A small aside for a bit from translation talk. Now, for those who don’t know me, I am a huge fan of the One Piece anime (created from the original Shounen JUMP manga by Oda Eiichiro). Huge fan. And for I don’t know, the year or two that I’ve been watching it, I’ve been glad to have such an amazing fansub group as Kaizoku-Fansubs. I honestly feel that their work, which was fairly solid (thought not perfect) even early on, is now some of the finest subtitling work that I’ve ever seen. Their subtitles are accurate and effective, almost always carrying a great deal of the difficult Japanese meaning into the subtitles, which is not an easy task at all. It would not be an exaggeration to call Kaizoku-Fansubs some of the biggest One Piece fans around, and it shows. One Piece fans are so spoiled with great quality that it’s not even fair.
This brings us to 4Kids, the company that originally licensed the show in the R1 (US) market and released a horribly dubbed and edited version of the anime. Obviously, none of the hardcore anime fans bought these DVDs, and One Piece met its end in the R1 market more or less. Well, this is where our story begins today. Last night, the news came out that FUNimation, the former distributor of 4Kids DVDs, has licensed One Piece for release in the R1 market. We were promised uncut DVDs, my first feeling was one of overwhelming joy. But quickly, that turned to concern.
The thought struck me: this could very well be the end of Kaizoku-Fansubs as we know them now. FUNi has a recent history of going out of their way to send Cease & Desist letters to fansubbers who release the shows they license. I certainly understand their motivation, I’m sure that fansubs take a huge chunk out of their potential profits. Now, I don’t want to make it sound like I want K-F to keep going because I want the product for free. I have no problem paying for my entertainment. The larger concern for me is that I know that NO ONE can do a better job with One Piece then K-F has. Certainly not FUNi. In terms of quality and just love for the show, K-F is unsurpassed. Sadly, with this news, I can only think about all of the downsides to this situation. As one of my friends put it, Kaizoku-Fansubs CREATED the One Piece fandom in the R1 market. They kept the love going while the 4Kids edit threatened to destroy it forever in that same market. And so, a healthy fandom was built and maintained to this very day. To me, telling K-F to back off would be like spitting in the face of the One Piece fandom. That brings me to my next point.
FUNi is talking about picking up One Piece from where 4Kids left off. In other words, they would be starting 144 episodes into the show. It would be terrible for FUNi if they just picked up their releases starting at Jaya. One Piece is not an episodic show at all. Removing the whole beginning would break the pacing and arguably the strength of the show. You would have no sense of ‘nakama’, no idea why the crew fights like they do. I mean, basically the only people who would buy this release in the first place would be hardcore fans who have seen fansubs. Because nobody who watched the edited dub cares about uncut really. Considering that fact, all the hardcore fans are well past Jaya. So it wouldn’t be necessary for them to buy something they’ve already seen. The only buyers, thus, would be the hardcore fans who simply want to support uncut One Piece in R1. In other words, only something that people who love the show enough to support it would buy. That’s a pretty small fanbase. If FUNi goes that route, they’re setting themselves up for failure in my opinion.
They’re in a dangerous position, not only do they have to risk alienating the only group of great fans that they have and the only group of certain buyers they have, on top of that, starting from midway through the show would turn off most others. Nobody wants to start a show in the middle, and One Piece in particular is a show that builds heavily on what comes before it. To me, starting at the beginning is really their only option in my opinion.
Also, the fact that the One Piece manga (licensed by ViZ, not by FUNi) was edited to match 4Kids anime version is very concerning. I don’t want to see any Zolo or Rougetown in my subtitles and I expect the video to be 100% unedited. There’s a lot of risk here and FUNi’s recent actions with DBZ don’t help to make me any less concerned… ‘Bittersweet’ is the best word I’ve heard to describe this feeling. It’s almost like One Piece fans have nothing to gain from this license. We can only hope the subtitles could be as good as the fansubs, we can only hope the video isn’t changed. These should be basic things, but they’re very real concerns. FUNi has a very uphill battle to fight, and I almost feel like nobody has anything to gain from this whole thing. So what will happen? That’s rather hard to say at this point.