Operation British, Phase Eight: That’s Not Actually Why American Anime Fans Pirate The Shows They Love

Disclaimer: We specify America in this post because a lot of the legitimate options aren’t available elsewhere. There are a lot of places in the world where people can only reasonably be expected to pirate.

Again, again, Jesus Christ, again. The anime piracy conversation is the same unbearable discussion that we’ve managed to have at least a thousand times over the last few years alone. Minds are not going to change, but can we all at least get the facts down on paper?

Ars Technica just half-heartedly attempted to engage the issue. In the wake of Funimation’s nonsensical lawsuit against downloaders of One Piece, a series which the company simulcasts in the US alongside the Japanese airing, this blog post asks three anime fans why they pirate material which is readily available to them by legitimate means and uncritically accepts their answers as fact.

Anime fans have passed the article around without any fact-checking themselves. This is unfortunate, because Ars’ three-man focus group is full of shit.

While streaming content can appear at US outlets within a week or so of airing in Japan, non-streaming material can take far longer. “For non-streaming, yeah, ask the lawyer why it took FUNimation a year to get Rebuild of Evangelion 2.22 out,” said Otaku1.

We don’t need to ask some copyright lawyer this question, because we already know the answer and it’s been spelled out a million times already. But fine, Otaku1, let’s do this for posterity. You think it’s incompetence, but the fact is that it’s market reality.

Eva 2.22 is a major theatrical release in one of the flagship franchises in Japanese animation. It is tremendously profitable to its Japanese rights-holders: far more so than it is or ever will be here. Japanese rights-holders tend to think that their properties are just as profitable in the rest of the world as they are at home — rarely the case, of course — and they set their asking prices accordingly. Do you think they’re going to give that movie up easily? These companies have to negotiate the rights, and business takes time.

Japanese home video is stupidly expensive, and Japanese companies obviously want to preserve a diehard market that is actually willing, in large numbers, to pay $100 for two episodes of K-On! They are terrified, in particular, of reverse importation: Japanese fans importing lower-priced foreign DVDs of their favorite shows. This is why the US Blu-Ray of that same show, which packs 4 episodes for $35, isn’t coming out until April of this year and Japan got their $100 Blu-Rays in 2009. The numbers speak for themselves. Of course American anime fans are second-class; they’re paying an 80% discount!

Update 4/20/11: the US Blu-Ray release of K-On treats patient fans to a DVD-quality audio track, ensuring that those pink, $100 discs are still the one to buy.

Obviously piracy is going to get you the product day one, and obviously not a lot of folks were going to wait a year to watch something as major as Eva 2.22, but in the real world there are issues that have to be dealt with that aren’t going away any time soon. These people don’t just point into the sky and yell “EVANGELION, GO” while the DVD emerges fully formed from the ether. Sorry.

Indeed, the three men in the group all had money to burn, and they had no problem spending it when they saw something of value. “Tell your lawyer this,” said Otaku1. “I have seriously considered buying a series from Japan, with English subs, on Blu-ray, for $400 versus buying the Bandai DVD copy for $80.”

The field of English-subbed, Japanese-release anime BDs is so thin that we actually know precisely what series this fellow is wrong about. It’s Kara no Kyoukai, which caused quite a stir when Aniplex opted to release an extremely limited US run of the BD box set simultaneously with the Japanese. Of course, as with the ongoing release of Gundam Unicorn, they did this at the Japanese price: $400. Both versions have English subtitles. The US version of Kara no Kyoukai sold out before Otaku1 could finish very seriously considering buying it. The $80 “Bandai DVD copy” of this series does not exist.

Update 4/20: Whoooops, as has been pointed out many times we’re completely off-base and the show being talked about was Haruhi.

And now, a cultural consideration:

“As for why I continue to pirate anime that I can get legally,” said Otaku2, “the main reason is because I strongly prefer fansubs over professional subbing. The fansub groups tend to keep more of the cultural idioms intact whereas professional subs just Americanize the sh*t out of everything.”

And what we mean is not an American or a Japanese cultural consideration. It’s something more specific than that. It’s about the subculture of American anime fans, which prefers a very particular kind of translation and presentation.

We’ve talked about this ourselves already, and so have better minds: see Matt Thorn, for one. Because of fan translation, many fans’ expected standard for anime/manga translation is unlike any professional standard for the translation of any other text. It insists upon an odd anime-fan pidgin language which is more concerned with individual minutiae than accessibility or expression. Many anime fans seem to think that a translator’s job is to make the viewer — versed as he is in honorifics, family terminology, and other “untranslatable” nuance — feel like an expert Japanophile while still translating the large swath of the language that he/she does not know.

Let’s talk about what “Americanization” really is. Americanization is when Brock’s riceball is referred to as a donut. Americanization is renaming the main character of Detective Conan “Jimmy”. Americanization is when Working Designs would date 1990s Japanese role-playing games with jokes about Monica Lewinsky. It’s not when a translator attempts to translate meaning and intent rather than transliterate words directly, or when they don’t match the subtitles to the hair color of the speaker, or when they somehow resist the urge to add animated magic sprinkles, stardust, explosions and platinum chains to the subtitle track of the opening theme song. The absence of a “TL note” about every possible Japanese cultural detail is not “Americanization”.

Americanization really doesn’t happen much in professional anime translations anymore, and the odds are that probably isn’t happening (or didn’t happen) with your favorite show. Yet, if we look at the comments on the Ars article, the myth is alive and well.

Commercial translations can, and do, rename characters, remove episodes, alter the art, recut and/or rewrite episodes, alter character relationships, give characters sex changes and more. FUNimation has a reputation for being one of the worst offenders.

This hasn’t been the case for years — a few of these date back to Sailor Moon! — and yet it persists. Anime fans used to be hawks about censorship, and it was with good reason back then. For years, with major titles like Dragon Ball Z and Sailor Moon, a version censored for kids’ TV was the only legitimate option. These days, a censored-only home video release of an anime is an extreme rarity, even for the shows that do make it onto kids’ TV. The vast majority of anime is released to US home video unmolested.

As industry conditions have changed over the years, we’ve still continued to hear these exact same lines, mostly from people who’ve never so much as walked in the vicinity of a legitimate anime release in their lives. It’s convenient! It’s a pillar of the Evil Gaijin, Glorious Nippon narrative of which many anime fans are so fond.

Can we get to the real reasons that people pirate the anime they love without the moralizing? We’ll list them.

    • While owning tangible physical media is a nice consumerist feeling, digital copies are far more convenient.


  • Downloaded media is usually ripped from the highest-quality video sources (HDTV and those expensive Japanese Blu-Rays) and look better than any DVD or online stream. While US anime pickings on Blu-Ray remain slim (because Japanese companies really want to protect the high prices of shows on the new format), this is a major concern.



  • There are titles that are extremely unlikely/unprofitable for US licensing (particularly the old ones, the long ones, the ones for girls, the ones with robots, and the ones for old people), which their niche fandoms cannot buy: unless, of course, they pay the ludicrous costs of Japanese home video.



  • It’s free.


It’s purely self-interest. Pirating anime will always be the best deal around, provided you don’t mind that you’re screwing the artists, and not screwing the artist is the only advantage of buying anime. Unfortunately, many of these problems — especially the bizarre state of Japanese home video — are presently beyond the reach of any legitimate business on Earth, and as the simulcasters will tell you, there’s no great reward in trying to solve them.

We’re not saying American anime companies have spotless records, that they are saints, or that we’d ever fund the continued production of America’s Greatest Otaku by buying a Tokyopop product, but they all took direct fan input and listened to it as far as was reasonable.

(Update 4/20: Stu Levy shut down Tokyopop so he could make more things like America’s Greatest Otaku. There’s no winning in this world.)

Today those businesses are all dead, and meanwhile American anime fans are wondering why Funimation won’t just give them 1080p copies of the latest episode of The Big New Anime (which just aired an hour ago) for free.

Anyway, anime fan focus group, let’s fix the problem. Throw a solution at us!

As for what businesses like FUNimation can do to lure in the pirates, one focus group member had a thought. “I’ve always wondered why they don’t just hire the fansubbers,” he said.

We’re grinding our teeth over here. This is what they do. Who do you think is doing translation work for all those Crunchyroll shows now? Who do you think will translate a show that fast for peanuts? Who do you think put an entirely called-for “mass naked child event” joke in Panty and Stocking? Ex-fansubbers.

So who is really to blame here? Is it really Funimation or the ex-cons over at Crunchyroll for bending over backwards to give fans exactly what they say they want: English simulcasts hours after anime airs in Japan? Is it the Japanese animation business for protecting their only (albeit insane) source of income? Is it the fans, for stubbornly refusing to support the shows they purport to love unless every unreasonable expectation is somehow magically fulfilled? You tell us.


  1. “The field of English-subbed, Japanese-release anime BDs is so thin that we actually know precisely what series this fellow is wrong about. It’s Kara no Kyoukai…”

    Actually, I’d guess he’s talking about The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, which actually makes sense in the context of his comment rather than assuming it’s Kara no Kyoukai.

  2. In the interest of an article about a website not fact-checking, the $400 box set could easily be the Haruhi Suzumiya box set, which contains both the English subtitle and dub track. It doesn’t have to be KnK. It’s the only set I’m aware of that has both subtitles and an English release by Bandai (though there might be a few others).

    That said, the Ars Technica article IS complete bullshit. Another shining example of otaku talking about things that they know next to nothing about. It’s just easier to ignore it completely.

  3. First off, I enjoy your writing as it is the only breath of fresh air in the entire subculture.

    That said, is there a certain reason why piracy is more of problem for anime than other industries?

    Piracy hits every single industry hard, yet music and film and video games are doing just fine. The MPAA reported record smashing numbers this year.
    I know you’re suggesting that anime fans are so used to fansubs they don’t want them any other way, but other industries have adjusted successfully to the internet, knowing that piracy is reality. I totally agree that they’ve tried really hard to give the fans what they want, and it’s grating to read the Ars article and find that anime fans still think it’s 1994, but I feel like the way the industry does business is also to blame. As this has led to shows that revolve around selling rice bowls modeled after their character’s panties, I feel like this can’t be good for the industry creatively either. But please shut me down if I’m talking nonsense.

  4. Yeah, deducing that he was talking about KnK seemed like going out on a limb there, but the rest of the article was strong. And depressing! I look forward to reading about solutions to this mess. Personally, I’d pay a flat rate for a hulu-like streaming service, but I understand there have been some problems with that too…

  5. “That said, is there a certain reason why piracy is more of problem for anime than other industries?

    Piracy hits every single industry hard, yet music and film and video games are doing just fine. The MPAA reported record smashing numbers this year.”

    One difference is that anime has a much narrower revenue base. Movies have theatrical release, premium cable, BD/DVD for retail, BD/DVD rental, and cable/broadcast syndication, so while piracy has hit some of their revenue streams, its not an across the board hit.

    I think most anime series during the international anime boom was just DVD. In the 90’s anime boom in Japan, there was broadcast ad revenue, Video and Merchandise. With ad revenue collapsing, its narrowed down to BD/DVD sales and merchandise for many anime series, with anime based on manga also having Drama CD’s as cover disks (to help sell the physical manga instead of the scans).

    The hope is that legit streaming and legit downloads start to provide enough of a revenue stream so that BD/DVD are not carrying the whole burden, but both of those still need to grow to get to that point.

  6. Well I imagine it’s many things all at once. The Japanese side of the industry has been slow to adopt to changes in the market, especially when they already know there is one for a significant amount of their products. They have no right to bitch if they wait a year after the Japanese release of a huge hit movie to get the English version out. Of course their business model of selling 100 dollar BDs prevents them from this.

    They are in a no win situation without innovation. Although I suppose in the end if they don’t want to change the way they market their products in Japan and America, then they have to wonder whether or not the American audience is even worth courting in any serious way. Many Anime producers say that without the huge DVD and BD disc sales they make, their series’ would be unprofitable, and thus wouldn’t be made at all. Obviously making good animation is expensive business so they have a pretty fair point. The caveat being that their own audiences are shrinking to a smaller and more exclusive clientele of Otaku. They are making their money but shrinking their audience. Then again with the moe boom of the last 5 years it was like fishing with dynamite, you put something out, made a truck load of money and everything was fine.

    I think the “clamping down” of piracy has a lot to do with the industry trying to stabilize itself. Of course the real solution would be to make more shows that appeal to a broader audience in Japan and abroad, and sell DVDs for less ridiculous sums but sell a whole lot more of them and make it up in volume. Whether this is possible, who can say?

  7. Censorship of anime in any form is utterly repugnant to today’s anime fan. Remember when FUNimation threatened to censor the nude lolis in Vampire Bund? Holy hell, was that ever a massive shitstorm. The big anime licensors know they’ll never be able to get away with macekre again.

    But yeah, that Ars Technica article felt half-assed. It was especially disappointing considering how well-researched their articles usually are.

  8. A good article and some good comments too. I agree that there are two problems here: the crappy business model of the Japanese industry and the ignorant attitude of some Western fans. The former is pricing itself out of the overseas market to a certain degree, while the latter seem to be coming up with half-baked excuses for trying to get something for nothing.

    Although I do suspect it wasn’t KnK in this case, a recent ANN interview with the Ufotable production staff suggested that certain people in the Japanese industry do understand the fact that their DVDs are priced higher than an RRP that US fans are comfortable paying. I’m assuming they’re not in a position to decide the RRP of their product either domestically overseas, so the first question to address would be “who IS responsible for making Japanese anime DVDs so expensive?”

    I’m not naive enough to believe that an explanation for this alone would make the fans such as those quoted above to see sense, but it would be a start.

  9. TheKenoh: Ironically, while some efforts to reach out to a wider audience has been made, the fact is that some forms of Japanese TV entertainment (especially anime) is a bit too niche for Joe the Plumber. Saban’s Masked Rider (Adaptation of Masked Rider Black) wasn’t all that hot, and Masked Rider Dragon Knight (American adaptations of Masked Rider Ryuki) probably didn’t do that much better. (Correct me if I’m wrong here. I haven’t watched the show.) And that’s just for live-action. Anime in general caters to a very, very specific niche.

    There’s also issues within the industry itself that needs addressing, but that’s beyond the scope of the article.

    MammonMachine: Anime relies solely on DVD/BD sales, with merch money coming in a distant second. Whereas movies, music, and games have more than one revenue stream, but I think someone already covered that. Ironically, though, said industries are doing the same thing the anime industry in Japan does, but to a much wider audience.

    agilia: Online streaming services are hampered by the current Berne Convention. Should any company want to reach a much wider audience, they are forced to region lock their streams. And to be honest, CR does NOT want to do business with Singapore, where I live. (Then again I highly doubt most people here would pay for anime, what with certain incidents and humanity in general.)

    Dave: You’d be surprised at how the industry screws with artists. I’m not too sure about Japan, but in America, the artist pretty much is forced to forfeit all rights to his artworks should he be commissioned to do a piece for a company or something to that extent.

    There’s also the issues of corporate-owned copyrights as well to consider. Though you may be right on piracy screwing with the creator, considering how some of them might be actually earning a paycheck instead of earning royalty fees. But then again, that’s probably an industry-wide problem, and beyond the scope of the article.

    Someone with industry experience please correct me. I’m probably wrong in some areas and all I’m drawing from is how the West does this.

    Also, I found the Ars article uninspired and promptly ignored it until your article came up.

  10. First, I’d just like to say that I love this series of articles and feel much more secure in my sanity knowing that they exist.

    On the subject of the article, I’ve been ignoring this debate lately because nothing I like all that much has been releases on DVD or bluray in America for about a year, with the exception of Gundam Unicorn which I’ve been buying, but I’m really shocked that anyone can possibly still be throwing around those arguments about censorship that haven’t been relevant for about five years. I can’t believe any one could publish a study with a sample size of THREE and be taken seriously.

    I would like to say, though, that the one thing that often stops me from buying US DVDs and blurays lately is not knowing what source they were made from. Japanese blurays often add quite a lot of new footage and corrected animation and there’s no resource I can find that will tell me whether the US release contains that version or not. I really hate having to buy things more than once. I don’t care about any of the BS most anime fans have been asking for, but a quick guide with that information in it would definitely get me to spend more money (assuming they can find something new I actually want to buy again).

    Oh well, at least I can finally stop downloading in print manga now that I know enough to make my way through the Japanese editions.

  11. Re:Industrytreatmentofartists-

    You might want to read through Colleen Doran’s blog http://www.adistantsoil.com She’s making comics professionally since the 80’s, and has a pretty good review of how things are handled. Basically, it’s a case by case thing, and hinges on peoples contracts- for every horror story, there’s lots of editors and companies who do right by people, even in work for hire situations. If you read through her posts about bad/good publishers and copyright, you learn a lot of useful stuff. She’s done a lot of advocacy work for creator’s rights/copyright recently, and she’s generally very helpful if you make comics.

    There’s also lots of artists doing completely creator-owned work too, people just forget that because they think Comics in the US=Superheroes. Rest assured, there’s lots of artists who are dependent on royalties who are very hurt when their work or adaptations of their work is pirated, whether it’s workforhire or creator owned work or even japanese manga. Vertical’s Ed Chavez has explained how royalties work before for japanese publishers- manga artists actually get a pretty healthy chunk of your money when you buy manga.

    From my understanding, R1 anime companies also pay royalties from their sales to the japanese firms they license them from in many cases [and I’d assume they then pipe royalties back to the show/franchises’s creators depending on their contracts], on top of the intial license fee.

  12. @Paploo: Gold star to you for the Colleen Doran link. I’ve read it and was shocked and p’od by some of the comments DEFENDING piracy.

    Thanks also, CD Staff, for this article. It’s still mind-boggling that some still stick to the tired defense of piracy; Toren Smith had a few choice words for them around six years ago:


    As an artist myself, I abhor piracy and frequently watch my blood pressure shoot into the danger zone when I hear someone defending the practice and then say that artists should be satisfied and proud that their work gets pirated–or that they should give up their works freely.

    Bullshit. Do these pieces of human waste even consider that we have bills to pay and that any earnings that come our way are necessary? Do they even give a damn? Of course not.

    Frankly, Harlan Ellison said it much better than me:


    Thanks again, CD. Keep up the great work, as always.

  13. Nice article.
    “For years, with major titles like Dragon Ball Z and Sailor Moon, a version censored for kids’ TV was the only legitimate option.”
    – I see their parachutes. They’re ok.

    I think anime will remain niche in the west for quite some time, if not forever. It is too easy for it to get drowned out by the countless established media properties here, it just cannot compete with the big guns. More exposure or advertisement may help but I think even then it could only go so far. Who knows maybe there is that off chance one of the live action anime projects in the works, takes off and anime gets another shot at making it big in the west.

  14. I don’t know if Anime always has to be a niche, I just don’t think it’s a good idea to market it as Anime in the US. The biggest thing holding Anime back in the US? Anime fans. A hardcore otaku will piss off every other kind of nerd, it’s like some sort of scientific anomaly.

    Cartoon network is having some great luck with original animation that caters to around the same audience as a lot of shonen anime ( pre teen to teens with accessibility to older audiences). Watch The Clone Wars or Young Justice or Symbionic Titan and tell me there aren’t similarities.

    You’re always going to take a risk when you bring a product to market, but localizing anime or live action shows represents a much lower risk, seeing as a lot of the work and risk has already been fielded for you. Japanese companies would be wise to offer incentives to get their programming on television (an initially low fee to localize their product, with a sliding compensation based on potential success). Anime simply won’t fly just because “HOLY SHIT IT’S FROM JAPAN” for most people anymore. They’ll watch the show and judge the content for themselves, perhaps not even caring about the country of origin in the slightest.

    You’ll probably never get the boom days back where you could take whatever junk you wanted, crap out a DVD box set and get people to suck it up, but those weren’t really great days to begin with. Anime companies have a lot of opportunities to spawn successful franchises in America and other countries if they are willing to look towards a realistic way to capture that audience. It’s probably going to be more along the lines of ignoring piracy and focusing on capturing the larger, paying audience however.

    You’ll probably never see something like Haruhi or Lucky Star on TV though, it just wouldn’t sell.

  15. This is true. What got me into anime in the first place was the fact that fansubs and VHS/DVD rips existed online. Even if media industries find a way to put a stop to media piracy completely, I’ll be one of the many pirates that stick to free content, even if that means having to watch Fred and other such inanities that keep popping up on the internet, or-hell-going outside and talking to people.

  16. “Anyway, anime fan focus group, let’s fix the problem. Throw a solution at us!”

    Throw a solution at you guys? Okay, sure, I hope you’re paying attention:

    1) 480p – 720p downloads, encoded properly. If subbed, one month after initial airing. If groups like Eclipse can fully sub and style a release in a 2-3 days, a professional service should be able to manage it in 30. 60-120 days for dubs.

    2) $3-5/episode. Standard prices for movies. OAV: use best judgment.

    3) Geo IP restriction OK.

    4) DRM – as long as it is as non-intrusive as, say, iTunes video – is fine.

    5) Optional $5-10/mo digital locker service, with 5-10% discount on all purchases.

    0 cost for pressing and packaging disks, 0 cost for shipping, 0 cost for warehousing. Properly prepared files will then be available for other languages should company decide to enter new markets.

  17. That’s not a bad idea, and it could work– if anime existed in a world where Japanese companies weren’t as technologically inept, stubborn and resistant to change as they actually are. The problem with changing the distribution methods lies more with the Japanese rights holders than it does the American distributors.

    Even still, what’s going to make fans pay $3-5 for an episode they could still get for free? They’ll still complain about the encoding, the translation, or the turn around time.

    The real problem isn’t with how anime is distributed (that can change, and has been changing) it’s with the attitudes of the fans and their sense of entitlement. Good luck on changing that.

  18. I would like to support the anime industry more and have no problems importing, but I have to draw the line somewhere.

    I prefer importing manga, and if I liked the series I’ll import figurines and other merchandise.

    I read a blog of a studio somewhere where they mentioned that they’d be trying to profit off of physical collections items more than the DVD/BD’s which makes a lot of sense. You cannot pirate any of that. And (I speak from my perspective) that merchandise feels like it’s worth a lot more than the actual animation.

  19. @Marc McKenzie- I’ve had the wonderous delight of being told if people pirated my work it’d mean I’m popular and should be grateful, and that it’s better than “obscrurity”. It’s made me lose all respect for the comics blogger who told me that. Said comics blogger also told a prominent webcartoonist that her comments didn’t count because she was “just” a webcomics artist.

    People sometimes suck. Best to ignore them and just try your best otherwise.

    @Sean- Japanese companies seem pretty willing to experiment with legal streaming [via CrunchyRoll, Animenewsnetwork.com , ADV/Sentai’s theAnimeNetwork site/cable system, Funimation and offical YouTube pages for Bandai, RightStuf and Media Blasters], and making money off the ads/licenses involved. Some people just sort of ignore all the work and time put into that and whinge about how they can’t get their HD-Bluray quality rips ASAP.

  20. And yes, if you’re wondering-

    1- Webcomics have been pirated [much like the torrents of Stu Levy’s web tv show American’s Top Otaku, it shows some people pirate JUST to pirate]


    2- A person will argue vehemetly for their access to pirated works of professioinal comics artists, and then shit all over someone who distributes their comics online for free willingly. Because apparently it’s only fun reading comics/manga online if you’re ripping someone off.

  21. Ok, how about the admitted hipster defense?

    I don’t pay for anime because I don’t want Japanese producers to consider American fans as an even remotely profitable potential audience. I don’t want to be sold to, at-least not as an American (if they want to try to sell me toy robots, fuck yeah! but not products or services outside of fandom, excluding pizza hut).

    I don’t want limited production resources devoted to anything written or produced with the intention of being explicitly for an American audience, not because Gaijan-bad/Nippon-Super, but because historically Japanese producers have pulled this off rather poorly.

    Also, I think that “Near-instant gratification” is missing from your list. I can get a high def release within a day or two of a shows airing. It takes a few minutes to download as a torrent, and I don’t have to put up with buffering, stream artifacts, or random adds. And I can re-watch it whenever I feel like it, all without leaving my chair. I rarely bother to even open my legit DVDs, hdd space is cheap and dvd menus are obnoxious.

  22. Funny. I was reading an article debunking a “reasons evolution is wrong” blog article (http://theness.com/neurologicablog/?p=2899) and it came across much like this example of quality Colony Drop® content.

    The debates are annoyingly similar such that the creationists/piracy defenders recycle debunked arguments ad nauseum all the while ignoring reality and further advancements (i.e. recent scientific evidence or modern industry practice).

    While I like to say I unconditionally support artists, I have caved and pirated work (reasons as to why are mentioned above). However, I have purchased more than my fair share of official releases. Does this excuse my piracy? No, not at all.

  23. As a Funi voice actor, I’m obviously against piracy. I think the stream-with-cm model is great; I’m watching FRACTALE now via Hulu and loving it.

    Still, one must admit that there are some shows that for reasons of age, genre, or culture will never be subbed or dubbed for commercial EngLang markets. SPACE PATROL HOPPA (1965) will never be streamed on Crackle; BAKUHATSUGORO! (1970) will never be available on Blu-Ray. It just ain’t going to happen. Should pirate copies of these series become available, you’d better believe I’d be tempted to download them. There are also tons of great ’80s shows that we will likely never see in English in any format (e.g. L-GAIM, XABUNGLE, IDEON); should we pretend they don’t exist? And as for live action/dorama/sentai shows… well, let’s just say I’d be willing to don eyepatch and tricorn for a complete R1 fansubbed run of SUKI! SUKI!! MAJOU SENSEI episodes.

    Piracy is stealing. No two ways about it. But it’s not that simple when it comes to shows that will never be sold to an EngLang market. Here’s hoping that the Crunchyroll/Funi model of streaming-with-commercials succeeds.

  24. Of course, there’s still us Brits, Aussies and others who can’t get certain shows on streaming because they’re only available to those damned Americans. They’re forced to pirate certain anime because Crunchyroll and Funimation won’t give it to them, and Hulu is locked away. It’s still not legal, but then these people probably either know it is, or don’t care, because it’s the only way they can watch shows like Fist of the North Star or Jellyfish Princess.

  25. >Bruce Lewis

    I agree with almost everything you say, except:

    “Piracy is stealing”

    It isn’t; it’s copyright infringement. If some guy drives a car through the front window of my house, I don’t accuse him of arson. Not to condone either, but at least let’s leave words to mean what they actually mean.

  26. I’m taking a global warming course right now, and, while that seems completely irrelevant to this, I’m seeing a lot of parallels between the global warming arguments and the typical animu-pirate arguments posted in Ars Technica. It just really comes down to a lot people talking out of their own ass and trying to make themselves look good (or, in the case of big corporations, keeping their money) while demonstrating no comprehension for what they’re talking about in the least. I wouldn’t know if these pirates have any idea what they’re talking about, but it certainly seems like they don’t. A drunk man talked me once about the “first precedence” phenomenon, that what arguments made first will most likely be the arguments most used, regardless of how incorrect or prematurely formed they are.

  27. I read this article before I left for work this morning, so it’s had a good dozen hours to percolate in my brain, and I think I have the solution for American anime translation companies:


    That is to say, stop translating television shows. Translate anime movies, sure, not that Japan puts out many of those these days, but get out of the TV market unless you have a property that is a guaranteed hit. TV shows have a tiny tiny window where they’ll “hit” before the Next Big Show comes along, but movies can live for years and years. I’ve bought “Beautiful Dreamer” three times now – VHS, LD, and DVD – and if someone’s crazy enough to put out a BD of it, I’ll probably buy that too.

    Now that you’ve stopped chasing The Next Haruhi*, put all those translators and all that licensing money into bringing over the last 60 years of Japanese cinema, or Korean dramas, or whatever else you can find to bring over.

    Take AnimEigo as an example – there’s a company that should have gone out of business a decade ago but is somehow holding on.

    Maybe get away from video entirely?

    The problem with licensing and translating video is that you’re not adding any value that can’t be done by one or two bored college kids with too much time on their hands and a piece of subtitling software.

    Game localization, maybe. That at least takes some capital investment, for console games anyway, and requires a bit more skilled labor.

    But, yeah, get away from making a product that comes with high up-front costs in terms of license fees and appeals mostly to a demographic that is cheap, broke, and tech-savvy enough to produce a competing product and distribute it for free.

    * I’m really out of touch with modern fandom, so pardon me if this reference doesn’t quite work.

  28. There can be no more ‘big giant hit’ anime in America, because the infrastructure of the afternoon kidvid timeslot no longer exists. This is where all the ’80s shows made their mark (GI Joe, Transformers, Voltron, Robotech, etc), this is how Pokemon and Power Rangers took over America in the ’90s.

    Without the local station afternoon kidvid timeslot, you cannot get that massive generational exposure.

    This is why One Piece failed.

    (note that I do consider the afternoon Toonami slot on Cartoon Network a segment of that important afternoon kidvid exposure. While cable has only the fraction of cultural penetration of local broadcast TV stations, there’s no denying the impact of those Dragonball Z and Sailor Moon re-runs which lead to the commission of new episodes and the barter deal with Bandai for Gundam Wing).

    As to the piracy tip: It’s all part of the endemic AmeriOtaku(tm) life. If it’s on the interweb, it’s free and F U if you dare to suggest otherwise.

  29. Steve Harrison: I thought One Piece failed because of the infamously bad 4kids dub, not the fact that it didn’t get the timeslot it deserved.

    And also, if the infrastructure of the afternoon kidvid timeslot no longer exists, how come Spongebob Squarepants and My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic are currently very big hits?

  30. Spongebob runs for HOURS and HOURS every day, plus it gets a major push from Nick. The MLP show is on Hasbro’s new channel ‘Hub’, yes? Hub has very low clearance nationally and I’m reasonably sure if you really looked at the numbers there would be so many qualifiers it would be scary, such as #1 with the female pre-school demo in key major cities for a specific time period. (dunno what it really is but that seems a likely batch).

    Nowhere NEAR what Pokemon did back in the ’90s, or even Gundam Wing.

    As to One Piece, the dubbing (and the trims and edits to meet S&P) killed it with the fanboys, it wouldn’t have mattered one bit to the 8 year olds running home from school to watch it, had it been on the local TV afternoon kidvid timeslot.

  31. My take on this is Piracy is bad.

    Full disclosure- in the 90’s I had tons of fan subbed anime that were bootlegs, or I made bootlegs of bootlegs. Why? You COULD NOT BUY any of it. Over the years I have gone back and purchased them as official releases on VHS and then DVD.

    Real fans need to support the creators, and the people that are into COLONY DROP as old school anime fans understand this.

    But as some prior posters have noted, some titles are not (and may never) be released on DVD or in print (in the case of Manga) so if you want to see them, you may end up with a fan bootleg to see it. I will cite the manga: EXAXXION which came out from Dark Horse for 5 volumes, then it stopped, I finally broke down and read the fan-scans of the last two volumes to see how it ended, I would still gladly buy the end of story, but who knows if it will ever be for sale legitimately?

    That to me is the only grey area- non released properties.

  32. wow man 400 bucks!!!, that is some hardcore stuff right there

    I would never dish out that kind of money, I go to google and type the anime series I want to watch and end it with episode number

    I for the most part do not care for the quality unless the audio is slower than the picture

    400 bucks WOW that is my car payment

  33. I’ve never wanted to reach through an article and just throttle the moron being quoted more than those mystery otaku. Great job putting this in the right perspective.

    This phenom is a horrible combination of gamification and ignorance.

  34. I want to say that this blog post is good. Colony Drop staffers wrote this entry for the love of the Japanese animation and I respect that even though other entries are too blunt to digest sometimes.

    For piracy itself, it’s a sign of generational perception on widely available media. It’s not just confined to Japanese animation and comics alone.
    When people don’t know how difficult to make animation and film, people tend to take it as granted. The blame isn’t just to go young people who take media for granted, but the environment where everything is given freely and generations of parents who never emphasized the value of earning through hard work. You can’t take things for granted when you don’t something in return.

    Japanese Otakus are quietly paying high price for extreme niche fantasy escapade which self-declared fans in the west don’t want to take some of the burden. And I find it very hypocritical.

    It’s the pure ignorance of people that makes the anime fandom ugly. Despite the perceived global popularity of Japanese animation, the actual number for viewership and sales contradict the popularity. Basically the math and statistics don’t lie about the reality.

    Japanese disc prices are not just Otaku fan gouging, but harsh reality of how UNPOPULAR and how UNKNOWN these expensive cartoons are to non-fans. Again, disc prices are not determined by some greedy business people, but the statistics based from actual audience number and TV ratings. You need several million non-hardcore TV viewers to see the drop in the disc price. One of the excellent example would be “Crayon Shinchan” DVDs in Japan. They’re much cheaper than Otaku anime. Shinchan DVD is less than 2000 yen vs 6000 yen avg Otaku anime and it’s printed by Bandai Visual. Shinchan movie DVDs still sell pretty well despite its age. Crayon Shinchan being Japanese mainstream icon, it’s not surprising to see low price for the DVD. Unfortunately, that’s not true for Otaku and late-night anime.

  35. You have to take the surprisingly old-fashioned Japanese Retailing system into account. Product doesn’t (in most cases) travel directly from manufacturer to retailer, there’s something like 3 or 4 levels of ‘middleman’ in between, each taking a bite of the price.

    I’ve never seen anybody actually tackle this topic, seen anyone interview and diagram the system, break down the chain. It would be an interesting subject for someone over in Japan to research. We just all accept the action line “prices suck in Japan, everything costs more”.

    (in terms of history, my research showed that Books Nippan, aka Nippon Shupan Hanbai KK, made INSANE profit selling to the early adopter Otaku here in the U.S. in the early days of the anime boom, that window between 1980 and 85 when the Yen was around 200 to the Dollar.)

    There are priced down reissues of various anime, but it’s like pulling teeth for the studios to generate those. There’s also the pricing difference between retail releases and rental releases- granted more an issue back in the VHS and LD days but I understand it still happens.

  36. >Steve

    I’m not sure about the process for producing and distributing DVDs, but I run a record label in Tokyo and I can’t imagine that the situation is that different between CDs and DVDs.

    First up (assuming you’ve got the product made by now), you have the pressing. This costs rather more in Japan than it would elsewhere (about 170,000JPY for 1,000 Region 2 DVDs, although the per unit price will go down a lot if you’re pressing more of them). Press them in Taiwan and you’re paying half that, although you still have to deal with the shipping costs (perhaps 110,000JPY for the pressing and shopping in total, which is much cheaper than doing it in Japan, but still more expensive than many other places).

    The next stage is distribution. This is usually handled by a distribution company separate from the label, and the percentage they take will vary depending on their relationship with the label. A small indie like mine will get 55% from each order, although bigger companies will get 70% or more).

    Sometimes there’s another layer after this, where the distributor will go through another distributor to get access to Amazon or Rakuten or other online stores, although this doesn’t bite into the costs more than a couple of percent.

    So you’re paying about 120-150JPY to press each disc, and getting 55-70% or so off each sale, which is still a big profit. For an anime DVD release, I suppose the production company and the label might not necessarily be the same company, so that would add another layer in there, but I’d guess the production and marketing costs are what keep the prices high rather than distribution.

  37. As a fabsub fan Ill just say that there is no way to appease people who download fansubs. They want the best quality for free just after it airs in Japan. Is it wrong and messed up? Yes. Do I still do it? Yeah.

    I think if Crunchyroll and other streaming sites allowed you to download an archive quality version of each episode along with streaming it I might switch to them for the shows they offer. I just like having my library, ya know?

  38. (Maybe I should have waited a whole year instead of just nine months to write this reply.)

    It feels to me like publishers could learn a lot from iTunes. When I want anime, it’s easier to torrent it than any other method. But when I want music, it’s easiest to check iTunes. I’m willing to put up with screwed-up file formats, malfunctioning subtitles, and desynching audio when I download anime because it’s free. That never happens with iTunes downloads because there are people whose jobs are to make sure things are working OK.

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