Making its way around fansub circles is a new translation and encode of the first episode of Macross 7 by a relatively new group called Anime-in-Action. As 7 is both very relevant to our Macross 2051 games and unfortunately unavailable to many of us, a new fansub offers the promise of broader distribution of canon information...not to mention a fabulous, yet frequently overlooked anime. The question I'd like to answer here is whether or not this fansub's quality will be pleasing to die-hard Macross fans. On the whole, I believe it will. Minor errors will have to be kept in mind, but ultimately the translation is solid, the video quality is excellent, and the sound is top-notch.
Before I get into the meat of this review, I'd like to take a moment to remark on the cloudy legal side of anime fansubbing. Technically, the argument goes, fansubs are legal so long as the fansubber isn't making any money from the enterprise, and they are ethical so long as the anime in question isn't licensed to be legitimately distributed in the countries that are targeted by the fansub (e.g., English-speaking countries, for fansubs with English subtitles). Some would argue that fansubbing takes money away from the original producers of the anime by distributing the full content freely, and that it would be best to distribute scripts only and encourage people to purchase the raw anime. Others state that fansubbing reveals a market for the anime in question, leading to legitimate releases. Both arguments have merit, and the AMRN has no official position on the legality or ethics of fansubbing. This review is simply offered to Macross fans who, without easy access to the wealth of entertainment and information in Macross 7, might benefit from the knowledge. Ultimately, it is hoped that 7 will finally see broad release worldwide. Interest in the Macross franchise can only heighten with the release of Macross Zero, which indeed is likely the reason 7 is once again being fansubbed.
I personally own two different, complete fansub copies of 7 besides this new fansub. The first is burned to CD in .asf format; the fansub was done by Animeheaven and encoded by Zim at 352x240. The encode seems to be a rip off a VHS fansub, not a digifansub. The quality is poor and there are often spots where the video or audio cuts out. Songs are translated at the bottom of the screen; there is no "karaoke" version of the original Japanese to sing along with. Also, the opening titles are not included. The translation, while awkward in some places, seems sound. On the whole I would not want to redistribute this copy, simply due to the poor sound and video quality, but it's better than nothing.
The second is on VHS. It was fansubbed by PSYCHO KORps and copied and distributed (at least to me) by Soyukaze Fansubs. The picture quality on this release is much better than the AH release. The opening titles are not only included, but translated, and the opening song is both translated and romanized for karaoke. The main translation, while different from the AH release, is excellent and seems to flow more intuitively. Songs within the anime unfortunately don't have karaoke, though they are translated for the most part. My biggest problems with this release are the fact that it's on tape only--the quality degrades every time I watch them--and the fact that the sound quality isn't extremely good. Still, this one is leaps and bounds above the digital version of the AH release, which is why I've held onto them.
I noticed something interesting while reviewing my old copies to make the comparison. Anime-in-Action's translations are almost exactly the same as those of Animeheaven. There are a few differences, but on the whole, lines are translated word for word the same way, even references to technology that are difficult to translate. For example, both of them have Max saying the line "Switch voice channel to E" when the bridge officers appear distraught upon seeing the and hearing the effects of the Varauta's Spiritia-draining weaponry. His line is translated as "Close audio channels" by PSYCHO KORps, which makes a little more sense to me, given that Max seemed irritated that the bridge officers were affected by what they were seeing and hearing. In addition, both Anime-in-Action and Animeheaven spell Bolognese as "Boroughneize", while PSYCHO KORps has "Bolognaise". Whether or not the similarities are suspect, I'm not sure. In general, though, Anime-in-Action and AH seem to favor a literal approach, while PSYCHO KORps tries to make the lines flow intuitively in English. [Note: I have discovered since this writing that Anime-in-Action is using Central Anime's scripts and simply cleaning them up/editing them slightly. This explains why Anime-in-Action's translations are almost exactly the same as Animeheaven's.]
Anime-in-Action's fansub is far more professional by current digisub standards. It's encoded at 512x384, which is a little small these days, but the picture and sound quality make up for that. Everything moves smoothly on the screen and the colors are vibrant and fresh. It's easy to see what's going on, even in the space battles where everything is dark and sometimes hard to pick out on other fansubs. The different instruments in the songs are also more clear and defined. There is no choppiness, nor are there synching errors. This leads me to believe that Anime-in-Action did their own rip from DVDs or laserdisc. I was extremely impressed when I watched Gigile switch to battroid in his Elgerzorene, letting Gamlin blast right past him. I could finally see every aspect of the transformation, and boy did it look cool.
The translation, as I mentioned earlier, is virtually identical to that of Animeheaven's. This means that it is good, but not necessarily always "natural". However, Anime-in-Action provides karaoke and full translations for all songs. The title song's translation runs along the bottom of the screen, but songs during the episode are romanized in the top left hand corner and translated in the top right hand corner, freeing up the bottom of the screen for dialogue. A scribbly blue font is used for these translations. The positioning and font lead me to believe that they would be difficult to read on a regular TV, but on my PC they are perfectly legible. For the rest of the translations, a squarish, easy-to-read font is used.
One nice thing the Anime-in-Action sub did was provide an explanation for the scene in which the bridge officers are discussing the Macross movie. Their explanation ("Note: 'Do You Remember Love?' was used as a movie adaptation in the Macross universe of the events of the original SDF Macross.") is technically incorrect, but I thought it was admirable for them to make the reference comprehensible for Macross neophytes.
On the whole, I am pleased with this fansub. The video and audio are far better than anything else currently available (excluding, perhaps, a Hong Kong knock-off, but I would discourage everyone from buying these and fostering the underground pirated movie industry). The translation is excellent, certainly good enough to make the events and technology in the Macross 7 universe comprehensible. If you haven't seen 7 yet, this is probably your best option so far.
Ultimately, though, there needs to be a legitimate release of this anime to speakers of English. The United States alone is filled with slathering fans of Macross (or Robotech); the market is definitely out there. So download the fansub, see what you think, and start chatting it up in newsgroups and on message forums. I've heard that Macross Zero has already been licensed. Perhaps if the distribution companies see that we want 7 too, it'll happen.