Friday, November 03, 2006

The Inevitable Question Of Fansubs

When I got into anime, I grew up on and with fansubs, since that was the only way to get anime that you could watch and not understand Japanese. You'd watch the fansubs with a anime club (Chabot College had a pretty good one when I was there), and you got to hang out with...interesting people. And, you got to see interesting anime. This was in the days when subbing anime involved a Video Toaster, a space bar, and a timed script. You would very carefully time the space bar pushes to the pre-prepared scripts...as you recorded from the Laserdisk to VHS cassette. And, of course, you got all sorts of facinating subtiting scripts as different people (always fans, never professionals) would take different lines...differently.

You had some of the interesting fansub "houses" like Nexus and the others. Then, as there were professional producers of anime, the fansubbing movement fell back. A combination of factors, such as legal issues, the difference in quality of prosubs vs. fansubs, that you could watch it at home without meeting the interesting people, and that it tended to be popular/interesting titles. This was the case, as anime grew more popular, studios that used to be good about posting liner notes (like AnimEigo, whom were always good about including cultural notes and full lyrics for the opening and ending songs) went to the wayside, and when DVDs came out, the liner notes for them got...skimpy.

Even for a massively popular series like Eureka Seven, the DVDs come with no liner notes at all...the last time I saw a good set of liner notes was in FLCL, which has utterly awesome liner notes-interviews with the production staff, cultural notes, "why we used this in the dub" translation...

And, let's not get started on dubs. I'm jaded...the first dubs came out, they were awful, a torture to the ears to listen to. And, I liked my subtites. I will freely admit that they have gotten better-I just don't think they have gotten good, especially with the polished quality that Japanese Seiyu have with the sheer number and training that they can find and get.

But, the Internet saved fansubbing-with the advent of easy-to-use and easy-to-buy video editing software (you could probably build a TV station, minus brodcast gear, that would be the envy of any early '80s studio, for less than $100,000 in terms of gear), high-speed internet connections, and that anime has grown so very popular outside of Japan. What is fansubbed these days? Well-
  • Series too weird for American audiences. I dare to say that it'll be a while before The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya comes to the United States. It is just too strange/surreal for most audiences.
  • Series that have controversial material. While Genesis of Aquarion doesn't start out too odd, it does get into deep surreality that is very...squishy at a certian point.
  • Series with too small a potential audience. I don't think there isn't much of a market for Judo anime out there...
  • Series that are "too old", or have too many episodes to really be practical to create. Legend of the Galactic Heroes is nearly thirty hours of material, produced in the late '80s to mid-'90s. Which is to say that it was made before and a bit during the switch-over from tradtional cell animation to mostly-digital prodcution (even pseudo-cell work). So, it's jerky (by modern standareds), recycles frames, and other artifacts of the time. It's not like Gundam, which is a deep "classic" to look at.
  • Newer series that are not licensed yet by American or other overseas distributors. This is a definite legal "grey area"-most "reputable" fansubbers will take series off that are licensed overseas...usually. The fight between fansubbers and 4Kids, whom the fansubbers have...issues with how 4Kids dubs and cuts the anime they purchase. There isn't an option of getting the "original" and the "TV" version...you get the chopped TV version.
And, this is a good thing. It serves as a warning... never compete with people that are doing this for fun. They have so much more time...and ingeneuity...

8 comments:

Andy said...

Nothing, but nothing, is too weird to come out over here. (Or rather, the last time I asserted that to someone in the anime industry, I was dragooned into service and made to subtitle Excel Saga.) Specifically, Haruhi is most definitely not too weird to come out over here. ;p

Frankly, the key problem with fansubs (leaving aside legality, heh) is the quality of the translation. Very few translators are good enough to do justice to even a moderately complicated show; this is true even among the professional community. The average fansub is -not- well-translated. Even the better ones don't get much better than "okay". Furthermore, people tend to assume that the first translation they see is "right" and that anything that deviates from that translation is "wrong", so in fact bad fansubs generate the vast majority of complaints about professional translation quality. (This sucks for two reasons - not only do people complain about things which aren't wrong, but those complaints effectively drown out any complaints about translations that ARE bad.)

In my experience, complaints about translation quality vary only with the popularity of a show and NOT AT ALL with the quality of that show's translation. You get many times the complaints about a show like Azumanga (which is everything you could possibly have wanted in a translation, liner notes included, and we put in the overtime to make it that way! ;p) and absolutely none at all for shows like Neo Ranga, which... well, courtesy prevents me from using appropriately colorful language to describe that show's translation.

Fact is, anything that looks remotely cool is fansubbed these days, often within days of an episode's release in Japan (and let me tell you, that helps the translation quality not a bit.)

zakueins said...

One of the things I've noticed about fansubs is that they seem to "flow" better than some prosubs. They seem a bit more...colloquial than some prosubs.

I remember from the Starship Operators fansubs that they tended to include "Pop-Up Video" cultural notes when they were referring to purely Japanese cultural references. Something I wish I saw a lot more of in prosubs.

And, I WISH I still had my copy of the Fafner fansub, to compare to the Geneon prosub...only because I wonder how the word choice in the subtitles on both sides were made.

Oh, I know the fansubs are being made by people that are not pros, aren't linguistic professors or are mostly running on Red Bull and a wish to "get it out first". It still feels like a connection to my past, when I hit the anime clubs on campus.

Andy said...

Keep in mind that "pop-up video" notes are much, much, much harder to do in professional DVD subtitles. Even with modern subtitling software, it's still a very time- and manpower-intensive task. Doing it for Excel Saga (which was timed, er, with a spacebar, two VCRs, and my ear) required quite a few 60-hour weeks...

I'd help on the word choices if it was something I'd worked on, but I did most of my work for ADV.

I know what you mean about the clubs - heck, I'm actually finishing up my own degree, so that's both a past and a present here. ;p

zakueins said...

Good points all. And, yea, it's the time thing...

Thanks for all the neat info on prosubbing.

Mitch H. said...

If you haven't heard complaints about NeoRanga, you haven't been listening in the right places. My ADV dvds are barely an improvement on the Chinglish from the Hong Kong pirate translation I saw originally. Either the original material was inherently incoherent, or something went wrong along the line. Most of the dialog sort of makes sense if you squint real hard, but really...

What goes wrong with Aquarion? I gave up on the digisubs once I got tired of the rotten cgi & annoying characters & suspicion that the story was some sort of disguised parable for more cult dogma from Shoji Kawamori, who has become no fun at all since his conversion to whatever goofy sect it is he joined. See "Earth Girl Arjuna".

zakueins said...

Oh yes, Aquarion I keep around only because it makes me laugh.

It tries so hard to be a kind of odd hybrid Evangelion/CLAMP manga that it's ridiculous...

Andy said...

Mitch, that was more or less my point. I was listening, er, from the ADV end of the e-mail, so I've got a pretty good idea of the complaints that were coming in; it's not that there were no complaints about the bad stuff, but that those complaints are absolutely outnumbered by other complaints about stuff that ain't bad. Granted, -I- know the difference, but I don't work there anymore either. ;p

And if anything, your characterization of the translation of Neo Ranga is too kind. I was tasked with fixing it up right before the big layoff (kind of like we did, successfully, with Eva), and oh, man, it hurt.

????? said...

I seem to recall dimly that Andi was a big proponent of the "special hearing cake", and thus the "controversy", if it even qualifies. Other than that, I do not remember anyone dissing Azumanga's translation (with any credibility, anyway). I mean, seriously. How do you translate "Korewa korede"? You can do better - go right ahead, try it. And the liner notes were super awesome.

The dub, on the other hand, was quite uneven. Tiffani Grant was like nails on blackboard. I heard her in other roles, so I'm sure she simply misread the character. I am not a professional critic, but personally I thought that only Nancy Novotny did a good job (oustanding job, actually). I suppose nobody can fill Rie Tanaka's shoes, but that was a valliant effort. I'm her fan now.