Thursday, July 22, 2010

OneManga RIP?

I'm feeling kinda stunned about this recent piece of news. Even though I knew that there was going to be a crackdown on scanlations, I thought that OneManga's popularity in the Google rankings made it somehow immune.

I was wondering how this was going to affect 1000Manga, after it was erected due to the Google sponsers complaining about certain Mangas being slightly risque than others. (Surprisingly enough, Seinin titles that are relatively tame, such as Historie and Bambino are there, as are popular childish fare such as DragonBall and Dragon Quest.) Sadly, it looks like it will also be disbanded along with the main site, so my slim hope of a surviving site was diminished.

With all the people bemoaning the suspension of OneManga, I’m also surprised at the amount of people expressing schadenfreude at it going the way of the dodo. There seem to be people who feel that leachers who were just reading for kicks deserved to be kicked to the curb. Likewise, there are those who’re more knowledgeable in the Japanese language taunting others to “learn the language” just so they’ll get their fix. And then there’s those who simply don’t like Manga who’re glad to see the site going away. The more reasonable ones are those pointing out that scanlators were stealing profit from the very authors and companies they were paying homage to. (Never mind that some of these authors had never been heard of before outside their home country) Up to a point, when these struggling artists were still unrecognized, they could’ve been deserving of wider recognization. It’s when their works become licensed that they should’ve been limited. Of course, fans being eternally ravenous beasts can never be entirely satisfied with small samples and need the full course to fully experience the full impact.

Even though OneManga is going to be suspended soon, I’m pretty sure a new site will pop up to fill the void. Or the remaining Manga sites will have an increase in site hits.

I’m more likely to purchase a Manga if I’ve seen the interior, or am familiar with an artist’s works. This is why I’ve pre-ordered Moto Hagio’s Drunken Dream, but not Wandering Son from Fantagraphics, despite there being multiple words of praise for the latter. Until I see the finished product in the bookstore, I won’t make an impulse purchase.

There are Manga series that are simple TV show concepts, such as Detective Conan, or short jokes, such as Bobobo-Bobobobo or Sket Dance. Then there’s Mangas that go on for multiple volumes with no end in sight, such as Grappler Baki or Hajime no Ippo. And then there’s Mangas that’s actually not that good, or not my kind of thing. I find them to be a fancy passing, but nothing I’d actually want to buy myself. I’m the kind of person who prefers to buy books I’m likely to reread multiple times over. If I buy something, I want to make sure I get my money’s worth.

Companies can be notoriously slow in trying to pick and choose from which possible Manga titles out there could be considered the next big hit with minimal risk. The only way Viz could justify posting their Shojo Beat line online along with their Shonen Sunday and SigIkki sites would be if Nana creator Ai Yazawa recovered from her health problems. Other sites are more eloquent about why taking down OneManga could be considered a bad idea, so I won’t repeat what they’ve said. I will however, point out what I liked about the Manga site.

Several things the site got right:

- Having the various titles divided by genre (Action, Drama, Sports, etc.)
- Artists / Writer works grouped together as well.
- Easy-to-navigate dropdown title search.
- Having a preview of the Manga cover on their prospective pages.
- Respect for various companies' properties. (Dark Horse, CMX, Bandai, Seven Seas, Vertical...)
- It was also very easy to skip to a later page, using the sidebar.
- Likewise, when selecting the chapters of a certain Manga, you could see their titles. This could make it very helpful in narrowing down a certain scene you might’ve been unsure of re-visiting.

I always liked how easy it was to scroll through the pages. (Either just click on the image or click the right arrow key) Not to mention the next chapter was available, even if you had to suffer through multiple pages of credits. Viz could stand to learn from this.


- Depending on the Manga, they might not start off with the title cover, which could only appear at the end of a chapter, making for slightly schizophrenic reading.
- Some double-page spreads were sometimes scrunched too much to be able to read some of the smaller writing. (MangaFox, buggy as it was, has this slight advantage over them.)
- Some scans were of inferior translation quality, and ruined my reading experience.
- Although they credited who did the translation, they didn’t give links to these scanlators’ homepage. (This might’ve turned out to be a plus)

Quite likely, OneManga fell victim to its own success. The whole point of posting unknown Mangas online was for fans to easily share their joy with others, without having to resort to lengthy downloads or brain-wracking translating. Now, what was once a niche hobby has now blossomed into a huge monster that threatens to overwhelm its closest competitors.

There is a possible silver lining in this, and it didn’t occur to me until I recalled the shaky origins of Manga trying to find a foothold here. Could there be a similar site that focussed on Bande Dessines? (French / European comics) With the Smurfs joining and forming the triumvirate of popular BDs such as Asterix & Tintin, there’s no better time to push ahead the realm of French comics. Manga sales in France are second only to Japan, and with the wide amount of comics available there, it’s not hard to see why.

There have been sporadic translations of various French comics, but they’ve been few and far between. If a site could collect and post these for passive viewing in a format similar to the OneManga mold, it could spread more demand for BDs in the same way that ToriyamaWorld was able to create demand for Hikaru no Go.

Something to consider - Manga didn’t start to get popular until they started releasing titles aimed at children. The whole Pokemon craze is the obvious result of that. Some children’s titles that would be very popular among the young age set, along with Adult readers include Violine, Little Spirou, Gaston Lagaffe, Nathalie, and Mafalda. These are truely All-Ages titles. You can find three translations in the comments - just look for Mike Hunter.

Then there are titles that are considered too different or daring to be released stateside. Pyrénée is about a teenage girl living in the wild - and she spends the entire story entirely naked. It’s not sexual at all, but could make some Conservative groups very nervous. Chninkel (by the same artist as Thorgal) is the only European comic to be shown on a Manga scanlation site.

There was a time when a Manga scanlator tried to scanlate Lanfeust of Troy, but it didn’t last for long. If a few scans were translated, it might inspire others to finish what was started.
What we need now is a scanlation site that in a few years, will make European Companies threaten to shut them down. Once they do that, we’ll know that we’ve succeeded.

There would have to be limits to what could be shown of course. For starters - no comics that are already being translated into English. Anything currently being released by Cinebook would be off limits. (The only exceptions would be those early volumes that have been skipped over in order to get to the good stuff. This isn’t unusual - the French Calvin volumes started from the 3rd book Yukon Ho!, and near the end, started reprinting the earlier stuff) If these companies wanted to expand on their sales, they could stand to show a few sample pages of what their books are like, so their audience could have a better idea of what to expect. One such example would be Thorgal, which is like a Viking version of Conan the Barbarian, only more sophisicated. I’m glad to finally see this in English, even though they skipped the first two books.

There are several samples available on ScansDaily. I particularly recommend Navis, Gaston, Neêkibo, and Spirou.

Of course, BDs face an uphil battle on several fronts. 1. The books are expensive - $15 for what amounts to 48-62 pages. Granted, those pages are chocked-filled with detail, but it doesn’t feel as much bang for your buck as a single Manga volume does. 2. There’s no good media awareness. The comics themselves are admittedly, very intelligent, but when they’re made into Movies or TV shows, something’s lost in the conversion. Check out any Asterix movie, and compare it against the original comics it inspired. You’ll be dismayed at how much was lost.

If I had a piece of advice to anyone who’d want to translate from French to English, I’d suggest that they go the bowlderization route, and make the transistion as easy as possible. It’s too easy to Babelfish everything and miss the little nuances in the text.

Mais... mais... translates to but... but..., but could be better translated as Wait a minute... It’s basically a placeholder until they’re able to gather their thoughts together.
Quelle Horror translates to How horrible, but could be better translated as That’s awful.
The point is not to be 100% accurate, but to make the text match the images as best as possible.

If 1% of 1% of the Manga scanlators out there could use the energy they put into translating weekly Manga into translating BDs, we could be exposed to a much wider variety of comics than usual. As I’ve said before, there’s literally tons of untranslated stuff over there that’s in desperate need of wider recognization.


  1. Wow, I'm actually wondering whether European publishers are any better than Japanese publishers.

    I do agree that OneManga became a victim of its own success. Manga publishers probably felt the same at one point, thinking that no one would do online manga.

    The manga craze really began for me when Dragon Ball Z came out in English. Sure, it was $15 a volume at the time, but I wanted to get it.

    It would be nice to see a newer variety of comics. I've lost faith in American comics, minus a few imprints.

  2. Something that occured to me - maybe European comics could find a better chance of success if they were posted alongside the other Manga series?

    Also, on ComicsWorthReading, when I posted my link there, Johanna had the following to say:

    "European comics have never been commercially successful in this country, not nearly at the rate manga has. I’m not sure there’s much of an audience for it — and price points are partially responsible. 200 paperback pages of addictive serial storytelling for $10 is more popular than $15-20 for 48 full-color art-driven pages in hardcover."

    I furthered my support of a OneBD site, saying that,

    "If people were more aware of these comics existing, they would seek them out more than if they were ignorant of them. Of course, companies would have to make BDs more suitable to their audience’s liking, such as putting multiple collections into a single book, like with the Dungeon series, or reducing the size, like with the Smurfs books."

    "Either way, something should be done to spread the joy around. After all, Manga didn’t start to get popular until it got widely distributed around the internet. The small sample you showed about the Bookstore guy is a good example. If there was a site that could gather all these translations together and post them online, it could increase their popularity."

    Johanna had the following comment, which I felt didn't need any further input from me:

    "It takes a certain kind of chutzpah, in a thread about stopping copyright violation, to propose new and different forms of copyright violation. But maybe you’re just subtly making a point about the value of sites like OneManga?"

  3. Among the French manga publishers:
    *Kana (aka Dargaud - Lombard - Dupuis)
    *Akata (partnered with Delcourt)
    *Tonkam (now subsidiaries of Delcourt)
    *Sakka ( aka Casterman )
    Most Bande-Dessinée publishers went on manga publishing for "growth" as their Franco-Belgian comics reached their limits. The parallel with English publisher would be the now defunct Dark Horse's CMX.

    Note:Kana also licenses anime of their manga.

    Others publishers:

    Exclusive licensor of Marvel comics in Europe, so similar trans-comics scheme as the BD publishers. Personally the worst French manga licensor.

    *Kurokawa, part of Univers Poche *Pika, part of Hachette
    Both fellows the scheme of manga publisher being part of a generalist publishing group. English equivalent is Yen Press part of (yea) Hachette.

    *Asuka/Kazé Manga
    The equivalent of Viz Media for France as owned by the same Shogakukan-Shueisha holding. The only one that play the media-mix at full throttle with their anime arm, their pay-per-view anime channel and even a music label (wasabi records) to import J-pop in France.

    Similar Fanfare/Ponent or Vertical

    Their is no equivalent of Tokyopop in France as there is no independent pure manga publisher in the Top 5.

    First independent manga/manwha only publisher is Ki-Oon, #8 manga publisher with something around 3% of the French sells.

    I'm certainly missing some publishers but with +20 publishers around some are bound to be omitted. Sorry.

    For further reading in English:

    The first links to a yearly assessment of the French comics market scroll down to reach the part on manga. The second is about scanlation.

  4. "I’m also surprised at the amount of people expressing schadenfreude at it going the way of the dodo."

    Why the surprise? I firmly approve of small scanlation groups working to bring non-commercially viable or unknown works to the attention of English speakers. But OneManga is (was) a massive aggregator feeding the appetites of readers interested in the latest chapter of Naruto. I'd expect most oldschool scanlators to have a "You, kids, offa my lawn!" attitude towards OneManga. Even if it did also host more obscure works, it primarily seems to have furthered types of scanlation that would have been considered totally unethical 10 years ago.

    I'd be happy to see more BD scanlations or more scanlations of unlicensed stuff from whatever country (especially if it were by authors who'd never had a licensed work). I'd even be fine with that on some massive aggregation site. But I'd want that site to have a clear and aggressive stance on scanlation ethics.

  5. Would be interesting to see a BD-centered site for scanlations...or also if one wants to take more professional route, several older comics have been published in English over the years even if they have been out-of-print for a long time...

    What I have noticed is that across Europe integrals, or books collecting 2-4 traditional albums, are becoming more and more popular just like trades in US. Works well on some series and less well on others, but they are usually good-looking tomes...

    I'm quite happy that there is now a push to get those Smurf comics by Peyo in US market, they are great stuff...and hopefully some other stuff could penetrate the market. Those Moomin comic strip collections Drawn & Quarterly has put out in recent years have also got at least positive comments from critics, I do wonder how well they have sold. And on more adult side same goes for e.g. Blacksad.

    But admittedly there are cultural issues too, and based on what I have seen, there's snowball's chance in hell that something like Little Spirou or Titeuf will ever see publication in US. Far too risque stuff.

    Gaston Lagaffe on the other hand...(note: if on pain of death I would have to name the best comic in the world, Gaston Lagaffe would not be a bad choice) and other Franquin books like Spirou & Fantasio or Marsupilami would work too.