I read The Anime Almanac‘s recent essay with a great interest. Effectively titled “Greg Ayres and the Fight Against Fansubs”, it presents an industry-biased perspective on the massive proliferation of anime fansubs, via the enthusiasm of Greg Ayres, a “hardcore otaku” turned professional English dub actor. Basically, this colourful-looking chap travels to conventions dotted all over North America to preach the ills of downloading anime. According to the essay, one fan of his (called ‘Steve’) even goes so far as to admit that “I just wanted to say that because of your blog on MySpace, I have sworn off of fansubs as my New Years resolution for this year” which is impressive, though a more cynical person would point to the fact that this Steve is already enough of a fan of Ayres to be reading the man’s blog in the first place.
I don’t think he’s preaching to the choir, but at the same time, there doesn’t seem to be enough dialogue with the “hated minority”, as the Anime Almanac hyperbolically puts it. Viewing jpmeyer‘s video of the panel, one senses that there is some intimidation at work, as if Ayres (and by extension, the majority of the crowd) isn’t willing to listen to the speaker’s argument. Instead, as is usually the case with the fansubbing debate online, there is no grey area and no discussion, just white noise. A line is drawn between fans, who then proceed to shout at each other until blue in the face. Ayres is quoted as saying “the biggest wussies will always draw their swords on the internet”, but looking at jpmeyer‘s above video and considering that Ayres‘ insult was itself intended for an online publication, it’s a shame that the opportunity for a potentially important debate is lost within such double standards.
Though I’m not such an ardent supporter of fansubs, I regard the idea of fighting against them today about as useful as a chocolate tea-cup. The moment to fight the fansub movement was 10 years ago, but now, regardless of whatever moral stance you may take, they are here to stay, and the industry has to either compete or die. Asking anime fans to stop watching anime, even if you do it nicely, won’t work.
All hope isn’t lost, but most of all, it relies on the typically slow to react Japanese companies being brave enough to take on responsibility for their industry outside of Japan. Justin Sevakis‘ open letter, published via Anime News Network, is an excellent critique of the current environment, especially in comparison with Greg Ayres‘ old hat rhetoric. There is real hope to be found in GDH (Gonzo), who have the right idea with their free online streaming of Blassreiter and The Tower of Druaga . I just hope it catches on with the other companies too, because I know I’d be more than willing to part with money for subtitled episodes of, to use a current example, Kaiba, if it meant getting to see the latest installments just a few days after they air in Japan.
An unfortunate side-effect of the way anime (and manga, too) distribution seems to going is that it will inevitably spell the end for the middle-men and third-party DVD publishers like Grey Ayres and ADV Films. Unlike a few years ago, expensive English dubs can only be financed for anime series that sell well, while many of the biggest licenses will only go to companies with strong connections in Japan. Back in the mid-90s, ADV were able to stump up the cash for Neon Genesis Evangelion because the US anime industry was still relatively small-fry. In 2006, a series of similar stature in The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya was brought to North America by Kadokawa Pictures USA. The Japanese are taking care of their own businesses now, and that has left the likes of ADV stuck in real turmoil.
Indeed, this is a strange time to be an anime fan. Previously huge anime publishers are dying (or have died already) and the previously unshakable DVD market is falling into a global recession. Everything is changing on an almost monthly basis; magazines fold, series get canceled and people lose their jobs. We’re about to embark on a new era for the anime industry and fighting it is pointless.