Sunday, March 20, 2011

Resubbing: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

In my last blog, I discussed how simultaneous streaming has impacted anime fansubbing.  This time, I want to discuss another recent development, namely, resubbing.

At its simplest, resubbing is the application of existing subtitles to new video and audio sources.  The initial impetus for resubbing arose from the availability of better sources, such as DVDs and BluRays, for shows that had been subbed in the early days of fansubbing, when video capture technology, video codecs, and subtitling tools were all quite primitive.  Initially, resubbing was quite hard to do.  Early fansubs had hard-coded subtitles that had to be extracted by hand or with more-or-less useless OCR tools, then restyled and retimed.  Those subs also had hard-coded signs and karaokes that had to be replicated as well.

The recent shift to softsubs has made the resubbing process much easier.  Dialog, signs, and karaokes can be extracted from a softsubbed show easily, using the MKVtoolnix tool set.  Some groups, like gg, just publish their scripts, because there’s no way to keep them secret.

As with “Crunchysubbing,” described in my last blog, there are many varieties of resubbers.  Here’s a rough classification:

  • Resubbing to improve on the video/audio quality of an early fansub.  The original fan-made subtitles are applied against a DVD or BluRay source.  Examples include Redone, Retrofit, and Jumonji-Giri.
  • Resubbing to improve on the video/audio quality of a current fansub, or to access material left out left out if, or censored from, a TV broadcast.  To boost DVD or BluRay sales, anime companies include extra material in the DVD or BluRay versions.  This can take the form of extra scenes (for example, in Lamune or DaCapo) or removal of censoring (all recent ecchi shows).  Again, the original fan-made subtitles are applied against a DVD or BluRay source.  Examples include Coalgirls, Polished, Mudabone, DmonHiro, Atsui, Kira, Tamashii, and Elysium.
  • Resubbing to improve on the video/audio quality of an R1 (US DVD release) by using an R2J (Japanese DVD) source.  Because the remastering process from the original Japanese source to US DVD format sometimes impacts video quality, groups apply official R1 DVD subtitles to an encoded R2J source.  Examples include Dual-Duality, OnDeed, and Gray Phantom.
Many, but not all, resubbers in the first two categories use raws from other groups.  Resubbers in the third category, and some from the first two, encode their own.  Some resubbers clean up the original subtitles for editing, timing, or styling errors, but many do not.

As an editor and QC, I tend to focus much more on the subtitles than the video and audio.  Arguments about banding, haloing, and grain, or the value of FLAC versus lossy audio codecs, tend to leave me unmoved.  My aging eyes can’t see details all that well, and my aging ears don’t have the range to hear the fine differences.  In addition, most anime is drawn very simply, with straightforward audio and clichéd music.  So I have two serious gripes about resubbing:
  • Lack of attention to the subtitles themselves.  While some groups put the subtitles through an editing, timing, and QC cycle, many do not.  Because DVDs and BluRays have different timing, and sometimes different aspect ratios, from the original TV broadcasts, this results in visible, obvious, and annoying subtitle and sign problems.  Every resubbed version of Seitokai Yakuindomo that I’ve downloaded (except Coalgirls) has obvious timing problems with signs; one version didn’t even include fonts.
  • File bloat.  This is a contentious issue, so please remember that I’ve already disclosed my bias towards the words rather than the video and audio.  I think that many resub encodes are bloated.  To me, FLAC audio is pointless, and most TV anime is blandly drawn and easily compressed.  Hard disk space is not the issue; rather, it’s the bandwidth caps that most ISPs are imposing.  I don’t want to spend 11GB of my monthly quota for a 13 episode series (as in Coalgirl’s aforementioned Seitokai Yakuindomo).
Nonetheless, I usually investigate, and frequently archive, resubs.  Early fansubs were often done at 512x384, or even 320x240; the improvements in video quality can be impressive.  The additional material added to DVDs and BluRays means that a resub may be the only definitive version of some series.  And occasionally, a resub cleans up staggeringly bad editing or timing in the original fansub.  But I have a long and lengthening queue of resubs that need a lot of work on their scripts before I’d be willing to archive them in place of the original fansubs.

So if you’re resubbing a show, particularly from a fansub script, and you need help cleaning up the subtitles, give me a shout on IRC.  I can’t help much with timing, but I’m happy to fold, spindle, and mutilate the words for the sake of improved quality – provided of course, the series interests me…


  1. Have you tried watching elysium's version of Seitokai Yakuindomo?

  2. Yes, it's one of four I downloaded. It has timing problems on some signs, at least in the 720p version.

  3. I asked because I was planning to download elysium's version,but now after I read your article I think I'll go with Coalgirls's version.

    On a side note, I find very interesting your last two articles.I'll keep visiting your blog hoping to find more.

  4. I honestly wish OZC had availed himself of yours, or anyone's, services at editing. The hack job done to GITS has me shaking with rage at times. All of 3 lines into EP1S01 there were already 4 spelling errors.*sighs and goes back to tilting at other windmills*