Thursday, July 5, 2012

A Delicate Subject

This blog is about the rise of fansubbed hentai anime. H-animes are a somewhat delicate subject in the fansub community; hence, the title of this essay.

Five years ago, fansubbed hentai anime was comparatively rare. There were no groups really dedicated to the idea. Some fansub groups had an h-anime "division" which produced the occasional episode. Lunar did a few; Shinsen did the first two episodes of Kage (Shadow) and then abandoned the project. Almost all h-animes on the Interweb were rips of shows that had been licensed in the US and released, with subtitles and/or dubs, on R1 DVDs. For one thing, only the R1 DVDs were uncensored. All Japanese DVDs were and still are censored, with pixellation over the really "naughty bits."

However, since the middle of 2009, this trend has been dramatically reversed. Based on an admittedly unscientific survey, it appears that in the last three years, fansubs of unlicensed shows have outnumbered rips of licensed shows by more than five to one. There are groups dedicated just to fansubbing unlicensed h-anime, such as Erobeat, SubDESU-H, PixieS, and Fakku. What has changed?

One thing that has not changed, at least not for the better, is the "quality" of the shows. Current hentai shows are cheap and essentially plotless, a concatenation of sex scenes with minimal connective tissue. Gone are the romantic comedies with a final sex scene, such as Canvas, Yesterday Once More, or First Love, or the intense action and terrific artwork of Kage. (Actually, what was classified as 18-restricted in the 1990s is far less explicit than modern "mainstream" anime like Yosuga no Sora or Aki Sora.) In fact, fansubbing modern hentai is not really necessary. The dialog is, to put it mildly, beside the point. So what is driving the boom in fansubbed h-anime?

One possible answer is the rise of file-sharing sites, particularly sites that compensated content uploaders for downloads, like FileServe. Erobeat was the first group to realize the potential. The major bottleneck in fansubbed hentai was not lack of demand - the fansubbing audience being mostly otaku males - but lack of translators. Most fansub translators looked down on hentai and refused to work on it. (So did many timers, editors, and encoders, for that matter.) Erobeat use the money raised from file-sharing sites to pay for DVDs and translations. This in turn generated more content, which generated more money, which paid for more DVDs and translations - a virtuous circle. Erobeat used the file-sharing sites strictly to pay for expenses. Once a show had paid off its costs, it was released as a torrent instead. Erobeat dealt with the (lack of) quality in modern shows by focusing mostly on the back catalog, providing, for example, the first accurate translation of 1987's ecchi classic Junk Boy.

Other groups, notably SubDESU-H, picked up the model and ran with it. These groups used a variety of raws as sources, not just DVDs, which allowed them to work on even more shows, and more recent ones, driving up volume and the revenue stream from file-sharing sites. The MegaUpload shutdown interrupted the picture briefly, but new sites have arisen to fill the gap, and the flood of animated, subtitled porn continues unabated.

From a technical point of view, fansubbing h-anime is easier than mainstream shows. The most difficult part is finding staff, particularly translators. Once a translation is available, the rest is straightforward. The scripts tend to be short, with long sequences of just heavy breathing and sound effects. That simplifies timing. The dialog is cliched, mostly verbalized monologues of the action on the screen. Editing is reduced to finding different phrasing for reactions and body parts, to vary the monotony. There's no typesetting, beyond the title and the choice of a font style. So it's step 1: find a raw; step 2: create a simple script; and step 3: profit.

Exceptions exist, of course. Kage had a dense plot that required careful translation and editing, as well as beautiful visuals that needed first-class encoding. The great Tezuka Osamu's ventures into h-anime (Cleopatra and Sen'ya Ichiya Monogatari) haven't received the translations they deserve, although excellent encodes are available. But today's h-animes are interchangeable and disposable.

As with mainstream anime, h-anime has its orphans. Some of these are shows that were only partially licensed in the US, such as Beast City, Kiniraru Kimochi, Lunatic Night, and The Last Kunoichi.  All of them are missing the concluding episode. Izumo and Kodomo no Jikan (the h-animes, not the TV shows) are fansubs, but they too were abandoned one episode short of competion. There are undoubtedly others.

So here's another example of the technology and finances of the Interwebs interacting with the fansub community to alter what shows are subtitled and how. Whether you think the alteration is good or bad is up to you. Technology has no inherent intent; how it's used by people provides that.


  1. Another factor is simply the decline of the R1 hentai licensing industry. As DVD sales dropped (due to file sharing, bootlegging, the economy, or whatever factor), fewer H-OVAs got licensed and officially translated, thus diminishing the supply of rips.

    And as the filesharing/bootlegging/reverse importation of legit (uncensored) overseas releases started to hurt R2J sales, the Japanese licensors got more reluctant to license out their uncensored masters or indeed any version at all. In the past, fansubbing groups knew that their hard work releasing hardsubbed .avis of censored hentai was likely to be trashed and forgotten once the uncensored R1 versions became available, often in softsubbed .ogm or .mkv format. So the fansubbing groups rose up to fill the demand, and viewers learned to accept "watch censored modern hentai" or "watch uncensored hentai from 1998" as their only options.

    For my part, I've never had moral or tolerance issues with doing fansubbing work on hentai, aside from the really messed-up scat/guro stuff. It's just that I've had issues with keeping family/roommates from hearing moans or whatever from stuff I'm working on. (And regular anime can be bad enough.)

    But I have translated/timed some hentai in the past; I had a script for Triangle Hearts Sazanami Girls' Dorm ep 01 long before SubDesu-H came out with their stupid "let's artificially make this 2000 4:3 OVA into 16:9" release. I completed the missing "too loli for North America" episode of Maiden Diaries, among other items. I even once looked into the 2nd ep of Last Kunoichi, but that has a surprising amount of dialogue, and it's mostly difficult archaic speech.

  2. Great points, Zalis. I hadn't noticed the decline in R1 licenses, but you're quite right. And now the cycle is self-fulfilling: why invest in an R1 license when the censored R2J has already been fansubbed? Or even worse, the uncensored R2E(urope) has been fansubbed?

  3. I am interested in a aquiring a copy of kage episodes 1-4. Is there any place to purchase the series? I am having no luck with google.

    1. Kage was never released in North America; therefore, if you want actual DVDs, you will need to look online for second-hand copies in Japan. The Orphan version is available on BakaBT (, but you probably need to be a member to access it.