Saturday, April 28, 2012

Resubbing Reconsidered

About a year ago, I took a look at resubbing, the use of existing fansubs with new video and audio source materials. That blog focused on the reusing soft fansubs of TV series to BluRay or DVD sources, and how often errors were not fixed or, worse yet, new problems were introduced. Well, a year is a long time, and the practice of resubbing has continued to evolve, so it's time to look at this from a different perspective.

Refurbishing Old Hardsubs

A small minority of resubbers are refurbishing hardsubbed series by extracting the subtitles and timing and typesetting them against modern sources. This is hard work. The software for extracting subtitles via Optical Character Recognition (OCR) is finicky and unreliable, particularly when the subtitle font is small and/or the subtitles are colored; and hand transcription can be tedious and inaccurate. (See Zalis' excellent overview of options for obtaining subtitle scripts for old shows.) The resubber has to verify and correct the extracted script and then proceed through the whole resub process of editing, retiming, restyling, QC, and so on. In addition, the resubber has to cope with replacing hardsubbed typesetting and karaokes. This can be quite difficult, as hardsubbing allowed significantly more complex effects than today's softsubs can support.

To me, the "best in class" awards for this category go to Jumonji-Giri and Redone Fansubs. Jumonji-Giri has refurbished many older series, such as Canvas and Canvas 2, Futakoi and Futakoi Alternative, W Wish, and most recently Kagihime Monogatari Eikyuu Alice Rondo. The improvements in video quality are always substantial, and the fidelity to the original fansubs is evident. Jumonji-Giri often includes multiple fansub tracks, and the original fansub teams are always credited in the file names, a very nice touch.

Redone Fansubs does similar work. The "proprietor" knows Japanese, and that facilitates editing of shows where the subs are in need of improvement, such as the ongoing Rizelmine, or where added material in the DVDs needs original translation, such as Lime-Colored War Tales. Again, the reworked series offer substantial improvements in quality, across the board.

Both Jumonji-Giri and Redone are one-person shops, so their output is limited by the complexity of the process, starting with the OCR or transcription stage. A few disbanded fansub groups, such as C1 and Ureshii, have recognized the value of the refurbishment process and offered their script archives for reuse. (Lunar's entire script archive was published on the Internet, in a famous case of fansub "dorama" a few years ago.) However, many group archives have been lost to the vagaries of time, Internet FTP hacking, and other woes.

Other resubbers that used to do this kind of work, such as Polished and Retrofit, have moved onto working with softsubbed shows or gone inactive.

If anyone wants to work on restoring old hardsubs, I have a list of candidates for refurbishment, starting with Amatsuki, a wonderful short series that suffered from horrible quality TV raws, and Yume Tsukai, another short series that would benefit from the process. I just happen to have the original scripts for both... but I'm not an encoder and can't help with finding or encoding better source material.

Refurbishing Old Softsubs

Most resubbers work with softsubs, and the vast majority of resubbers working with softsubs focus on making BluRay releases of recent TV shows. However, a small minority of "soft" resubbers work on the back catalog. For example, Jinsei Fansubs is redoing the original fansubs of Nana, one of the greatest shoujo series of all time, with DVD sources. The team has both an editor and a translation checker, so they're able to correct errors in the original material. Skip Beat could use the same treatment, as the current DVD version is a hodge-podge of fansub sources, several of them quite sketchy.

Resubbing Contemporary Series

This is where most of the action is, at the moment. The anime industry's practice of spiffing up the BluRay releases of TV series with uncensored content, or at least correction of obvious animation mistakes, makes the BluRay release the "definitive" version of most shows. Further, the widespread use of softsubbing for everything - dialog, signs, and karaokes - makes the production process for BluRay releases much easier.

Surprisingly, most fansub groups don't make their own BluRay releases, or only do so sporadically. UTW does BluRay releases of many of its series, but not all; Hiryuu has started (but not finished) several; WhyNot has done a couple. By and large, BluRay resubs come from independent teams, such as DmonHiro, Zurako, Rizlim, Final8, mudabone, Coalgirls, Atsui, Kira, tlacatl6, Thora, and so on.

A year ago, there were noticeable differences in quality, particularly in editing, timing, and typesetting, among the various resubbers, but these days, the survivors are fairly competent at the basics. The real difference lies in their attitude to file sizes. Some, such as DmonHiro, Atsui, and mudabone, are quite careful about file sizes and try to make pragmatic tradeoffs between quality and bits. Others, such as Rizlim, Coalgirls, and Thora, believe that bigger files equate to higher quality. (I had thought that Coalgirl's Seitokai Yakuindomo, requiring 11GB for 13 720p episodes, was the most bloated encode I had ever seen, but Rizlim's Softenni, with 17GB for 12 720p episodes, is the new exemplar.) The rest fall in the middle.

I don't propose to rehash the arguments on each side. I am sympathetic to DmonHiro's reasoning - that the differences between FLAC and AAC are inaudible, and the differences in file size matter to people who have bandwidth quotas, or who pay for Internet usage by the GB, or who live in countries with less than stellar infrastructure. Neither side is likely to budge, and there's often a choice from competing camps. For example, Rizlim's Softenni will face competition from Dual Duality, at less than half the file size. And someday, perhaps, there will be a reasonably-sized encode of Seitokai Yakuindomo that's also competently timed and typeset.

The Fansub Value Chain

The resubbing phenomenon illustrates how complex and diversified the fansub "value chain" has become. If you're not familiar with the term, value chain denotes all the steps in the process of producing a product or service, with emphasis on the value added at each step. For fansubbing, this used to be a fairly simple, two-step process:

  • Rip the raws, typically directly from TV.
  • Do everything else, from translation through finished encode.
Today, the steps are more numerous and more complicated. Rips, encodes, translation, translation checking, timing, editing, and post-production may all come from different sources, using different techniques. The raws may be transport streams or on-air encoded captures. The encodes may be done by third parties. Translations may be original, from original fansubs, from streaming sources, or from DVDs or BluRays. Post-production steps may be done by one team or several.

Fansubbing has evolved continuously under the influence of changes in the technology and business models, and that evolution shows no signs of stopping. If I show some bias towards shows that are neglected or forgotten, and towards technology use that is sensibly balanced, that's just one point of view in a highly diversified landscape of hobbyists, enthusiasts, and fanatics. The more, the merrier.


  1. Bloatgirls still beats Rizlim's 16.8gb 720p softenni in size with their 17.7gb 720p Sekirei. Also, you can't forget about the absurd 1080p size for Dantalian no Shoka from them as well weighing at 78.5gb for a 12 ep series.

  2. Haha, thanks for the high praise. I also hold Jumonji-Giri in high esteem, since unlike other "the subs you got then are the subs you get now" groups, Kaishakunin endeavors to fix layman-correctable mistakes in the original subs and avoid adding any new ones.

    Actually, I haven't used OCR since Touka Gettan and a few early eps of Rizelmine. Everything since then has been transcribed, except for cases where I obtained the original subtitle scripts. It's more keystrokes, but transcribing an episode takes about as long as "best-conditions" OCR on my system. However, transcribing lets me correct minor errors from the original subs or rewrite lines "on the fly," while also flagging lines needing detailed scrutiny, timing joins/splits, or visible signs not in the script. Fortunately, Russian timed scripts are available for most shows, and are generally based on prominent English fansubs.

    And the AIP scripts for Rizelmine were fairly good to begin with (more accurate TL and better editing than AC or h-b), aside from their awkward use of "my husband" for every instance of "Danna-sama" and some long-length/short-duration lines. Serin's Touka Gettan and AnimeFORCE's With You ~Mitsumeteitai~ have required the most TL corrections out of anything I've released.

    1. Thanks, Zalis, for the correction. I've added a pointer to your tutorial on dealing with hardsubs, which is filled with great pointers and time-saving techniques.