Legal options for streaming recent anime shows have made major inroads in recent years. Yet people still embrace fansubs. Whether from downloads or via unofficial streaming services, these options still gain a lot of views for various reasons.
The problem is that there are several reasons that people have for using fansubs and you can’t easily eliminate them all. However, there are several things that could be tackled. Also, because many people are swayed by a combination of reasons, the more that can be tackled, the less common it will be.
OK. Let’s get this out of the way first. People can be cheap. Being able to get hold of multiple shows, ad-free and in a high-definition format is a big temptation.
For some, it is the only reason. For others, it is the tipping point when added to the reasons below.
Not everybody knows what legal platforms are out there. As a general rule, if you’re a part of a community that keeps a list of legal options then you already know they exist. Some people genuinely don’t know.
On a related note, not everybody knows of every service. Here in the UK, there is a big feeling that Crunchyroll is the only service that people have really heard of. In the past couple of years, when shows haven’t been on Crunchyroll over here, but were on other services, people genuinely thought there was no legal UK option at all.
Similarly, not a lot of generic video-on-demand platforms make a huge deal of their anime catalogues. So people with access to Netflix might not even realise that they have a fairly sizeable anime back-catalogue on there.
Not every platform has every show. So even if Crunchyroll, for example, is seen as “The Anime Streaming Service”, they don’t have the licenses for every show. This ties into knowledge, above, in that titles are wrongly assumed to be unavailable because people haven’t heard of the service that gets the local rights.
It’s one thing over in America, where a fair few of the licensing companies have their own outlets and there are more generic streaming options (like Hulu) for them to partner with. Also, over there, titles showing up on multiple services is relatively common.
Here in the UK, a lot of licenses still get picked up by companies without their own platform. Worse, sometimes it is the English-language rights they have overall, which just happen to include the UK rights. And as Crunchyroll is a competitor over in America, them sub-licensing to Crunchyroll for the UK streams is rare. Not unheard of, but rare all the same.
The different streaming platforms have their own strengths and weaknesses. Some go wider than anime. Some have larger catalogues. Some have apps on multiple platforms. Some have paid subscriptions to go ad-free No one service ticks all of the boxes.
This, when combined with multiple services and potentially multiple subscription fees, can be quite frustrating. Especially when shows exist on a service you use but a region you don’t live in.
Some shows simply don’t get official releases in English, or any given non-Japanese language. For these shows, it does become a choice between “pirate” and “do without”. And not everyone wants to miss a show, especially if it is the main one they wanted to watch in any given season. However, this does keep fansubs as an active option in people’s minds. After all, once you’re used to using them for one thing, it’s hard not to see them as an option for others.
Platform exclusivity, regional lockouts and delays that cause the official version to go up hours (or even days) after a translated fansub hit the internet don’t help much, either.
Here is where it starts to get tricky. We go from already shaky moral ground to something even more so, based purely on personal aesthetic preference. However, fans have their own preferences on how they like their translations. With fansubs, you can drop and pick up distributors depending on your preference. Even with much more legal products such as The Bible or classic French literature, you can “shop” for the translation which is more accurate or more to your personal preferences.
With contemporary foreign language products (such as anime), however, there is only One True Translation. If it isn’t your preference, tough. If it is jarring and distracting to you, tough. If you know what they really said, or can tell (from other audio-visual cues) that something really doesn’t match up, tough! You’re stuck with them.
I have more to say on this subject, but it’s potentially a blog post of its own.
This can all lead to getting a fansub of a show or episode. Maybe instead of the official release, maybe in addition to it. (Some things make more sense after having looked at more than one translation option)
Either way, though, it provides more excuses for people to rely on fansubs. Especially as, in this case, a translation that works better for someone is going to be a “superior” product for that person.
These aren’t the only reasons but they are some of the ones used. None of them are easy matters to address, as they are mostly tied into how current licensing rules work. Even knowledge of services is hampered by business reasons because, as a general rule, one service isn’t going to recommend a rival owing to shortcomings in functions or content.
Ideally, the industry has to band together as “The Industry” to combat this. Less exclusivity, more sharing. Competing on service level, not exclusive shows. Cross promotion, because surely someone using a rival is better for business as a whole than using an unofficial download.
One other thing that the various companies need to do is to try to be a wide-reaching as possible. Licensing companies need to get things on multiple services and regions. Services need to work across multiple platforms. Expecting people to settle for a limited offering just isn’t going to work when there are free alternatives out there, legal or not.
Lastly, accepting that there is no single customer type, but that catering to multiple tastes (including translation tastes) is going to keep more people “legal”, as it takes away the reason people have of going elsewhere.