Not content with merely deconstructing (by which I mean, ripping the guts out of) its own genre, Puella Magi Madoka Magica is sort of deconstructing the culture that has grown up around anime fansubbing as well.
For those that know about Otakusphere but somehow don’t yet know about Madoka (a group that probably contains all of two people, but hey, I aim to please), fansub groups have been keeping the Japanese commercials for the beverage “Morning Rescue” in their cuts of the popular dark magical girl show, and the commercial has become internet-popular. Due to demand for the actual product, Jlist (and possibly other retailers I’m not aware of) have started carrying the drink for people outside of Japan to order. I don’t know the numbers, but Peter (owner of Jlist) has tweeted that the drink is selling well.
Fansubs of unlicensed shows are considered more or less morally neutral; while digitally downloadable versions of licensed shows can be considered theft (and let’s just leave it at that, without getting into the whole piracy/theft/copyright infringement definition quagmire), downloads of unlicensed shows don’t really do anything; you’re seeing something that isn’t meant for you, since you won’t be viewing the advertising the way the targeted market will (or have access to the product even if you do see the advertising), but you aren’t finding a sneaky way around an actual purchase, either, because there’s no actual product available for you to buy.
However, when fansubbers start leaving in commercials, and those commercials lead to actual sales of the Japanese products that companies paid the TV station to advertise, doesn’t that end up becoming a net positive?
Don’t get me wrong; I don’t mean it’s a net positive in financial terms. For every one person who orders a bottle of Morning Rescue from Jlist after watching a fansub of Madoka Magica, there are probably about a thousand people who will just watch it and do nothing- not enough to make the company that makes the drink a lot of money.
Still, you have to wonder; if the world has become flat enough, thanks to global retailing and shared interest in different subcultures, that the commercial is creating the same desire for a product that it was meant to inspire in the targeted audience, doesn’t the once-lowly fansub watcher therefore become part of the targeted audience? From Morning Rescue’s perspective, they don’t care if Madoka fans live in Japan or China or Timbuctoo; they want people to watch the show, see their commercial, and buy their product. If someone in the U.S. orders a case of Morning Rescue based on the commercials they saw in a legally “gray” fansub, are they any less valid as part of the target audience than a person in Tokyo who bought one? It’s still advertising dollars well spent.
I haven’t been covering Madoka Magica on a regular basis, mostly because my recaps of individual episodes would end up being a .WAV file featuring the sound of my jaw hitting the floor continuously. But I think the Morning Rescue phenomenon that spawned from the Madoka fansubs has really interesting implications for the future of digital anime distribution, legal and otherwise- I mean, I’m not sure what they ARE yet, but they’re certainly interesting.