Friday, June 11, 2010

Manga Crackdown?

Originally, I wanted to talk about the arguements Shawn Fumo posted about the lack of success European comics have had, but that’s been supplanted by the recent announcement of Manga publishers cracking down on scanlators.

I wanted to wait until I could gather up my thoughts. I have a bad history of having spontaneous reactions that don’t pare up to the rest of the blogosphere. My first thoughts upon seeing the news were:

1. Christopher Butcher is HAPPY about this?
2. Where am I going to get my next fix from?
3. I better download as much stuff as I can before they take it away from me!

Eventually when the task of trying not to go over my maximum bandwith overwhelmed me, and I calmed down enough to think rationally, I was able to rationalize that they couldn't possibly shut down every offensive scanlator site. After all, chances were that if one went down, multiple ones would sprout up to take their place.

Not to mention the main scanlator site, OneManga has a pretty good policy for taking down certain Mangas if requested by companies that ask them to. As a result, they don’t display any Mangas from Yen Press, Darkhorse, Dr.Master, CMX, or ADV. Even though the last three companies are no longer in business, I’m sure they’ll stick to their principles. So far, the major exceptions seem to be the best-sellers such as Naruto, Bleach & One Piece, which continue to rachet up sales despite (or because) of their presence online. Of course, this reaches shaky ground concerning less popular titles that don’t have as much of a larger audience as they should.

My general thoughts were close to Kleefeld’s, in that everyone was in a general state of confusion. I was for and against the concept, both in practice and theory. If that doesn’t sound contradictory, it explains a lot of the mentality I saw online. I saw comics fan expressing a kind of schadenfreude for this happening, and devoted fans complaining about not getting their next FREE! instalment. All in all, it was a dizzying array of multiple viewpoints both for and against both sides. For years, the Manga industry just let this kind of thing slide, effectively enabling their thieving customers. If they went back on their word after raising such a stink, they would lose respect in the eyes of their customers.

After having the chance to think things over, there’s several reasons why I hope the scanlation crackdown won’t be on par with Napstar.

First off, it gives us the chance to check out various titles that otherwise wouldn’t be brought over here. After all, there’s no point in trying to create a market for a new audience if people don’t know they might be interested in the first place. Nobody ever thought comics about Go, Football or baking Bread could possibly be fun reads.

Then there are lesser series that I originally wouldn’t be interested in if I hadn’t seen samples of them first. Of course, seeing grade B Mangas is no indication that I’ll still be interested in them. I may want to continue reading them, but I won’t feel particularly inclined to purchase them. I may introduce them to people I know are interested in certain concepts & themes. For example, Chaosic Rune is basically an adult version of Yu-Gi-Oh!, only with more sex and violence. (In the same way that Gantz is a shooter game with T&A) And Toriko is like a cross between Yakitate! Japan and Grappler Baki.

One of the things that I felt led to the demise of CMX was their lack of scanlation knowledge. As far as I know, only a handful of their titles were scaned after their print run, and even fewer were scanned before they were picked up. It was this small sampling of their titles that helped show me that Canon wasn’t my kind of thing, but Oyayubihime Infinity looked interesting. I’m still on the fence on Astral Project, since I ordered it sight unseen, and still am, even after seeing the first two chapters online. I’m hoping the positive reviews I’ve heard will offset my paronia.

It also gives us the opportunity to see scans of series as they originally appeared, such as the Naruto exam and the missing Nana pages.

The use of digital media also solves the elephant in the room - the issue of space. There are some series, such as Hajime no Ippo that are TOO LONG for the average household to simply contain. Only a dedicated fan or an obsessive maniac would consider collecting all 90+ volumes of the boxing Manga.

Another recent comment that's more eloquent than mine is that scanlations are not a problem, but merely a solution to a problem that already exists. Now, we need a solution to the solution. Okazu points out that while 80% of scanlators will willfully drop a series once it gets licenced, 20% of unscrupulous scanlators will pick up the slack from where the previous group first left off. This has happened multiple times with various titles, and shows no sign of changing in the future.

So far, the one model that’s been suggested that I strongly identify with is a shared translation effort where devoted fans would pool their efforts into translating and editing their scans into one comprehensive package. I’ve noticed that oftentimes, there would be teams translating the same Manga chapter, but only a select few of those were worth re-reading. It might’ve been the font, it might’ve been the flow of dialogue, but some translation packages read better than others.

After all, one of the things I found discouraging was that the fan translations were oftentimes, of higher quality than the official translations. I’ll reproduce my comments I posted on MangaBlog regarding how the Manga industry was broken:

This is an incredibly well-deserved scathing condemnation at all three fields of enablers, each one sponging off the other.

And yet… I still don’t know what the solution to the problem is. The price for the Shonen Jump volumes has gone up to $9.95 from their bargain-bin $7.95 price range. Which makes it even more ludicrous given their One Piece Nation. They’re asking potential customers to dump at least $50 a month for five months to catch up to where the series is right now. And things are seriously getting crazy insane in the storyline as is.

If I hadn’t had the good sense to force myself to slog through at least 300 chapters before the really good stuff happened, I wouldn’t be able to appreciate the amount of inventiveness Oda puts on the page. I was too concerned over getting to the end of the storyarc to pay attention to the other things going on. At times, I was annoyed at how long some of the early stories tended to drag on. (Luffy’s delayed punch on King Wapol is one that frequently comes to mind)

I’m also of the mind of supporting series that would otherwise never get translated, such as long-running titles such as Hajime no Ippo, Grappler Baki and Glass Mask. Trouble is, fans are more likely to translate the most recent titles rather than the historically relevant ones. It’s why I’m so relieved at seeing the Fantagraphics translation of more Moto Hagio. I’m still on the fence on the other book, Wandering Son. Without having seen any interior pages or an example of a singular chapter, I’m unwilling to risk any hard-earned cash for something I might not like. Maybe once I read some pages in the bookstore, I’ll change my mind.

On the one hand, you’ve got stories that you’ll likely read only once and never pick up again. On the other, you’ve got stories you don’t mind reading over and over multiple times. The trick is to find those series you don’t mind paying for. It was this mindset that made me devoted to paying the volumes of 20th Century Boys even though the story went downhill somewhat, and the translation isn’t up to par to the scanlated version. But I’m still paying for it because I really like it. It’s just unfortunate that it’s being released at a larger and more expensive format. If it were at a similar size to Monster, it might be more widely read. The shame is, it was originally going to be solicted three years ago, but Urasawa wanted Monster released first. If it was released then, we would be reading the end of that epic by now, instead of the catastrophic date of 2012.

Another thing that Jake Forbes brings up is talking about the sub-par translations. This is something I readily agree with. One example that comes to mind is in the 4th volume of Death Note when Rem tells Misa about how a Shinigami can die, by loving a human. In the Viz version, she says it’s “a wonderful way to kill”; but in the scanlation, she says its “a romantic way to kill someone”. There’s a very subtle difference there, and one I really would’ve preferred to see the scalated version of.

It would be great if the official translation could take cues from the scanlations and what they find most enjoyable to read. But it tends to turn into a pissing contest where everyone wants to put their own mark onto the translation, preferring their own over others, instead of picking and combining the best efforts from everyone available. Fans are more likely to glomp onto a property if they feel they’ve made their unique voice heard, and can feel betrayed if a certain phrase isn’t uttered a certain way. (Hand of God anyone?)

Maybe what we need is some kind of webcomic that can be on par with their Japanese competition. Trouble is, there are very few that have the kind of page-ending cliffhangers that Manga excel at. Gunnerkrigg Court and Jack are two wonderful exceptions that come to mind.

For a blog that’s originally devoted to Sunday comics, I haven’t had much of a chance to give them their spotlight. If nothing disastrous happens in the next couple days, I might be able to post some more scans & commentary on another underappreciated comic.

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