Last month, there was both good and bad news for manga fans. Just as a new site aimed at fostering crosscultural connections between manga fans launched, Japan’s Digital Comic Association declared war on foreign sites that offer downloads of unlicensed translations of manga, commonly called scanlations.
In the past, scanlation sites acted as gateways into the otherwise inaccessible universe of Japanese comic book culture. These days, with Japanese publishers, which include big names such as Kodansha and Shogakukan, putting out more translated versions, the scanlators are viewed as drains on potential revenue.
So far, the Digital Comic Association hasn’t pursued any legal action, but if they do, sites such as MangaFox and OneManga, who offer pirated translations, are likely to be among the first to be targeted by the association. Though publishers are well within their rights to crack down on these unauthorized versions, consider this: Fan translators are, by default, serious otaku and thereby more likely to explain Japanese customs in footnotes rather than adapt their versions to suit foreign audiences. Will manga lovers accustomed to learning about Japan straight from the source be willing to switch to a localized product?
Meanwhile, Magajin, an international website for manga enthusiasts, recently opened its doors to the world. The site, which has a multilingual interface and allows budding manga artists to collaborate across national borders, actually encourages scanlation of work uploaded to its site as a means for new artists to reach a wider audience. “At Magajin,” reads the site’s press release, “scanlators are not an enemy of manga artists, but rather they can help out the community, and truly contribute to yet to come great works in Japan.”
Founded by manga enthusiast Akiko Naka, the site allows users to help each other out with translations as well as being a kind of interactive gallery in which users can comment on each other’s work.
It’s yet to be seen whether Japan’s manga publishers will be able to successfully wipe out scanlation copyright infringement. For the time being, at least Magajin will be a welcome outlet for frustrated fans; publishers looking for new talent would also be wise to keep their eyes on this new testing ground.