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What is a "fansub"?

Simply put, a fansub is a copy of an anime title (a movie or a series episode) which has been subtitled by a group of fans, and then released for free to the public. Thus a fansubber is a person (or persons) who works on a fansub title.

The Gory Details

Thanks to recent advancements in various computer technologies including high speed internet access, Peer-2-Peer (P2P) networks, fast computers with excellent graphics, and the ability to compress a video file down an incredible amount without losing video quality, fansubs are more common today than ever before.

Fansubs were started to bring anime to the US so that us non-Japanese speaking people could understand and enjoy movies and shows not currently available to us. By creating an awareness of these titles, it was hoped that an American company would pick up the license and distribute it here. In this, fansubbers succeeded wildly.

In the days before this technological advance, fansubs cost a lot of money to create. Generally speaking, you had to have a laserdisc (LD) player, a couple of Hi-Fi VCRs (if not more), some sort of video overlay equipment, and expensive, and HQ video tapes. Also, you had to be able to pay the high price for importing LD's or VHS's from Japan and you just really had to love anime to do all this for free. Of course you still needed a translator or having all that equipment was useless. Thus fansub groups were formed, spreading out the cost and time requirements amongst the group and making things easier for everyone. Once the title was subtitled and a new master tape created, the word would be put out and people wishing a copy of this could send in a brand new VHS tape. The master would be copied to the sent-in tape, and that tape returned to the sender, thus allowing them to see the requested anime.

Today things are much easier. With the advent of TIVO technology (recording shows digitally to a computer hard drive), shows that are being aired in Japan can be seen in fansub form in two weeks with distrobution to thousands of people in a short period of time. Now all one needs to quickly release a fansub of a TV anime is a contact in Japan to record shows onto a TIVO-type device for TV shows. The recording is then extracted from the TIVO and sent to the translator of the group (sometimes, the person recording the show in Japan is also the translator but this isn't always the case). After the translator does their thing, an editor comes along and makes sure the English is proper and makes sense. It is here that decisions on whether to include certain Japanese terms are made such as honorifics, which most fansubbers include in their subtitles. Once the English text is OK, the file and text are sent to the person(s) responsible for typesetting (so you can read the subtitles), timing (so the subtitles match what is being said onscreen), and finally encoding.

For DVD releases of anime (primarily OAV and movie titles), the process is similar. If you are lucky, you have someone in Japan who can buy and RIP (the process of taking the video off the DVD and coverting it into a video file on your computer) the DVD for you. This saves a lot of time as your other choice is to buy the DVD yourself and shipping can take five days for fast shipping, and that's expensive. After the DVD is RIPPED, the process is the same as for the TV series.

Some Final Items About Fansubs

  1. Fansubs are illegal, period. Japanese companies tend to turn a blind eye to them much the same way they do to /doujinshi/ (fan comics). While there's nothing that officially states this, it is believed that Japanese companies see fansubs as a way to fuel interest in a series in America and thus allow them to make more money off of anime distribution in America.
  2. The unwritten rule amongst fansubbers is that once a title becomes licensed in America, they immediately stop fansubbing the title, even if it is in the middle of a series. This is a code of ethics which fansubbers feel keep them out of trouble with the distribution companies (ADV, Pioneer, FUNimation, etc.). You'll often see these groups proudly announce the licensing of the title and tell you to go buy the DVD, even though the DVD (or DVDs) won't be around for a year or two at the earliest. Remember, the goal of fansubbing isn't to bring you free entertainment, though that's what it is. The goal is to get more licensed anime to America.There are a few exceptions to the rules.
    1. Sometimes if there are only one or two more episodes to complete a series, a fansub group will go ahead and release them.
    2. Distributors can make a statement at a convention saying they have a title (as FUNimation did with Tenchi Muyo! GXP and thus stop all fansubbing projects. In this case, nine months passed and !FUNimation wouldn't confirm they had the rights to GXP. So a fansub group picked the project back up for a short time until they lost their translator. Shortly after that, FUNimation re-announced they had the project at a convention and then actually confirmed it, thus killing all future efforts.
    3. If the series is ongoing in Japan and has been running for years (like Inuyasha), fansub groups may opt to continue releasing new episodes knowing it will be years before those are seen on DVD in America.
    4. The fansub group may decide they don't care and continue to do a licensed project anyway. These groups are frowned upon heavily and seen as a threat to fansubbing in general. More often than not, groups that release licensed titles aren't true fansub groups. Many times they will do a RIP of a licensed DVD and distribute that.
  3. The other rule fansubbers have is one they want their audience to follow. Once a title is licensed in America, fansubbers request that you:
    1. Stop all distribution of the licensed title. While many people do follow this rule, many do not and continue to share the files for those who are interested in seeing it before buying it.
    2. Delete the video file from your hard drive and destroy any CD's or !DVDs you have of the file. As above, some people follow this rule but many do not and continue to share the files for those who are interested in seeing it before buying it.
    3. If you liked the series, go out and buy it! By doing this, you help sales and thus take away the argument that fansubs harm anime.
Created by: AstroNerdBoy

See Also:

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