World Anime Government vs. Pirates!

Sorry for taking so long at putting up my first RabbitPoets blog, but I hope that I can make it worth the wait!

Before I get into the meat and potatoes of the thunderously triumphant topic of discussion, let me set some historical context in order for people to better understand what’s going on right now.

For roughly a decade, this was more or less “the system” for heavy internet using anime fans outside of Japan:

Fansubs were there in order to watch anime shows as quickly as possible, and to sample them before putting money down on DVDs or Blu-Rays.

DVDs or Blu-Rays would then ideally be bought by fansub viewers based on the shows that they saw *and* liked. This is how anime fans would support the anime industry.

Now, that’s an admittedly somewhat idealistic take on things, as some fans don’t buy anything, but it was still an approach that many anime fans took.

And on the whole, I felt that it was a good approach.

Fansubs are, as the term suggests, produced by fans and for fans. They hence are made by people with strong ties to the anime fandom. They tend to have their finger on the pulse of the anime fandom, and know what we want in the animes that we watch. So, fansubs are often tailor-made to be as exceptionally entertainingly enjoyable as possible.

They are also, generally speaking, not put out for profit, but rather for reasons such as…

  1. Contributing to the online anime fanbase
  2. Promoting specific animes by getting them to as many fans as possible
  3. Gaining some degree of appreciation, if not fame, from fellow fans

This means that fansub producers have a vested interest in making the highest quality fansubs possible. There’s generally no staff to be paid to produce the fansubs, so financial concerns are not major ones. There’s no need to cut corners in order to lower costs, in other words.

So, the internet was like this pioneering land of fantastically frolicking freedom and awesomely anticipated adventuring. For anime fans, the world was their oyster when they ventured on the internet, with loads of different options for where and when and how to acquire digital copies of all the animes that they wanted to see.

Then, after these fansubs were watched, the anime fan could choose to go out and give back to the industry by buying the DVDs or Blu-Rays.

All-in-all, it was  a pretty good set-up, I thought. Granted, fansubs are technically illegal, but it’s the sort of illegality that is rarely enforced, and which companies tend to not care about as long as their bottom lines look as impressive as the Grand Line of One Piece.

However, a lot of anime fans didn’t want to support the anime industry through buying DVDs or Blu-Rays, but they did want to help the anime industry in some fashion at least. And so, there was a big push put on for the anime industry to engage more and more in digital distribution. And so, we now have Crunchy Roll and Funimation.

And so, we now have unintended consequences.

At least they were unintended from the fans’ perspective.

Those consequences are Funimation (after getting into some hot water with the Fractale Production Committee due to online piracy of Fractale) going after the pirates of an anime based on pirates. ;)

And those consequences might also include VIZ media now trying to take control of Narutofan.com.

(If anybody wants more info on that, just ask in a comment reply – I’m still getting used to this new blog format, so I’m not going to try linking to other sites directly yet).

Much of the anime fandom wanted the anime industry to engage us more online. To offer a legal digital distribution method for all of its shows. To become more in touch with the vast online anime fandom.

But one of the main questions that I want to pose here is the following:

Do we really want that?

When it comes to the internet, fans rarely get to set the terms of contact and transaction between them and the businesses that seek to sell to them.

A good example of this is the video game industry, where DLC (downloadable content) has sadly become little more than a way for the video game industry to gouge their customers by selling digital content that probably should have been on the game to begin with.

It’s important to keep in mind that unlike fansubbers, the anime industry is in this primarily to make a profit.

Now, there’s nothing inherently wrong with that. People do have to earn a living after all.

But still, once a profit motive is factored in, that means that some of what you like as a fan might be factored out, in order to serve that profit motive.

In the case of video games, what is often factored out is getting a truly complete game at the first point of sale.

And in the case of anime, what is often factored out is video quality, the option to download to save, and perhaps most importantly, the ability to have an online fan community organized by fans and for fans.

Because VIZ Media is threatening that by trying to take over Narutofan.com

And if Funimation is successful in its case against 1337 One Piece pirates, then you might eventually see a far less free-wheeling exchange of communication and content between fans from across the various corners of the globe.

Once you have corporations running sites for fans, and holding a virtual monopoly over digital distribution, you get people at the very top that are not really in touch with your average fan. So fan concerns can often get sidelined, if not unnoticed entirely.

I don’t really blame Funimation for doing what it’s doing. And while what VIZ Media is doing is probably not ethical, I can definitely understand their motives in doing it.

But we as fans should probably take a step back, and take a good hard look at the bigger picture.

I think that we should ask ourselves “What do we want the online world to be like for each of us as anime fans, and for the online anime community as a whole?”

Before making suggestions, try to keep in mind possible unintended consequences.

Now, in the interim, I would actually encourage fans living in America to check out any available Funi stream for an anime show that they like. It is one small way of helping an industry going through tough times to stay afloat.

At the same time, though, if you’re comfortable and content with just fansubs for the shows that Funi or Crunchy Roll don’t yet have, then make that known. If you want the old “fansub for sampling, DVDs/Blu-Rays to help the industry” system to stay in place as much as possible, then make that known. If there’s internet sites that you think should be ran by fans and for fans, then make that known.

I think that the online anime fandom is nearing a crossroads. More and more we see anime companies getting interested on the internet side of things. This is also what Yamakan, of Haruhi and Kannagi fame, has pushed for. From his perspective, it’s an intuitively intelligent innovation. From the fan’s perspective, though, is it for the best?

Well, it can be very good in some ways, but it can also have unwelcome undesirable unintended consequences.

Speaking personally, I don’t want the anime industry to take over the online side of things like the video game industry has done. I think that there needs to be some sort of buffer between fans and the industry that serves us, in order to ensure that we anime fans don’t get taken advantage of like many video game fans unfortunately have.

What do you, good reader, think?

Please let me know. :)

And please let me know what you thought of this, my first blog post at Rabbit Poets.