Secrets of Downloading Anime Revealed, Part 2

Part 2 — Downloading Anime Video Files

Anime can be downloaded directly from a site or a chat room (IRC) or can be downloaded via peer-to-peer networks via methods like Bittorrent.  I’ve never used any other peer-to-peer protocol other than Bittorrent because it’s very commonly used.  There are other file sharing methods and wikipedia gives a nice summary of what’s out there.  Here’s a link to the information.  Anyhow, the idea behind Bittorrent and other peer-to-peer filesharing protocols is to distribute the dissemination of files such that the original fileserver does not have to serve each computer that requests the files (direct downloads are limited by the fileserver’s upload bandwidth and the number of connections it can support at a time.  When I do direct downloads via IRC, sometimes the cue can be quite long resulting in a long wait and connection timeouts.)

As I understand it, the way Bittorrent works is that someone puts out a file with an accompanying .bittorrent file that gives some download instructions and file description information.  You download the .bittorrent file and open it in your Bittorrent client.  You are then connected to a swarm of computers that is also trying to download the file.  Each computer in the swarm is downloading bits of the file from other computers and uploading the bits of the file to other computers (this is called “seeding”).  The more computers in the swarm, the faster the download speed.  It is also important to seed files during the download and after the download.  This can either be as a courtesy gesture towards the swarm or it could be an enforced seed ratio rule that if violated will result in the user getting banned from the file server.  Users that don’t seed are called “leechers.”  It not good to be a known leecher.

Some file servers have protocols that “throttle” the download speed based upon a computer’s upload speed, so the faster a computer uploads, the faster the computer recieves the download.  Some ISP’s secretly throttle Bittorrent traffic, usually limiting upload bandwidth, which can slow download speed or get you kicked off the file sharing network for being a leecher.  Another thing that users must be aware of are the bandwidth limits of their ISP.  You need to know the high limits of upload speed, download speed, and total amount of data that has been allocated for you each month.  A pattern of high upload bandwidth usage can trigger an ISP to send a nasty-gram about how they suspect you are file sharing with a threat to discontinue service.  (Personally, this upsets me greatly because a person could be uploading photos and personal video directly to photo sharing sites or they could be lawfully using peer-to-peer networks.  There are movie download services and gaming companies that use peer to peer networks to dissmeninate movies and large files such as the game itself, patches, upgrades, and extra content.)

I use Azureus as my Bittorrent client.  So far it has been a stable program and it is updated often to improve performance and add new features.  There is a pretty steep curve associated with learning how to use Azureus.  There is a lot of configuring to do — where to download files to, bandwidth allocation, file sharing protocols, and RSS feeds.  The ability to access RSS feeds is wonderful!  When combined with a search algorithm that can be configured within Azureus, this becomes a powerful tool that automates downloads so you get your favorite shows as they are released.  This function, still could be improved upon and could be used as a base to build a Internet PVR.

As of now, file download clients like Azureus are not for the timid.  My husband, who is an IT expert, had to show me how to use the basic functions and explained the bandwidth capacity of our broadband service.  The toughest part of setting up Azureus was getting it to work with our firewall.  Once I understood the basics, the rest I learned on my own via trial and error.  Here are some of the difficulties and complaints I have about the current process of downloading:

  • Some websites are full of pop-ups and those pop-ups interfere with downloading the bittorrent both on the aggregator website and via the RSS feed
  • Azureus currently doesn’t have a way to automatically sort show episodes and put them into separate directories for each show.
  • Azureus currently doesn’t have a way to filter which group that is providing the show, so when it searches, you may get multiple versions of the same episode of a show released from multiple fansubbing groups.
  • Fansubbing groups don’t have a standard naming convention for the files

Here are some suggestions on what could be done to simplify the downloading process:

  • Simplify the bandwidth settings by asking the user what kind of broadband service they have and then use the generally known bandwidth limitations to automatically set the download and upload speeds.
  • When setting up the query for RSS auto-download, include a field that allows the user to set-up a folder for each series to download to.

I’m feeling some inspiration to describe an Internet PVR, so look out for a posting soon :).

Secrets of Downloading Anime Revealed, Part 1

First off, let me say that I in no way advocate piracy.  Second, let me say, people download translated anime and manga for free because there is no viable legitimate way to pay for it until two or more years later after the show has run.  Unfortunately what ends up happening is the shows are horribly butchered and dubbed (shows that were never meant for children are sanitized for an American children) and the results are almost unwatchable.

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Part 1 — How do anime fansubs get made and the people who consume it
I don’t have deep insight into production of anime fansubs, but to loosely summarize the process:
1.  A group of enthusiasts meet either in real life or via the Internet and decide they are going to fansub a show.
2.  Either someone from the group or someone else downloads a raw feed of the show.

a.  These shows are captured within Japan or they are captured from a satellite feed from anywhere in the world
b.  Raw providers encode the shows to .avi, .mkv, or .ram (or others) formats and make them available via bittorrent, direct download, or through IRC

3.  The groups usually consist of 3 or more people — a translator, an editor, a timer, a typesetter, and a project manager (although, this person may be called many things)
4.  They embedded the subtitles and depending on the file format, the subtitles may become one with the video or they may be embedded a separate track that overlays the video image
5.  The finished videos are put out into the world as .avi, mkv, or .ram (or others) and are made available via bittorrent, direct download, or through IRC (all of this they do without getting paid)
6.  Aggregator websites posts the different shows.  Some sites may provide download statistics.

An example of a very good anime fansubber group is Shinsen Subs.  If they sub a show, it’s likely that it’s a show that I will like.  They seems to have a good feel for what’s appealing to adults.  Some aggregators I use are Baka-Updates and Download Anime.  Many of the fansubber sites and the aggregator sites support strong and large communities of  anime and manga lovers.  These people also are heavily into console and PC gaming.  The population is  mostly male (~60% self reported)  ranging in age from ~11 – 50-years old, with most people in their late teens and early 20’s.  These folks are tech savvy (early adopters) and buy lots of tech products.  Also, there’s a split in the population in which that there are lots of poor students (spending parents’ cash) and lots of childless young adults flush with cash.  To me this sounds like the demographic every  consumer electronics company is after.  Perhaps we should get to know this community better.

Anyhow,  I suggest browsing through some of the forums, paying particular attention  to some  of the results of the surveys on Baka-Updates and their sister manga site.  Also look at the statistics on the bittorrent tracker pages to understand the volume of Internet traffic and the number of people who are not being served with a legitimate way to get their entertainment.

Next, in Part 2 — Downloading anime and manga