Manga, Anime, Scanlations and Fansubs

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

So, what's all this about manga and anime? What the heck is manga and anime in the first place? To the uninformed, manga/anime is the most prevalent cultural export that comes from Japan. It's basically cartoons (manga being the printed comic version and anime being the animated version) that are typically characterised by huge eyes, cute faces and extremely inhuman proportions. But don't be fooled! While they may be cartoons, they aren't necessarily for kids, with some genres targetting mature audiences. The complexity and depth of some of these cartoons can be so great that it takes a lot of thinking to comprehend, something even 15 year olds may not be able to grasp. Produced in Japan, almost all manga and anime are in Japanese, licensed locally and largely enjoyed only by locals. However, places like Hong Kong, Taiwan and Singapore have been importing and translating these products into Chinese. Largely unexposed, most of the western world had limited contact with such material until the internet came into the picture. (To find out more try Wiki Manga and Wiki Anime)

This is where scanlations and fansubs come in. Since most of the material is released in Japan and takes forever to reach western shores, a whole new community has spawned on the internet, dedicated solely to bringing a translated version to be enjoyed by those who do not understand Japanese. When this was initially done, the legal repercussions were less poignant. According to the Berne Convention (Read about it here and here) and international copyright laws, it was deemed 'legal' to translate works from a copyrighted source if it was unavailable in the distribution country under certain rules. (Although it's not blatantly stated. Read about it here) I'm not a law student, so I can't say that I understand fully the treaty and all the conditions it has to meet for such an act to be 'legal' (Hence the quotes), but the point is that as the internet became more and more saturated with such material, copyright issues creeped in. When only a few were doing it, the 'loss' wasn't so great and hence it wasn't really worth looking into. Now that the western world has been fully exposed, it seems that some people want to milk this cash cow for all it's worth. This results in companies such as Tokyopop, Viz, Funimation, Fox and even Cartoon Network buying up licenses to release both anime and manga in English resulting in scanlators and fansubbers dropping the work because of legal issues.

The problem however lies in the fact that when these companies buy the license for the manga/anime, they have one thing in mind, profit! For starters, many would agree that a series (both manga and anime) becomes popular BECAUSE there is a huge fanbase on the internet, brought about by the works of scanlators and fansubbers. Not that that's an excuse, but to the millions of fans of a particular series, it becomes a problem when companies take over and force the scanlation/fansubbing group to shut down but produce mediocre results for the consumer. To the fans, it's not that they don't want to pay for the material, it's just that it was free and the quality was good, but now it stinks and you have to fork out money for it, where's the logic in that? It's like going for a beta test of an MMORPG which is free but of great quality, but suddenly becomes trash when it turns P2P. It does not justify the quality of work that the author (mangaka) put in. Furthermore, manga and anime are released about once every week in Japan. Usually, with a scanlation / fansub group, it takes less than a week for the latest episode to be available, making it just about on par with the Japanese release. When it get's licensed right about half way through the series, fans are subjected to a rerun, with absolutely no way of avoiding the fact that they have to wait for the company to catch up. That could take up to years. (Think Dragonball). Even worse, these companies charge insane prices for their products. For example, I remember seeing a full volume manga by Tokyopop in Singapore going for about S$7, whereas the local Chinese translation was only going for about half the price (or maybe just a little more). Now I know that they may be imports, but why do I have to pay two different prices for the same material but in different languages?

No, I don't think it is wrong for these companies to buy the license for the manga or anime. It is good to want to bring it over to the English speaking world. But please, do quality translations so that fans no longer need to gripe (If you ever surf the internet and monitor scanlation/fansubbing groups you should get a glimpse of quality releases just by taking a peek) about such things. I also understand that as a company, there are bills to pay, and profit IS the main concern. Still, how can you expect people to not complain if there isn't a substantial reason WHY people should pay you so much? I appreciate the fact that unlike the music industry, these companies aren't as bloodthirsty in shutting down scanlation / fansubbing groups. I think they at least realise that these groups are the ones generating the huge fanbase which they reap the profits from. Also, most groups actually acquiese to licensing rights, halting production when it occurs and moving on to other projects. I'd say that I take my hats off to members of this community (Not you leechers ^_^). My short foray into the scanlating world was fun, and I realised that as a fan, I really wanted to share the joy of manga and anime with as many people as I could, and given the time, I'd like to make my comeback (provided I'm also doing a project I am interested in). Still, there's so many more facets to this community that one post is not enough. Perhaps another time...

Posted by Gerald at 1/10/2006 04:44:00 PM