Sunday, May 10, 2009

Anime Simulcasts: Give Them Steak and They Demand Filet Mignon

Back in the '80's (yes, it's one of those "back when I was a kid" stories, except I wasn't a kid at that point), when we wanted to watch Japanese animation, we watched videotapes sent from correspondents in Japan, without dubbing or subtitles; and sometimes we watched a second- or third-generation copy. And the tapes would be distributed by daisy-chaining VCRs. And we liked it! Well, we liked it because there was nothing better available.

A couple of decades later, the Internet gave rise to fansubbing, the phenomenon in which fans in Japan would upload video programs soon after they aired, and fans would add subtitles and distribute them in the U.S. -- all without the copyright owners seeing a dime.

Even when shows were licensed and sold in the U.S., fans would stick with their fansubs. The main reason given was that the licensed product wasn't released fast enough in the U.S. And it wasn't free. That is likely one of the factors that popped the bubble of anime sales in the U.S. (along with the general decline of the economy and of the DVD market).

Now various Japanese studios and licensors have struck deals by which Japanese animated shows are professionally subtitled and shown on streaming video in the U.S., free of charge to viewers (the profit is from advertising at the beginning of the stream), often simultaneous with or within hours after the Japanese showings.

That's light years from what we had in the '80's. Surely that would be enough to stop the flight to fansubbing.

Well, no. When a copyright enforcer from licensor Funimation was interviewed on Anime News Network, fans wrote comments complaining about these streams. They're too slow, the fans write. The buffer rates are frustrating. The translations aren't as good as fan-produced ones. (If the viewers can tell the difference, why do they need subtitles at all?) They complain about hypertechnical video quality details.

To quote Brian from Monty Python's LIFE OF, "There's just no pleasing some people."

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