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- - How long have you been scanlating and what are some of the scanlations you're most proud of?
- I first started doing fan translations in around 2006, but those were all sort of rough scripts and spoilers to help people know what was going on with Konjiki no Gash!! before any translations were out (Which were behind by some couple of years). I did those as a beginner mostly looking words up one at a time to just have a general idea of what was going on even though I didn't know enough to really translate properly (And that series was pretty simple).
- I started working on full actual chapters in late 2008 with Toriko. I wanted to translate a Jump manga I thought looked like it really had potential. And it did, I'd say. That series went for 43 volumes and has been pretty popular over its lifetime, definitely one of my favorites.
- I'd say the series I'm most proud of are Kokou no Hito, Gintama, Steel Ball Run and JoJolion (which are parts of Jojo's Bizarre Adventure), 3-Gatsu no Lion/March Comes in Like a Lion, and maybe 81diver. Also the Jojo novel The Book I'm finishing up right now. It's kind of hard to say because I really love all the series I've worked on in different ways, and I've tried to do a variety of series. Some are more serious than others and some are a mix of both, but every series I've worked on I think reflects my personality somewhat.
- The reason I choose a project has to do with whether or not it really resonates with me and reading it makes me think "I just HAVE to share this with people. It's a crime that no English speakers can read this." Keep in mind any project is going to take a HUGE amount of time and dedication in order to see any sort of finished product, let alone finishing an entire series. Obviously some series are harder to do than others, but even a series that's just a couple volumes is dozens of hours of work, both in me doing my jobs (Translating, typesetting, scanning, usually) and recruiting people to volunteer for the other jobs. At the same time, you want to get it done just to get it out there, but you also have standards of quality you want to set for yourself. You also want to see yourself improving, and that means finding people that are able to give you useful and constructive critiques for your translations, which is hard to do since I'm always the one leading the project and most of my time is used just trying to do my jobs, it's pretty hard to find someone willing to do that as well that I trust.
- Scanlating something as a long-term project can be pretty hard. It's hard to get enough staff to just do all the jobs and you can overwork yourself trying to do everything yourself. That's why there are only a small handful of groups that last a long time. It's hard to get that dedicated staff. Especially if you want to release something every week/month it comes out. Or to release a new volume as it comes out every few months. There've been a few projects I've worked on that fell apart and we just never finished. Others I had to put on hold for months or years because I just didn't have enough time or staff for them, even if I really loved the series.
- - Do you have any ethical hang-ups about it (i.e. its effect on the manga industry)?
- Generally speaking I try very hard to only work on projects that don't have an official translation available. I think re-translating something that's got a very good quality official translation coming out in a day or two is kind of pointless. My general goal is to allow things that likely wouldn't be readable to English speakers otherwise to have the opportunity to read them. Though there are some exceptions for me if I've done a huge amount of the series already and it gets licensed later and I just want to finish it. I understand that it's in a legal gray area, but the way I see it is in most cases those series will either never see the light of day outside Japan, or they'll maybe get published in some vaguely defined future (Viz has said they'll EVENTUALLY publish Part 4 of Jojo's Bizarre Adventure, but not when. Meanwhile that part of the manga came out in 1995 and the series is still going). Like right now, the early parts of Jojo's Bizarre Adventure are finally being published in English, ~25 years after they were released in Japan. To me that seems like not just a ridiculously long time to expect people to wait, something is lost by waiting that long. It no longer exists in the same context. People who grew up reading Jojo in Japan have become adults and some of them went on to write their own manga that was a reaction to the stuff they read as a kid. So that foundational thing that inspired later series and was revolutionary at its time now never has a chance to be revolutionary for anyone who doesn't speak the original language. The people who were in the target demographic when it came out may no longer be in it. And no matter how much someone might be willing to pay, they can't physically get that thing legally. To me that seems like something is irreparably lost and it's not made up for by eventually being licensed years and years after the fact.
- Like taking Jojo's Bizarre Adventure by Hirohiko Araki for an example, there are just tons of things that were inspired by Jojo's style or storytelling. Half the characters in Street Fighter are based off Jojo characters. There are references to it in Ninja Gaiden, Dota 2, Skull Girls, Castlevania, and all kinds of other series.
- Here's a pretty good list: http://jojo.wikia.com/wiki/List_of_cultural_references_and_inspirations_from_JoJo%27s_Bizarre_Adventure
- The vast majority of which came out with an official English version BEFORE Jojo's Bizarre Adventure did. So first of all the people seeing those references don't know they're references, but also they don't ever get a chance to see the part of the culture these things were built on. What I'm saying is that something that was new and innovative no longer has a chance to be new and innovative to and English speaking audience if they simply can't get it. It doesn't have a chance to inspire people the same way it did inspire people when it was new in Japan.
- For a bit of a different situation, take Gintama by Sorachi Hideaki. That's a really hugely successful manga in Japan that's sold over 50 million total copies. That makes it something like in the top 50 most-bought series in terms of volume sold.
- Source: http://www.animenewsnetwork.com/daily-briefs/2016-05-02/gintama-manga-has-50-million-copies-in-print-in-japan/.101705
- Now, the last volume printed in English was volume 23, which came out in 2011 (Before I started working on Gintama).
- The current newest volume in Japan is volume 70 (Dunno if it'll be out by the time this gets published but the publication date is July 3rd I think).
- They stopped at volume 25 because it wasn't selling and that's in a period where there barely were any scanlations and when they were made they were made infrequently, not every chapter was done, and the quality was generally pretty awful. But they stopped and they've stated no intention of doing any more. Most likely because they weren't making enough money off of it to justify paying the license. Now that's only about one third of the series they plan to EVER release. And you can't get it otherwise. So in this position the two choices are 1. Wait forever and hope they release it even though they probably won't, or 2. Do a fan translation.
- Gintama is one example but there are plenty of other series that either are really good (In my opinion, and others who've read it in Japanese) that never got released it any form. Even looong after the series has ended. Maybe someday they'll get published in English officially, but we have no way of knowing that. What some groups do is they'll take their versions down once it's licensed, but given how quickly these things spread on the Internet, they're still going to be findable at least.
- Like Kokou no Hito by Sakamoto Shinichi for example. Most people who've read that manga, which I translated all of, have said they really loved it. Some were really touched by it like I was, seeing the way social anxiety was depicted in it in a way that's not often seen. Along with all the stellar artwork and storytelling conveying emotion through imagery. If that just never gets licensed, nobody gets a chance to read that. It's not a super-high selling series by any means, it's not a "mainsteam" series. But that doesn't mean it doesn't have value in being read. There were also 10 volumes of it out when I started working on it back in 2010, and it ran in a mainstream manga magazine. So there was far and away enough time for an official publisher to make a decision about whether to license it or not and no one did (In French they did at some point, but not English).
- I've also heard some situations about if a series has a popular fanbase due to the scanlation (years ago that happened with fansubs) it was a kind of indicator to publishers about what may have a fan demand (That's what I've heard anyway. I tried to find a source and all I could find was heresay).
- There are also situations where the official translations are just bad. They were done with very little editing or else they just hired the cheapest translators they could find and just figured "Well, we have a monopoly on it, so who cares if the translation is crap?" A good translation shouldn't be awkward or stilted or full of robotic dialogue. It also should have characters that sound different, sentences that flow like vernacular English, and creativity to a degree that enhances the original lines so they sound interesting to an English speaker. Just today people have been talking about how the Fate/Grand Order game, a hugely popular Japanese mobile game, just got localized and has a godawful translation full of bad dialogue, errors, poor graphic design choices, and a number of other things. Parts of Persona 5 were like that, too. And every translator I know was pretty much in agreement that they didn't do a good job. Some groups will do a series anyhow even if it's been licensed because the official translation just isn't any good, like that.
- That said, often the official translations are USUALLY very good and I encourage people to buy them if they want to support the authors who create the things they love so much. English Shonen Jump is a good step in that direction, I think. It's pretty cheap and it lets English speakers read a number of series from Weekly Shonen Jump, Jump SQ, and Tonari no Young Jump (Maybe a couple others, but I think that's it) about as soon as they come out officially in Japan. Usually they also have more time to edit and polish their translations than a scanlation group trying to beat them to the punch would. I know who some of the translators are as well, and I know they know what they're doing. Kodansha does something similar with a number of their series running in Morning and Kiss and a few other magazines, and I think that's a really good step for the industry to be taking and it's leveling with the fans, giving them a reasonable amount of time to get the series and with a good quality translation for a reasonable amount of money.
- One other way to support the authors might be what I do which is buy them all in Japanese. That's another option people have, to buy a manga in Japanese even though they can't read it, just to have as a collector's item of sorts. Or just look at the images and read along with a translation (Or maybe they know what's going on anyway so they don't need a translation). But most people won't do that because they're not really marketed to them. Not many stores in the West sell Japanese manga and getting it shipped to you internationally is expensive. One 400 yen manga usually costs like 8 USD, even though 400 yen exchanges to around 4USD.
- Now, given all that, the argument usually made by publishers is something along the lines of "If you bought more officially licensed manga, the industry as a whole would be able to take more risks and license more series". The issue with that is well... they're not. Again it's a "vague promise of you getting a good thing in the future" despite not having evidence that that will ever happen. The backlog of untranslated manga just gets longer and longer, even if you're just counting series over a certain threshold of sales or awards, or otherwise notable, and it's not looking likely to go down. And like I said, the time lost between when it's made and when it's officially released in English has an impact that doesn't go away. I certainly support an officially licensed industry and would like it to grow as it can only do good for getting more series available for people to read in a reasonable amount of time, but it's just not realistic to think if everybody stopped scanlating then suddenly everything would become available officially overnight. There's thousands of manga running in Japan at any one time plus countless series that have ended. Ultimately, if the official outlets are able to provide a better product than scanlators can, then I think people will be wiling to pay for that quality. As it stands, in the majority of cases, they're not doing that.
- I found this site that functions as an unofficial list of the number of simulpubed manga:
- And it's like less than 100. Some of which I think have ended, like U19. And some I've never heard of, and I try to keep pretty savvy about manga coming out in Japan. Compare that to the numeber of manga magazines coming out in Japan:
- The page is only in Japanese, but I think what I'm saying should come across. There's hundreds, maybe thousands of ENTIRE MAGAZINES, many of which have over 20 series running in them at any one time. That's not even counting internet-only series like Mob Psycho 100 or series that have ended.
- Again, I don't want to bash the official industry, because it's a good start, absolutely. Years ago we didn't even have this, and by doing this it's certainly helped quell the competition for being the go-to source to read most of these series. And I think it's something that will hopefully increase in the future. But at the present, it's just... not a lot.
- Now, in cases where a fan group is trying to make money off of scanlation, I think they've lost any moral high ground at that point. There are plenty of ways to distribute a series for free or for a very small amount of money to host a site and allow people to download what you've made. It's not something you should be trying to make a career out of (as a fan group I mean). Though only a few groups do that, and unfortunately those few are very popular and I think they give scanlating a bad name. That and the aggregation sites like mangahere and mangareader and all that, which are really just making money off the scanlator's work. But that's a whole separate topic.
- And obviously, some scanlations just aren't good. Like at all. They're done by groups that don't really know what they're doing and can't translate well, or use really bad cleaning techniques and the pages look like they were in somebody's pants pocket that got run through a load of laundry and they stuck it on a scanner with it still wet and the ink running everywhere, or something along those lines. As I mentioned, a lot of the old Gintama scanlations are like that. A lot of old Jojo's Bizarre Adventure scanlations are like that as well (The famous Duwang scanlations, which were scans of official Chinese publications of the series, translated from Chinese into English by a person who didn't speak English natively, and got the meaning of quite a lot of sentences wrong in addition to getting all the characters' names wrong because they used the Chinese readings. Those have actually become a sort of in-joke among fans.) but they've been pretty much all replaced by better quality versions at this point. I'd really prefer if all scanlations were at a certain level of quality, and I'm sure that's something the official sources are concerned about as well, but it's kind of a necessary evil the community as a whole has to try and deal with. I can certainly sympathize with an author feeling their series isn't depicted properly because the thing being released just isn't good, and I'd encourage trying to help groups like that improve. That or somebody, an official outlet or otherwise, needs to out-compete them (Though I generally discourage trying to take a project from a group already working on it, sometimes it's that or the scanlations are awful).
- - If given the opportunity, would you translate manga for a big publishing house? Why or why not and is that even a possibility?
- I might, not sure. Right now I have a full time job outside of scanlating and don't really have time to do something like that, too. I've heard sometimes they will take ex-scanlators to work for them. That happens at Crunchyroll a lot, or at least it did years ago. I might consider it but the reason I might not is because I like just working on whatever series I WANT to see in English so people can read. Even if it's not a popular series and I have no reason to think it's suddenly going to become popular, it's just something I like and I hope people will read because I've put it out there. Maybe because my group's released it they'll check it out because they think the group generally works on good series. That sorta thing. If I'm working for an official publishing house, I'm limited to what choices they give me based on what they think is worth it to license. And if they can even GET the license, which I've heard can be more than just paying enough money for it. It can have to do with connections and past track records and that sort of thing.
- That said, I might try to at some point. Maybe if I finish all the other series I want to do and I want to try something different.
- - Some publishers have told me that they have declined to license official manga translations simply because good or popular scanlations already exist. What are your thoughts on that?
- I've touched on this in my answer above, but in some cases it was a choice made by someone that they just didn't see an English version and really wanted to see one (Or they could have some other reason, I mean anybody could do it for any reason, but if there was already an existing version everyone read officially I don't think many people would be willing to pick up scanlating it). In some cases it's piracy resulting from lack of good service from official outlets. Even while some situations like that might exist, there are plenty of series that weren't scanlated or translated officially for MANY YEARS and nobody licensed it and so a scanlator picked it up. If it's a situation of them not licensing it because someone started scanlating as soon as it started without the official outlets even having a chance, they probably COULD have started releasing it officially but chose not to. There wouldn't be a big fanbase built up around a new series that just started and they should be competing to create a better product. If it was by a popular author or something like that then they should be able to realize there's a fanbase and license it preemptively, like English Shonen Jump is doing with a lot of new Jump series.
- Honestly though, I don't really know what goes on in the minds of publishers when they choose to license a series or not. What we as fans have is only the ability to see what's there and what isn't. If a year goes by and there's still no official version, does that mean it's "ok" to scanlate? I think the publishers would ALWAYS say "no it's not". Their answer is always going to be "It's not official so it's not justified ever", so ultimately the fans have to make a choice. Either they make a fan translation or the thing passes by and never gets a chance to be part of the Western world.
- I think the ultimate goal should be for a good quality version of the series to be available to as many fans as possible. I really hope the industry continues to go in the direction it's going with making good quality versions of the series as widely available as possible as soon as possible. But the official industries have to actually do that if they want to replace the scanlations. Otherwise they're going to continue.
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