Monday, October 28, 2013

A Season without Fansubs

The fall 2013 anime season has seen the culmination of a trend that's been building for several years: every new, full-length show not intended for children is simulcast. The only exception is Yozakura Quartet (Kyousogiga showed up on CrunchyRoll's schedule four weeks into the season). Further, the quality of CrunchyRoll's video encoding and subtitle presentations continue to improve: more signs, improved styling, good-looking video. Indeed, some groups are using CrunchyRoll's video streams in preference to transport streams captured off Japanese TV, because the quality is better.

In the past, there have been complaints about the quality of simulcast translation and editing, but I think those are unfounded. Spot checks of Sekai no Ichiban, Arpeggio of Blue Steel, and Golden Time by experienced translators show no significant errors.The editing is fluent and well-localized. If I have a few quibbles, they wouldn't be enough to make me re-edit an episode for my own enjoyment. Some shows, like Golden Time, are even preserving honorifics. All that's missing are the songs (Funimation even includes them).

A few groups are taking advantage of delayed simulcasts to rush out original translations. Other groups continue to do full translation checks on simulcast scripts. But by and large, fansub groups are repackagers of simulcasts, with songs, better styling and typesetting, and minor tweaks. Fansubbing of current shows, as I used to know it, is dead.

Personally, I don't mind. As I've noted before, most current anime is throwaway stuff (dreck, in fact), and the less effort put into it, the better. I help out some of the repackagers by looking over simulcast scripts and tweaking minor errors. Most of this falls into the category of personal preferences - fewer ellipses, cleaner punctuation, less of use of passive voice and impersonals. It takes less than an hour for a script, half of it spent watching the show. There's no research to do, no stylistic decisions, no deep pondering over ambiguous phrases, no interactions with the translator. It's really more QC than editing, and gross errors in simulcast scripts are few and far between.

So whither fansubbing now, given that it is withering away? Some groups are focusing more on BluRays, because of the increased use of censoring in original broadcasts as a gimmick to get otakus to buy discs. (If there's any point to watching Sekai no Ichiban, about which I have my doubts, that point won't be reached until the BluRays are out.) Some have embraced the repackaging ethic, with an emphasis on the parts that are too labor-intensive for simulcasts (for example, the elaborate signs in NouKome, Arpeggio, or Monogatari). Many have simply cut back on their activities or disappeared entirely.

If fansubbing has a future, I believe it lies in the past - in the back catalog. Although Japanese anime companies show a healthy interest in remastering old, classic shows for BluRay, they're not typically investing in English subtitles for the older titles. In addition, many worthwhile series and OVAs were never translated. With the release of new box sets, whether on BluRay or DVD, the opportunity is there to bring these shows to an English-speaking audience. LaserDisc collections are also interesting sources of older, never-before-seen shows.

Of course, fansubbing the back catalog requires effort, particularly compared to repackaging simulcasts or releasing BluRays. To start, a back catalog project needs a Japanese-English translator. They're becoming harder to find, and many of the younger ones depend on closed-captions, which are not usually available for older shows. Further, the project needs a dedicated team, because many of the interesting older series are very long. Kabocha Wine is 95 episodes plus a movie; Attack No. 1, 104 episodes. Even if a team can maintain a weekly cadence, we're looking at a 2+ year commitment. (The back catalog projects to sub Hiatari Ryouko and Miyuki are both stalled because key team members have effectively dropped out mid-way.) And the project needs raws. Japanese DVDs and BluRays are expensive and usually beyond the personal means of a fansub team or individual team member, and LaserDisc transcription requires specialized equipment and skills.

Nonetheless, I'm encouraged about the number of teams investigating the back catalog. Live-Evil has come roaring back to life recently and is undertaking some very ambitious new projects, as well as reviving older projects that had stalled out. Kiteseekers mixes back catalog projects with contemporary projects. My own Orphan Fansubs has grown from a one-man band to a small collective. The Skaro Hunting Society continues to work on classic black-and-white shows. And other teams focus on older shows that they like, particularly in the giant robot and mecha categories.

A different model is to "modernize" older fansubbed shows to modern video and subtitle standards. With the advent of better technology for extracting hardsubs, this has become a bit easier, but it still requires major work to correct questionable translations and editing, extract and reproduce hardsubbed signs and karaokes, and fix other deficiencies. Jumonji-giri and Redone continue to do great work in this area. Kiteseekers is redoing the original Hanuakyo Maid Tai from BluRays (the fansub translations are very questionable), and I want to redo Ureshii's Amatsuki from DVDs. I'd also like to do a DVD version of Yume Tsukai, but DVDs don't seem to be available online, although they're still sold in Japan. Script archives are becoming more available as fansub groups disband, and that helps quite a lot in resubbing efforts.

Back catalog work doesn't appeal to a lot of fansubbers. For one thing, the audience for older shows is much smaller than for current series. (That's why simulcasters don't do back catalog shows.) But it's the only province - other than h-anime ;) - where fansubbing can still thrive. So, fellow fansubbers, in the immortal words of the Veterans Tapdance Administration and the Firesign Theatre, it's forward - into the past!

Friday, October 11, 2013

In 2058...

So here's another undistinguished 90s OVA rescued from deserved obscurity: Sonic Solider Borgman 2: New Century 2058. This three-episode show is a sort of pendant to the 80s Borgman series and its sequels. It features a new set of Sentai Rangers... oops, Borgmen, fighting a new enemy. The only carryover from the prior series is Chuck Sweager, who has graduated from Borgman fighter to civilian team leader.

This release uses the QTS BluRay rip of the Borgman series and OVAs. Episodes 1 and 2 were originally translated by DOMO. They have been extensively checked and corrected. As usual, laalg did the translation checking, and the translation of episode 3 and the songs; archdeco did the timing; I edited and typeset; CP and Saji QC'd. (A special word of thanks to Macros74, who encoded a workraw for the third episode and did the rough timing.) As an extra fillip, Juggen provided styled karaokes for the opening and ending songs, which accordingly look rather better than the typical Orphan release. BTW, the opening song "Soldier in 2058" is an earworm. You've been warned.

Even though this is a BluRay rip, the video quality is not stellar. For example, pans are jerky. (This seems to be a problem in the QTS rip; DOMO's original SD release was fine). The animation is crude. Therefore, Orphan is only releasing a 720p version. Anyone who wants to mux the subs into the QTS 1080p rips is welcome to do so. If you want to use DOMO's SD raws for ep1 and 2 instead, you'll have to deal with the impact of the anamorphic raw on the typesetting.

Sonic Soldier Borgman 2 shows all the hallmarks of classic 80s anime cheese. The plot makes little or no sense. The "Borg, get on" transformation sequences are used over and over again to pad the anime. (And why do the villains always stand around passively while the heroes waste 30 to 45 seconds transforming and preening?) The background music is essentially an endless recycling of the OP and ED themes. There's even a moody insert song. Fortunately, the scripts were short.

The translation is straightforward. The term "youma," used for the villains, literally means "ghost" or "apparation." DOMO translated it as "demon." That's been retained, because, well, the villains look like demons, and leaving the term untranslated would just be too weeaboo. On the other hand, the Borgmen's power suits are left untranslated as Baltectors, because the term is completely made up.

Enjoy this release. Borg, get on!

Monday, October 7, 2013

Editorial Minimalism

Over the past week, I've helped two groups that are resubbing simulcast shows to tidy up the scripts. The changes I made were pretty minor: removing surplus ellipses, joining sentences that were unnecessarily separated, removing or adding commas, dealing with the occasional infelicity. There wasn't much to do, because the simulcast scripts were fluent and, according to an experienced translator, quite accurate. I also edited the songs. Again, the changes were minor.

With so few changes from the simulcast, it's a legitimate question to ask, "Why bother?" Personally, I prefer resubbed versions of simulcasts to the originals, even if the changes are relatively minor. I like having lyrics to the songs. I like having proper typesetting and having more signs typeset. I like the timing to be clean. I like the occasional translation or editing mistakes to be corrected. I like a good encode from a better source than a webcast. In all, it adds up to a better viewing experience.

You could dub my philosophy in these situations as "editorial minimalism." When the underlying script is good, I try not to change wording or phrasing gratuitously. My translation colleague on Yawara! produced brilliant scripts which hardly needed editing at all. I saw no reason to "correct" his language; and if I did without good cause, he made his displeasure abundantly clear. Editing is not about ego or imposing one's style on a script. It's about flow, correctness, and continuity. Meddling with a good script is disrespectful to the translator and (in the case of a resub) the original editor. Just as I don't want a QC to "back-seat edit" my scripts, I don't feel I should second-guess a competent translation-editing team.

This may not sit well with everyone. Some may prefer edits that produce a distinctive tone or edge, add honorifics, or localize more (or less, for that matter). I do not. Unless a resub has errors in translation or in editing, I'll abide by the belief that "if it ain't broke, don't fix it." In this fall anime season, where essentially everything is simulcast, that's the only appropriate course of action. Besides, it leaves more time to work on the back catalog.