Go back to the late 90s through early 2000s. The mullet was running on fumes and Rap Metal was on the horizon. Anime was also much more sparse in the United States. As many people who don’t accept the genre now, if I were an adult back then I literally wouldn’t have known anyone outside the snobby comic store clerk that knew jack about anime as a whole (not a trope, the gent was ridiculous).
The Dragon Ball franchise made a few attempts to grow a western audience. The Harmony Gold dub ran for about 5 episodes and a couple movies in the 1980s. Skipping up to 1996, the Ocean Dub came to light – which proved to be much more popular. In the periods where certain movies and episodes were not dubbed, the fans took it into their own hands in the form of fansubs.
The Ocean dub made it 56 episodes into the Z series before calling it quits. There was a gap of a few years before new English material would be produced (The Big Green Dub doesn’t count). I remember my first experience with a VHS fansub was the first Cooler movie. I was maybe ten and my mother took me to a local comic shop, Comic Carnival. I think it was around $15, but my mom knew how obsessed I was with the series. I even remember seeing a giant white font with a black border “ENGLISH SUB” written either on the spine or front cover. When watching it for the first time, It immediately gave off a different vibe than the cassettes I was used to playing. The coloring was a bit off, the quality was a tad lower, and there were no opening commercials or previews. It pretty much jumped straight to the movie – which was in a language I did not understand in more ways than one. I grew up a VERY good Catholic kid, like I WAS Moral Oral. Then I see all these F-bombs and S-words and the like. I literally did not know what they meant. I still remember the yellow captions, blurry, but I would easily make them out, but I didn’t like it. I asked my mom to return the tape and the man explained to my mom what a “sub” was while I did God-knows-what in the background. She didn’t really understand, but went along with it.
A year or so later, I find myself at my cousins house. The internet was still a pretty new thing to the public and I had no idea how to use it, but my cousin was a few years older. He used some program like Morpheus and downloaded a bunch of clips of Trunks and Goten doing the fusion dance – again, subbed in English. I had only gotten as far as the first fight with Frieza, so this was just incredible to me.
After figuring out how to get online myself, I ended up watching the majority of Dragon Ball GT in Spanish with English subtitles on what I believe was HotAnime.com (I’m sure the site has changed in the last 15 years and don’t recommend going there).
My point of all this rambling is that even fansubs aren’t the most honest things in the universe in a few different ways, they bring me a sense of nostalgia that I don’t want to give up on. The graininess, inaccurate translations, all of that. It’s just a different, strange way to enjoy the series I’ve watched my entire life.