My First Fansub

The mid-1990s weren't such a bad time to watch anime. Japanese cartoons didn’t fill an aisle at Best Buy or clog all corners of the Internet like they do today, but they were conveniently infiltrating television and video stores back in 1995. I was better (or worse) off than many young anime geeks who picked through the “animation” sections at their Blockbusters. My local comic shop rented just about every new anime officially released in North America, no matter how awful it might be. This let me discover many things I could’ve done without, but it also kept me well outside of anime fan circles.

I was dimly aware that there was a large community of people peddling tapes of anime that you couldn’t find at Suncoast, but I didn’t care as long as I could freely rent Dangaioh, Gunsmith Cats, El-Hazard, Blue Seed, Urusei Yatsura, Angel Cop, and whatever else the comic store bothered to stock. Then my sister went to a comic convention and returned with one of those “fansubs.” It was Street Fighter II: The Animated Movie, only this version had Japanese dialogue, Chun-Li’s uncensored shower scene, the original lawsuit-friendly character names, and a soundtrack free of Alice in Chains. It also came with a flyer listing a bunch of other tapes offered by a fansub distributor.

So I look over the titles, and something jumps out at me. Why, they have the sequel to that Silent Möbius movie I oh-so-vaguely enjoyed! And it’s only $19.99! That’s a steal for something that’s only available in Japan! I’m ordering that right now!

Yes, it was a massive rip-off in several ways, though at least the tape came in a clamshell with a Xerox of the movie’s Japanese packaging. That way I could see that this thing cost about $98 in Japan, making a $20 price tag seem a bargain at the time. Of course, it wasn’t long before I ventured online and learned that a lot of fans just traded fansubs, and that most of the people who flat-out sold them charged about seven bucks per tape.

And what about Silent Möbius: The Motion Picture 2? Disappointing. Silent Möbius is and always was a cliché carnival about women hunting slimy trans-dimensional invaders in rainy future Tokyo, but the original Silent Möbius: The Motion Picture had some slickly animated battles. The second film is much slower, featuring more of reluctant heroine Katsumi Liqueur whining about the exact same things she whined about (and seemingly got over) in the first movie. It also makes the mistake of humanizing the Lucifer Hawks, the other-dimensional antagonists of the series. The first movie keeps them as slavering monstrosities beyond humanity's realm, sorta like a low-caliber Lovecraft story with generic anime women instead of virulent racism. Silent Möbius 2 makes the Lucifer Hawks more like the angry, conniving demons found in just about every anime ever made, robbing itself of a good chunk of novelty.

It’s a different world today. No one cares much about Silent Möbius, fansubs are so plentiful online that they overwhelm the official anime publishers, and VHS bootlegs like this are just quaintly embarrassing pieces of nostalgia. There’s certainly nothing else interesting about my blurry old copy. It was subbed by “E. Monsoon Productions,” a name that now brings up only a few lists of obsessive anime fans’ videotape collections.

The anime nerd that I was can take comfort that Silent Möbius: The Motion Picture 2 wasn’t officially released in North America until years after he paid for his pricey fansub. Bandai brought both films to DVD in 2008, redubbing the first one and unwisely not selling the two movies together. I didn’t bother buying them, as I was hurting for money and my interest in Silent Möbius 2 had faded by then. Perhaps I knew that I’d already spent too much on it.


  1. E. Monsoon? Oh man, that brings back many memories. Thanks so much for this post!

  2. Haha this reminds me of the VHS fansubs I bought of Dragon Ball Z from a con. What a rip-off, the damn things were blurry as hell and I they were available for free in illicit IRC chatrooms if you knew where to look.

  3. Anonymous10:51 AM

    E Monsoon?

    Oh man... I remember that fansub guy. He was known in just about EVERY fansub trading circle for being the worst fansubber ever. I think that even the Hong Kong subs of today are a notch above what he did.

    I remember that the only people who collected his subs were people who were either newbies, people collecting them to laugh at them, or because he was the only one who had them subbed at the time.

    But of course nowadays there are far higher standards for fansubs & most people won't know of him or have any of his fansubs.

    (sigh) Those were great times for fansubs. I love downloading my fansubs & not having to wait as long, but there's something to be said about getting all of those packages in.

  4. Jack Christopher12:06 PM

    In the Bronx (late 90s/early 2000), the stores me and my friends went to only had "E. Monsoon" and "Anime Labs". That was it. At least for DBZ subs.

    I distinctly remember, "E. Monsoon" being more professionally done—like only light cussing/better video quality etc.

    Surprised to here the opposite.

  5. Anonymous1:44 PM

    E. Monsoon and S. Baldric were the two bootleggers I remember seeing the most. I don't even want to think about all the hundreds if not thoasands of dollars I dumped into fansubs back in the mid-ninties. I agree with annoymous when he/she says that there was something special about that time period. Yeah, it's great that you can quickly download any anime you want now but I miss getting those packages in the mail all the time.

  6. Anonymous8:22 AM

    In the mid 90's I too went to the conventions and I remember seeing a table with a banner that read S. Baldric Productions and he had such a wide assortment of fandubs. I found the quality of his tape to be excellent and his subtitles to be better than American dubbing, he even injected humor in his subtitles of the coming attractions. I know he has a bad reputation but I have no problem with the guy, through him we got anime that sometimes took years to reach our shores legitimately.