Fansubs Don’t Grow On Trees: Gundam 00 and the new ethics of fansubbing

gundam_00_title.jpgI quit watching Gundam 00, about a month ago. The storyline was moving at a snail’s pace, even for a mecha show (which is known its glacial plot development) and there were too many characters to keep track of. I come back to it this weekend and a good quarter of the secondary characters were dead. Wow, Sejii Mizushima, you work fast.

Last week, a major (not to mention extremely popular) character was killed off, after having a near-death skirmish only two episodes earlier, and an iconic death scene that seems to take a page from Spike Spiegel‘s School of Dying.

Within hours of the show airing in Japan, messages boards and blogs were flooded with eulogies and someone posts a bagpipe tribute to the Irishcharacter.Comments came in from the UK, the US, France, Canada. Astounding because the episode is only completing its first airing in Japan.

Back in the day (and I am talking about a decade or so ago) U.S. fans who wanted to stay on top of the latest anime in Japan through of fansubs often had a lengthy and frustrating waiting process – at least 5-6 months, and that’s a generous estimation – before getting their hands on the VHS recordings of the shows. You had to wait for the show to come out, then for a fansub group to do translation and endure the technically elaborate subbing and distribution process.

Sometimes, fans paid the price for their enthusiasm, if a show was licensed by a commercial anime distributor, many fansubbers stopped distribution of a show once it was be available for legal distribution in the States. It’s a laudable code of ethics; most fansubbers do what they do for the love, not to promote piracy. But it could be a frustrating situation for the (somewhat) ethical fanboy or girl; you could conceivably be in the middle of a series and then would have to wait several more months, if not years, to see how the show ends. Sometimes the limbo would be longer, if the show was licensed but lacking a firm release schedule, or if a show didn’t sell well and the commercial distributor let the license expire, the viewer once again forced to turn to fansubs should they want to view the full show.

Now, with desktop video editing software, YouTube and file sharing as the norm, and online forums making it impossible for fans to escape spoilers, the fansub of old is a relic. And along with it, the taboo of fansubbing is a thing of the past with many contemporary anime fans, who don’t make the same distinction between anime that is licensed or unlicensed, legal or illegal. Much as with the music fans, if it’s available on BitTorrent or on YouTube fans see it as freely available and will consume it with little compunction. Also the expected turnaround time for a fansub has evaporated to nearly nothing. the idea of , waiting for a show as little as two days after its original airing is toolong of a wait. A week is an eternity.

So it’s interesting to me, as a fan that’s old enough to remember VHS fansubs, but young enough to watch fansubs on YouTube to see the new debates about distribution of fansubs m ove away from issues of ethics (i.e. when is it was ethically correct for a fansubber to take a show in or out of distribution) and more into issues of fandom “quality assurance.”

Take, for example, a controversy earlier in Gundam 00’s run when a previously respected fansubber came under fire for a number of translation errors, which you can read more about here.

It’s worth mentioning that the subtitled show was available via, er, various means only two days after its initial air date in Japan. While some fans were angered and disappointed by the errors, other fans lamented the transactional perspective of some fans toward fansubbers efforts.

One commenter on the above linked page posted:

“I’m just sick and tired of the mentality among anime fans that “Anime should be free and I should not have to pay” and “I want my anime here, now, in the highest quality and with the best translation” without really thinking about supporting the oficial(sp) release that has this, only that it isn’t here as soon as the show aired in Japan and they have to pay for it.”

So it’s an interesting point we’re at with anime fandom, just as with music fandom, where the much of the fan expectation is lightning-fast turnaround and professional-level quality from fansubbers without also participating said volunteer efforts, or intending to financially support the original creators in any way. Without sounding too much like a fogey, I wonder at what point does this interpretation of the Free Culture mentality hinder fandom just as much as big business and restrictive copyright does.

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4 thoughts on “Fansubs Don’t Grow On Trees: Gundam 00 and the new ethics of fansubbing

  1. Piracy is not actually as big of a deal as the recording and video companies would like to make. Sure they are loosing money on cds or dvd sales. However, that is not where the majority of money comes from. It comes from TV broadcast licensing and all the clothing. So much apparel. Also, piracy is Generation Y which in some ways has been fed by the open source movement.

    Also, Deviant Art has been raided.

  2. I think the point or question you’re asking is very valid, interesting reading!

    Zavrion: you’re missing the point. It’s not about piracy, or not the main thing anyway, it’s about whats happening to the fan subbing scene that the appreciation for the work the artists are doing.

  3. Pingback: Why you should watch Inuyasha on Hulu « The Learned Fangirl

  4. Somehow I stumbled upon this old post of yours by Google, and I hope you do not mind I reply to it; the topic is as valid as ever. I am an old school fansubber, so I have appreciation to the so-called the “old school rules”.

    Demanding things to be subbed ASAP or fansubbing for any other purpose then providing the means of access to the otherwise inaccessible is harmful to the whole industry. Free Culture is not believing one has the right to force others to set their property to a price one prefer. Artists, scientists, writers have to earn a living. The FOSS (Free and Open Source) movement is work of who by their free will to support FOSS; nobody make them to like FOSS.

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