Q: What’s the difference between overlays, hardsubs, and softsubs?

A:  The differences are relatively simple, but have a distinct effect on the presentation of each episode.  Examples from Episode 1 can be seen below.

 

Overlays, which date to the VHS era of anime distribution, are the most destructive to the original picture.  It replaces either a portion of the video or the entire screen with a static English overlay which tries to replicate the look of the original footage while replacing Japanese text with English text.  Sadly, the transition between original footage and an overlay is usually less than appealing.  ADV used overlays extensively in the original Collection 0:1 DVD, but changed to using primarily hardsubs for Collection 0:2 and thereafter.  The exception to this rule, however, is replacing screens which have only white Japanese text on a black background with English text overlays (e.g. episode title screens.)  ADV would continue to use overlays for full-screen text for all 8 original TV series DVDs.  Funimation did the same thing for their Rebuild releases, using English overlays for the title screen and the text-only screens of the “next movie preview” section.

 

Hardsubs are text-based subtitles “burned” into the original footage.  While this is less destructive to the image than partial or full-screen overlays, it still irrecovably obscures part of the screen.  These were also used extensively in the VHS era (as you couldn’t have subtitled VHS tapes or sign translations for dub-only tapes without them) and on through the early part of the DVD age for sign translations.  However, the subtitles were still sometimes jarring and looked out-of-place on the video due to requiring a secondary encoding pass (and sometimes being used in conjunction with softsubs) thus falling out of favor with fans who wanted a higher-quality image.

 

Softsubs are another name for the type of subtitles used on a standard DVD.  These are user-selectable, player-generated, and not encoded as part of the actual picture.  As DVDs became more prevalant, fans began to see the advantages of using player-encoded subtitles that did not actually infringe on the footage.  In the case of Evangelion, this led to ADV being able to include the Japanese title cards and other text-based screens releases for the first time on their “Director’s Cut” and “Platinum” releases.  On top of that, one could actually watch the episodes “raw” with absolutely no translations if so desired, which was not possible before.  It also made possible having separate subtitle tracks, one for full dialogue + sign translations for watching with Japanese audio, and sign-only translations for watching with the English dub track.

 


Shinji’s ID Card

 

Raw footage, no subs (Platinum: 01)

Soft-subbed (Platinum: 01)

Hard-subbed (Remastered Collection 0:1)

Overlay (Original Collection 0:1)

 


Shinji’s Photo of Misato

 

Raw footage, no subs (Platinum: 01)

Soft-subbed (Platinum: 01)

Hard-subbed (Remastered Collection 0:1)

Overlay (Original Collection 0:1)


Japanese Episode Title Screen

 

Raw footage, no subs (Platinum: 01)

Soft-subbed (Platinum: 01)

Overlay (Original + Remastered Collection 0:1)

 

 

 

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