It’s a new year, so let’s break some rules: there shall be no manga review in today’s edition of Manga Madness. But, soft! Hold your gasps, my friends! For we shall not venture from the manga world; instead, we shall take a gander at it from a new angle. An angle that’s so obvious, so silent, that it’s a beast parents tell their children about at night to frighten them: scanlation.

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Scanlation is a dangerous thing.

Tis a sad fact that hundreds of manga titles simply do not get published in languages other than their native language. This can be due to a number of things, such as publishing companies not having the rights to a series, thinking a series won’t sell well, or thinking a series won’t fit in with the company’s image. Publishing companies need to produce works that will earn a profit, so it’s understandable that they want to back consistently popular titles like Death Note and Naruto or growing popular titles like Attack on Titan. But what that means for casual readers is that they’re deprived of many wonderful titles, and the sad thing is that they’ll never know what they’re being deprived of.

This is where scanlation comes in. If you’ve ever stumbled upon a manga-hosting site, you’re looking at the work of a number of individuals whose goal is to bring you manga that you might not have access to otherwise (the newest chapters of big name titles, smaller works from new artists, etc.). And if you’re like me, you take that work for granted. Sure, you might yell out, “YES, I HAVE FOUND THE TITLE I WAS LOOKING FOR!” but then you’d go on your merry reading way and skip over the scanlator information page. I have no shame in admitting I did that. But! But when I was reading a manga called Toxic (which, by the way, I totally recommend), I happened to notice that the scanlating group was looking for volunteers. Me being me, I immediately thought, if I join, I can read the newest chapters even faster. So, yes, ’twas pure selfishness that caused me to apply as a proofreader.  Luckily, though, that selfishness waned as I realized how cool it was to work on titles.

Scanlation Groups

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If you take a peek at Baka-Updates Manga (it’s basically every scanlating group’s bible), you’ll see that there are 162 pages listing all of the scanlation groups out there. With 25 groups listed per page, that comes to about 4000 scanlating groups. Now, a large number of these groups are probably inactive, meaning they don’t put out new work, which lowers our number. But still! That’s a lot of scanlating groups out there. And because most groups try to not copy titles that other groups are working on, that means the amount of different titles you can read increases dramatically. If you continue to peruse the site, you’ll see that some groups focus on one genre of manga, while others are open to suggestions about anything. Some groups will be perfectly tailored to your tastes, while others may encourage you to try new styles of artwork or plot lines. Ultimately, scanlating groups exist to make you happy.

Scanlating Roles

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We don’t actually work; all we really do is dance.

Getting manga out to people isn’t a task one should undertake alone. While you might see some scanlating groups with a small staff (maybe one or two people per role), some groups have more than 50 volunteers. Roles may vary from group to group, but there are generally a few established roles.

RAW Provider – the person who has access to the RAW manga (untranslated manga). They can acquire it by buying the magazine in which the chapter is released, finding scans online, or any other means.

Scanner – a person who also has access to the manga, but their main job is to scan it into the computer (if it’s not already there) so the scanlating group can get to work.

Editor/Cleaner – the person responsible for removing the original text from the RAW manga. Using Photoshop, they also clean up any dirt on the page and make sure the pages aren’t strange shades of grey. Depending on the group’s preferences, this person may also remove the sound effects (SFX).

Translator – exactly what it says on the tin.

Proofreader – the person who checks over the Translator’s work and makes sure things are grammatically correct, flow, and that there is a consistency between chapters (if there’s more than one chapter).

Typesetter – the person who takes the Proofreader’s script and types it up into the cleaned pages. If the Editor/Cleaner removed the SFX, the typesetter will also include the translated SFX.

Quality Checker – the last line of defense. This person makes sure that the Typesetter didn’t deviate from the script, that text is centered and not falling out of bubbles, and that all lines are redrawn.

Again, depending on the size of the group, some of these roles might collapse into one another (the Editor might also be the Typesetter), or someone might volunteer to take on multiple roles. To become a volunteer, you usually have to take some manner of test. The proofreading tests I took, for example, asked me to fix grammatically incorrect scripts, while the cleaning tests asked the person to redraw lines and remove the original text.

The Magical Process

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We have 3 working for us.

The process for completing a new chapter also varies from group to group, but it generally goes like this: once the RAWs are available, a Translator can either volunteer to translate the chapter or will be assigned to translate. Most translators will be the only translator for a particular series to ensure that they are familiar with the storyline, the characters, and the writing style. While this is happening, the Editor/Cleaner can begin their job. This is one of the more time-consuming jobs because in addition to removing the original text, they may also be asked to remove the original SFX. If asked to do this, they then have to redraw things; SFX tend to overlap with the artwork, so when you remove them, you’re left with blank spaces where once there was an arm. The Editor/Cleaner has to go in and redraw that arm, usually by using the Clone tool in Photoshop.

After the Translator is done, the Proofreader takes over. Again, depending on the group, the amount of proofreaders and how they edit the script varies. In one of the groups I’m with, there are usually three proofreaders looking at one script. If we think something is grammatically incorrect, that something could be reworded, or that there’s inconsistency, we put that suggestion below the original text like this:

Original: IGGPPC is a strange thing.

Suggestion: IGGPPC is a wonderful thing.

The two Quality Checkers then go over the suggestions and decide which suggestion to use. In my other group, I make changes directly to the script in red.

Once the Proofreader and Cleaner/Editor have finished their jobs, the Typesetter can start transferring the translated script to the cleaned pages. There are a few standard fonts (Wild Words and Anime Ace, hello!) that scanlating groups use: one for text bubbles, thought bubbles, small text, narrations, and SFX. It helps break up monotony and it clues the reader in on what kind of text they’re looking at.

Finally, the Quality Checker comes in and makes sure everything is as near perfect as it can be. They usually look at PSD files so they can make any changes. Once they’re done, they can upload the files to an image hosting site and announce the release of a new title! The length for this entire process changes depending on the urgency with which a chapter needs to be released and the availability of the volunteers.

The Great Scanlation Debate

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So far, everything has sounded peachy, right? Scanlating groups bring you manga, don’t ask for your money, and don’t sacrifice puppies. Everyone’s happy! Yes? WRONG. Because despite the good work scanlating groups do, there is a huge debate within the community regarding the legality of this work.

The most common argument as to why scanlating groups should be abolished is that copyright infringement runs rampant. Groups are taking manga without the author’s consent, using unprofessional translators who might mistranslate something due to inexperience or tweak a translation to better suit what they want to happen in the story, and distributing work that they don’t have the right to distribute. Cease and desist letters from publishers is a common occurrence.

Obviously I’m biased when I say these claims are ridiculous, but truthfully, I do see where they’re coming from. Despite scanlating groups’ best efforts to convince readers to go out and buy the manga if they can, it’s far more convenient for readers to just get the free version online. That’s a loss of money to the mangaka and whoever represents him/her. And with mistranslations, that’s a HUGE problem because most groups don’t exactly have experts working for them; what makes sense in the native language of the manga might not make sense in the translated language, and the translator has to figure out some way to express that. Additionally, some groups translate officially licensed titles like Bleach because the newest chapters aren’t translated into other languages for months at a time, and fans dislike waiting so long to see what happens next.

But on the other hand, scanlating groups are just trying to bring these wonderful works to the masses. As a member of two scanlation groups myself, I’ve been introduced to so many new titles that I would have never gotten the chance to read because they’re not licensed in English. Each scanlation group has its own hiring process, but generally speaking, you need to be at the top of your game. You don’t need to be perfect, but you do need to pass recruitment tests and have to have your work checked over by a veteran…these groups do their best to give you the best work possible.

Most groups have an understanding of the legality issues. If a work they’ve been translated becomes licensed, they usually stop translating the work and encourage their readers to support the mangaka. Which, by the way, is something I see a lot of groups do: if the mangaka of a work they’re translating has other published work, they’ll encourage their readers to purchase those works. And there are some mangaka and publishers who are actually all for scanlation. They might not make money off of it, but they’re pleased that their work has a wider audience. It’s a never-ending battle.

The End?

scanlate 6At this very moment, I actually have quite a large number of scripts waiting for me to look at them (3 from one group and 5 from another). Alas, I must dash. Next month we shall resume our regularly broadcast review. In the meantime, if you love the work scanlating groups bring you, drop them a line! Or better yet, consider volunteering if you have time. Or if you’d like, share your thoughts here! Do you feel that scanlating groups are breaking copyright laws, or do you feel this is a necessary evil? Do you feel that fan translations are more true to the source than professional translations, or vice-versa?