What’s the most important thing in a fansub? | Part 1 – Classic Point of View

13 October, 2009 (12:44) | Articles | By: jama

There are various kinds of jobs that need to be done within a fansub. Actually only the translation stage is necessary. You could grab your raw from Tokyotosho, get the translation, and then just load both on your favorite player and watch.

Of course, it’s more convenient to have someone synchronize them for you—also called timing—so that the subtitles appear right at the time the person is actually talking. Checking the original translation and an additional editing stage wouldn’t hurt either. Nobody is perfect. Mistakes are bound to happen. Have more people work on it and the amount of errors will be minimized.

Here’s what I want to know:   What’s the most important thing in a fansub for you?

Translation/Translation Checking/Editing involves a person fluent in Japanese who translates the dialogue/signs into English. Someone else checks the translation for errors,  a 3rd person will try to make the English script as error-free as possible and additionally try to make the “flow” of the English perfect.

Perfect timing means you won’t even notice that there are subtitles—you’ll think of them as a part of the video. Bad timing interrupts your pace of reading and can be very annoying.

There’s nothing wrong with having fancy karaoke or advanced AFX typesetting if it fits into the anime. If it does not stand out, or if you think it’s part of the video even, then and only then, is the typesetting done well. If a karaoke can make a horrible song sound really amazing, then the karaoke is good! :P

Quality Check
Even the best in fansubbing make errors—and not as few as one would think. In order to avoid releasing error-ridden episodes there are Quality Checkers. There’s (nearly) no people who can be good at spotting “all” kinds of errors. Some are good at spotting timing errors, others at spotting editing errors etc. So basically, there should always be at least 2 or 3 people QCing the episodes.

Watching crystal clear anime on a 42″ display must be really awesome. It sucks if the encode is bad. If the encoder knows what he’s doing, you’ll receive the best video and audio quality with the best compression ratio possible.

There’s also other stuff like subtitles styling which deserve to be mentioned. If the font is not readable—especially when it’s hardsubbed (fused with the video)—it can be a pain in the ass to watch the episodes cause there’s no way to change it.

I’ve talked to many people, read many comments or reviews on AniDB, and I’m also speaking from my own experiences. Everyone seems to have their own definition of what’s “good.” What I’m interested in is what the majority of you think is the most important in a fansub.

I’m interested in your opinion. Take part in the poll! State your opinion! Why do you think X is most important? Don’t forget to state your reason!

Edit 21.10.2009
Additionally, what do you think about karaoke? Is karaoke fine no matter if it’s harsubbed or softsubbed? Does it have to be fancy or should it just fit into the video (no matter how simple the effects are)? Or would you prefer no karaoke effects at all and just timed lines so you can sing along? Or just cut out the opening and ending and release two versions — one with karaoke and one without effects (ordered chapters).


Comment from Ziggy24
Time October 14, 2009 at 1:22 pm

This is simple (in order of importance to me):
1. Translation/Editing – If I don’t have a clue what is happening nothing else matters. Literal translations are bad, and the opposite is true as well. Not sure where this falls, but when honorifics are used, keep them. Only exception is ones like “sensei” where it could be doctor, teacher, etc.

2. Encoding – If the video/audio is bad I stop watching. Included with that file size should decent (file size per episode: DTV 100-200MB, DVD 250-400MB, HDTV 400MB-1GB, Blu-ray 1-3GB) If certain filters are used that distort the quality, I’m not watching. Always softsub in MKV packet, nothing else. Also never use FLAC for audio. It is a great codec but when added to video people have a lot of problems, as most video players don’t support it.

3.Quality Check/Timing – These really should be grouped because spelling/grammar mistakes with good timing are no better than perfect wording that you can’t read.

4. Typesetting – This one really needs no reasoning, it is self explanatory. And with softsubs you can change it is you don’t like it.

5. Karaoke – Doesn’t matter to me at all, never read them. Fansubs could stop doing this and I wouldn’t miss it. Plus I tend to watch OPs and EDs once, then skip them the reset of the time. Only exception is song during an episode where the lyrics count as dialogue or are part of the story telling.

Comment from Ziggy24
Time October 14, 2009 at 1:28 pm

Should also add under the translation section, only translate signs that matter. Some groups sub every word on the screen and some don’t do any, both are bad. Not knowing how to use aftereffects is not an excuse for bad sign subbing.

Comment from RDS
Time October 18, 2009 at 9:22 pm


1. Translation/Editing. Pls remeber: subs != dubs. The purpose of subs is to convey the meaning of what was said. That’s why I don’t want to see “americanisations”, omitted honorifics, $ replacing yens, “Sis” replacing “onee-chan”, etc… Not a problem even if translation is akward – it just preserves the foreign feeling of a _foreign_ film.

If you are doing dubbing – that’s a different story, depending on what you want as a result. But subs are (supposed to be) just humble carriers of the meanings. Do you like CR’s “Cute Boy” replacing “Onii-chan”? Me neither.

5. Karaoke. Some ppl want it, others hate it, yet others don’t care. I am the one who hates HARDSUBBED karaoke. Still you can always satisfy everyone. How? Very easy. Ask yourself, what is the purpose of karaoke? Obviously – to allow to sing along. When someone watches a serie, do expect him/her to sing along every episode OP/ED? Of course, not. So, if you do softsubs – softsub the WHOLE episode, including OP/ED. And then, release karaoke’ed OP/ED as separate files. It would even help the karaoke singers – it’s much easier to get together many OPs/EDs and start a karaoke party! Or take them out on a mp4 player, etc.

Comment from jama
Time October 19, 2009 at 4:45 am


This is my opinion: Hardsubbed karaoke can be nice IF they fit into the video. Same goes for TS. After Effects just has so many more options than Aegisub to manipulate the text and make it fit into the video.

Softsubbed karaoke and TS can be nice, without a question. I’m just saying you shouldn’t condemn hardsubs. Both hardsubs and softsubs have their own advantages and disadvantes; and both have a right to exist IMO.

Comment from RDS
Time October 19, 2009 at 5:58 am


I repeat: I do express my personal attitude towards hardsubbed karaoke, nothing more, nothing less. I do not address “the right to exist”, I do not “condemn” them.

You solicited my opinion – you got it. That’s it.

I guess I would have to continue double downloading the anime I like – one wth translation, second – the raws, – to mux subs into clean, unspoiled by freaking karaoke video.


you didn’t address the idea of releasing karaoke in separate OP/ED files, though.

Comment from limpakos
Time October 19, 2009 at 8:41 am

hmmm @RDS:
“1. Translation/Editing. The purpose of subs is to convey the meaning of what was said.” – I agree, but that can happen multi-ways. Either by localizations or not. I think the key is the balance between those two, and not to pick one of them and go forth…

“5. Karaoke. Some ppl want it, others hate it, yet others don’t care. I am the one who hates HARDSUBBED karaoke.”
Well, i don’t know why karaoke is there, but obviously some people like it for it to continue being there. I personally don’t give a rats ass about it, but if it’s there, it oughts to fit in – not be fancy, just fit in the vid. I say if someone wants to make one, either softsub it and make multiple subtitle tracks or hardsub it and make ordered chapters, clean versions, w/e you want. I think that’s okay with everyone. And as i said before, i personally don’t care if it’s there or not ^^

Comment from RDS
Time October 19, 2009 at 6:34 pm

@limpakos “that can happen multi-ways. Either by localizations or not”

but…. localization does change the meaning, does it not? As I understand eng localization starts with omitting honorifics. (actually replacing them with english ones – Mr/Miss/etc) But… for example …. then how do you translate difference between “nee-san” and “onee-chan” – and it’s a big though subtle difference ….?

Can you give an example what kind of localization you consider appropriate?

Comment from limpakos
Time October 20, 2009 at 3:38 pm

The stuff you mention could not be localized, I agree. You can understand why localization is also needed, easily by trying to translate e.g sayings and stuff like that. Of course it wouldn’t be nice to translate “Tokyo tower” as “tower of Pisa” if you are Italian, but what i’m trying to say is that you can’t just go through translating word by word, cause you want to keep the same meaning. If you stay at that, you may actually lose some of it. You have to check if the translation is not doing so, and then localize those parts. Even though I hate dropping honorifics and stuff as you also say, I don’t believe that automatically by replacing them the meaning changes. It depends. So I think {as I said before} that both are needed and should be handled carefully.
To avoid confusion, i’m not a TL or something, am just saying what i believe. ^^ So, I agree with you, but in some cases i believe there’s something more, that could {or couldn’t} be achieved with – for example – localization.

Comment from RDS
Time October 20, 2009 at 6:54 pm


I guess you are right …

Comment from Kalessin
Time October 25, 2009 at 12:16 am

Everything but karaoke is necessary, and the better that each of them, is the better the overall result is. Without Translation/Translation Checking/Editing, you have nothing – or at least you don’t have a funsub. So, that’s the most important regardless. Timing would likely be next because the video becomes essentially unwatchable if it’s not timed at least decently. As for encoding, you need something at least decent or it’s more or less unwatchable, but the better it is, the better the experience. For instance, HD certainly isn’t necessary, but it’s still a lot better than SD. And of course, quality checking is necessary if you want to ensure quality. The less checking you do, the less likely you are to produce something of quality. But it’s certainly not the most important because you still have something even if you haven’t made sure that what you have has been well done. So, really _all_ of it’s important.

Now, as for karaoke, it’s definitely not necessary – we don’t _need_ to know the lyrics of the song to enjoy the show, let alone need to see fancy effects with them – but good karaoke can really improve the quality of the overall video. Personally, I really like karaoke when it’s well done, and I find it disappointing when groups don’t do it. However, it is definitely the least important aspect of producing a quality fansub because, while it’s nice, it’s unnecessary.

As for details like soft-subbing vs hard-subbing, I much prefer soft-subs, but I’m not all that particular about fonts. Something that’s serviceable will do the trick as far as I’m concerned, and getting too fancy with the fonts can make the text illegible. As nice as it would be to have the karaoke be soft-subbed, that restricts you to what ass can do, making it impossible to do the fancier effects that require Adobe Fx and the like. Also, it takes more horsepower on the viewer’s machine for them to be rendered, which could be too much for many machines. And not all players do well at producing proper ass karaoke effects. VLC does decently with normal subs but fails miserably when it has to deal with fancy stuff like karaoke effects. MPlayer on the other hand can generally deal with full-on karaoke (though it takes a fair amount of horsepower). So, realistically, I’d say that soft-subbing the normal subs and hard-subbing the karaoke is what makes the most sense. You may or may not want to hard-sub signs as well (moving ones, you probably need to for the same reason as the karaoke effects).

Ideally, all levels of a fansub would be done well – _especially_ when we’re talking about a group that can take months between episodes. Really, speedsubbers at least have the excuse that they’re trying to get the episodes out as quickly as possible. Those that really take their time to produce episodes look bad when they haven’t taken the time to really put out a high quality video with everything done well. Granted, just because you take a long time to release stuff doesn’t mean that you’ve had the time to spend tons of time on it, but I think that it’s generally expected that slow-subs be of high quality.

In any case, everything but karaoke is required, and the better that it is, the better the result. And while karaoke isn’t required, having good karaoke can really improve the result.

Comment from nagger
Time October 26, 2009 at 5:27 pm

for me translation would be the most essential part because as i watch anime, i want to see the closest related english translation of whatever language is being translated, i dont want just a half-assed translation just to finish the subbing. but of course, quality checking is a must too, and good encoding is also a WOW factor.

Comment from jama
Time October 27, 2009 at 3:59 am

It’s really sad to see that many people, maybe even most, prefer fancy karaoke, fancy typesetting and fancy styled subs over accurate translation and proper editing. IMO, that just shows that they care more about the fansub than the actual anime.

Many groups also simplify the translation in order to make them “flow” better. People will praise the subbers for their easy-to-understand subs while in reality they left out the hard-to-translate details.

Two things I wanna see disappear from the fansubbing scene.

Comment from wat
Time October 28, 2009 at 12:42 am

so, the questions I tried to ask myself are “what does this position add to the fansub? how does a bad/mediocre/good XY affect the quality of the release?” and this is the result I came up with:


Of course this is the very foundation of your fansub. Probably the most devastating position to have someone incompetent in, along with the timer. However, a good editor can compensate for – or cover up – a lot of translation issues. Therefor I think the step up from a mediocre to a good translator will be somewhat less noticeable to the audience than that from a mediocre to a good editor.

Having a mediocre or even bad editor (assuming one that doesn’t edit much at all) just leaves you pretty much with the unfiltered translator output. Which might or might not be a big deal, depending on your translator.

However, having a good or exceptional editor can really make your release. He may iron out a lot of translation wrinkles such as script inconsistencies, inappropriate tone for a given character or situation, etc,
and ideally make the dialog concise, quick to read and easy to understand while preserving its flavor and nuances.

Not saying that translations should be dumbed down, just that I want to read proper English that’s not unneccessarily convoluted, rather than a word-for-word Engrish pseudo-translation that gratuitously leaves half of the words in Japanese. (With some fansubs, it’s like I’m really looking at English words and Japanese grammar, especially when it comes to ordering of sub clauses.)

Seeing how aegisub can take care of flash gaps and scene timing on its own pretty well, the timer would have to make pretty egregious mistakes or suck pretty hard at line splitting and linecharacter association to actually make the timing stand out in a negative way. Actual timing mistakes are very grating though, this is why I consider timing important.

Readable no-frills font (black/white) is just fine and requires very little effort. What? Trying to force me to squint at some tiny decorative font in weird colors by hardsubbing or using n+1 different per-character styles so I’d spend 10 minutes on changing them manually? Dropped.

not so important

Depends on the rest of the staff, really. If you do have to rely on a QC to make your subs watchable, as opposed to actually striving for perfection, there’s something wrong. You don’t actually get an error-ridden release unless someone else sucks at his job.

Unless your source is old/broken, a vanilla x264 encode job (or even LOL MUX SCRIPT TO RAW) will usually be perfectly watchable.

Most people will not be able to tell the difference between a mediocre and an outstanding encode of the same source; some even get good and bad encodes backwards (see: groups getting away with upscaled, oversmoothed, warpsharpened video), so beyond adding basic polish to address the most glaring source issues encoding is just a sink for a lot of time and effort for very little gain.

Just adding \an8 notes for plot-relevant signs is basically sufficient and requires virtually no effort. And consistently styled notes certainly look more “professional” than half-assed signs.

Everything on top of that is nice, but by no means essential and adds very little of actual value to the fansub (setting aside extreme cases like SZS).

I think it’s important that sign translations can be read without having to pause the video. Typeset signs are usually hard to read at a mere glance. The little space that’s usually available for sign typesetting often prevents that.

Also, if you can’t get a moving sign to look right, I’d rather just have the note or a static translation. Bad sign motion is rather ugly and distracting, and it doesn’t improve readability either.

PS: vertical text is hard to read.
PPS: 90° rotated text is hard to read as well.
PPPS: afx logo replication is ridiculous.
PPPPS: The pinnacle of idiotic fansubbing: animated untranslated special attack names (sup K-F).

fuck that noise

Highly distracting, annoying, often ugly, and pretty much useless.

Show of hands, who does actually sing along? And needs karaoke effects for it? Anyone? It’s just eye candy that takes up a lot of screen estate and can even really ruin a moment in the case of insert songs.

Seriously, what’s the point? A softsubbed song translation should be more than enough. (Optionally romaji lyrics for the two people who actually do want to sing along and fail at learning/remembering the lyrics)

Sorry about the wall of text.

Former timer/ts/enc/qc here by the way.

Comment from wat
Time October 28, 2009 at 12:45 am

well crap, I hoped that formatting tags would work so my humongous rant becomes at least somewhat structured and readable.

sorry ’bout that. edit at will.

edit by jama: done (it’s < strong > and < em >)

Comment from wat
Time October 28, 2009 at 1:07 am

“But… for example …. then how do you translate difference between “nee-san” and “onee-chan” – and it’s a big though subtle difference ….?”

(cool ellipsis deluge.)

nee-san: sister, onee-chan: sis, onee-sama: dear sister, ane-ue: big sister. Or something like that. Close enough.
Frankly, I doubt that you’ll encounter many scenes and situations in which such translation inaccuracies are going to actually matter.

On top of that, I am convinced that anyone who does appreciate the implications of honorifics are able to pick them out just by listening to the Japanese audio track while reading the subtitles. And I’d rather not see monstrosities like “Hey, Michiko-onee-sama, let’s go meet Souichiro-kun!” in my subs, even if that’s what they’re really saying.

Of course it’s always a bit confusing to clearly read subs that differ from what’s being said, so changing names rather than just omitting honorifics isn’t always a good idea. I also don’t really like reading names in Western order when they’re clearly being said in Eastern order. And I am well aware that there are situations and uses where preserving honorifics is preferable, especially when used as part of a nickname (in ROD TV, for example: Ma-nee, Mi-nee, Nenene-onee-sama (“That’s too hard!”)).

I guess generally I lean towards stronger localization if the anime is set in a Western setting, and a conservative approach – from an English language point of view – to using honorifics if the show is actually set in Japan. But it really depends on the show’s script how well either approach is going to work out, so I’ll refrain from actually taking sides.

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