Why I Like Fansubs, Part 1
The recent docu-rant by Otaking on youtube finally compelled me to finish this post up. Even though I don’t agree with a lot of what Otaking said (or at least to the degree he does), I do have to commend him for spending as much as time and effort as he did making his documentary.
The greatest problem I have with the documentary as a whole is his choice of examples. If nearly every fansub being put out is garbage as Otaking contends then he should have an easy time finding examples. Instead he uses a bunch of shows I’ve never seen or watch – the only show I recognized and watch was Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei but he didn’t used a.f.k.’s fansub which was widely regarded as the best. It greatly weakens his entire argument he has to find obscure shows or groups to prove his point. Why don’t we see shows like Bleach, Haruhi, Shana 2, Gurren Lagann or Naruto (on rewatch he does mention Naruto but without downloading Dattebayo’s fansubs for Naruto I don’t know if the subs for Naruto that he mentions is theirs or not), which are just a few of the popular series out there? Why aren’t subs from well-known and respected groups like a.f.k., SS, Eclipse, or Live-evil used as examples?
Of the various points that he brought up, the only one that I categorically and whole-heartedly disagree with is his hatred of English text overlaid on the picture. This is done to translate written Japanese text as seen on signs, newspaper headlines, and the like within an anime. His solution is to put the text in the bottom where the subs go but this isn’t a workable solution. For example, in this following screenshot we have a newspaper headline that was translated above it.
When a newspaper is shown, I, as many people, instinctively look at the headline. Therefore, I appreciate that the headline is translated right there so my eyes aren’t bouncing between the bottom and where the headline is as Otaking would want it. Another way Otaking’s suggestion breaks down is when there is text shown while someone is talking as in this next screenshot.
Sure you can put both the translation of the text and what’s being said on different lines at the bottom but how does the reader differentiate the two without additional text to read. And if the sub is supposed to “fade into the background” and give the English viewer the same experience, as close as possible, as the native Japanese viewer shouldn’t the English viewer be able to look at a sign in an anime and see what it says – isn’t that more natural than having to look at the bottom of the screen.
The final way that Otaking’s method breaks down is if there is too many signs that need translated as in the next pair of screen shots.
Sure it’s possible to put the translated sign text in the bottom but isn’t it obviously the more cluttered and jarring solution. It’s also possible to not translate the signs but when I’m watching anime and the animators take the time to draw the sign and include legible text that was obviously meant to be read then I want to know what the text is.
And yes, for certain shows like Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei where there’s a lot of background text and translating it all can clutter the screen but the fansubbers are really stuck since that text makes up a sizable portion of the comedy for the show and we need to see it. The best solution is to replace the Japanese text with English text but I can only really expect that from the official DVD release, if they bother. I popped in my Haruhi DVDs and went to the same spot as the last screenshot. They kept the signs in Japanese and translated the four signs in the bottom of the screen using the standard white with black border outline font (large and ugly looking but more on fonts in part 2). How is this better than a.f.k.’s fansub?
Probably the most petty of his points is when groups put their names in the credits. Yes, in most of the cases they put their names bigger than anyone that works on the anime but everyone in those credits from the director down got paid to make the anime. It’s there job, one that most of them probably like but a job nonetheless. The fansubbers are making the fansub for free so if they want some notoriety let them have it.
I’ll end part 1 with a point Otaking made that I had to agree with, in principal – the use of pop-up notes during the course of the show. Sometimes they can be annoying and pointless but what I think is pointless might be vital to someone else. And it works both ways, pop-up notes that I thought were particularly informative were thought by other people as annoying and pointless. It’s really impossible to pick the correct level of notes for an anime since people are on many different levels of familiarity with Japanese culture, language and anime in general. Therefore, I came up with a system that I use when watching anime – if I notice a note pop-up, I read the subtitle line and if I feel lost than I’ll pause and read the note but if I’m fine then I don’t even look at it.
I do feel that Otaking contradicts himself a bit when he mentions this though since on one hand he feels a fansub should be made as accessable as possible but on the other he blasts fansubbers who use notes for easy stuff. Which is it?
I, personally like the use of putting notes at the either the beginning or end of the show. A few shows come to mind, a.f.k.’s version of Sayonara Zetsubou Sensai included a note section at the end that explained jokes that the student’s names contained. It was very informative and he was able to go into much greater depth on an endnote than he could have with a pop-up note. Just recently on Wagaya no Oinari-sama, as subbed by Static-Subs, they included a note section at the end of one episode that explained something that was tied to traditional medicinal thinking – once again, very informative and since it was an endnote then it could be written up nicely.
To sum up my thoughts, any time that fansubbers spend explaining the show to us be it in pop-up notes or endnotes is extra time they don’t have to spend and thus they shouldn’t be flogged for it (especially since official jobs rarely bother to include any type of note). If your feeling incensed by one group’s work, politely suggest improvement or find another group.
Part 2 will cover translations, honorifics, karaoke and fonts. Below are the full-size screenshots of the pics used above along with a few more examples.