Ah subs, you take them for granted these days, but they are, in fact, a very hard-fought labor of love. Over the past couple decades we’ve seen a scene be born and take off exponentially. Tonight, the Inverseman traces the evolution of this scene.
Although not much is known about the beginnings of the sub-group, in the past, subbing was radically different from how it is today. Subbed content was distributed via VHS tapes and physically. As a more solitary operation, groups or individuals had to obtain the source content, translate, typeset, and time it. Then, because the advent of the internet was still just beginning, produce a master copy from which lighter distribution copies could be made and finally recorded onto new VHS tapes. Just think of having to purchase the tapes to sub a long-running shonen. Or perhaps making copies of tapes being circulated around and seeing the quality degrade. We anime fans of today have it good.
With the dawn of the internet, subbers no longer had to be within arm’s reach of each other and could collaborate over great distances. More capable hands on-deck meant subbing was no longer a lonely affair, and more advanced computer technology meant better quality anime could be shared over peer-to-peer networks to lighten the load of downloading. Though in its infancy, translation quality had still yet to advance, giving us gems like the above from Fate/Stay Night. (Though, to be fair, hearing a line like that from Shirou is completely logical.)
This era was a real breakout period for subbers where groups were assembling everywhere to put out their favorite anime ASAP sometimes completely disregarding quality or suddenly dropping a series. In a way, it was all we had. After all, official DVDs and dubs would take nearly a year to appear. Crackdown from official license companies and Japanese broadcast companies was beginning, but much like the rise of Napster for the music industry, the legalities of copying and distributing data at no monetary cost were anything but clear. Over time groups that could not stay afloat would die out and groups that knew what they were doing would rise to the top in this wild west of anime.
Late 2000s – Present
These days the formula has been perfected further. No longer do we settle for poor translations and less than broadcast quality. Now quality standards are set for today’s subs as groups have become more practiced and overall more “professional” in their translation and overall group organization. Access to DVD and Blu-Ray rips with the development of technology can now give western fans the exact video quality as if they were watching the show on Japanese television or the DVDs themselves. Big name torrent trackers and file-sharing websites now host and index any series you’d want so you could “shop” sub groups for the best translations and the best quality for your hard drive. The only barrier to enjoying anime now is the language-cultural barrier.
To increase competition, official licenses and companies began streaming themselves through sites like Crunchyroll to provide an official outlet with their own subs usually with ads or a subscription service to monetize. Smaller fan-streaming sites began popping up for people who didn’t really desire to download higher quality content. Though these new websites were opportunists that essentially ripped official streams from Crunchyroll who themselves were ripping from the broadcast version of the show, so logically the quality of the stream was less than optimal. Now a culture of a “Walmart” or “fast-food” subbing has ironically arisen, creating a quick-fix baseline of quality with adequate translations, but still dubious video quality. In today’s fast-paced world sometimes the masses do indeed prefer the big box retailers compared to the “fine-dining” of downloading DVD/BD rips.
We’ve certainly come a long way in the history of fansubbing since the early days of tape lending. As our technology became exponentially better, subbing evolved further, most notably in the 2000s. Innumerable options exist out there to enjoy anime and they’ll continue to advance well into this decade as well. What could the future hold for us in the coming years? Better streams perhaps? Only time will tell. Feel free to sound off in the comments below and join me next time when I eat an endless sandwich.
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