Trivia: Greg Ayres voiced Chrono in the ADV dub.
I suppose I should have anticipated that, the day before a large convention, a firestorm that would spawn from Scott’s post on the divisive issue of fansubs with relation to Greg Ayres’ Anime Next panel but I was still a bit surprised by the blogocube aftershock. Hinano composed a breakdown of his piece to present the other extreme of being a raw-only watcher (the first extreme being no fansubs/raws, period). Her post led with what I agree is an important distinction — downloading raws IS essentially different than watching fansubs.
My stance on raws is that they are no different than downloading a TV show a day after it airs and deleting it after consumption. It seems like all the raw torrents that spawn in the hours after an episode finishes originate from Japan but thanks to the internationalization of modern telecommunications, people outside that nation can download those raw episodes either with intentions to watch it straight or with the intention of using it as source for a fansubbing group to create what is technically a derivative work. Both are infringements of copyright but the latter act more directly hurts the creators and any potential licensors since it creates an alternative to waiting for authorized English subtitles. Not buying the season sets for a particular TV show doesn’t mean you don’t love it enough so the same should be said for raw watchers. I know the business models inherent in both systems are different but both involve advertising and sponsorship of some sort.
I haven’t torrented a American TV show in about a year and a half with the increasing availability of network streaming sites like ABC.com and Hulu. Those viewing methods have commercials in between to offset bandwidth costs but I doubt the anime market is large enough to support this so there must be a download-to-own method. The initial Gonzo online streaming/download experiment seemed to have worked because they’re doing again with another series in Strike Witches. If others decide to join them, a ball of momentum could begin rolling but if they suffered for it, then the others might be reluctant to take needless risks.
DVD’s and Books Are Heavy
Last week, Nelson Rodriguez at the Gamerscore Blog wrote a post called “I Hate Physical Stuff” where he complained about how much 300 DVD’s weigh when moving and the long process of transferring discs into sleeves in order to cut down on space. I experienced a similar pain when moving home for the summer and loading boxes into my trunk. Over the past year, I have bought fewer single DVD’s and more collections because of space and now I’m starting to consider selling some stuff I don’t watch anymore like Azumanga.
However, I am still reluctant to purchase individual episodes of television or anime because of the DRM and the rewatchability factor. There are episodes of that I could easily buy to watch on my Zune (something I might do as an experiment similar to one from last July) but since I would likely never watch them a second time, I am less inspired to buy them in the first place. Funimation seems to be the only American company that is doing serious digital distribution right now with download-to-own offerings on iTunes and Zune Marketplace as well as on their own site albeit with Windows DRM, which includes a few subtitled versions for the large non-dub crowd. ADV tried to I must admit I’m looking forward to seeing Blue Gender and Slayers on their YouTube channel even though they will likely be English dubs because I am more interested in the story.
Roadblocks to Quick Change
The major hangup to wide changes in anime distribution, as Justin Sevakis noted in his canary in a coal mine editorial, are the Japanese holders and said “you can’t guilt people into buying something they don’t want”, a sentiment at the base of Western consumer rights. Gonzo can be praised for trying new things but if other IP holders don’t follow their lead, then the momentum might be lost.
Most legal distribution — digital AND physical — still has dub work tied to it somehow but as sub-only releases spread outside Media Blasters and Nozomi as Bandai is doing with its rushed out Gurren Lagann volumes, dubs will become less integral to the process of releasing a series on DVD and overall. (Lagann is still getting a dub with the voice actors being introduced the public this weekend and their efforts airing on Sci-Fi Channel starting 7/22.) This brings us to a minor hangup: less anime work for voice actors.
Paul from Nakama Britannica reminds us that “expensive English dubs can only be financed for anime series that sell well” while the very popular licenses will be grabbed by firms with strong Japanese connections. Bandai and Viz obviously have in-roads since they are US subsidiaries of Japanese companies and I have previously suspected an unspoken relationship between Funimation and Gonzo.
The “Bad People” in the Equation
One of the flash points that Scott relayed from Ayres’ presentation is an anecdote of hearing a fan compliment him on his dub work with BECK, only to be crestfallen to find out he had downloaded it from a torrent. This is a clear case of piracy since both dub tracks are featured in a single mkv episode file. One group that I know does this off the top of my head is Lime Anime; they do their own subtitling instead of reappropriate the on-disc ones and intend to benevolently promote the titles without intent to harm, even though their can impacting potential sales. Here is a site update posted by the staff on May 22:
Just so you all know, after kemuri-_9, Saoen, and Zalis returned from ACEN they had some pretty disturbing information on the state of the Anime industry. It seems that the companies that create, produce, and distribute anime aren’t doing so well. In fact some of them are getting out of American distribution all together (Geneon)while others are divesting themselves of licenses and temporarily suspending projects (ADV). Obviously these companies need our help and by that I mean support them, if you like something you’ve seen that we or another group have put out PLEASE consider purchasing the DVD. By doing this we all support the companies that bring us wonderful and enjoyable Japanese programs and movies. Purchasing their products allows them to continue doing so… Remember, their fate IS controlled by your action or inaction… don’t let something we all enjoy pass into the realm of history….
You may trying to perform promotional work in an odd way but you’re still doing something illegal.
Another example of infringers that I heard Ayres mention in previous panels are the monthly subscription sites (e.g. animePLUS!, National Anime) and free sites (AnimeFever, 2Anime) that link/embed from Veoh, Vidiac, and other video sharing sites. Thirdly, there also exist the Hong Kong bootleggers like Anime Cartoon who put all 25 episodes of a series like Air Gear on three discs; the online merchants who distribute them as imports like DiscountAnimeDVD are at fault as well – I would advise anyone “cavaet emptor”. [Question for SE Asia readers: is Lambaian Filem a legit firm? Just asking.] And let’s not even talk about YouTube users who simply upload fansubs.
Attempt at a Conclusion
The anime industry may be going through a difficult period but realistically it is not going to completely disappear or go extinct. Some companies may fall by the wayside or be consolidated along the way – that’s how the business world is. If you can’t make a profit, then change your strategy for the better or get out of the market.
Omo made an astute suggestion that we should really be talking about the shows and how fansubbing is harming the series coming out at this moment since the series themselves what people really care about, not the companies involved. I would argue that KyoAni and Gainax have devoted fanbases but it’s still a good thing to keep in mind when arguing for or against fansubs. The fan admiration for those studios must have primarily come from the amount enjoyment the fans derived from the works produced by the firms, not just the names involved.
I also learned from his post that Gonzo’s holding company, GDH, is at risk of being delisted from the Tokyo Stock Exchange since their total liabilities exceed their total assets, reporting a loss of 3.7 billion yen (US$35 million) for the fiscal year ending in March. I guess they weren’t getting that much return on Romeo x Juliet, Bokurano, Kaze no Stigma and other recent projects. There’s a reason why Gainax TV series typically only run 26 episodes, as we learned from the Lagann panel at Fanime – if they were to go further, the consistent animation quality would cause them to go bankrupt under their tight budget. At least they know how to merchandise and create content people go ga-ga over.
God, I can’t believe I wrote this much. Time to get some rest before hitting the freeway.