This article is purely meant to give you insight on the subtitling process, and we encourage its proper use. We are in no way condoning the subtitling and distribution of any copyrighted material for which you do not possess an appropriate license.
If you’re like me, who watched anime before Crunchyroll even existed, you’ll know what fansubs are. You know, fansubs are those subtitled anime with often silly names attached to them like “ShinobiKitsuneLovers Fansubs”.
But have you ever wondered how fansubs or fan-made subtitles were created? If someone is fluent in Japanese and English, and wants to help friends enjoy their favorite shows with subtitles by maybe becoming a professional subber for legal companies, do you even know what the steps are and the tools needed to fansub/sub?
If the title of the article wasn’t obvious enough, this is how to fansub/sub anime in a nutshell. From the get-go, this is not easy and while it’s a fun experience, the process is very tedious and many may end up getting overwhelmed.
Just keep in mind that several official websites exist where you can enjoy anime with subtitles, so this is ultimately an exercise in learning a hobby and should no way be used to break any laws no matter what country you're in. Most likely, the steps presented in this article are the same steps an official licensing company would take when subbing anime, FYI.
What are Fansubs?
Before we get to the guide, let's explain what fansubs are. Fansubs/subs, or fan-made subtitles are, well, subtitles made by fans or the licensing companies for fellow anime fans. Back in the day, people mostly relied on companies to localize anime, but since those companies were small and barely touched 1% of the anime found in Japan, fans decided to take matters into their own hands to translate and distribute anime (illegaly). Those are fansubs.
Now that’s over with, let’s go to the guide!
Listed here is every step needed to produce a modern fansub/subbed anime with toggle-able subtitles (subs that can turn on or off), so don’t expect to be taken back to the distant past and fansub using dated software, hardware, VHS, and hundreds of miles worth of cables.
This guide will list the tools required, but it will not teach how to use them. Manuals exist for each one of them and part of the fun is figuring them out! Seriously, the best way is to learn everything through trial and error, just like major companies did.
Also, please note that the steps in fansubbing are different in every company/subber, but the entire process is structurally the same.
- Translator (TL)
- Translation Checker (TLC)
- Quality Control (QC)
- A computer with muscle
- Good pair of headphones
- Subtitling program
- Video encoder
- Fast internet or a server
Step 1: Group Coordination
The most efficient way of communication is through IRC or Internet Relay Chat. The group leader (usually the translator) carefully assigns everyone their tasks and makes sure work doesn’t pile up which prevents miscommunication.
Step 2: Encoding
Encoding the episodes to small sizes in popular “containers” like MKV and MP4 are recommended because these containers and the right video codec settings are compatible with any modern device. If the companies want thier fansubs to reach to a bigger audience, they make sure their encodes are compatible.
As for the encoding tools, there are many popular tools out there like HandBrake and MeGUI, but for the hardcore companies, they go manual with using the CMD interface and x264. An experienced encoder might prefer the latter option because you have more freedom and less resources are used when encoding. Ultimately, it’s up to your personal preference.
Encoding a video is very demanding, so having going to need a beefy computer to encode an HD video. Depending on what filters or how lengthy the episodes are, it will take around 1 to 12 hours to encode. The computer needs to be well-ventilated because the encoder (the tool) will make the computer sweat like an athlete.
Through this process, the companies may end up making two versions of the episode: a “workraw” and the “final” version.
A workraw is a version the translator and editor will use. The video quality is low, meaning the file size is small and easy to download. The final version is the version that will be going to the timer, typesetter and eventually the version the group is going to use.
After the encodes are done, they are passed to the Translator, Timer, and Typesetter. Fansubbing can now begin.
Step 3: Translation
Fansubbers rarely have access to the official scripts, but in most cases the companies have deals with the studios so they come by rather easy. If they are not available, the Translator must rely on their ears and knowing the source material of the anime. Checking official websites for character bios, terminologies, and story helps a lot.
A typical pair of monitor headphones.
A pair of good headphones are needed to listen to the dialogue and write them down on a text file, or, in some cases, in Google Docs. The Translator may rewatch the episode multiple times just in case they missed something.
A typical translation environment.
Once the initial script is done, the Translator will pass it on to the Timer and Typesetter.
Step 4: Script Timing
The process is straightforward and it also is one of the longest to finish. Aside from syncing the translation to the spoken dialogue, the Timer must avoid letting the lines “bleed out” to the next scene and make sure the duration of each line is long enough for the viewers to read.
Relying on your ears and the audio spectrum on the top right.
The most popular subtitling tool and the jack-of-all-trades is the freeware Aegisub. The vast number of options may be overwhelming at first, but many soon realize that only a handful are dedicated to script timing.
The Typesetter’s main task is to essentially decorate the subs using the right fonts. They’re also responsible for syncing the sign translations making them look like they’re part of the original signs. They’re also responsible for making those fancy karaoke in the opening and ending themes.
What the signs look like as a series of code.
Aegisub is the right tool for this, but if companies/subbers want more complex signs, they need additional support tools like Mocha and Adobe After Effects. They do avoid excessive effects because the resulting sub may be too CPU intensive for anyone to use. The video will stutter and audio will no longer sync.
Oh, and they don’t ever use Comic Sans or they can kiss your fansubbing career goodbye.
Step 5: Editing
After the Timer is done, well, timing the script, it will be forwarded to the Editor. They’re in charge of making the script well-worded, grammatically correct, and giving the script additional frill.
Editor checking the script in Aegisub and leaving notes.
The Editor will leave notes in the script pointing out things like missing lines, a potential mistranslation, or clarifications.
Step 6: Translation Check
There is a high possibility the Editor may have gone too far with their editing or the Translator misheard a line, so it’s up the the Translation Checker or TLC’er to double check the translation.
The TLC’er fixing a joke and providing a detailed explanation.
Did the Editor make the mistake of turning a sentence to a brash one instead of a sincere one? Did the Translator misinterpret a joke? Were the potential errors noted by the Editor correct? The TLC’er will address and potentially correct these issues.
Step 7: Assembly
After the script is translated, timed, edited, passed TLC, complete with the necessary typesetting and fonts supplied, it’s time to put them all together into one master script and put them into the final encode. The one in charge of this step is usually the Encoder.
The process of putting the script, fonts to a video encode is called “muxing” and one of the most popular tools for this job is MKVMerg.
Tool for putting everything into one usable media file.
Here, the files are placed into their respective spaces, label the video, audio (script tracks), and load the fonts. Hit “start muxing.”
Things aren't done yet!
Step 8: Quality Check
Once everything is “muxed” to the encode, the QC’er steps in and makes one final check. The QC’er checks the encode for mistimed lines, spelling errors, typesetting bleeding through to the next scene, checks for spotty English, checks that the fonts were also muxed, sees if the tracks were labled, etc.
The QC’er sends a report to everyone involved, fixes any problems, and has the video remuxed. Once the QC’er gives their seal of approval, it will be passed to the Translator for the final go signal.
And there you have it! These are the usual steps needed to fansub/sub any anime and yeah, it’s HARD. Contrary to popular belief, fansubbing is not something anyone can do. It requires the full cooperation of many people from different parts of the world or of a company, the process is time-consuming, requires a lot of energy and resources, and is often mentally-draining. If one of the members slacks off, or goes MIA during the process, everything crumbles and it ruins everything. It also lowers group morale.
I hope you enjoyed reading this guide in how fansubbers/official companies sub anime out there in the world. As many know, it is illegal in Japan and may not be in one's country, the tricky thing is, when a company in your country becomes part of the licensing and distribution of the anime studio, then it is officially illegal in your country.
An example would be those fansubbing an anime in America which is not legally available their, yet, but once a legal company like Crunchyroll acquires the rights for it, it then becomes illegal. No one needs to violate any laws nor do want anyone to do so. Please be responsible and support anime legally to it's core. This is how we contribute to the community and further the lifespan of anime itself.
Thank you for reading and leave a comment if you have any questions. Maybe we can answer them.