As an anime fan, you sometimes don’t have the opportunity to watch something you want to watch without having to resort to fansubs. While Crunchyroll licenses quite a lot of new series and more and more series get licensed to be released on DVD or Blu-ray, there are a few that simply can’t be watched in a legal way other than to learn Japanese and ordering it straight from Japan. Fansubbing is a bit of grey area, on which I’m planning on writing an article, but for now I’ll try to give a bit of an insight into the world behind fansubbing. I’ve asked a random fansubber if he or she was willing to answer some questions, and he or she agreed.
Q: Who are you?
A: I am a fansubber.
Q: What do you want?
A: Preferably to sub shows I like, which sadly isn’t always the case.
Q: Who do you serve?
A: My opinions here are entirely my own and don’t necessarily represent the views of the people I work with. To prevent that people might think otherwise or change their opinion on the group(s) I work for, I’d rather stay anonymous and not answer this question.
Q: Fair enough. So tell me, how does a fansub see the light of day?
A: It differs per group. The group I’m going to take as an example here works as follows: 1. acquire a transport stream; 2. encoding; 3. translation; 4. timing (& typesetting); 5. translation check; 6. editing; 7. quality check #1; 8. quality check #2; 9. mux and release.
I’m leaving out karaoke here, since they’re pretty much one-time events. Other groups might work in a different way, but I prefer this one.
Q: Would you mind explaining all the steps a bit? I know what that they are, but the few visitors my site gets might not.
A: You’re underestimating my laziness now. But fine, fine. A transport stream is like a digital copy of the Japanese TV-airing. An encoder applies some filters to it or whatever, removes commercials, does some other technical stuff and makes a good-looking video file out of it. I’m not entirely familiar with the process of encoding, but this should be about it in a nutshell. Depending on time zones, since fansubbing is by all means a world-wide thing, a translator either translates off the video the encoder encoded, or uses a low-quality shareraw if the encoder isn’t finished yet. In some cases the translator uses closed captions which were part of the transport stream. When he’s done translating, he passes a text file with his translations to the timer, who then proceeds by putting the lines at the right place (time), adding some lead in and lead out, connecting lines if possible, applying dialog styles, and in some cases he also typesets the signs, as long as these signs aren’t too complicated and don’t need editing first. After the timer is done he passes the script to the translation checker, who looks over the subtitles to see if he can find translations errors, timing errors, or simply offer alternatives to some lines or words. When he’s done, the editor can work his magic. He’s to look over the script and make solid English out of it. After that, two quality checkers look for any left-over grammar errors, badly phrased lines, timing errors, logic errors, and whatever catches their attention. The editor then applies whatever the quality checkers found and the group can release their freshly-made fansub. I’m leaving out some bits, like possible translation queries and both fruitful and fruitless discussions between the editor and the quality checkers, but this about covers it.
Q: Sounds time-consuming, to be honest. How come groups can release within several hours after a TV-airing?
A: Like I said, some groups work in a different way, where steps are done almost simultaneously. They tend to use a site like titanpad to let multiple people work on it at the same time. And some groups simply rip existing scripts from Crunchyroll, skipping the translation parts. On average we try to release within 48 hours of the initial broadcast. Sometimes this simply can’t happen because of time zones and staff availability. Some of the staff actually have lives and a job, or are still going to school.
Q: What’s the best part of fansubbing?
A: I actually have no idea. I’d like to answer it’s fun and fulfilling, but at times that clearly isn’t the case. Like when you work on a show you don’t really like, or when it takes ages to get it out because of aforementioned time zones and staff availability. I prefer not to lose any sleep over fansubbing, but sometimes I don’t have a choice if we want it released in a timely manner.
The best thing about fansubbing might actually be the interaction between some of the staff members.
Q: The logical follow-up on the last question and your answer to it is an easy one: What’s the worst part of fansubbing?
A: Lots of things, actually. Unreliable staff members might be an obvious choice, but it’s actually a whole different thing I dislike most about the whole fansubbing business.
Q: Do I need to add a drum roll for dramatic effect now?
A: No need. No, the worst thing about fansubbing are the downloaders, the leechers. Not all of them of course, but some of them I’d rather get rid of. The worst are the people who think they’re entitled to something. Like when you’re releasing a day later than you normally release, and they start asking when it’s done. My standard answer to that is “When it’s done.” One group I know of simply bans them from their IRC channel. While that might be a bit severe, there are leechers who don’t leave it at that, they start acting annoyed, saying that other groups already released, asking why you’re so slow and stuff like that.
And they can be extremely ungrateful. I don’t need people telling me all the time our releases are fantastic or something, but there are a bunch of ungrateful leechers who just about jump on everything they see as an error, even when there is none. You can’t imagine the shit storm it would cause if we for some reason decided to drop honorifics for instance.
Q: Actually I can. I’m writing an article on the very subject of honorifics.
A: Right. And I actually know you’re not impartial toward dropping them. Well, anyway, it’s the same with a few words you hear often in anime, the stock phrases. Since Japanese is pretty much a language depending on context, some words or phrases can be translated in multiple ways. There are leechers who then start whining, thinking that the translation they heard most often is the only way it can be translated. It gets tiresome. There’s another thing about leechers I don’t like, but if I told you that, it might sound more like envy than anything else.
Q: You mean like how a big part of the leechers jump on pretty much the first release, no matter the quality?
A: Uh yes. I’m not going to discredit other groups since we’re not quite flawless either, but some groups are really, really bad. And yet they get thousands of downloads. It’s like they don’t seem to care what they’re watching.
Q: You’re right, that does sound like a bit like envy, but I know what you mean. Translation errors aside, you do have to take in account that not all leechers are that well-versed in English, though, and probably won’t even notice when subs have flaws in grammar and such.
A: True. But there’s really no way I can put it in words without sounding envious anyway, so I’m just going to leave it at this if you don’t mind.
Q: No, that’s okay. Now that we’re at the subject of other groups, don’t you think there are too many groups doing the same series at the moment? I mean, when it comes to Sword Art Online I can choose from at least six different groups, and on top of that, it streams on Crunchyroll. I’m not even mentioning the straight Crunchyroll rip groups and the people who re-encode other releases.
A: Yeah, I don’t really get it either. But I do know that when you, as a group, set your mind on working on something, you won’t back down because other groups are doing it as well. However, this does lead to some of the other shows having virtually no fansubbers doing them at all, which is a shame. There’s hardly any balance.
Q: Well, you could wait for that niche and jump on it.
A: We could, yeah, but we prefer to choose our new show(s) before the start of the season. And we don’t have enough staff to cover more shows than we do now. Especially (good) translators are hard to come by and I refuse to do Crunchyroll rips (for which you don’t need translators). But ripping Crunchyroll doesn’t fill that niche anyway.
Q: Is there a sense of competitiveness between groups?
A: In a way, yes. There are various sites that compare fansubs and it’s not unheard of that other group’s members start criticizing a release by a group that’s working on the same show they’re also doing. I try to steer clear of that, since doing that can give you a bad rep, and I prefer to let our releases do the talking. Sites that compare fansubs head-to-head don’t always necessarily present the best comparison anyway. Ten screenshots or something are hardly a good representation of a twenty-four minute release.
Q: One could think you sound bitter.
A: Yes, I can imagine so, but I’m not bitter about anything, though. But like they say, fansubbing is serious business.
Q: One of the things people have against Crunchyroll is the lack of karaoke and song translations. Personally I skip opening and ending songs, so I rather have chapters than karaoke. What’s your opinion on that matter?
A: We put in karaoke in all of our releases because it’s pretty much the standard in fansubbing. Personally I don’t really care about them. Like you, I skip them if possible.
Q: Okay, thank you for your time. I was going to ask about the rationale behind being a fansubber and its legal status, but I’ll let you off the hook for now.
A: Good. By the way, how’s that QC coming along?