Saturday, January 06, 2007

Manga and Scanlation

There’s been a lot of positive feedback on Dygo Tosa’s translation of “Snowfall” from Kazuhiro Fujita’s Ushio to Tora Gaiden. Several folks have written in to tell us more about scanlation, in which amateur translators "dub" the scanned pages of a manga with new text; the product is distributed by the same file-sharing techniques employed by music fans to download illicit tracks.

Manga publishers are not meeting the market demand for translation; fans who’d like to get their hands on a particular title are forced either to learn Korean or Japanese or turn to underground sources whose reproduction of source texts is illegal under current copyright statutes. The language barrier discourages Asian publishers from printing English-language editions; yet surely they can’t be content to watch their copyright be disregarded by eager scanlators! Readers with legal perspective are invited to share their two cents on this dynamic literary situation.

Mr. Caxton – an online persona of veteran manga translator Toren Smith – argues in his blog The Dead Zone that scanslation is not a benign form of reader enthusiasm:
I know from talking to many folks in the industry that scanslations DO have a negative effect. Many books that are on the tipping point will never be legally published because of scanslations. This is not only unfair to the honest fans, it is robbery from the very creators the otaku profess to love.

And yes, the neo-otaku (my neologism for the new generation of entitlement-minded and puritanistic manga and anime fans) have mutated into a truly awful bunch of people, which is part of the reason I dropped out of the biz. Why work twelve hours a day, seven days a week for such an audience?
Scanlation ProcedureAlthough they scanlate at their own risk, this fan community is thriving and well-organized, with devoted Spanish-language and German counterparts. The German site Eyeshield21 uses a flow-chart to illustrate their scanlation process (translated here for the convenience of monoglot readers).

The globe-spanning technology that allows the easy interchange of foreign language literature also enables piracy. Or should we consider scanlation a new form of samizdat, being fundamentally a response to the lack of access to literature? Though of course this lack is caused not by censorship but by the laggard pace of publishers in keeping up with their web-savvy readers. As with illegal music downloading, as bandwidth increases so does the tension between publishers and consumers ready to turn to alternative sources for their favorite manga. It’s my opinion that cease-and-desist orders and the threat of lawsuits are not the right way to resolve this burgeoning conflict. After all, authors and artists should be delighted to have readers so eager for the story that they to their own scan optimization, image retouching, research and translation! Let us see.

Turn to The Comics Journal for a discussion of the scanlation phenomenon from July 2005. Blumies who want to learn more can explore tags on the subject or can visit MangaBlog for a good introduction to all things manga.


Dygo said...

A follow up on my previous post, and much thanks to Mr. Bos' thoughtful and eye-opening expansion into scanlation territory.

There is no doubt scanlation/fansubbing have created a problem of their own by both mediocre and "professional-like" work. I have encountered both types in my own experience for anime, and while sometimes I am entirely doubtful that my non-Japanese roommate understands a single word of broken translations, other times I feel like I owe someone a lot of gratitude for their work.

As to copyright issues, I had the chance to talk with a close relative who translates English books into Japanese about the length of time it takes to acquire some legal right. According to her, it may take upwards of three months to even begin negotiations. This is not a good sign for me or the pages sitting on my computer. Stay tuned to this blog as this situation turns out.

James said...

Its true a lot of scanlation projects are in violation of copyright however this doesn't have to be the case. At we have been approaching amateur manga artists and getting their permission to translate their works on our site. We've even had a couple of our translations on display at the International Manga Museum in Kyoto.

- James

Anonymous said...

well, it's kind of like those internet travel translators where translation and/or the signficance is lost

guitar said...

Very nice flowchart.
About Music

guitar said...

The flowchart is very nice and neat explanation.
About Music

Nanzu said...

agree >> nice flowchart ...

i appreciate people who do manga scanlation because some of manga are not available on my country ..

Anavar said...

Interesting! Very well written. I have to say that I totally agree with you.

Villa said...

well said...keep on your blog..