From Everything Shii Knows, the only reliable source

This website is an archive. It ran from 2006-2010. Virtually everything on here is outdated or inaccurate.

Here is a brief history of anime fansubbing and my thoughts on its future. If you're not familiar with anime fansubbing I guess you could read Jordan S. Hatcher's essay for a brief intro.


Other people's accounts of fansubbing

I have never been all that obsessed with anime; there are other, probably more accurate essays by:

The VHS era

There have been a dozen essays written about the VHS era by people far more informed than I, so I will not bother describing it.

While the previous generation was pouring sweat and blood into making VHS fansubs, I was a confused 13-year-old ogling the Ranma 1/2 tapes in the video store. I would covertly look at the back of the boxes, but I knew my parents would be very disturbed if they found out about the weird sexual antics of Ranma, so instead I worked my way towards it, buying Pokemon, Digimon, and Gundam. Eventually it turned out they didn't care, they bought me my precious Ranma for Christmas, and on that day my anime debauchery began.

Early digisubbing

Ahh... nostalgia! This is the ACTUAL SIZE of the Love Hina fansubs by #Anime-Fansubs, AnimeFactory, and others. Screenshot courtesy a really excellent AMV, one of the few things saved from that era.

The world before BitTorrent was a harsh one for fansubbers. Most real distribution was done over IRC, but of course these were the days when it was difficult to get good information. IRC channels were not always advertised on the subtitles; I personally had never used IRC at the time and obtained my fansubs over Kazaa. In general, because they were large videos and quite illegal, and because Google was just a baby start-up, communication was a huge mess and most people just grabbed whatever videos they could find without caring who created them. Digisubs, reencoded VHS subs, whatever. It was annoying when you couldn't find what you wanted but it really was a fun time to be watching anime and it all felt very "underground".

Pre-BitTorrent networks included semi-private FTPs, where you were often required to upload an episode before you could download one (highly annoying), and Direct Connect, where people would simply open up their hard drives and have a free-for-all leechfest. Both these systems worked somewhat well, but they were less than optimal for distributing such large and easily broken files.

One thing Sindobook mentions which I forgot is watermarking. During this period it really was difficult to encode stuff and even tougher to create the social network necessary to translate and distribute stuff to the outside world, and groups felt rather proud of what they did, so some of them watermarked the shows. In theory this is forgivable. It was around 2001, after all. Unfortunately the video size was so small that this often rendered things quite unwatchable. There was one encoder who, like DVD rippers of a later era, tacked on his own self-inflated intro movie to each of his works, which were often re-reencodes into Divx 3.11 of horrid RealVideo reencodes of VHS fansubs, proclaiming his encoding excellence. To add insult to injury he then put a enormous opaque watermark in the corner of the video. Even so, at the time everything was rare, there was no perception of quality, and his encodes even of Evangelion were widely distributed and easily found. Sindobook also mentions that major groups such as Elite-Fansubs were plagued with sophomoric infighting, but this was not as evident to the outside world as it quickly became as we entered 2003 and BitTorrent became the vogue.

The AnimeJunkies era

2002-2003 was the dark age of digisubbing. This is unusual for a geek community--usually there's a "golden age" early on, and then things descend into darkness-- but believe me, you are living in the golden age of fansubbing right now, and if you missed the AnimeJunkies period you should feel glad you did. The AnimeJunkies era was marked by the antics of a single person: AnimeJunkies ringleader Killshok. Somehow this guy, whose real age is unknown but had a mental age of no more than 12, managed to set the course for 90% of the anime groups of the time. These are still echoed in some ADTRW memes:

I didn't save any bad fansubs so here's a homespun parody.
Who the fuck are you anyways to buy a series we were doing? We are already sending this series out to more people than your sorry ass company ever will, why do you feel the need to release it to people? What are you gaining, besides enemy's. If you really want to sub, come to IRC and do it, charge if you want to.

The AnimeJunkies mentality did not fade away quickly after the group died an ignoble death, but persisted throughout most of 2004. As quality of raw video increased, DVD ripping groups had pioneered the innovation of "softsubs", where subtitles were rendered on top of the video by the media player instead of being pasted over it in the encoding process. This meant higher quality video, and the ability to remove subtitles and use the original video for whatever purpose you wanted, such as taking screenshots or translating into another language (at the time, non-English fansubs were sometimes rendered on top of other fansubs, creating a horrible mess).

As absurd as this might sound, most groups decided against softsubbing because they were worried someone was going to steal their translation. I know this firsthand: I asked a group called Mahou for their raw subtitle file of Tsukuyomi when they had encoding troubles, so I could watch their show with my personal raw. The encode took more than a week; they refused to give the subtitle file for me. So I found a Japanese speaker and made my own fansub, and they claimed that I had been trying to steal their translation. Such meaningless trash talk was par for the course.

A relic of the AnimeJunkies era was the OGM format, an unofficial hack which allowed Ogg Vorbis to be played in DirectShow, and also allowed softsubs. Only two groups produced OGM softsubs: a group called Honobono which translated shows into over 10 languages simultaneously, and yours truly, releasing Tsukuyomi softsubbed under the [ADTRW] tag.

ADTRW pissed off other, egotistical groups by releasing under various ridiculous names, including [MEYRIN], [BEST] (parody subs), [GIVEMEBLOOD], [BUTTRoCK], [ICE_CREAM], [TEAM_TOMARI], [Kamisabu!], and finally, my personal favorite, [RonPaul2008].

The golden age

"Leechers are too spoiled nowadays." --ScR3WiEuS, AnimeSuki

The main factors acting on anime since 2003 have been BitTorrent, which has democratized what had previously been an elitist process, and increasing quality.

ADTRW was one of the first groups to adopt Matroska softsubs. We braved much resistance in 2004, but by 2005 Matroska had caught on and today many new groups have been formed by people willing to drop their egotism. Some groups even release the subtitle file only, allowing anyone to make their own encode.

Technical improvements, too, have made this a great time to be fansubbing. One special feature of fansubs has always been "sign" subbing, which puts a manually drawn overlay over blocks of Japanese text to turn them into English. Official DVD sign subbing has been tried from time to time, but deemed somewhat expensive. Now fansubbers do it for free, and often with remarkable results. Triad's fansub of Kumo no Mukou, Yakusoku no Basho featured stunning, seamless sign work as well as extremely high video quality. Some new subs are done in H.264, a new video standard incompatible with AVI; but as a show of respect to the viewer so commonly found these days, Xvid AVI versions are usually released simultaneously.

It has become more common recently to translate the credits of seiyuu (voice actors) and directors, a hallmark of a growing fan community which can both identify and respect the authors of its work. Fansub notes, too, are a refreshingly common feature. Seichi's fansub of Gunslinger Girl pioneered the idea of having explanatory images before and after each episodeThis is wrong apparently

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