was more of a sense to them. Today it is hard to defend their necessity, and difficult for those who do not create anime fansubs to understand why they are still being made.
YouTube, Fansubs and Streaming Anime
There are some anime fans who believe that all of their favorite shows should be free. With this mindset, many anime fans will watch only fansubs; they are easy to find and download, and they never have to pay to watch their favorite shows from Japan. Most fans don’t even bother downloading their anime anymore, either. With the creation of streaming video websites like YouTube or Crunchyroll, people began uploading anime fansubs (whether or not they even created the translation themselves) so that they and other anime fans could watch anime like Naruto as many times as they wanted without even having to take up memory on their computers!
While others may disagree with this sentiment, many anime companies are starting to provide their customers with what they want–free anime. Streaming video websites like Crunchyroll and Hulu began showing legal, licensed episodes of anime on their websites. Video is also available straight from the North American anime companies’ websites as well, like FUNimation Video or VIZ Anime. And it’s not just anime that have been licensed for distribution in North America–there are many anime series that are still airing in Japan that can be found on one of these legal websites, all with professional subtitles, such as Hanamaru Kindergarten or recently aired episodes of One Piece and Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood. Professional English dubs are also available for many of the shows.
Better Technology for Fansubs–Lesser Quality?
Better computer technology makes it easier for people to create their own fansubs of anime. They just need an untranslated digital file of the anime episode in Japanese (which can be downloaded for free), easy-to-use fansubbing computer programs, and of course a computer to do it all on. Because of this, almost every anime series or film has a fansub existing on the internet, with many anime actually having several fansub groups that create their own translation.
Some people who are critical of today’s anime fansubbers also like to point out the declining quality of fansubs. Some Japanese words, like “sensei” (teacher) are left untranslated. This is presumably to create a more authentic feel for the subtitles, but in some cases it can come across as pure laziness. There will also be over-emphasis on graphical tricks, like karaoke subtitles for theme songs and differing font colors for various characters, but this can detract from the show and also leave less time for translating work. This also leads the same critics to proclaim that fansubbers are egotistical, promoting their own fansub group name more than the actual anime, a practice which runs counter to the original intent of anime fansubs.
The Anime Fansubbing Community
However, an interview posted on Anime News Network reveals that many of today’s anime fansubbers aren’t in it for any sort of glory–they create fansubs because it provides a sense of community. Fansubbers will gather on IRC (Internet Relay Chat) to send out the files of their fansubbed anime and chat about it with fans and downloaders; “…it’s where the groups hang out and collaborate. You spend hours and hours working on fansubs and chatting with eachother on the computer; it’s basically a community that’s come around that.” For this person, and other fansubbers, translating anime and distributing it to fans isn’t as much about getting the word out on a series as it once was. Instead, it is about playing against other anime fansub groups who are translating similar shows and having conversations with the people who view those anime.
The fansubber in the interview even openly admits that the projects he does have had a negative effect on the anime industry. But he also states “old habits die hard”; it’s a hobby that anime fansubbers find fun, and a community that they have been a part of for years now.
Looming End of Fansubs?
With the advent of legal streaming anime and and the availability of officially subtitled episodes days or even hours after airing in Japan, the American anime industry seems to have taken charge of the original intent of fansubs–to get anime to fans as quickly as possible. The decreased need for fansubbed anime could mean the end for this hobby, though many fans would prefer to cling onto these versions of their favorite shows rather than the official subtitles and dubs.
Whether or not they are still necessary, fansubs have been a part of the anime community for decades, and they make no signs of going away for good, at least not any time soon.