Subtitles Gone Mad!

It seems that in the course of the history of fansubbing, sometimes you have groups that take it a little too far. I remember back in the old days, watching Fushigi Yuugi for the first time fan subbed by a group called Tomodachi Anime. Tomodachi has taken it upon themselves to add to the watching experience by setting the subtitles on fire whenever one of the character spoke with anger, or bouncing them all over the screen if there was dialogue during a scene wherein someone got smacked.

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There is absolutely no need for this kind of extravagance in a fansub.  Fansubbers have to be careful of many things as it is; errors, timing, translations, font, and color. A majority of the groups out there right now have no issue with those priorities, and on the whole, I don’t have any problem with watching fansubs. However, there are a few exceptions to the rule. Now, I’ve always believed that if you can’t present a solution, you’re part of the problem, and speaking as someone who’s been loosely affiliated with fansubbing (error checking, timing, and translating), allow me to list a few helpful hints to those out there as to what makes a good fansub:

  • Be consistent with your subtitles. This means, keep them the same color(s) and in the same location.  I like how some fansubbers assign colors to characters or inner monologues. Those are cues taken from excellent subbers like AnimEigo or Soulsword Studios.
  • Never place your subtitles in an unreadable position. Don’t align them along the side of the screen or against a similarly colored background. As above, you want to keep them in the same place at all times and of course, you want them to be legible!
  • Try not to put too much information on the screen at the same time. Our eyes are trying to watch the show, and some of us occasionally have to focus on words, while some of us are able to take in the whole picture at once without difficulty. If you have notes from the translator or liner notes that go beyond a single line, then you need to either put your information at the beginning (ala AnimeMPEG) or keep it on the screen long enough for everyone to read it and understand. Do not assume everyone speed-reads.
  • Do not add to the presentation. This means, keep the font/style to something readable and don’t have words explode on or off the screen, bounce around, flaming… just subtitle it and try to keep the vanity/ego to a minimum. If you want to make the words dance around and do all that crap, put it on your logo and then go back to number one.
  • Finally, karaoke should not distract my attention from the opening/ending animation. I don’t mind the color-changing, but I do mind it when words scroll in from off the screen or explode into existence in an eye-catching fashion.  I really don’t care for karaoke; I think it’s unnecessary as a part of the fansub presentation, but I can live with it.

Not following these simple tips makes your production look like an amateur hour. While I realize that fansubbers don’t get paid (having been one), there’s a certain standard to which all fansub groups must follow in order to be considered a reliable group. Those groups that follow these guidelines get it, and this is why they’re popular and downloaded more often than others. In the end, fansubbers have one job: to present an English translation to the audience. Subtitles are a support mechanism; they’re not the whole of the show, so don’t bloat the subs so much that they take away from the awesome artform we love.

Notes

Based on the rant presented in U104: Unusual Girlfriends & Lovers.