Fansubbing is a big part of the anime community and one that, like all other forms of online media sharing, has been a persistant headache (and source of cease and desist letters) for the media industry. Although many fansubbers are altruistic and stop releasing fansubs and seeding torrents once a title is licensed in NA, this of course does not limit the distribution of the title even once the dub is on the air (to be fair- my impression of dubs is less than glowing and I see the appeal in wanting to watch with the original audio without waiting for a DVD release). Although there isn’t a huge excuse for widely distributed titles such as Bleach and Naruto, fansubs have traditionally been a haven for lesser known titles that never see their way to American soil (see my review on Ghost Hound which, if not imported, will not see the light of day in the states).
Well, FUNimation is taking a different approach to the entire situation. With the new version of Fullmetal Alchemist (AKA can’t wait can’t wait can’t wait!), they will be releasing free professional subs on their website less than a week after the initial episode airs in Japan. This is positively brilliant. The home company will be providing quality subs at almost the same speed as any fansubber and will be drawing in traffic to their website on a high attention release. Unless they absolutely butcher the subs, there is no real reason for any fansub group to pick up the title, and even if they do it will be easier to find the actual release than the fansub. The only drawback is the lack of downloads (to which I chuckle quietly since within two weeks people will have that figured out) but nonetheless, bravo FUNimation. I love to see a company work with the fan base instead of against it.