Oh why can’t we all just get along?


Fansubbers, fans, and the American anime industry have a love/hate relationship with each other. The obvious stated, the best recent example of this is Viz’s sudden issue of a Cease and Desist letter to fansubbing groups subbing Death Note… with only one episode left. The furor that has ensued, while understandable, is largely misguided.To start at the beginning, let’s examine Viz’s motives behind their decision to “end” Death Note fansubbing when they did. Since their exact motives can never be known, all I have to offer is speculation. First of all, Viz licensed Death Note quite some time ago, yet did not send out C&Ds to the fansubbing groups. Many groups chose to stop subbing as soon as the license was announced, but many decided to continue until a C&D was received. The only reason I can think of for why Viz would wait so long is their chosen marketing strategy for Death Note. For those who don’t know, Viz decided that they were going to primarily sell Death Note in download format and in Japanese with English subtitles only, available quickly after the episode first aired in Japan.

This made no sense to me. While the movie industry is moving towards being entirely digital, it seemed a little premature to me to market Death Note as download only (Viz later announced that there would be a bi-lingual DVD release). The really dumb thing on their part was expecting people to pay for something that they could just as easily get for free. It’s one thing to buy a nice DVD with menus, features, and sometimes an added bonus or two in the packaging, but given the choice between two downloads, available at roughly the same time, of similar quality, but one costs money and the other doesn’t, which one will the vast majority of people choose?

It seems to me that it would have been far wiser for Viz to immediately issue a C&D to knock out as much competiton for their downloads as soon as possible. And yet they did not. Instead they waited until one episode was left before removing the competition. Perhaps they wanted to see if, without fansubs, the last episode of Death Note would sell more downloads than normal. There is a problem with this line of reasoning. Issuing a C&D never completely eliminates fansubs, a fact that Viz must be aware of. The shadier, more underground groups still put out their product through the numerous torrent sites on the internet. Sometimes the groups will officially stop, but continue to publish the series under a moniker such as “C&D Fansubs”. All a C&D really does is reduce the quality of available fansubs as the reputable groups stop publishing, while forcing fans to dig deeper to get the shows they want. Given this information, I’m curious as to why Viz simply didn’t just try to pad their bottom line.

A large number of anime fans have come to the same conclusion that Viz’s C&D plans make no sense and view Viz’s actions as a great big middle finger to those who illegally download fansubs. This has brought out the worst in the looneys who think that licensing a show ruins it, and that fan translators do a better job then the American distributors. There are a few cases where a fansub group does a better release than a licensor, such as Shinsen-Subs’s release of Ergo Proxy, but I digress. Many fans are calling for a boycott of Viz because Viz “greedily shut down Kuro-Hana’s ‘superior’ translation of Death Note”. If all the quotation marks don’t tell you how I feel about the subject, I’ll spell it out.

1. Saying Viz’s licensing of Death Note is greedy, is akin to saying the local supermarket charging for its food is greed. I really shouldn’t have to explain this, but money makes the world go round. The supermarket cannot keep putting food on its shelves if it does not receive money with which to purchase new food. Similarly, the anime industry cannot keep producing new anime if people do not pay for the current product. A few years ago, this arguement of mine would have been fallacious, but the American anime industry does about the same amount of business as the Japanese anime industry, and the two have become intertwined. Many Japanese animation studios look for foreign interest before starting a project to check their profit margins. American licensors have begun to co-fund entire anime series in Japan. So I don’t see how one can argue that refusing to pay for licensed anime does not affect the Japanese anime industry.

2. There may have been a time when fan groups did a better ob of translating than commercial releases, but those days are long past. Saying that Kuro-Hana does a better job of translating Death Note than an American licensor is laughable. I’m not trying to single out Kuro-Hana, but their Death Note subs are full of bad grammar, and questionable translations. No matter how dedicated a fansub group is, I find it hard to believe that their translations, which they do in their spare time while holding down a job, are generally going to be better than people who work full time translating Japanese for a living, and have financial interest in the quality of a translation. If I recall correctly, Viz was founded by a group of fans who translated manga in their spare time. That, plus the fact that if one wants only to make money, there are far better ways to do so than to license anime, makes it hard to believe that Viz doesn’t care about the integrity of their product and only licenses anime out of greed.

3. No matter how bad the acting or translation is, a dub never “ruins” an anime. No matter how you feel about dubs, their existence does not change the fact that the original Japanese version also comes on the DVD. Even in extreme cases like One Piece, the fansubbed episodes were still available despite the butchered dub and English only DVDs. Besides, the only people who watched the One Piece dub were kids who didn’t care that the show was once Japanese, and grumpy otaku who wanted something to complain about. No publicity is bad publicity. Every time I like a show, I hope it gets licensed, dubbed, and broadcast on Adult Swim. Why? Because people who would otherwise never care about an awesome show will watch it and love it. Wanting a show to stay cool and underground, is understandable, but ultimately a selfish position.

What Viz is probably trying to do is see how well Death Note can compete with fansubs and ultimately checking their sales against reduced competition. One can argue the success of their venture, but it makes no sense that Viz would do something only to piss off their consumer base.

Until next time, buy more anime!


3 Responses to “Oh why can’t we all just get along?”

  1. I agree with most of your points except one, and that’s that I’m not sure Viz’s DN downloads were available until after they issued the C&D. I may be wrong but, until the C&D was issued, I was under the impression that Viz didn’t even have an alternative to the illegal fansubs being released on offer.

    I still think the idea of download-only sub-only episodes are a stupid idea from Viz, one of the reasons being that they’re naive if they think they can compete with fansubs. But, more importantly, one of the major reasons that I, and many fans like me, buy DVDs is because they’re collectors items. You can’t put digital episodes on your shelf to admire and boast about and whatnot, like you can with DVDs. And yeah, there’s also the point that DVDs have a far greater array of extras and bonuses and whatnot.

  2. Even if Viz’s downloads weren’t available before the C&D was issued, as soon as they licensed Death Note, they had the right to demand fansubbing stop. Why they didn’t, especially considering their chosen method of distribution, boggles my mind.

    If their downloads weren’t available until they issued the C&D, that was a serious financial error.

  3. The reason Viz didn’t immediately make a C&D letter public is becuase all of the fansub groups subbing Death Note at the time stopped working on the show. It took like three days for them to be replaced, but none gained especial prominence until recently.

    And yes, the Death Note download option was only available after the anime finished airing.

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