Welcome to the Wonderful World of Fansubbing; Creating KIDS

ICU's pace of work gradually grounded to a complete halt, leaving in it's wake a lot of projects claimed with no immediate hope of ever being subbed, a group of staff members with suddenly no active group, and no motivation to work on the projects that they had already been tasked with, and many fans patiently waiting for those same quality fansubs that ICU was known for, unknowing about the tragedy that had befallen the group.

Some six months passed, with only minimal renewed activity from ICU every now and then. Hulk would return, tell us that ICU would return, maybe get out a single project (which had probably actually been finished weeks, if not months, prior) before going dark again.

And then Hyakupa, too, who had been releasing regularly for most of this period, started to dry up with releases, leaving only Hello!Fansubs as the last remaining of the larger active groups of the previous era, which was something of a trinity between H!F, Hyakupa and ICU, with several other smaller groups releasing around - many of whom had been majorly prolific groups themselves back in their day, such as HPS.

But then Firren and I were having a little conversation, talking about our respective fansub groups of ICU and Hyakupa, lamenting the fact that production had slowed, and that there were several projects which we really wanted to see subbed but both groups refused to touch for different reasons. He-Hulk had a very restrictive policy about projects to be subbed, in that ICU would focus mostly on projects he deemed to be "interesting". Something where you learned something about your Idol. And most projects with a script or any kind of acted performance he deemed to be intrinsically "boring", and usually didn't even bother watching such DVDs or movies. Hyakupa, on the other hand, wouldn't touch anything that they deemed to be too boring, which usually meant smaller projects or anything deemed "too old". 

Well, we joked about creating our own fansub group to sub those projects, talking mostly then about the Maasa and Nacky special edition PB makings. It wasn't the first time it had come up, either. We had entertained the thought several times, even from the days when I was still a H!F trainee before ICU. 

At this point, however, Maasa's movie had a blog which was being updated almost every weekday with pictures and small tit-bits of information relating to the production, or the promotion, of the movie. Whilst, at first, I had the help of Pukovnik Krv to translate these entries, he dropped out of the project and I was left translating these entries every day by myself, and I'm quite proud of the effort achieved. But this did have the effect where, because I was posting these translations in the Hello!Online Maasa thread every day, or whatever, people would overestimate my ability to actually understand Japanese. Translating those blogs had been heavily-reliant on various dictionaries*.

*Even, strangely enough, online translators like Google Translate. It's almost always a rubbish translation, but sometimes when the grammar would throw me and I couldn't work out how to construct the translated sentence, I'd look at Google or Babelfish and see the jumbled mess of words and suddenly inspiration would strike.

Anyway, Firren told me to take a look at Maasa and see if I could translate any. I did, and I couldn't. There was some there I could, and a lot there that I couldn't. But I did know someone who might be interested. A translator I had worked with in ICU, and the only member of ICU aside from He-Hulk I had ever actually spoken to, CynicaltheCat.

I created a carefully worded message to him, designed to pitch the idea of our sub-group to him and hopefully procure a translator through his recruitment. Turned out to be more effort than was actually needed, as he told me that he just read the lines "We're a fansub group which will focus primarily on Hello!Project Kids" and he knew that he wanted to join. Success! Suddenly our new fansub group had gone from being a little joke between Firren and I to a reality. We had everything we needed to start a fansub group. A timer, a translator, and an Encoder - any other roles could be filled in by the 3 people we already had.

So we gathered in a temporary IRC channel on the EFNet network, and got down to business. Main items on the agenda: decide on our first project; and decide on a name. And, like all great societies and groups, the more fun creative process of deciding on a name took priority. We threw around several ideas, several of them not actually serious. We thought of just using our initials ([CDF] - Cynical, Dran, Firren); we thought of calling ourselves [AKB], just for the irony; we thought of [HKF] (Hello! Kids Fansubs)...

But all of them just didn't work. They were either funny at first, but we knew that we'd regret the name after the first few releases, or they were just too dull. And then Firren said, "Why not just call ourselves KIDS?" and at last we had found our identity. The name was short, just rolls off the tongue, and most importantly, it was catchy.

So, now that we knew who we were, we had to know what we were doing. Firren and I already wanted to do the Maasa and Nacky DVDs, but we asked Cynical if he had any ideas, which there were a few. But we agreed that we'd get those out of the way quickly and get on to one of his choices later. He hadn't seen either of them, however, so he had to go download the files, watch them, and decide if he wanted to work on them, which we felt was fair, so we did just that. When he went off to bed, waiting for those files to download, Firren and I decided we should just assume that he would greenlight them and start work immediately, so when he did come back the following day and said, "Okay!", we wouldn't have to wait as long on the timing finished before he could start. So, partly out of anticipation of this, and partly because I was just bored and couldn't find anything better to do, I actually finished timing it that day, before we even had confirmation that he wanted to work on it.

And then disaster struck.

The following morning, I awoke to find a new Hello!Fansubs release on the H!O tracker. Morning Days Vol.1. It was a project that ICU had announced they would sub months ago. A project which CynicaltheCat himself had translated. This is a truly devastating thing to happen to you. Maybe it's not even that rational, but when you work hard on a project, which someone else goes and releases first, grabbing all the downloads and rendering your own work virtually meaningless, it's very easy to get angry. This kind of thing happens often in the world of anime fansubbing, or manga scanlating. But with Idol DVDs there isn't the same number of fansubbers out there, and so clashes become all the more frustrating since the fansubber's role in this community isn't to be the first to release and to beat the other groups, but to provide quality translations for people who can't speak the original language. So when someone undercuts you like that, you feel angry and frustrated because you know that any work you have done has been wasted, and could have been better spent translating something else.

Anyway, the timing of this couldn't have been more inappropriate. Only one day after we had created KIDS and recruited Cynical to our cause, and we're hit by another bad case of inter-subgroup politics. This one led to Cynical, later that day upon learning of this news, to leave KIDS and ICU indefinitely, and take a hiatus from fansubbing, instead focusing on his studies and on enjoy the simple life of a regular fan. Sounds eerily familiar. But the survival of our group had been thrown into a critical state, as quickly and as spontaneously as it had begun. 

And so, without a translator, things were looking dire. Luckily when we first recruited Cynical, he told us at that time that he also recommended a couple of other ICU translators, who I had no experience with, but had helped him a lot with his own translations. Those were Xie and Lone!Wolf. At the time I had no idea how to contact Xie, but I knew how to get in touch with L!W, so clinging to the cards we had been dealt, we tried to turn the situation around and I contacted him. He responded and, with a little more persuasion (but surprisingly again not as much as I expected) than Cynical required, he agreed to join KIDS. The only condition? We'd take on a small project that he had already been working on solo in return for his help. 

We decided quickly that we wanted to differentiate ourselves from our "parent" groups, if you will. Cynical before had suggested remaining a part of ICU (which was actually still in the plan anyway*) but forming something of a sub - or splinter-group. Branching out to sub what we want, but maintaining those ties to both ICU and Hyakupa, meaning we would still have access to the resources of those parent groups. But this went against much of the ideas Firren and I had about what we wanted KIDS to be. Independent from those two groups, and the policies we disagreed with, and to be recognised as a totally new and independent fansub group because of that.

*The original idea was to create this group, independent as above, but to also, individually, remain part of and work as members of our original groups too. KIDS was to be very much a secondary project to work on when we weren't busy with our primary group. But, while Firren has remained very true to his ties in Hyakupa, ICU's future isn't quite so clear. It continues to sit there like an old ship in dry dock waiting for it's captain. I've begun to think of KIDS as the primary group, and have no idea if ICU will ever return, or what shall happen when it does.

We took one look at the way ICU is structured, and knew that we didn't want to follow that, is that structure is the main reason why ICU is in the mess it is now. Everything there was very centralised and compartmentalised. Everything must pass through the central hub, which was Hulk. He told you what to do, he retrieved the completed work and passed it on to the next person, he finished and released the projects himself. Because of this there was very little communication within the group, and no-one had any idea what anyone else was doing. It was a simple case of "Okay. Here's my work. Let me do that. Done. What's next?"

And, while that certainly sounds like a very efficient system, it did come with one fatal flaw, which is that once you take out the central hub, all the dependent nodes stop working. The whole network comes crashing down, and you're left with a bunch of people who have no idea what's going on. So we opted to take a more confederate approach and have no central hub. What this really translates to is that, unlike H!F and ICU, which have very clear leaders, we decided to model our structure closer to Hyakupa, which has no leader. 

This also translates into the way we treat our staff list. H!F use a very standard method of crediting their staff. At the start of the video, usually during some sort of title sequence, a list of names will appear on the screen alongside the jobs that those people did in the subbing of this project (Translation, Timing, Encoding, et al), this list will also be duplicated in the torrent description, ensuring that it's easy to see. ICU do very much the same thing, but prefer not to draw attention to the credits, and so don't bother duplicating those credits in the description. Hyakupa on the other hand flamboyantly display their credits with long title sequences at the start of every vid, which rather than showing a list of people who worked on the video and what they did, opts instead to just list everyone in the group.

While we agree that the credits shouldn't draw the same amount of attention that Hyakupa does, ICU is at the end of the scale where you don't even notice the names of the people who worked on it unless you are actually looking. You don't know who worked on a project unless you actually download it, and if you don't download it, the only name you'll have seen is the name of the person who uploaded the file, leading to a distinctly unproportionate level of representation for the leader/uploader and for the rest of us. So, again, we shifted closer to the Hyakupa system and dropped all of the jobtitles, instead crediting everyone in the group (whether they actually worked on the project or not) in both the in-video credits (without the flamboyant Hyaku-style 30s intros) and on the torrent description. The idea is to make everyone in the group equal.

The final policy that we disagreed with and changed is that we don't translate and provide you with everything. I had spoken to people in the past, many of whom found this particular policy of ICU's to be severely off-putting. And before you say anything, that doesn't mean that we are giving you sub-par translations, not by any means. First of all, a lot of time working ICU's way is taken up by subbing onscreen text which doesn't need to be done. I'm referring of course, to captions. These are usually exact duplicates of whatever is being said, and is therefore already translated in the normal audio subs. And yet, by doing it again, you have to time it to the exact frame of entry and exit, the translator has to spend time translating the same line twice, and then it has to be typeset so that the subs blend in with  and match the original Japanese text (which in itself may involve even more timing). A lot of work for no real reason. 

Secondly, and by far the most controversial of the two, is the editor's notes. These notes are often pretty long, are very distracting, and ultimately take away from the viewer experience. The occasional note here and there explaining in brief certain  linguistic concepts that don't translate well (for example, Japanese food names, or puns that are lost in translation)  are perfectly normal and acceptable. But the issue is explaining references. It can be quite offensive to have a big sign pop up and assume that you don't know that "Momo" is the Japanese word for peach and that Momoko is therefore obsessed with peaches. Most fans know this, and don't like being treated like ignorant fools. On the other hand, if you didn't know it, then you probably would have been able to work it out yourself, if not straight away, then by watching vids and learning the same way people usually do. By telling a new fan everything, he is unlikely to actually remember any of it. But have him work it out for himself, and he'll remember it forever, in much the same way that if I were to draw some quantum theory mathematical functions on a blackboard, and told you to learn them, you wouldn't have a clue and would forget them as soon as you left the room. But by understanding those equations and what they mean, you will go away and you'll have learnt them, for use another day.

Anyway. We created KIDS, we helped L!W with his small project, which turned out to be Hagiwara Mai in Hachijoujima - and upon completion of my work he then turned to me and said, "Where is the commentary script?"

I wasn't even aware that there was one, but I was convinced that we should work on it. And, while there were only two voices to contend with, and therefore much easier than the C-ute AH from before, I still had a lot of trouble with it. Not as much as Wolf himself, though. Who struggled on, and it was my turn to convince him not to just drop it (after I'd done all that work on timing it), and we did make it through. The reason I tag this on to the end of my post is because of the realization that, to my knowledge, only 4 H!P commentary tracks have ever been subbed, and I've been involved in 3 of them. I timed Momo OK's commentary, part of C-ute's Alo-Hello! commentary, and Hagiwara Mai in Hachijoujima. The only one I didn't do was the Berryz Koubou Alo-Hello!, and I guess that's just because I wasn't an ICU member at the time, or Hulk would have probably had me work on that too.


JuulChii said...

Wow, that's a long story of how KIDS was created. You had to do a lot, but me (and I guess lots of other fans) are glad you continued.
It's too bad though that ICU stopped (?) cuz there were more members in that group.

quaestor said...

You know, the absence of groups like yours is one of the reasons why even for someone like me who's known about H!P for a long time is still ignorant of a lot of basic information regarding them. I still remember the agony of watching unsubbed videos and trying to at least make sense of what they are saying. Continuing the often under-appreciated task of fan-subbing is one way to ensure that many people will come to understand why we love these things and are willing to spend time and effort into making sure everybody who can understand english enjoys these DVDs regardless of nationality.

Krv said...

Sorry for dropping out on the Maasa TLs :P

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