World Anime Government vs. Pirates!

Rob Lucci would make a fitting representative for Funimation. 😉

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.


9 Replies to “World Anime Government vs. Pirates!”

  1. Arguments like this go on all the time. Though it seems that 90% or more of the actual blog posts about this topic are written by the hardcore industry supporters while the rest of us just move along. I’m glad that someone with a different perspective has written on it.

    As for me I’m pretty much anti-industry as far as US anime companies go. I do like my anime free just because it’s free. That’s pretty much my first priority as I could never afford to watch as much as I do by buying it. Just figured I’d get that out of the way. Though that’s not to say that I wouldn’t pay for things under certain conditions, which gets to two points about fansubs vs BD/DVDs. I buy a lot of manga and some anime-related goods like Gundam and Macross models and such. For manga I could go with scanslations for free but don’t due to format and value. I don’t like reading off a screen and like to own physical copies of manga. And I also feel like I’m getting good value for my money since the prices are reasonable and I’ve found the translation efforts in most manga to be much better than in BD/DVD.

    Now that streams have entered the realm of anime consumption, I don’t use them for the same two broad reasons. I hate the streaming format because the quality is much lower and I can’t own the files to archive, share, or take with me for instances where I don’t have internet access. And on value, fansubbers just do a better job on translation than Crunchyroll and Funi. Plus if more than one group is subbing a series I have choices as to TL style, which matters a lot to me. As you say, they don’t seem very responsive to what fans want, often manifesting in bad attempts at localization in TL word choices (“hipsters” in Kuragehime anyone?). Fansubbers just do a better job. For instance, would it kill a professional anime company to do a TL note for something that needs it, like fansubbers and manga companies do?

    Thus I don’t buy BD/DVDs or use streaming sites, but I do buy a lot of manga volumes. And beyond the reasons I don’t like the products I also sense the potential for that negative change in things that you mentioned. More licensed series could make things difficult for fansubbers or make them lazy and just rip subs from CR/Funi as has already happened, and I don’t want to support the industry if it could damage the fansubbing community, especially when it doesn’t even produce products that I don’t see the value in.

    (BTW, good to see another new blogger on RabbitPoets. I saw your intro post but just didn’t get to comment on it. Welcome to the blogging community.)

    1. So you buy manga but no anime. Companies see manga makes money but anime doesn’t so they make more manga and less anime. Then we’re stuck with loads of manga and barely any anime at all.

      @Triple_R Anime companies are moving into online distribution because hard sales aren’t working. That was how it worked in the past but that’s a backward way of thinking. The newbie anime fan watches everything off streaming sites anyway and I’m pretty used to the ‘whuts a torrent’ reaction comment on my blog to know that’s the case.

      Argh, the thing that bugs me in all this is anime fans can’t seem to make the connection that if none of your money goes back into the anime then it makes no money and can’t be made. Yeah anime companies aren’t going about it the right way and argh region restrictions but to not watch legal versions for such petty reasons like they don’t put in karaoke pisses me off just a bit. I’m hardly a saint when it comes to this but it’s the refusal to pay money that hurts

      1. Money doesn’t have to back to the companies, it has to be earned. It’s not a handout, it’s a sale. The value has to be good. If people buy inferior quality products, companies will not only continue releasing inferior quality products, those products will become increasingly crappier, because they’ll keep trying to cut costs wherever they can to increase their margins (because there’s no real competition in this market). You may think not having karaoke is petty, I see it as companies trying to cut corners and should not be rewarded for that. Of course, everyone has different standards, it’s why I’ll buy a DVD instead, or EO will buy a manga, and you buy CR, because we perceive value there.

        Now I realize some people are just cheap and won’t pay for anything regardless, but there’s nothing you can do about them, they were never a sale to begin with and businesses continue to make the mistake of assuming they were.

        Honestly, if I was CR, I’d play up the mobile angle way, way more. That’s one area where they should be able to clearly outdo the fansubs. It’s also the big reason why I’m considering signing up for it.

        1. There comes a point where complaints as to what’s wrong with the service become more and more petty though. My excuse for not joining CR originally was because a lot of their stuff wasn’t available in the UK or Ireland. Then came autumn 09 where they changed that. I still had, and have, minor problems with what they offer, but when they offer what I wanted in the first place then finding extra reasons not to buy them is petty and you’re no better than those who wouldn’t pay to begin with.

          Also I think those who won’t pay for anything regardless isn’t something to be dismissed. We’ve created a culture where such people exist, and that aint a good thing.

          1. when they offer what I wanted in the first place then finding extra reasons not to buy them is petty and you’re no better than those who wouldn’t pay to begin with

            In that scenario, that’s fair. For me, they just haven’t gotten to the cut off level that I’ve originally set for them.

            Also I think those who won’t pay for anything regardless isn’t something to be dismissed. We’ve created a culture where such people exist, and that aint a good thing.

            Well, that’s just false. They’ve always existed. Maybe in the past they wouldn’t have watched as much anime. But these are the people who in a previous era, copied their friends VHSes, read manga in bookstores without buying, etc. They were just a silent voice because the Internet didn’t exist.

  2. Wow, I didn’t know about the VIZ/NarutoFan tif. That may be even more asinine than the demands on Funimation. Hopefully these are isolated incidents and not starts of trends. It was, what, two years ago that Sunrise had issues with blogs using Gundam screenshots? But thankfully that blew over pretty quickly.

    I’m one of those who buy DVDs/BDs of the shows I like. But to be honest, I buy DVDs and I never watch them. I just collect them. I like owning them. I like showing them off. But push comes to shove, I’m rewatching the files on my hard drive, because it’s easier and because the sub quality is aesthetically better. I’ve been contemplating getting a CR subscription, but really the biggest thing that’s held me off is the relatively poor quality. This is the issue with media companies, all over the world. They have not embraced technology like they should. To build out new opportunities. Instead they use it to protect their existing cash cows. If every CR show was simulcast in 720p with sub quality that was at gg/mazui level, with Karaoke and everything, then the CR sub is a no brainer. But 720p isn’t standard. And I dont even care about the karaoke. It’s more about the perception of value. Why pay more for an inferior product? It’s the same reason I never buy computer games. Why pay for DRM crippled products that may not work if you don’t have an internet connection, when you can pirate and be unencumbered?

    These companies don’t consider us to be charity cases, same goes for them.

  3. I’ve gotta agree here – both with the original post, and RP’s comment. Too often, I see people showing fansub-watchers to be evil. Myself, I buy DVDs to support the industry – and I agree that watching fansubs only without buying a single thing is a rather unpleasant thing to do.

    However, I much prefer watching fansubs to sample a show rather than online streams, simply due to the quality and other circumstances. Paying $5 a month? I’d be fine with that. But when you add onto that region restrictions, different sites picking up different shows – meaning sometimes tripling that subscription fee – bad translations, ugly subtitles, bad video quality, no option to download… yeah, I’ll go with the fansubs there. Not just ‘because it’s free’, but because, irrelevant of price, the free option is also of a much higher quality than the paid one. Additionally, it gets a little irritating to mention these differences of quality to those who are anti-fansub, only for their rebuttal to basically be ‘QQ Moar, thieves!’. Really? Is that the best counter-argument they have?

    If legal streaming was done via one site, available outside of America, with good translations, downloadable, 720p videos, decent fonts, and the option to download? I’d be fine with paying $5 a month, or possibly more, for that. Until then? No.

  4. This isn’t really limited to the anime industry by any means. Many TV companies are having trouble with the shift from TV to the Internet, and everyone is having trouble moving away from the DVD-centric profit model. The anime industry is no different.

    However, the problem is compounded in the anime industry by just general stupidity on the part of the anime companies. First of all, Funimation, who grabs a lot of anime licenses, just doesn’t know how to get a semi-decent stream working, or refuses to do so. The streams don’t even need to be true 720p. Just 360p or 480p at a great bitrate is watchable enough. It might be a problem with the source, but then the fault lies with the Japanese animation companies for being stupid.

    Of course that’s not to say that us viewers are completely not at fault. We’re rather spoiled by fansubs to the point where there’s a large majority of us that refuse to watch anything in less than 720p, so there’s a high expectation on the anime industry to give us something similar to that. Even still, Funimation’s streaming is inexcusable by any standards, really. CR is actually pretty legit and well done. In fact, if you watch everything that they’ve licensed for their season, you’re only paying $.19 per 720p episode, which is a pretty sweet deal. The only problem is that no one watches everything that they license, and because of the noitamina deal with funimation, they routinely miss out on those shows, which is pretty problematic for avid anime consumers like us.

    Ultimately it will be impossible to fully stamp out fansubs. Like piracy, it’ll still exist for quite some time to come. If the anime industry does decide to stamp down harder, they need to come down hard and fast. I’m pretty sure that no one wants that though lol.

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