From Sayonara… to Goodbye
The History. In order to understand the problem we must start from the beginning. Tto understand the fever of anime and its popularity we need to look deep inside on how everything started: the idea, the culture and people who made it happen.
The beginning of the 20th century gave birth to motion pictures. Western artist were the pioneers in film making, but the fire of new technology quickly reached the East. One of the countries who caught the fever was Japan. At this time, the world started to put the idea of “cartoon” from periodicals into films. The West was also the first one to try his hand in cartoon but made little progress and creations. In 1914, the East led by Japan tried they’re own idea’s on animated motion pictures with little luck. At this time West was dominating the animation scene with Walt Disney Studious, the company responsible for Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck, and the Fleisher Brothers who went on to create Popeye the Sailorman and Betty Boop. The two companies were greeted with a warm welcome and ended up creating the standards of cartoon as we know it. With two animation giants looming from the West, the Japanese lost their fight for animation supremacy but never really died out. During this time animations made by Japan cannot be even compared to that of the West’s. Most of the “progress” in animation were contributed and used by Walt Disney and the Fleisher Brothers.
After the 2nd World War, Osamu Tezuka a Japanese influenced by both Disney and Fleisher Brothers created his own version of cartoon. His earliest creation, Astro Boy, looked much like the Western cartoons he used to watch; large head and big expressive eyes. Astro boy became the first internationally successful animation. Tezuka is now considered the Father of both manga and anime.
The Seventies led to the boom of anime. It is at this time that anime started to have its own distinction from other forms of animation. “Mecha” or Mechanical animation was born in the 70’s which led to Mazinger Z, Voltes V and Gundam. The idea portrayed by Mecha in anime, giant robots fighting, made the success of the Ultraman series possible and opened the gate to other Sentai’s, live action, such as Mask Rider Black and Shaider. Another product of the seventies is anime’s subtle variations on storyline, storytelling and characters from the conventional animation. The fight of good against evil was blurred; central figures in anime are sometimes an anti hero or do something bad like Lupin III, a master thief.
The 80’s to 90’s proved a better decade yet. Anime became a mainstay in Japan and a cult like following of “Japanimation” invaded the world. The storyline of animation further developed at this era. Stories started having more than one theme. Combinations of horror, romance, fantasy, comedy and sci-fi became the common themes for stories. The idea of anime being “for kids only” was also altered when “adult anime” was born. The new type of anime added a new medium to the already complex animation genre but created the stereotype of the anime as “animated pornography”. Anime’s characters started becoming well endowed and shapely. The number of acclaimed anime also doubled at this point and international fame and success of anime was further established with the release of the titles: Ghost in the Shell and Akira, both of whom gathering praises and award from western shores.
The start of the 21st century was a great time for anime especially in the West. Bandai Entertainment, Viz Video, ADV Films and Pioneer, companies who releases popular anime’s in dubbed or subtitled DVD and VCD formats are being welcomed warmly by new shores.
The Addiction. For the past 20 years anime has been well-received in the United States.
The extent of which can be seen through the diverse subculture devoted to it. The anime clubs which the fans themselves created are continually growing and evolving. The sales on anime videos and attendance on both cosplay and conventions all attest to the publics’ love for the animation genre.
On Quality. Hollywood movies which the West continues to dominate are known for their big budgeted films. Enchanting sceneries, mind boggling sets and the top stars of the present eat up most of the budget. Another reason why animation is such a hit is its ability to deliver the same enchanting sceneries, mind boggling sets and flawless characters without using the same budget Hollywood employs. Looking at the anime hits today such as Naruto, Bleach and Death Note, it can be said that these titles are on par with the best Hollywood has to offer, in animated form.
On Western Animation. Western animation is no longer on par with that of Japan’s. The creative area, feel, storyline and characters used in anime is so much complex and developed that that of Western animation. Unlike the Japanese, Westerners view animation as an inferior art. That is why they did not give as much attention to it as picture films. In the West Cartoon is mostly used as a medium to tell a simple story in a funny and safe manner. While anime is fast paced, edgy, violent, attention grabbing and mostly appeals to both young and old. One of largest animation company in America is Disney. The company creates high budgeted films created for children with a moral and a happy ending. The settings they use are serene and possess an otherworldly feel. The aspect of for children series is but a small fraction of the whole anime collection.
World Hit. What really kicked off anime popularity were the series like Mobile Suit Gundam, Macross and the movie Akira. The boom it created in Japan was reciprocated all over the world. These “cartoon but not so cartoon” according to first time viewers back then saw a genre who touches issues and topics no cartoon would ever dare. The story telling, the mature themes which no other cartoon could show are only small pieces of a grand puzzle that lured thousands of audiences to the genre.
The Fansub. Fansubbing, a.k.a. fan subtitling, is the process of taking a video or movie in a foreign language and adding your own subtitles to it so that people who don’t know the original language can watch and enjoy the work (Jao). The Japanimation culture will never grow without the help of fansubs. But funsub only helps the fans, they translate the animation and distribute it world wide. But the professional ones who dub and companies who should spread them do not earn anything.
Fansubbing actually started in the early 90’s. Back then anime started appearing in places where many Japanese immigrants lived. The animations shown were in Japanese because they are mainly the audience targeted for such medium. Much of the anime’s where either poorly translated or without any at all. Some of the people who befriended the immigrants became curious and tried watching anime. The Japanese helped others by translating or subtitling the anime for their friends. The earliest fansubs were VHS which the fans themselves made. A lot of people even learned the language in order to understand the original version or translate anime’s in English. Lots of people started having access to anime. Conventions and cosplays, an event where fans show hand made anime costumes, became rampant. These events also led the way in helping the early fans to spread information about anime and made trading of videos possible. The latter paved the way of animation cult in the west.
But by the early 90’s the amateur translation and subtitling of Japanese anime became a big hit with hardcore fans that are willing to devote their time. It was not an easy task as they had time-synchronized VHS and S-VHS systems that allowed them to dub tapes while retaining accurate alignment of text and image. The earliest machines are costly and meant that people who worked on it are in groups or clubs. They worked together to ensure their favorite series reach a wider audience. As time went on, it became cheaper to copy the materials. Fansubbing further grew exponentially when the internet was employed.
It must be cleared that a funsubbed copy is not a work of a professional but that of a fan. Many of these amateur translators cannot fully translate Japanese into another language. Some times these leads to certain complications such as confusion about characters, storylines and even general plot.
The Killer. It must also be noted that it takes approximately a year for an anime to be licensed from Japan. Most fans become impatient and download the copy for free at downloadable sites. Fansub is the most influential factor is the spread of anime fever but it might also be the very thing that kills the industry. Anime has been considered phenomena and yet the very people who toil to bring these series to the world, the very company who work hard in order to deliver these precious series are not receiving their just compensation.
Anime sales on DVD reached their peak in 2003 and 2004. From then on, sales have been dropping steadily. Some companies like Geneon are loosing money. Big companies such as ADV and Funimation needed to lay off employees. As of today, possible solutions to combat this crisis are developed.
Our creators of anime must be helped. A funsub might be a cheap and fast way to get your anime but if this thing continues, there may never be an anime.
An open letter was posted in the internet which describes how much funsub has affected, even changed the industry it should help:
Anime that has been fansubbed is effectively worthless. It’s being given away for free. In terms of supply and demand, there is an infinite supply, and therefore the product is worthless regardless of how many people want it — it’s like trying to sell buckets of sea water to people on a beach. The only people who would pay for it are either older fans who are attached to the old ways of consuming media, or worse, are doing so out of charity. That is the state of this industry.
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