The existence of fansubs has become an intensely debated subject within anime fandom for a while now. There was a big blowup in late 2007 regarding the state of the anime industry, the role of fansubs in the loss of Geneon as a US distributor, and the lack of legal options for people looking for speedy release schedule for their shows. I got into plenty of arguments with people on the subject at the time, but I think that the berserker rage has died down enough at this point and there have been enough recent developments that I feel comfortable touching on the subject again.
It shouldn't be much of a surprise that my opinion on the subject of fansubs is that of a moderate. When I started getting into anime fandom heavily (rather than just watching what was on TV or what looked good on the few DVDs available at the time) there was a definite code of ethics surrounding the fansubbing scene. Fansubs were meant to create US fan interest in a series, so that it could eventually be brought to the country in an official capacity. When a show was licensed, fansubbers actually stopped subbing it. I don't remember what group it was at the time, but there was a huge uproar within the fan community when a fansubbing group decided to continue subbing a show after it was licensed. Of course, just a few years later, the practice had become commonplace and the former uproar had died down to frustrated grumbling amongst a very small group of people.
I'm one of those grumblers, of course. While I admittedly rely on fansubs for the existence of this site (despite recent developments in online streaming, it's still the most reliable way to get new shows quickly so that my reviews can be somewhat timely, and it's an easy way to get screenshots), I still try to abide by that classic code of ethics. If something gets licensed, I would rather have the DVDs and I try to be appreciative of that, even if I have to wait a while to see the end of a series. I feel like they're still somewhat of a necessary evil.
I'm both annoyed and amused by the attitude change I've seen within the anime fan community in the past few years. To give an example of what I mean, once the news came out about Funimation's acquisition of the popular action anime Soul Eater, I happened to see this particularly entitled post in the Anime News Network forums regarding a particular fansub group's (and fan's) dismay over the matter. In short, this person's opinion was that Funimation shouldn't be so "greedy" for money that they send out Cease and Desist notices to fansub groups subbing the series and just allow them to finish subbing the show for free. What?
No seriously, WTH?
And, unfortunately, I've heard similar cries of dismay from people who I know in real life as well. It saddens me that a licensing announcement, something which, back when I was in college would have been cause for celebration, has turned into a lamentation about how much more difficult it will become to find good free fansubs for the series in question. It's one thing to be a poor student with not many financial options, but when I know people who have at least a bit of disposable income crying foul over having to pay for a DVD, I get a bit peeved.
Of course, since the whole matter of fansubs has boiled over, there have been quite a few developments regarding the desire for speedier releases, lower prices, and more options for watching anime legally. The most visible, in my opinion, is the fact that Crunchyroll, previously a streaming site filled with user-uploaded content, has not only gone legit, but this season has begun providing a significant number of anime simulcasts. Just this past Sunday (April 5th), Natsu no Arashi, Saki, Shangri-la and Kigurumikku premiered on the site, with the new season of Hayate no Gotoku and a show called Mainichi Kaasan having premiered not long before. Even two years ago, the prospect of simultaneous or near-simultaneous series premieres in Japan and the US would have been unheard of, yet since Gonzo began streaming their series on Youtube beginning in Spring 2008 with Blassreiter and Tower of Druaga, more series have followed suit.
Funimation, also utilizing Youtube as a streaming outlet and good at providing preview episodes of their acquisitions, scored a coup this year by gaining the rights to stream the new Fullmetal Alchemist series subtitled for free a mere 4 days after the Japanese broadcast. With all of these options available, the relevance and prevalence of fansubs should be beginning to fall by the wayside, right?
Unfortunately, after returning from Anime Detour yesterday, I saw no less than five fansubbing groups with subs up for Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood.
Before I go any further, I should note that fansubs have allowed me to see many series that would most likely never have seen the light of day here in the first place. Without Geneon around to license more of the niche stuff (which was probably part of their downfall in the first place, unfortunately) stuff like Kaiba or Akagi has little chance of getting an official release in the states. In an attempt not to sound too entitled, I feel that, while it's not a "right" by any means, in a world connected by the internet I would find it kind of sad to miss out on a really good show just because no American distribution company found it profitable enough to acquire.
But Fullmetal Alchemist? That series already had a pre-established audience coming in, and promises to be one of the biggest anime series this year. It's coming to the US for free within days of its Japanese premiere, being supported by ads. And people still can't be happy with an arrangement like that? it distresses me greatly to see this happening, as if even giving the fans exactly what they want still isn't good enough.
I know that there are probably a lot of people who wouldn't care one bit, but I personally think it would be kind of sad to see my favorite hobby disappear into obscurity just because some people felt so entitled to get something for nothing that they're not even willing to endure a few online ads and a few days wait in order to watch an anime episode legally. With so many free options and even some pay options via Xbox Live, iTunes and PSN, some of which offer High Def episodes, I find it perplexing why this continues to be such a huge issue.
Then again, I still know people who would rather watch a crummy cam version of a Hollywood movie rather than just paying for a ticket to see it in person. Apparently the word "free" still has a very tight hold on people, legal or not.