Chicks On Anime
Fansubs (Pt 2)

by B. Dong, C. Brienza, S. Pocock, Feb 10th 2009

About the contributors:

Bamboo is the managing editor for ANN, and writes the column Shelf Life.
Casey is a freelance journalist, and also writes reviews for ANN.
Sara is an animator who's also released her own independent short film.

Our forums heated up pretty fast last week. There were a lot of insightful comments, and many of you brought up something rather interesting. Namely, that fansubs were still relevant to those viewers outside of the United States, for whom many of the online streaming sites won't work. When we did the discussion, we were mainly talking about fans in the US, but the forum comments do bring up an interesting point. It's definitely something we'll keep in mind in the future, especially when we sit down and chat with a copyright lawyer.

In the meantime, part two. For those who missed the first part, it's available here. The transition between the two is a bit awkward, but I hope you'll bear with us. Thanks for reading, and as usual, we welcome your comments in the forums.


Casey: I must say that I'm troubled by some of the elegiac tone to this discussion. I'm not necessarily a neophile by any means, but if all we're focused on is ensuring that all the stuff we loved as kids lives on forever and don't concentrate on bringing the new generation into the proverbial fold, then that translates into content that will be increasingly self-referential and hermetic, and an anemic anime industry that will collapse sooner rather than later.
getfresh: On that note, fansubbers in general buy A LOT of anime. Mamo-chan from Live-eviL is our source for R2 DVD's in general. He sends an insane amount of his money collecting these remastered boxsets. I myself have a few hundred VHS tapes and DVDs. But Casey, you are right and we should focus on a wider view, I apologize for sending it in the current direction.
Bamboo: Casey, the health of the anime industry depends on innovation and keeping up with the times. Right now, in order to stay alive, companies need to start streaming anime. They need to have faster turnaround times.
Sara: Also, it's not really my job as a fan to bring new people into the anime fold, frankly. That's the job of the companies investing in the medium.
Bamboo: But that's what they're doing. The anime companies are responding. They've started releasing series in 13-episode boxsets at cheaper prices. They've started airing shows on Hulu or YouTube. Anime fans have always been tech-savvy. Always. That will not change, regardless of the age. But that isn't analogous to the fansubbing community, and those who consume fansubs. Part of the reason why the anime companies have to alter their marketing tactics and their distribution methods is because of the fansub consumers, and what that has done to change the market. I'm not saying that the drop in sales is because of fansubs. Plenty of people can and will argue that. I'm saying that fansubs are what keeps the anime market on its toes.
Casey: Actually, from what I understand, television shows in general cannot get their expenses covered solely by online streaming, even when web content is ad-supported...though I know this is a separate issue. Studios are actually going to need to find new revenue models.
getfresh: The health of the industry as discussed at Otakon on the fansub/industry panel and agreed on by both parties had very little to do with fansubs messing it up. We found that people who are going to steal, will steal because they do not have the money or just don't want to pay. These are the same people downloading American TV shows, in my opinion. Also the issues with the Japanese companies forcing licensers to buy "packaged" licenses of anime that have many titles that, let's face it, are garbage and just will not sell.
Bamboo: Here's what I'm saying, though. It's cause and effect. Fansubs have served their purpose. And they were instrumental in forcing the anime companies to open their eyes and realize that they needed to update their archaic distribution methods and follow suit with live-action, American companies like NBC, MTV, Fox, etc. But now that the anime industry is catching up to what the public wants, I don't think fansubs have a place anymore.

Japanese companies are approaching streaming sites and asking them to distribute their anime subtitled. Not only does this give you subtitled anime, but it gives it to you with the same speed that you'd get a fansub. And for the same price, which is $0. Not only have the American companies realized that they can't survive in the home entertainment market without changing their product market, but the Japanese have realized it as well.

Casey: You know that in the history of media, all media platforms began with some sort of piracy that was ultimately reincorporated and legalized. Fansubs might be an example of that.
getfresh: The majority view on the pre-licensed, streaming content in the fansubbing community is that it is a good thing, but we will wait and see. VincentRPG, the leader of Shinsen-Subs, has said to me many times, "this is the end of fansubbing." I agree with him for the most part, but until we see that they have really changed their ways I do not see it stopping. Also a few subbers attempted to "rip off" subs from these streams and I am happy to say the community reamed them for it.
Sara: I agree with everything Bamboo just said. It's the companies' jobs to react to the market accordingly and distribute anime to as wide an audience as possible, to bring in fresh blood as Casey mentioned. Fansubbing may still have a place on the side, though, to catch the exceptional work that falls through the cracks. I mean, "fan" is right there in the word. It may not be needed in a future business model, but it'll be appreciated for catering to the people who seek the more underground work.
getfresh: New blood, generally comes in through Super Sentai-type shows and shounen content.
Bamboo: And yet so many fansubbers are busy with their niche shows. Truthfully, there is a time and place for everything. Anime had its moment in the spotlight. It had its bubble. That's why I think the audience is declining. Or rather, the number of active, paying consumers is declining.
Sara: Fansubbers working on niche titles makes more sense to me than fansubbers working on shounen behemoths. In the latter case, what's the point?
Casey: When we talk with Kelts in a few weeks, he'll tell you that the anime industry is failing utterly to bring in new blood on the industry side, which is a reflection of the medium's declining audience as well.
getfresh: Very true. It is a wave, actually, that has its beginnings in Japan. Anime itself has seen a major decline over all due to crappy content, lack of good writers, and many other factors.
Bamboo: The number of anime fans is growing exponentially every year. And if the anime companies play their cards right, they'll snag them. They'll snag the kids who are on Hulu watching the Daily Show, who think, "Hey, Naruto. I've heard of this. I'll check it out."
Casey: Wait, question: How do you know the number of anime fans is growing exponentially every year?
Bamboo: Merchandising. Merchandise sales are going up. And merchandise sales are a better barometer for fan interest than media sales. Even in Japan, merchandise sales have either gone up, or stagnated—but they haven't dropped like DVD sales. Fans are more likely to buy merchandise than DVDs. For starters, you can't download a t-shirt.
getfresh: True. The American market fails at fully marketing the shows and using all of its potential.
Bamboo: I completely agree. The US market sells a fair amount of anime-related items, but it pales in comparison to the sheer mountain of crap that the Japanese sell every year. Though I honestly don't know that the US market could emulate it, because I don't think the market is that large.
getfresh: When I was much younger than I am now, I worked for an anime store called Anime Pavilion which is owned and operated by Steven Lin. Steve use to go to Japan three or so times a year to by what we called “trinkets.” Those, along with OSTs, made up the majority of our profits.
Casey: Using merchandising sales numbers, how do you distinguish then between fans of Naruto specifically and fans of anime generally? Because obviously they're not necessarily the same thing.
Bamboo: Does it really matter? If you like Naruto, then you might like Bleach. If you like CSI, then you might like Fringe.
Casey: Whether it matters or not depends upon the context. Are you a fan of the medium, are do you just LUVLUVLUV Sasuke?
Sara: Casey, isn't the more important question which group is a bigger spender? For all I know, the LUVLUV types are better for the industry than the broader fans.
Bamboo: I think how someone would answer that question would give you different answers for so many things. Would fans of the medium be more likely to buy DVDs? Or would they be more likely to download fansubs, because they want more of it? Would girls who luvluvluv Sausuke be more likely to snap up Naruto merch? Or would they be more likely to pirate more anime?
Casey: I still think it's a fair question. Are we worrying about the fate of the medium itself? Or are we detaching franchising empires from any one particular platform? This discussion has gotten extremely muddled.
Bamboo: This is a topic that leads to muddling. I don't think there's a clear answer for anything, and the longer we discuss it, the more we find that everything is intermeshed. The anime market is a complicated beast. It's a microcosm of the live-action industry, only with more nerds. I mean, just look at this conversation. It started out as the usefulness of fansubs, and it's come to a talk about the health of the industry. That's not a coincidence. You can't talk about one without the other, and you can't talk about fans without taking into consideration how the market has changed, and how vital it is to find new distribution methods.
Sara: I don't think we have to worry about the fate of the medium, personally, coming from someone who works in animation. I don't see it going away in the future as long as there are artists willing to make it.
getfresh: And thus why it is still a gray area.
Casey: I think the prospects of any one particular medium is much more complicated than whether people are "willing" to work in it or not. There are issues of casualization as well as revenue streams. But leave that for another day.

Sara: You think, though? By marketing standards, 2D animation in the U.S. should be dead, and yet there is a whole movement of young artists working on its revival. I think discussing the market and the medium are two separate conversations.
Casey: Sara, the market and the medium are only separate conversations if you have other means of living. Of course amateurs with other means can do whatever they want, but a professional makes art their livelihood. And it is increasingly difficult for to do that in a number of mediums. Music being one of those. If talent is not rewarded financially, a lot of talented people will not emerge in a medium. Getting back to American comics, that's been a big problem for Marvel and DC.
Sara: I disagree, but I think we'll have to talk about it another time.
Bamboo: Getfresh, I still dislike fansubs, but I admire you for sticking to the older stuff. Except Maria. You're still on notice for that one. But I still think fansubs will eventually cease to exist.
Sara: I still disagree. I think they'll stick around in some context or another.
getfresh: Feel free to kick me for Maria anytime... I am already kicking myself. I think fansubs will just change to where they're covering different content from other countries, but I don't think they'll ever really die. There are many different countries doing excellent shows.
Bamboo:I'll just send Shawne Kleckner's hounds after you.

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