Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Never Time to Do It Right, Always Time to Do It Over

So I was looking at TokyoTosho, and I saw [Doki] UN-GO - 01v3, and then [Hadena] C3 - 01v3. The close proximity of a pair of v3's made me realize that I've been seeing an awful lot of amended offerings lately. Batch torrents are routinely filled with v2's, v3's, and the occasional v4. It made be wonder what was going on.

When I started in fansubbing (not so long ago, really), a v2 release was a bit of a disgrace. It indicated that the team had not taken QC seriously and had let some seriously awful gaff get through. For example, one group I was in had to rerelease an OVA because the encoder had gratuitously used both ordered chapters and compressed headers at a time when these features were poorly supported, and the release simply wouldn't play on Mac/OS or Linux. There was considerable soul-searching and gnashing of teeth in the team, to make sure an error like that wouldn't recur.

Well, that was then, and this is now. If you look at initial releases, batch releases, and BD releases, v2's, v3's, and even v4's are the norm. There are some legitimate reasons for this. Japanese songs (the OP and ED) are difficult to get right, and the versions translated from the first episode's audio stream are often just approximately correct. Official lyrics show up sometime later, and the team will typically correct its translation based on the official lyrics. In the days of hardsubbed karaokes, the old episodes were set in concrete, but with softsubs, it's possible to fix the early episodes at low cost. Names may also be rendered incorrectly, and the error found only in later episodes. Preview dialog has to be translated without context and may need to be changed based on the following week's episode. However, the vast majority of these updates are correcting careless errors that got through the fansub (or Crunchysub) process.

I Feel the Need for Speed
My analysis: the explosion of revisions is a consequence of simultaneous streaming. Streaming has accustomed the anime audience to instant gratification, and fansub teams feel compelled to offer similarly fast service on shows that aren't streamed. Teams also feel competitive pressure because the few shows that aren't streamed are massively oversubbed. The otaku fansub audience is fickle; they'll watch the first sub that's out there. If a team is in it for the glory of leecher adoration, rather than the satisfaction of doing a good job, they need to get their version out there first.

So how can a team get an episode done faster? They can work insane hours and pull all-nighters; this happens all the time. They can set up a pipeline of people in different timezones, so that the work follows the sun; this requires a lot of luck about where team members are located. And finally, they can abandon or shortchange critical steps in the fansubbing process, such as editing and QC; and that's what's been happening.

gg (always a trendsetter) was among the first to do this, formally announcing that they were abandoning QC altogether (and it shows). Speedsub groups often leave out the feedback loop from editing back to translation, or QC back to editing, and put the editing and QC changes through without review; that's a fruitful source of errors. I did one show with a speedsub team (I didn't know it was a speedsub when I started); my post-mortem cleanup of all the "QC" changes resulted in 11 of 12 episodes requiring v2's, and not for minor blemishes either.

The Editor Who Was Left Out in the Cold
I find this trend understandable. Because so many shows are dreck (see prior blogs), the distinction between the version that gets watched initially, and the version that gets archived, has become meaningless - most of today's shows are not worth keeping and will only be watched once. The desire to have your work appreciated is quintessentially human. If there's only one shot at the anime audience, then you have to be first.

So while I find all this understandable, I don't find it congenial. I'm built for comfort, not for speed. My editing and QC workflows take time and are frequently interrupted by real-world constraints, such as a full-time job, extensive business travel, and a family. As a result, I haven't been really worked on weekly series very much since CrunchyRoll changed the rules of the game. I'm pretty much a back catalog/OVA/movie guy now.

Is the day of the "quality" fansub dead and gone? While I hope not, I'm frankly not sure. Some groups are trying to find a compromise between the conflicting pressures of speed and quality; for example, GotWoot is releasing both a throw-away version of Mirai Nikki (under the "GotSpeed" label) and a higher-quality archival version. But this is exceptional. Most groups throw together whatever they can get done in a finite amount of time, with the promise of fixing it up later in the batch or the BluRays. There's never time to do it right, but there's always time to do it over.

Late-breaking update: GotWoot v2'd every episode of its "archival" Mirai Nikki in the mid-point batch. Case closed.


  1. Great post. It's just that society is changing; people need things on the spot. And so it is in the anime fansub world. I, on the other hand, download from whoever is recommended, an example being GotWoot. That's why I appreciate Whiners and 8thSin. There are just way too many things that keep me busy in this world, so I never get the chance to watch anime immediately. Moving on, the v2s are just a drag. Who has time to download another version? Just provide me with the one definitive quality version. I'm glad there are still fansubbers out there who prioritize quality over speed, though they should release in consistent intervals. Uh... so yeah. Nice analysis. And I forgot to mention that you write beautiful sentences. :)

  2. It also doesn't help that many strong quality groups have died down. Now that I think about it, a lot of talented people were in several good groups at the time so when they leave, it creates an enormous hole to fill. I miss the good old pre-crunchyroll scene.
    - triviper