The Never Ending Cycle: The Fruitless Arguments about Fansubs

This is the second part of my three-part examination of the fansub debate. If you want to see part one it’s here.

Now, I’ll admit when I started this I made a pretty audacious claim. I said that I’d end the fruitless debates that circle through the fan community on the subject of fansubs. Hopefully, people will agree. If you don’t that’s fine too. But these are my thoughts anyway.

The reason why this subject is so divisive is because the arguments have become circular. If you assume X, Y and Z then A must be true. And then someone else comes along and says well X, Y and Z aren’t true, so A must not be true either. On top of that because anime is such an emotional topic and with the collapse of Geneon, the arguments themselves have become more emotional. To the point where people call each other names rather than form real insightful arguments.

The problem is that the arguments themselves don’t really mean anything.

Fruitless argument 1: If you’re a fan, then you’ll buy the show.

Man, if I had a dime for everytime I heard this one. The problem is that it’s complete bull. It makes the assumption that enjoyment of a show and spending money on said show are the same thing. Not only are they the same thing, but you’re a morally bad person if you don’t spend money on said show.

This is blatantly false. Case in point: I’ve had a lot of friends borrow my anime (which by the way is perfectly legal), and they’ve watched it and enjoyed it. Now they haven’t spent any money on said shows. They haven’t put any money into my anime buying fund. But nevertheless, they enjoyed the show.

Now the classic counterpoint to that is, “Well you should.” or “Well BitTorrent means that you can loan that same show to 10,000 + of your friends.” The problem is that these arguments are both unrealistic and dangerous. First they’re unrealistic because obviously people aren’t spending money on X shows. Second they are dangerous because they set up two camps of people. Those who hold the “moral high ground”, and who try to guilt trip the fan community into supporting the industry. And the rest of the people, who resent the first group.

The problem is that it doesn’t have an obvious solution. If people could be guilted into supporting the industry then they would have been. So all it does is create two groups of people scowling at each other like teenagers on the schoolyard.

Fruitless argument number two: “Fansubs hurt the industry.”

This is one of the crux arguments in this entire debate. The problem is that it doesn’t matter whether fansubs help the industry or hurt the industry. More to the point, we as fans don’t have access to the resources to prove this argument one way or the other.

Even Zac Bertschy, arguably one of the biggest pro-industry advocates out there, stated that he thought fansubs might have helped Fullmetal Alchemist, where they hurt Haruhi. So it’s never going to be a cut and dry issue.

What IS important is that the industry thinks that fansubs are hurting it. In fact, probably one of the most astute comments I’ve heard about it came from Anime Roundtable, when one of the commentators stated, “It makes a good excuse.” And it does.

But it doesn’t make for a good debate, because whether or not fansubs help or hurt the industry, the industry will continue to claim that fansubs are bad. And no matter how much people say otherwise, it won’t change their minds at this point.

Fruitless argument number three: “People download fansubs because of X”

In the end, it doesn’t matter why people download fansubs. What is more important is what fansubs represent – a first view of the series. As I’ve stated before entertainment has a limited shelf life. Several studies have shown that the more a person views a particular piece of entertainment the less they enjoy it. This is something I’ve expirienced personally. I have to have a cooling off time before I rewatch a show, even if I enjoy it more on the second viewing, there is a certain sense of tension that is lost now that I know how the show ends.

The reason why this argument is fruitless is that without a massive study we’ll never know why people download fansubs. And to top it off, even with a massive study, people are just as likely to lie.

So the way around this argument is to understand, that no matter why people are downloading they ARE downloading these shows.

The question remains why do we need to stop the fruitless debate? The answer is simple, because it polarizes the anime community. On top of that, they increase the resentment between the people who purchase anime, the people who purchase and download and the people who just download. In essence, the community can’t speak in one voice, to say what they want.

Which is obviously – Anime now, when it comes out.

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10 Comments

  1. I have read both of your posts, but I could not really much comment except be in assent with most of your ideas. I can’t really speak with regard to the fansub debate because I am not American and in general the industry just doesn’t give a damn about our country, but I must say that we download because of necessity. There are no original DVDs available to us; we’re unrepresented in anime fandom anyway, so that’s that.

    People disagree because they are unable to look past their own situations or try to understand others’. Heck, I may be blamed for being an industry annihilator, but I can’t care about that, can I?

    People just need to shut up about this, but even if they don’t, life goes on.

  2. @Michael I actually kind of feel bad for people outside of the US. We are pretty spoiled as far anime goes.

    And as always, to have intelligent people such as yourself agree with me is always nice.

    I still got one more to write, but it’s probably going to come out tomorrow because I’m not entire sure how to phrase it. Or rather I know what I want to say, I’m just not sure how to say it.

  3. If I understood you correctly, you claim that anyone who has watched and enjoyed anime to a certain extent qualifies to be called an anime fan. To be completely honest, I take offense over that, but not because I would be one of those that purchase my favorite anime shows and merchandise and resent those that don’t (my leech:buy ratio is 100:1, so…), but because you’re oversimplifying the term “fan”, which means “An ardent devotee; an enthusiast.”

    I personally enjoy many forms of entertainment and artists: Vanessa Carlton, Prison Break, House, John Stewart, Sarah Silverman, Richard Quest […] and anime. What sets anime apart from all these other forms of entertainment is that I prioritize anime over every one of them. This is why I consider myself an anime fan; I have greater appreciation of the medium. Of course, the same reflects in my monthly budget; I allocate a significant portion of it to anime while leaving very little in comparison to any other kind of entertainment. Sure, I have friends that enjoy anime, but does that mean they appreciate it more than they appreciate other entertainment they indulge in? If they do not perceive anime as luxury goods worth their money, do they still qualify as anime fans, even when they consider anime being only one out of many entertainment forms they enjoy equally? Sadly, in this regard, money (or time) spent is the only solid indicator of one’s fandom. If all “anime fans” believe anime has limited shelf life, then our hobby is in grave danger.

  4. @ lythka

    I’m sorry that you took offense. But you’ve just proved my argument true. What I meant was that enjoyment of a form and spending money on it are two seperate things. By saying well if you don’t spend money on an item, you aren’t a fan, you’re applying a moral value to their action. Hence calling them a bad person.

    Whether they should or shouldn’t buy anime is a non-issue. The fact is that they aren’t. Or rather they aren’t buying everything that they watch on fansub.

    And furthermore, by saying “Oh you’re a horrible person and look at me I’ve spend all this money and I’ve supported the industry. HOW DARE YOU!” Then you simply drive the people you’re trying to have a dialogue with further into the shadows.

    And second, how much money does it cost to buy fandom? If someone has a 50/50 leech rate, is that enough? Do they need a 75/25 leech rate? How about a 30/70 leech rate? What if they only buy the series they like? What if they only buy the series they can afford to buy? The problem with your argument is that you can’t define those factors. Even if how much money you spend is what defines you as a “fan”, saying just because someone has less money makes them less of a fan?

    Phooey. That’s what I say to that. No offense intended.

  5. I think you’ve missed my point. While I did talk money, I wasn’t specifically talking about buying one’s fandom, but what better inducator of it is there besides money? Quite frankly, I’d like to know it.

    My only criteria for being a part of ANY fandom is if fans value that source of entertainment more than their usual bunch. I’ve met many people to have claimed they were anime fans, but they also loved gaming consoles, they played MMORPG every day, tried to keep their PC hardware up-to-date etc. For all these separate hobbies they were fully prepared to spend large sums of money regularly, yet they bought no anime merchandise nor showed any interest in it (and I suspect this is the majority of all anime leechers). If they see anime as nothing more than their other pastimes, can we really call them ardent anime devotees?

  6. Fair enough. You are correct, I think I read your first comment and responded a little too off the cuff.

    To be fair, there’s a lot of indicators. The problem with even ardent devotee, is that it’s a comparative word. Essentially you can only judge a person a “fan” or “not a fan” by the amount of time, amount of knowledge, the amount of fervor, they have about the subject. I don’t necessarily think money is the best judge of this. To be fair, at the moment you don’t have to spend any money to be a fan. (Whether you should or not, is another issue.)

    Now, as to the second part, I’m not sure if that matters. Again, I think it falls into the “why people download” argument. In that case they download because they don’t want to pay for it. But I don’t think that there is anything that the industry can do about that except try to make a profit off of the casual viewer somehow.

  7. late to party, but one nitpick:

    Just because you enjoy a show doesn’t make you a fan.

    If I enjoyed a show but it didn’t compel me to go fanboy on it, I wouldn’t call myself a fan of the show?

    I know this is a judgment call and really a semantical issue, but I believe fandom is a shade of obsession. If you are very healthy about your hobbies you are going to devote as much resources as you have against a reasonable amount of resistance. But if you are serious about anime you will buy it, it’s really that simple. If you can’t be arsed to buy it when you can afford it then you’re just casual.

  8. @ omo

    To be fair, I agree with you. And I actually agree with lythka that using money as an indicator is valid. But I don’t necessarily think it’s the only indicator.

    But I think lythka also brought up a kind of scary notion. If it’s true that the majority of people who download fansubs/watch the show on YouTube aren’t really the buying anime type, then that means the numbers are wrong. (This is perfectly possible since the only way to prove that “fandom” is growing is through convention stats and torrent trackers both of which are not really great indicators). And that fandom is actually shrinking, which means that there are less people buying anime.

  9. There are many factors, I agree–but only the number of people buying anime is a relevant indicator to the anime industry’s bottom line. Fans can call people who are “fans” but not really, like I have, but the industry is in no position to do so. That’s why they have to resort to relevant objective standards (and they sound crazy when they don’t). We can use how much money a convention makes or the attendence, much like how the industry use bittorrent tracker results to figure things–but without context we can’t really say how good of an index it is, or what it is an index for.

    On the other hand, units of item sold is probably a fairly standard and reliable thing to talk about. I think it’s no way waterproof, and a microeconomic survey and study will always be the most accurate way to measure your buyers, as it does these things directly. But we don’t have those kinds of things…

  10. Don’t forget that the US anime industry ignores many worthwhile genres of Anime.

    For instance, I watch anime with my five year old son. Licensed anime in the US tends towards the kind of stuff that he’d find disturbingly violent.

    His favorite show is Futari Wa Pretty Cure, and he’d still be watching Pretty Cure Five if it were being actively subtitled (most days I read him the subtitles, but sometimes he tells me that he wants to “hear the japanese”.)

    This is totally cool and appropriate children’s programming which is much better Spongebob Squarepants and the other trash that’s on American TV. Mainstream anime “fans” aren’t going to shell out big $$ for DVD’s, and it won’t be on American TV unless they butcher out half the episodes.

    Despite the fact that fansubs are easily available via BitTorrent (even over my crummy ADSL I can download a whole series before DVD’s would arrive in the mail) I don’t think that fansubs have a large market penetration. Yes, the kind of people who hang out around college anime clubs know about fansubs, but I meet people every day who like anime and don’t know about fansubs — whenever I go to anime stores, the people behind the desk have never even heard of the shows we’re watching, other than Initial D.

    Fansubs often cover things that have fallen between the cracks: for instance, Central Anime’s fansub of Space Battleship Yamato makes a really astonishing and historically important show available to people today in uncut form…


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