Sailor Moon, fansubs and whether we even need licenses

So lately, I haven’t been in the mood for gaming. I don’t know what it is but for some reason, my back hurts a lot, and on top of that I already feel kind of irritable when I play games. I’m not sure how to explain it, except… I guess I’m just not in the mood.

So instead I’ve been watching anime, and one anime in particular. As you likely guessed from this blog’s title, that anime is Pokemon!!! Haha just kidding, it’s Pretty Soldier Sailor Moon, which I’ve been able to watch uncut via fansubs thanks to Sailor Moon Center

I’m probably behind the times here. My first exposure to Sailor Moon was, like most people I bet, the English dub produced by DIC. I remembered tuning in to watch it on USA Network every day before school, so there’s some nostalgia here (I never watched it on Cartoon Network though, for various reasons). But it seems like everyone else in the world was either a rich otaku or had good connections, because somehow even as far back as 1998 I knew of people who had seen the original Japanese version. I myself somehow wound up with a VHS tape someone had recorded off of Japanese TV that had the first eight or so episodes of Sailor Stars, complete with actual commercials (Pepsi Man will forever haunt my memories), but I don’t even know how I got it. Bottom line is, I was neither rich nor well-connected, so for me often the only way to see anime was via bad dubs on TV, or whatever rental stores happened to be carrying. Things got a little better when the DVD era started, but I was never able to afford the DVDs of Sailor Moon even before they became collector’s items (well, I managed to get a volume of Super S once, but I wound up having to sell it).

So for me, I’m seeing the real, Japanese Sailor Moon for the first time.

And I’m absolutely loving it.

For those who aren’t aware, Sailor Moon is basically an animated Power Rangers (or should I say Super Sentai?), where (except for Moon) the rangers are all themed around Planets: Mercury, Mars, Jupiter and Venus (there is no Sailor Earth, but there’s a man named Tuxedo Mask who acts as sort of the “sixth ranger” of the series and arguably fills that role. Sailors for other planets appear in later seasons). The main things that separates it from typical Super Sentai are 1) except for Tuxedo Mask, they’re all girls, 2) the sailors are introduced gradually: First you have a few episodes where it’s just Moon and Tuxedo Mask, then she meets Sailor Mercury and its the three of them for awhile… its not really until a dozen episodes away from the first season’s finale that the whole five-girl ensemble is assembled.

I’m not gonna lie: If you’re looking for originality, you will not find it in Sailor Moon. It does a few things differently, but otherwise it’s, again, Power Rangers with girls.

Despite this, many people around the world have become hardcore fans. Back in the day, they used to be called “Moonies” (sorta like how nowadays we have “Bronies”). I would give some dipshit faint praise about how the execution makes up for the lack of originality, but fuck that. Just watch the show yourself, and see if it convinces you. It either does or it doesn’t.

I’m here, rather, to talk about the fansubs.

I used to not like digital distribution, and would always insist on buying a DVD if it was available. Admittedly this was largely due to personal circumstances–until very recently I did not have a fast internet connection (I was still using Dial-up in 2009), which all goes back to what I was saying about not being rich or well-connected. I get the feeling that most people on the internet are spoiled brats, who don’t see a problem as long as they can do something, and don’t consider that others might not be quite so fortunate. I might even have been the same way if I hadn’t gotten to live on the other side of the fence. That’s why I use a minimalist blog layout–I don’t want something that’ll choke a slow internet connection or be a hassle to read.

But getting back to anime, not long ago I had reason to doubt my faith in licensed publishers.

I can’t pinpoint an exact time, but it was back when my blog was known as “Jispylicious.” Back then, a friend of mine had introduced me to an anime called Clannad, which I first watched via a fansub and loved all over, so much that I decided to buy the DVDs as soon as they were released in my country.

To my shock and horror, the official, licensed subtitled release… sucked.

The problem was the SUBTITLES THEMSELVES. Whereas the fansub was idiomic and preserved the little foibles and nuances of the characters, the official sub by Sentai Filmworks was translated as though by a businessman: nuances were lost, everyone spoke proper grammatical English. This not only was less fun to read, it actually significantly altered the portrayal of Ibuki Fuko, a major character who has the speech tic of referring to herself in third-person, a fact which IS ACTUALLY COMMENTED UPON by other characters. And yet every instance of “Fuko needs…” or “Fuko wants…” was rendered as “I need” or “I want” when spoken by her. While the show could still be watched in this state, frankly, it made me wonder why I payed money for the inferior product.

I’ve become friendlier to digitally-distributed fansubs since then, and today, I wonder:

Do we even NEED licensed releases anymore?

Again, going back to Sailor Moon, there was an uncut season 1 set by ADV, but their box set used old video/audio masters, and I’ve heard its missing episodes and has one episode where audio from the English dub is spliced in by mistake (though apparently they printed a replacement for this issue). Not only that, but ADV is the company that later became Sentai Filmworks, the guys who botched Clannad, so it makes me wonder how accurate their translation of Sailor Moon is.

By contrast, the fansub (by KickAssAnime, although I think Sailor Moon Center’s version is basically the same) is sourced from the Japanese DVDs, which look and sound absolutely pristine, in addition to lacking any bugs. On top of that, there are neat little features of the fansub which I like, such as how the text is color-coded based on who’s talking. Licensed distributors don’t do tricks like this because the only way to make it work in a DVD player is to hardcode the sub into the video, and they don’t like to do that. On top of that, I’m also pretty certain the fansub is more accurate.

Another case is Cardcaptor Sakura: the official DVDs by Pioneer are by no means terrible–just out-of-print and (the later volumes especially) going for outrageous aftermarket prices, not to mention there’s 18 of them and that’s a hefty amount of shelf space you have to have. Meanwhile, it’s possible to find a fansub (by a group called Coalgirls) which is just like the official sub except they put Japanese honorifics back in, and oh yeah their video/audio source is the Japanese Blu-Ray edition.

In the olden days, one of the primary arguments for buying licensed releases was that they were often better than the fansubs. This was the days when Dragonball Z came in Realplayer movie files and had fansubs that added profanity to make it more “edgy,” both practices being things of the past.

But in modern times, it seems like the situation has reversed: the fansubs use better audio/video sources and (probably) have more accurate, or at least more fun to read, translations than the licensed ones. So I ask:

Do we really need anyone to actually license anime anymore?


4 thoughts on “Sailor Moon, fansubs and whether we even need licenses

  1. True.

    Also, Like I said, Pretty Cure is the successor to Sailor Moon, except it has more hand to hand combat (Helped that the director of The Dragon Ball anime, Daisuke Nishio, was the main director of the first 2 pretty cure seasons, and it has stuck for the past 10 years or so).

    You may as well look up fansubs for that series as well.

  2. Sailor Moon was probably one of the latest animes I watched, alongside Saint Seyia. My favorite character was Sailor Mars. 🙂
    As for digital stuff and fansubs, they’re totally out of my world. However, ever since I found Netflix I kind of decided to stop collecting DVDs/BDs – I started selling and trading some of them, only focusing on obscure horror/science fiction.

  3. I didn’t get into anime until two or so years ago, so my introduction to fansubbing is from a more recent perspective than it will be for many others. In my experience, fansubbing is definitely more accurate/natural on the whole, especially when you can go to a site like MyAnimeList and compare sub groups for the best option.

    However, you have to take into account that a large amount of people prefer to watch anime dubbed, and I’d say that’s where the main appeal of licensed releases is. The people that buy BDs and DVDs are probably people that prefer having physical copies or people who want it for the dub.

    Also, with things like Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime (not to mention anime-specific sites like Crunchyroll and Funimation), licencors are able to get their product out to more people – whereas in the past you’d likely need to be ‘in the know’ for these kinds of things, they’re readily available for tons of people through various services nowadays.

    So overall, I’d say that yes, despite the problems with translation and subtitling, licencors for anime and what-not are very important. /rant

  4. Pingback: I Don’t Get People (aka Moe once more questions the need for licensed media) | EDM's World

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