I’ll present the summary of the videos and then share my view on the raised issues.

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

Part 5 (Final)

This documentary describes the history of anime fan subtitling in the US and UK. Subtitling anime was a long process and required some not readily acquirable equipment (the equipment is shown in the video), but today anyone can easily subtitle an episode in about half an hour * with current technology. Availability and ease of use of new technologies lead to wider population of fan subbers and “drastic changes in subtitling”.

* This may be not true. “If you have a good translator and skilled people, the typical episode will take 12-20 hours to complete and release.” (Source)

Early fansubs used to be professional

– Japanese terms and honorifics were converted into English (e.g. Kazuma vs Kazuma-senpai)
– All explanations of the trivia or special terms were annexed in a text document. For example, Otaku no Video had a 4600 word booklet with explanations that you could read without ruining view by intrusion on the screen.
– Contained plain fonts
– Translators were “invisible”
– Translated opening and ending songs with static romaji and English
– Replaced Japanese metaphor or simile with a different one

Current subtitles are “hypocritical and selective bullshit”

– Over 90% of fansubs (that is a strong claim – I want to know his sample size :P) Leave in as many Japanese terms and honorifics as possible (e.g. Onii-sama, Iruka-sensei; I’ll prepare Haori).
– Include explanation notes on screen. This is a problem because they distract the eye completely. It is all about fanboys showing how much obscure Japanese culture they know. Professional translators don’t do this.
– Are biased in selection of terms to translate (e.g. leave in Udaijin (minister), but write Chief as Chief).
– Contain flashy fonts to “pwn” rival fansub groups by showing off better visual effects
– Put large emphasis on the translator group and individual names and even make it of equal size as the title of anime itself. They also include their names in the credits by putting it over the names of the people who actually worked on the film
– Include flashy Karaoke subtitles during the opening and ending songs.

My opinion

Retaining of Japanese Terms and Honorifics

I agree mostly with him on that issue. Honorifics should be dropped because you can clearly hear them – the less text the better. If people don’t know what -sama or -chan is, then they should not see it as text anyway (Japanese honorifics). However, replacing honorifics with inaccurate analogs is horrible. Captain Amano instead of Amano-senpai?

Japanese terms should be translated. The video showed some horrible examples with many Japanese terms left in the subtitles. You really don’t want to see a Japanese term and have no idea what it means. This leads to the issue of explanations.

P.S. It is somewhat ironic that his alias is OtaKing lol The guy certainly thinks highly of himself ๐Ÿ˜›

Explanation Notes

We have two issues here: 1) Mode of explanation 2) Amount of explanation.

OtaKing prefers explanations attached as a text document. I would prefer them to appear on screen the first time something occurs that requires explanation. I really don’t want to spend time reading some trivia in a booklet and go: “Ah, so that is what it meant!” The overall effect might have been decreased without a relevant detail. For example, I recall watching Ah My Goddess TV and I thought that the amount of on screen explanations was minimal and relevant – this is how I want my subtitles to look like.

The next question is about balance. I don’t want to see hundreds of explanations – just the ones that are necessary.


Oh, boy… I completely agree with him here. I REALLY hate crappy fonts. I want my font to be plain and legible.

Fansub Names and Credits

Again, I agree with him here. It is very disrespectful to put names of fansubbers over names of people who actually worked on the film. The name of the subtitling team should be less gaudy also.


Now, I really like karaoke style openings as long as they are not too flashy. I think it is fun and if they are done right, you will be able to understand a word that you could not pick up well just by listening.

Metaphors and Liberal Translation

I strongly disagree with him here. I believe that many things can be lost in translation, and it is essential to provide the exact metaphor used originally. If it is too cryptic, it can be explained. In one of the examples the professional translator completely changed the line. This should not be done.

Overall, while correct on some points, it seems like OtaKing is pulling a slippery slope argument in his presentation, especially with his version of a modern fansub in the Part 5. Just like in all aspects of life, balance is the most important thing.

6 thoughts on “Rise and Fall of Anime Fan Subtitling (Documentary)

  1. Hey! I saw this on RandomCuriosity’s blog last week. I was gonna mention the topic but seems like I’m late for everything :<

    Anyways, I agree with you and the writer on the other site since Otaking seems to contradict himself on several points. I think the main issue is that, as the documentary maker said, some fansub groups are using their works as ways to inflate their own ego and swing their e-wang around. Overall, I think the groups should hold foremost, the origin of fansubs.

    “They are made by fans for the fans.”

    I’m sure releases would churn out faster without the special effects… though it seems that the new age anime fans love them and demand to see the OP/ED’s done that way. Win/Lose situation :\

  2. Thank you for your comments ๐Ÿ™‚

    โ€œThey are made by fans for the fans.โ€

    Yes, I agree.

    “Iโ€™m sure releases would churn out faster without the special effectsโ€ฆ though it seems that the new age anime fans love them and demand to see the OP/EDโ€™s done that way. Win/Lose situation :\”

    Oh, I am sure people will survive without karaoke op/ed ๐Ÿ˜›

    Some shows take a long time to subtitle because they are not very popular (Kaiba), but others get subs, by multiple groups even, as soon as possible (Kanokon).

  3. That’s one of the reasons I want to learn Japanese…so I don’t have to rely on subtitles. I prefer softsubs like KAA does, anyway.

  4. I am very interested in absorbing this large effort you have made, and I plan to soon. I’m a busy guy, and I’m leaving a comment before I’m actually watching your videos. If you are confident in the fruits of your labor here, you should certainly give some serious thought to uploading these video documentaries to veoh.com. I’m sure you will gain much more exposure and of course, receive much more feedback.

    That is, if you already haven’t posted it to veoh.

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