Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Fansub Wars: Send in the Clowns

The seedier side of the otaku community regularly voices a nasty little script, that starts off with something along the lines of: "I love anime, and I download it all the time, but I never buy it because..." What follows is inevitably disingenuous, myopic, and nauseatingly self-serving. These arguments stunk on ice when people spewed them onto Usenet in 1993, trying to justify their collections of fansub VHS tapes, and they haven't become any less grotesque in the interim.

There's been a lot more of this nonsense lately, thanks to a pair of commentaries on fansubbing and the anime industry, one from Arthur Smith of GDH International condemning the fans for, well, not really being fans in any meaningful sense of the word, and another from Justin Sevakis of Anime News Network that takes the industry to task for not adapting to the changing expectations of the fans. These commentaries were probably themselves inspired by the recent implosion of Geneon (or at least Geneon's US anime licensing and distribution arm), which served as a dramatic demonstration of the sinking fortunes of the anime industry. Smith and Sevakis both, I think, are guilty of some exaggeration, but their basic premises seem sadly accurate.

As if to prove Smith's point, an awful lot of the responses from the fans have been of the "I love anime, but..." type. The reasons these people give for not actually supporting the medium they say they love are various, but usually include some subset of: 1) nobody cares about downloading, 2) it's too much trouble to get DVDs, 3) anime dubs are crappy, 4) it takes too long for things to come out, 5) DVDs aren't HD, 6) downloads are like advertising, and 7) DVDs are too expensive. These are all pathetic, after-the-fact justifications for a policy of grabbing as much free anime as possible regardless of legal or ethical considerations. They're so transparently poor as excuses for bad behavior that it it hardly seems worthwhile to address them individually, but for what it's worth: 1) listen to what the creators say, 2) Amazon, Netflix, 3) "audio" button on the remote, 4) patience is a virtue, 5) upconvert player and decent TV, 6) nobody paid for entertainment before illegal downloading?

Pathetic excuse #7 has a special place in my heart, since I'm a veteran of the days when anime cost $100 for a 40 minute LD. I was a starving student back then, and I own shelves full of those LDs. American DVDs are cheap as hell; I've eaten crappy lunches that cost me more than the average anime DVD that I buy. If you're whining about $20 for five episodes of a show you supposedly like, you're a contemptible loser. I'm not talking about anyone out there who is truly poor, and watches Lucky Star on YouTube at the public library, as his or her sole mental escape from life in the ghetto. I can't speak for the anime companies, but as far as I'm concerned, he or she should go ahead and watch Lucky Star on YouTube. Everyone else, sitting in your suburban basements or patchouli-scented dorm rooms, in front of your $1200 laptops and $40 a month cable modems: just find another goddamned hobby. You're parasites, and the whole anime community--from the overworked, underpaid artists who create the stuff, to the kid saving his allowance to buy a Naruto video--would be better off without you.

Manabi wags her finger admonishingly at fans who don't support anime creators.

Whew. That's about enough of that. I usually try to keep the tone positive here at Moetic Justice, but a nice frothing rant once in a long while is cathartic. I'll close with a few of my own thoughts about the use of downloaded anime, with rant mode off.

I do watch fansubs and raws, as is pretty obvious if you glance at the M.J. archive (or the screencap in this post...). I guess that my rule of thumb for watching downloads has two components. First, I never watch anything via download, beyond a sample episode or two, that I don't wholeheartedly enjoy. Easy enough. Second, I buy or rent everything that I have found I enjoy, plus a healthy sampling of shows that are new to me, when they become legitimately available in the U.S. (and even pick up the occasional R2 disc). Overall, I probably wind up with more anime coming to my monitor from legit DVDs than from fansubs. I like to think that this scheme provides a sort of economic symmetry between what I love and what I pay for, that compensates the creators fairly for their efforts, supports the industry and encourages the production of more of the shows that I like. Who knows if it really does; half of it is still illegal, and the whole is probably terribly hypocritical. At best, it's the copyright infringement equivalent of borrowing without asking. Ah well, it doesn't sound so bad when I put it that way, and hypocrisy is the least of sins.

And, maybe there's a hopeful sign--amid all the recent portents of doom for the anime industry--in the fact that the fansub wars have been simmering for more than a decade. There have always been obnoxious scofflaws who point to their stacks of fansubs, and launch into elaborate explanations of how they love anime, but... However, these people were, and probably still are, in the minority, and anime has done pretty well in spite of them.


Anonymous said...

This is probably the probably the most biting rant I've read on the issue so far -- and probably the one the "fans" need to hear the most. The thing that annoys me the most about the leeches are the built-in excuses: The dubs suck, the subs suck (which somehow only became a major complaint after DVDs gave us the option between languages - hmmmm), the price is too much, DVDs are "obsolete" and all the cool kids download and view online now, the cheaper DVD sets don't have enough extras, the wait is too long....and on and on it goes. Just be honest people, you're cheap and you want something for nothing.

While I thought Justin's letter was a bit light on the fansub-mostly crowd, I know his letter was aimed at the industry -- and he's mostly right on those points. They need to re-think, and re-think fast. That won't stop the kids with the entitlement mentality, but it will help those legitimately looking for an way to watch online.

Matt said...

I think the ANN letter was a bit over-the-top, but yeah, things have probably reached the point where the industry needs to consider what they're going to do to replace the "DVDs at Best Buy" business model. They've made some starts (sample episodes online from ADV, Death Note downloads from Viz), but haven't come up with anything really satisfactory yet.

The difficulties involved in releasing legit online subs, quickly, are probably fairly substantial. It's one thing for a fansubber to slap a translation onto an episode and stick it up on BT within a week of airing, but it would be something else entirely to pull off the same feat legally, with all the rights holders satisfied, and with some method in place to make it commercially viable (sponsors or fees). It could be done, but I don't imagine it would be easy, especially for small, understaffed anime studios and licensors.