Tuesday, June 15, 2004

Fansubs, Scanslations, Translations, and YKK... 

So, besides the normal manga information going around lately, this article also tackles the touchy subject of manga scanslations. Interesting to see it brought up in a news article like this. The author skirts the hard facts too much: "While scanlators operate somewhat outside legal boundaries"... (there is no "somewhat" about it), it is interesting for instance to see that Tokyopop isn't denouncing it in public:

"Frankly, I find it kind of flattering, not threatening," says TokyoPop's Steve Kleckner. "To be honest, I believe that if the music industry had used downloading and file sharing properly, it would have increased their business, not eaten into it. And, hey, if you get 2,000 fans saying they want a book you've never heard of, well, you gotta go out and get it."

So, what's my stance on all of it? Well, first I will admit to having downloaded fansubs of anime (video with subtitles) as well as scanslations (images with translated text) in the past. I got into fansubs right before I got a DVD player, and the combination of that and the site AnimeOnDVD catapulted me straight into anime fandom. It was quite an experience being exposed to all kinds of different shows and basically just going for anything with a title that sounded interesting. It is amazing what a total lack of hype can do for objectively viewing a show. I remember I almost didn't grab any Card Captor Sakura since the title sounded like some Pokemon clone and then being blown away by the actual show. Being able to see old classics like Rose of Versaille and Legend of Galactic Heroes was very nice as well.

My thing is that it is certainly illegal and you're kidding yourself if you think otherwise. As far as personal morals go, I certainly respect Chris's (owner of AoDVD) phrase that "anime is not a right". I don't think it is my special right to see anime that hasn't been licensed yet. However, I do think it can be a positive thing in moderation. My method was mostly to not download an entire series, and to try not to watch the stuff too many times. That'd give me a preview, similar to borrowing from a friend (which I've also done), which would encourage me to buy the whole thing later on if I liked it. I'm not one of those strong souls that has the commitment to buy every title they watched, even if they didn't like it, but I don't feel too too bad on that count. I figure I will spend what I can afford and put it toward what shows I will actually enjoy...

Now, fansubs lately have been more troublesome in that a lot of people are really taking it as free content and their right to have, as well as groups continuing to release series even after they are licensed. I think that is going to lead to more crackdowns in the future, which isn't necessarily a bad thing, since so much anime is automatically coming out these days anyway (especially with US companies starting to joint-fund series in Japan).

In that way, I think the scanslations have more in the way of a high ground, in that the sheer amount of titles in manga are so vast, as well as so many titles out there that are less commercially viable. Unfortunately, many groups concentrate on big name Weekly Jump titles that will surely be licensed anyway, but there are still some groups out there concentrating on more obscure and older fare.

However, I think it is important to emphasize that there is another alternative that is even better in a moral sense. Groups have released text "scripts" that translate only the dialogue in manga. In that way, you can buy the actual Japanese edition and refer to the translation. Obviously, that is kind of a pain, but you are supporting the creators and frequently you are getting a good deal, since manga is so much cheaper in Japan than it is in the US. I haven't gone the step of buying any Japanese titles as of yet, but I may give it a shot eventually.

In fact, the series that I almost did that with is Yokohama Kaidashi Kokou, of which you can read here if you should so desire. This is probably my favorite comic of all time (and the original OVA is wonderful as well), edging out Nausicaa. The only thing stopping me at the moment from getting the Japanese volumes is that it seems the climate has changed so much lately that this might actually get licensed. For instance, flipping through ARIA the other day, it seems to have a somewhat similar tone of calm daily life in a setting somewhat different from our own. Kino's Journey is an anime that sounds superficially similar as well. But YKK is also exactly the kind of series that wouldn't have had any attention in the past, and could use the exposure of a translation, IMO. Hopefully it'll become irrelevant pretty soon.

The fact is that one of the biggest reasons why I don't download anime and manga anymore is that I've bought so much official US releases that I have a backlog. Why should I go through the time and trouble of downloading big files of lesser quality when I haven't even finished watching/reading what I already own? :)

In finishing, as much as I hate encouraging someone to do an illegal act, Yokohama KK is seriously a magical series. The wistful melacholy, quiet contemplation, the beauty of nature and ruins of civilization... It just connects with me on so many levels. The story in which Alpha goes into the countryside to take some pictures (which was one of the stories also animated in the OVA) is one that I think will stick with me for the rest of my life, as it felt so much like some things I've experienced myself. This is one of those series you'll probably either love or be incredibly bored by. No big action sequences here...

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