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In all forms of media today, the sales figures are floated in the economic ocean, with their popularity being the largest factor in maintaining their buoyancy. This rings especially true for the anime industry, which mainly focuses on the sale of DVDs and Blu-ray releases of its shows and movies. The sales figures for anime is not exclusive to Japan, however, as much of it is localized and released in the United States, sometimes accounting for a full 40% of a particular franchise’s sales. With the advent of the Internet, small circles of individuals in Japan record episodes of a show during its broadcast and upload them onto the Internet, where they are taken in by private circles who translate the original Japanese audio and graft the newly translated English subtitles onto the video file.

This process of translating and inserting subtitles, colloquially known by anime fans on the Internet as “fansubbing”, is performed exclusively by private groups of fans of that particular show or movie, and not by an official distributor or localization team. These fansub groups, as they are called, typically translate a series while it is airing in the current broadcast season in Japan. The episodes are then distributed throughout the Internet via direct download websites and torrents, usually hosted on the fansub group’s own blog. Many supporters of the anime industry denounce the work of fansub groups, labeling it as “piracy”, “thievery”, and “the cancer that is killing the anime industry”.

Fansubbers provide invaluable benefits to the Internet Era’s anime community. By translating the current shows of a particular broadcast season, fansub groups allow the latest shows to be easily accessible to the large and ever growing Western fanbase. Anime fans in America, for example, would normally be unable to watch the newest offerings from Japan until at least a year after its initial airing, thanks to the lengthy licensing and localization process that American must wade through in order to port a series over the water. Being able to sit down with their Japanese brethren and watching the same things together enables anime fans across the globe to unite in discussions about a particular show. Series-based forum RPs such as Project R are good examples of this, as their purpose is not simply to discuss a specific show, but rather to reenact and revise it through active poster participation. It is not uncommon to find a geographically diverse user base in such RPs as well.

Critics of these freelance translators claim that this service threatens the profits that a series creator makes on their title. This, however, is not the case, as fansub groups perform their services without charging any sort of price for their work. In addition, disclaimers are inserted within the episodes which explicitly state that the fansub is free and that it may not be sold or rented to any other party. While it is still free distribution of a company’s intellectual property, no profit is made by any fansub group involved, mitigating any fiscal loss. Fansubbers also generate widespread interest in a show in the Western community, which can bolster sales. A good example of this is the series Code Geass, which, thanks to fansubbing, created a large internet fandom. American fans waited with bated breath for their new favorite show to be localized and promptly purchased it in droves, resulting in over 1 million discs being sold worldwide.

Although the debate over the nature of fansubbing rages on to this very day, new anti-fansub measures taken by the companies may quell such arguments, as the corporate arm moves in to corner the fansub “market”, with the power of simulcasting. Companies have begun to translate, sub, and stream a selection of shows from the current broadcast season. Sunrise has presented another interesting tactic in the campaign against fansubs: simultaneous release. Every installment of Gundam Unicorn is released in dual audio with multiple subtitle options throughout the world on the same day. This essentially eliminates the language and location obstacles that fansubs were created to mitigate. As of now, however, very few series (if any, aside from the aforementioned Gundam Unicorn) receive such treatment, allowing enough space in the doorway for fansubbers to exist. While some may find the very notion of modifying and redistributing someone else’s creation to be morally abhorrent, fansub groups ultimately tear down the linguistic and geographic barriers of the anime fandom, especially in the absence or failure of corporations to do so in the same capacity.

 

-Zeonic Glory

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