Introduction to Popular Culture Studies

Thinking Transnationally, Part 1

Posted by nathanpowers22 on April 19, 2017

As I read “Transnational Audiences and East Asian Television” by Xiaochang Li, I could not help but think of obvious parallels between the spread of Japanese variety shows and anime, particularly in the realm of fansubbing. In addition, as Li describes, such spread has become “increasingly pervasive” and “multinodal.” However, a key difference between the transnational movement of variety shows and anime is the wider availability of traditional and mainstream points of entry for anime. For American audiences, Adult Swim’s Toonami provided an early outlet starting in the late 90s, ending in the mid-2000s, and returning in 2012, whereas more recently, Netflix and the anime-centric streaming service Crunchyroll have provided platforms for more international, but still mostly Western, distribution. However, in looking up stuff about Crunchyroll, I came across a couple of caustic pieces on its origins: one in the form of a rather in-depth post on Crunchyroll’s own forum in 2008 [1] and an academic essay [2].

Though both were far too long for me to read (and frankly, I’m not really that invested in the discussion), the central criticism from both authors appears to be regarding the illegal nature of fansubs, which Crunchyroll used to host prior to 2009. However, the fan argues that this activity does more harm than good for the industry as a whole while the academic argues that this exploits free fan labor. To me, the fan makes a better argument from what I was able to glean, mostly because I don’t think the fans could be considered exploited. In fact, if they are truly preventing animation studios from profiting, why should there even be incentive to reward them for their illicit behavior? Sure, it’s work-intensive and promotes awareness among international audiences, but as the forum post suggests, “By [continuing to support] illegitimate fansubs, we’ll keep choking the weak and defenseless anime studios, so the TV stations and merchandisers can take over the anime studios’ decisions, and make us watch whatever cheap advertisements that they want with illegitimate fansubs.” Perhaps there is a better argument to be made on the side of exploitation, but I honestly don’t have the time or interest to investigate further.

[1] – http://www.crunchyroll.com/forumtopic-371988/the-anime-fansub-groups-stealing-from-anime-studio-one-episode-at-a-time

[2] – http://www.academia.edu/22865763/From_Piracy_to_Legitimacy_The_Rise_of_Crunchyroll_and_the_Exploitation_of_Digital_Labour


One Response to “Thinking Transnationally, Part 1”

  1. Kimberlea Ferrell said

    Adult Swim was were I first saw anime, even though I didn’t realize it at the time. I was up late at night, saw this weird show, heard the name Inuyasha, and later mentioned it to my friend. She got excited and started listing anime for me to watch. And so began my obsession.
    I personally think fansubs are a giant gray area. They hurt the animation studios profits, and if a fan messes up a translation it could skew the understanding for other viewers, yet they are a big help in spreading the material.

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