The basics on the Fansub Culture
For those who are not familiar with the fansub culture, or would like a little lesson on the 5Ws & 1H of fansubs, this is for you. Hope this article encourages you to download responsibly, if you haven't been already, and gives you a greater appreciation of how good we anime fans have it these days.
What is a Fansub?
According to Wikipedia, a fansub (short for fan-subtitled) "is a copy of a foreign movie or television show which has been subtitled by fans in their native language." Also known as "digisubs," the term is most commonly used among the anime fan community. A fansub can either be found in VHS format or digitized to a movie file format, although the latter is now the modernized practice.
Why are Fansubs done?
Fansubs are created with one major objective in mind: to advertise Japanese anime to those in foreign countries who would otherwise know nothing of the title. Fansubs have also become a method among fans to preview a series in Japanese with English subtitles – Japanese voiceover work is considered among the majority to be higher quality than English – before it would be licensed, rather than finding their DVD investment to be unsatisfactory. Some fansub providers may focus on a certain type of anime that would have a miniscule chance of being licensed – anything that parents would deem unsuitable for children (ecchi, hentai, excessive violence/blood/gore, etc.).
Another reason why fansubbing has become so widely practiced is because most anime fans that do not originate from Japan obviously cannot understand the Japanese language, but are intrigued by a title nonetheless. Most fans would concur with not being satisfied with waiting 3 or more years for an anime to reach the shores of their country. On top of that, the guarantee of an anime ever being licensed legally is never assured.
Who are Fansubs done by?
Fansubs are done "by fans, for fans." This has been the motto of these anime providers from the start. These fans who dedicate their time, knowledge of the Japanese language, and money to provide Japan-aired series week by week without charge are collectively referred to as "fansub groups" or "fansubbers." There is usually more than one fansub group translating a series at once, and typically do not permit advertising of other groups in their domain. This is due to fansubbers now competiting with others to release the best audio/video quality & most accurate translated scripts (subtitles) in the least amount of time after being aired. Dattebayo is well-known in the fansub culture for their speedy, quality fansubs of two rabidly popular shounen series in Japan & the US: Bleach & Naruto. Some in the anime community, however, have disdain for how cut-and-dry fansubbing has become, describing its modern-day methods to merely being "pirating for cheap entertainment."
When did Fansubbing come about?
Fansubbing began in the early 1980s when anime production was becoming increasingly popular. In no way was anime the flooded commodity in the US & Europe that it is today, and so the licensing of titles for foreign distribution rarely occurred. Anime fans that had familiarity with the Japanese language began producing subtitled copies using VHS, laserdiscs (LDs), and the technology of the day. The finalized copy, called "masters,"were then shipped to anime distributors that took on the job of duplication & shipping of the VHS tapes that other anime fans mailed to them, along with a modest payment for shipping expenses. From obtaining RAWs (the source recording) from either VHS or LDs that usually only held about 30 mins. of video, to sometimes hiring professional translators for quality scripts, to the equipment used in the process of creating the "master" & duplicates, fansubbing was a venerable, yet costly cause to be involved with. Even with high-quality LDs & the professional hardware of that time, the "fansubs in circulation were usually 4th or 5th generation copies – not made using professional equipment." In other words, overall video quality was sub-par.
Obviously, those days are long since passed. With fansubbing done nearly all by computer through digital means – RAWs & subtitles now manipulated as one, without loss of video or sound quality – even the lowest spec computer of our decade could download the necessary software and perform the necessary alterations.
Where can I retrieve fansubs?
RAWs & fansubs are made easily accessible through .torrent files using BitTorrent, the most popular peer-to-peer file distribution client used among nearly all fansub groups, or mIRC, a peer-to-peer, server-to-channel network by which fansub groups can communicate with their members in real time chat.
How can I support the fansub culture?
- If you liked the series, BUY it on DVD! = The never-ending debate of whether fansubs lower DVD sales of anime licensing companies, such as ADV Films, the polled favorite, rages on. (I personally prefer Geneon’s titles, but that’s just me =P.) If you want to end this, & show that the fansubbers’ code stands true, be a real fan of the series & buy the licensed version (if you have the money…or a birthday).
- If you have the money, show your support = The majority of downloads are from "leechers," or people who obtain their files without helping their devoted group (or BitTorrent owner) keep their servers/bots alive. A few years back, many fansubbers did not request donations often, as the fansubbers’ code is to provide episodes free of charge. However, more fans are discovering these groups, which require more bandwidth for transfers and faster, more powerful servers to handle the bandwidth. Thus, more funds are necessary so that a group can continue to provide this free service, not just for you, but for them too.
- Don’t con the noobs = In other words, don’t make copies and try to sell them to those who don’t know any better. Most fansubs have messages to discourage bootleggers anyway. So, just quit while you’re ahead.
Though fansubbing is illegal, they are out there with a purpose and ethics in mind. Hope you all remember this crash-course in fansubs next time you download the next episode of any series.
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