fansubs vs dvds, dr jack style

JP brought the popcorn, Jeff brought the beer, and I’m bringing a copy of Brokeback Mountain on DVD. Fun? Definitely. ;)

Honestly, I’m puzzled how people can discuss a topic like “fansubs vs DVDs” and not bring Dr Jack into it. At the very least, toss up a few screenshots. The following isn’t about the ethics of fansubbing, as both JP and Jeff covered that nicely. I’m just bringing the Brokeback Mountain part… the pretty pictures of cowboys. Two notes before I begin: first, this isn’t about fansub comparisons. Don’t ask, “Why did you use this group instead?” because I could have just used Anime Junkies as easily. Second, I’m not considering new shows that haven’t made it onto R1 DVDs yet… a proper comparison of, say, Ergo Proxy, would require a Blu-Ray or HD-DVD player.

Here’s ANY-AONE’s ああっ女神さまっ compared to the R1 DVD:


This is episode 13, and zero post-processing done to the full sized images. Crop and resize to the smaller pics here. Notice that the DVD version is 16:9 while the fansub is 4:3… a few fansubbers (speedsubbers as the lingo would go) use the 4:3 version since it usually comes out a week or two advance of the 16:9 version. Other shows, like Elfen Lied (DVD vs TV comparison) and ああっ女神さまっ, never had their 16:9 counterpart aired. Sometimes the fansubbers just get crappier source material to work with.

Then there’s this overlay issue. Yes, I’m still bitter about the original Nadesico and Evangelion and ああっ女神さまっ‘s movie overlays, but the reality is that fansubbers like overlays. A lot. They explain odd things, like why Skuld and Bell would be bathing. Why is this a necessary explaination? You got me. Just let me fantasize for a second. If you watch a lot of anime and download shows like Kage Kara Mamouru, why do you need an overlay explaining what “ittadakimasu” means? Either know it, google it, or skip it. I definitely do not wanting it covering up any potential Skuld x Belldandy action.

Lastly, and quite important, video quality. Notice how Skuld’s figure is nicely defined whereas the fansub she’s kinda a white blob. You can see the individual ripples in the bathtub in the DVD version whereas the bathtub is just solid green in the fansub.


(The crappy subtitles is because I’m using an older version of PowerDVD and haven’t figured out how to change the font. It looks better in MPC, but MPC doesn’t allow frame-by-frame seek that PowerDVD does.)

Again, the 16:9 just frames better. You can see details like Belldandy’s earrings… but that’s not the point of this scene from episode 11. Belldandy is arguing with Marller, and, with a shitload of goddess fantastic conviction, she’s saying, “Sona koto… zettai ni!” Technically and literally, that’s “About that… NEVER!” I think Media Blasters’ version better captures Bell’s emotions. No, fansubbers aren’t perfect, nor are the DVD releases, but at least with DVD makers, make a few crappy mistakes, and you’ll get punished by fanboys. Fansubbers? Not really… even when Anime Junkies as at its height, they were still a very popular group, nakkid child events notwithstanding.

I like ANY and AONE. I think they do a good job… better than Media Blasters? Well, maybe not, and they are two of the better groups out there. Just think of some of the crappy REC subs popping up. *shudder* ああっ女神さまっ edge: DVD.

(And this doesn’t even consider the Belldandy cell phone strap that came with DVD 1.)


Now let’s move on to Gundam Seed episode 1. The top is Anime-Kraze’s version, the bottom is Bandai’s. The first thing to notice, of course, is the name. The second thing is Kira’s innocent expression hair over the black background on the left size. Fuzzy for the fansub; sharp edge for the DVD. There’s also artifacting in the background, but it’s not too noticable on the DVD whereas the blocks are clearly visible on the fansub. Aslan edge: DVD.

Okay, how about if I look at the absolute crappiest DVD that I own against a pretty damn good fansub group? CPM’s disaster that was the original Utena DVD vs Live-eviL’s fansub. I can’t begin to explain how crappy this DVD was… none of the menus or previews were skippable, if you picked English language, it wouldn’t play any of the songs. I never heard the win and awesome that is Rinbu Revolution until I found Live-eviL’s fansubs (yep, I was a dub watcher waaaaay back when… dark days to be sure). There’s also no chapter breaks on a 9 episode long DVD, which meant if your DVD player didn’t remember where you left off, you had a lot of searching to do to find it.


The colors are waaaaay better balanced on the fansub (top) than the DVD. Also, CPM failed in terms of providing karaoke… they didn’t translate half the song and skipped all the English-ish phrases. I got this back in 1999, and it is still the crappiest DVD in my collection, hence why I kept the fansub… I wanted to support anime hence I bought the DVDs (and Utena is a great show) but if I want to rewatch it, I’m going with Live-eviL’s version. Utena edge: fansubs.


The top if Anime-Keep’s fansub for Fumoffu; the bottom is the ADV DVD. Besides the contrast, Chidori’s bikini top is blocky in the fansub whereas smooth as her… melonpan… in the DVD. Edge: Chidori’s bikini.


The top is Anime-Xtreme’s version of La Verite, and the DVD is from Geneon. The fansub has an absolutely pointless overlay while the DVD shows as much of the triplet meidos as possible. The fansub also has blocking and artifacting in Lemon… or is that Merron… anyway, hawt triplet meido hair whereas the DVD has a smooth sea of purple. The contrast for the DVD is also better, and the pink lipstick shows up nicely on the DVD whereas it is kinda fleshed out on the fansub. Also, Taro is clearly blushing on the DVD whereas it is not as noticable on the fansub. I like my meido in high quality. Edge: DVD.

Lastly, I’ll leave off with lesbian cyborgs. I feel that if you put up reading this post until now, here’s a reward. ;) The following are from Stand Alone Complex episode 5. (This post went from gay cowboys to lesiban cyborgs very quickly…)


The top is AONE’s fansub and the bottom is Bandai’s DVD. Peeling your eyes away from the Major and her friends, notice the difference in level of detail in the backgroud. For example, the number of lights lit in the city in the back or the Major’s hair. Wouldn’t you want your triplet meido, Chidori in a white bikini, and lesbian cyborgs presented in the best format possible? Final edge: DVD.

Yes, DVD’s aren’t perfect. They cost too much. They come up with dumb names like “Rumblin’ Hearts.” They skip over Rinbu Revolution and Inoue Kikuko singing, which is disgraceful (to be fair, Bandai did include a Maaya Sakamoto concert at the end of Escaflowne… huge props for that), but they do have a consistant level of quality that is higher than fansubs. At least when I buy a Bandai or Geneon DVD, I know what I’m getting. An A- product whose production values probably surpasses the plot on that DVD. If you want to complain about the price or availability of DVDs, that’s fine, but the quality? I don’t think fansubs are any better. For the most part, bad subbers can be extremely bad where great fansubbers still can’t surpass the average DVD release.

(I’d love to see more examples, but please include screenshots of the DVD vs fansub. The proof is in the pudding.)

Fansubs, though, hold three huge advantages over DVDs. First is that they are as free as bandwidth. Some people just can’t afford to fork over $29.99 x 6 for a Belldandy goodness. And R2 DVDs… man, even more expensive. Second, they are speedy. That episode of Mai Otome that I just reviewed? It’ll be a few years before seeing it on DVD as Mai Hime isn’t even out on DVD yet. They’ll also bring over series that companies won’t touch… Do You Remember Love? Kanon? Yokohama Kaidashi Kikou? Lastly, fansubs are driven by fanboy passion whereas companies care about profit. While fansubbers are not perfect, they work on their subs for the love of it, and that’s a big deal. They sacrifice their nights, weekends, and holidays to get out subs for everyone to freely enjoy, and I don’t think it’s fair to start bitching about their quality, speed, or possible copyright violations. I have a huge amount of respect for the time, organization, and money that they put into their work.

Still, as fans, it’s irresponsible to not support the companies. The best way to show support for a show is to buy the DVDs… even if you don’t like the DVD (like me with Utena), buying it says, “I like this; I want more of this.” If you don’t like the R1 DVDs, buy the R2s or R3s. I forked over $100 for just the Belldandy movie DVD R2 boxset and then $20 more for the R1 version… with huge fan support (I wasn’t the only one who imported the R2 and bought the R1), it probably made the current TV series possible. I felt that a big failure of the anime community was a few years back Cartoon Network had a huge push behind The Big O… and it was enough to justify another season that would never have had happened without American fan support in terms of DVDs purchased. However, people didn’t buy the second season anywhere as much as the original, and the third season was scrapped. They even had the scripts done. That’s how fans can impact the industry in ways no fansub can.


SEE YA SPACE COWBOY. I just wish I knew how to quit ya.

16 Responses to “fansubs vs dvds, dr jack style”

  1. Oh man, speaking of overlays, I haven’t watched Air but I remember reading how one fansub group added one during one ep like “Note: get ready to break out your tissues” or something before a big melodramatic scene.

    [Note: In Japan, it is quite common for parents and siblings to take baths together to promote family bondings.]

  2. well..i have one question. whatt about fansub from DVD version ? :D

  3. Now that HDTV is changing the landscape…..and Blu-Ray is no near in sight….

  4. I see the Major still lacks pants in the DVD version.

    When in comes to 4:3 broadcast vs. 16:9 broadcast, I’ve just about gotten to the point where I’ll refuse to watch fansubs of the 4:3 version… even if it means waiting endlessly for fansubs that never come. Or waiting for the DVD release, of course.

  5. >> jp

    It goes both ways… I remember Elite-Fansubs refusing to translate the signs in Kanon because they’d give a clue to the ending. Um, wouldn’t every native Japanese person be able to read it? Still, a bit more dramatic and less predictable.

    >> kuro

    Those aren’t fansubs.

    >> Obs

    More groups are subbing REC 4:3 than HD.

    >> Jeff

    Agreed. Can’t stand 4:3 anymore… I really hope the new ああっ女神さまっ airs in 16:9.

  6. well , what i meant by fansub from dvd are the fansub from dvd . japaneese dvd ( with no sub on it ) . for exemple , doremi-fansub realeased otome ep 1 from the dvd . so the quality should be better . well , that’s what i usually prefer to take . i do no trust american dvd such as those from ADV or MANGA .i found more error on those dvd then on fansubs. So , when i really am looking for greater quality , i wait for the DVD version. and as pointed on Maido rando ( ) ( it’s in french , but you’ll get the point by checking the images ) , DVD version compared to Tv version are uncensored , so of course , bif dvd edge on that one.

  7. The new AMG does air in widescreen faster this time.

    The first season widescreen TV air dates had a 9 month delay or so (even the DVDs came faster), but BS-i will be airing the widescreen version with ‘only’ a 3 week delay this time (starting 4-27, while the TBS version is 4-6).

    For new shows it’s obvious DVD is better than standard, non-hd, TV versions! Well R2 DVD… in the US a lot of new DVDs get very shitty transfers with nasty video artifacts (to name two ‘newer’ releases: Scrapped Princess, Girls Bravo are annoyingly bad in my eyes). As for older shows, it’s pretty normal for the DVDs to be quick cash-in jobs and just are not good – I’m dying for GAINAX to announce a remastered edition of KareKano.

  8. @kurotsuki: Doremi’s DVD encode of Otome episode 1 is absolutely horrible quality compared to the DVD itself. Doremi/DA just don’t know how to encode.

  9. oh yeah i know . but..arff..i dun’t complain . i like their sub one is perfect i guess . anyway , bout the dvd , i don’t know , i have to say i dind’t dl the DVD version because i don’t think there are much thing different from the tv version ….and….such…( i dunno what to say . i’m quite tired , i haven’t sleeped yet , and it’s too late in the morning to go to bed so…my brain is kindof in a idle mode )

  10. I buy DVD’s for as many series as I can, because other than owning the DVD’s, I also like the extras.

    But I never watch them.

    I bought all the GITS:SAC DVD’s, the special editions of all discs no less. I now have the motoko and tachikoma T-shirts, the collectible ID cards, the second DVD’s of each one encoded in DTS audio, and the yoko kanno OST’s, which is awesome. Total cost was about $230, considering the first 3 disc pairs cost about $40 each.

    And yet, other than to check the quality, they’re sitting in their boxes on my shelf. If I were to re-watch gits:sac, it’d probably be in fansub. Since I’ve shelled out the cash for the discs, I consider it my right to keep my fansubs, which I can watch on the plane or when at my parent’s house on my laptop without shuffling discs (and using considerably less power on the laptop).

    My biggest issue is the quality of the translation. Some of them are okay, but I own many DVD’s where the translation is in very broken english, and not even always true to the japanese. Tsukihime comes to mind; Geneon really ruined one of my favorite series, also not using proper subtitle placement or timing (the better-encoded DVDs stand out, when multiple people talk at the same time placing the subtitles under each person, or visually separating them [i]somehow[/i].. but many are not like that.) The level of english in fansubs is usually of a college-student level, and they are usually much more grammar-accurate, and they use a slightly more sophisticated translation. I like that.

    Then we get to subtitle fonts. It does vary by what program you’re using to play your DVD, and my actual DVD player does a decent job of it, but I detest when the color of a scene changes to something nearly that of the subtitle color, and then you are struggling to read the subtitles over the scene. (A good example of this is the movie Hero, while it is not an anime, the segment in light blue was nearly unreadable for most of it with my DVD player) Many fansub groups on the other hand, take care to vary the subtitle colors when there’s a drastic color change in a scene. Also, it’s frequent to use a different color font to differentiate multiple simultaneous speakers or someone talking off-screen. These sort of quality differences I _wish_ would come from the DVD’s I so gladly shell out 29.95 for.

    eh… I still buy the discs, but I’m not deleting my fansubs either :)

  11. Found this a bit late in the game, but I do want to tip my hat to you for doing such a well-rounded comparison. In my original complaint on Jeff’s site I went out of my way to disclaim the overwhelming superiority of video quality in DVD releases, since my attachment to fansubs comes more out of appreciation of intangibles like the overall “feel” a show’s translation and the “style” of the release itself. I won’t name names (unless you REALLY REALLY want to make a laundry list of this debate) but there have been more than a few times when I rushed out to buy the DVD release of a show only to shelve it after 3 or 4 episodes and watch the fansubs instead. Why? It just…left a bad taste in my mouth.

    It’s highly subjective, but I think it speaks to the point you made earlier, about fansubs being a labor of love versus DVDs being about the corporate drive for profit. I don’t want to knock American anime companies (ok, maybe just a little) since for the most part they are really good guys and they do work hard, but I really feel that that “fanboy passion” you speak of shines through on a good fansub, and that makes me happy. I still dilligently support the anime industry, both foreign and domestic, but I think it really says something that I’m not the only person I know who will buy the DVDs out of love for a show and then just not watch them (despite undisputedly better video and audion quality) out of love for the fansub.

    BUT since people seem to insist on making this about videophilia and nothing else, let me just say this: right now I am watching the fansubs of Ergo Proxy in glorious 720p. Bring me a DVD that lets me do the same and THEN we can talk.

    Low blow, I know, but sometimes there’s more to life than digital artifacting and color balance.

  12. I think the reason I feel so sentimental about fansubs IS this sense of passion that goes into fansubbers’ work. I don’t want to delete any of my fansubs, even if I do purchase DVDs, just because I grow attached to their clunky notes, exploding karaoke, and funky fonts. I will spend the CD-Rs necessary for burning countless gigs. Unless the show really sucks. Then the Recycle Bin it is, no offense to the fansubbers.

    I do have a few bones to pick with subs in general, both DVD and fan, but I find this point moot because there is no use squawking about the poor quality of a translation if you understand the Japanese spoken anyway, right?

    I think my current biggest pet peeve is fansubs that are on-screen way too long, preventing me from taking my favorite screenshots. (I don’t like screenshots with little colorful scribbles on the bottom). People need to learn how to read faster if that’s really the issue.

  13. Though I can agree with quality of DVDs is better and the fact that fansubs don’t always hold the best translation, I think some of you guys are a little bitchy and intollerant.

    You don’t like the notes about japanese phrases or cultural points that won’t be understood straight away by English people? Why not download a raw then? same goes for if your bitching that you already understand the Japanese, or that the text gets in the way of a precious row of like 10 pixels, download a raw and stop bitching at subbers.

    One thing that would be nice for fansubbers to do would be to use mkv or ogm formats and seperate the text from the video track so people can choose their own fonts and take text-clearn screenshots etc, but I think the groups are paranoid that other groups will steal the text and redistro it under a differrent name.

    If I ever start a fansub group I won’t be worrying about that quite honestly, as the benefit of not having to re-encode the video to overlay the text should stop extra compression artifacts showing up and I won’t take offence if people ‘steal’ translations from me.

  14. >>>>Oh man, speaking of overlays, I haven’t watched Air but I remember reading how one fansub group added one during one ep like “Note: get ready to break out your tissues” or something before a big melodramatic scene.

    If I remember correctly, the fansubber was Koi or something like that. For every episode, he would put the translation notes in the beginning before the episode started instead of having overlays. The main problem, however, was that he would also put in ambiguous interpretations and opinions.

    So, it wasn’t right before the scene, it was before the episode started. It didn’t effect my view much, since I could careless about that girl who talked so slowly that it was a pain to listen to.

  15. I watch the fansubs and buy the DVDs of the stuff I missed. I find, a lot of times, that the fansub has better translations. Yes there are more typographical errors, but they are small and don’t detract from the story.

    I still support anime when I can. I still seek out box sets of series that I liked or wanted to see. But lets be honest, I just can’t stomach paying $30 for 4 episodes of a two-year-old series. It was fine and dandy back in 1994 when I was 9 and just started watching anime. But now I have other things to spend my $30 on like gas, food, cigarettes, maintenence of my car, etc; and I haven’t even moved out of my parent’s house yet.

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