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!

1 comment:

  1. I personally enjoy working on old school anime because it helps me hone my fansubbing and translation skills. Plus, you give like-minded fans around the world a chance to watch shows that they most likely wouldn't be able to watch otherwise. Being a fansub translator myself, I find that older shows can sometimes be harder to translate than current ones. The most common reasons for this that I have encountered are poorer audio quality(shows that have not been re-mastered/re-released and only have bad quality LD or VHS rips, for example.) and more complex dialog(older, not frequently used words, expressions, jokes, and etc.). I prefer the "old school approach" to fansubbing, which is releasing the finished subbed product "when it's done and truly ready" and quality over quantity. This works out perfectly for me, since I don't have as much free time as I would like to fansub anymore. Anyway, just my thoughts on this topic. :)

    - tenkenX6 (Live-eviL)