Thursday, July 22, 2010

War Against Scanlations: The Aftermath

It’s the end of an era you could say. Today is the first day in the countdown to the end of Visit the website and you’ll get a message regarding the site removing its scans starting next week. Expect Jump titles to be the first to go, and what remains (if anything) to be a shriveled husk that barely resembles the former site. It’s the major victory that manga companies were looking for when they announced they would team up to shut down scanlation hosting websites. I’ve been relatively quiet, at least publicly, regarding my feelings on the topic, but I figure people might be curious, or hell maybe I just want to rant.

The “War Against Scanlations” as I’ve dubbed this event can be called a success if you want. The two biggest sites, MangaFox and OneManga are shutting down and removing their big name titles. OneManga seems to suggest that it will be removing most if not all titles, and MangaFox is only good for your obscure shojo romance titles. You know, stuff no one reads anyway.

I jest, but this was the intended goal of this manga coalition. They wanted to shut down OneManga and MangaFox specifically, and they’ve now succeeded. A slew of manga sites are still up, but none of them have the library and popularity of OneManga, so Mission Accomplished right? I don’t know if you can really call this a success. In fact I don’t really know what a victory for the manga companies really is. What they’ve done is essentially remove the ease of getting manga for free online, but only temporarily, and only in the most obvious way. I can still think of about five different sites that I could visit for manga, and I’m positive there are a dozen others out there. Granted they won’t have the same library as OneManga and MangaFox, or the same ease of navigation, but I can visit them for most of the same stuff. In addition if I really need my fix I can still always visit the scanlation websites themselves. To my knowledge the scanlators themselves haven’t been targeting meaning you can always directly download the newest chapters right from the source.

But we all know this don’t we? Napster was shut down but that didn’t stop music pirating. Do any of us really believe that we won’t be able to get manga on the internet any more? No. This is the internet, and getting stuff for free is a way of life here. So is it still Mission Accomplished? Is shutting down One Manga an accomplishment when five or six other sites lie in wait to become the new premiere site for reading manga? Yes and no.

On one hand this is victory in name only. In the end unless this increases the sales of English manga then you can’t say you “won” anything. You take down the big name manga site and people will be confused. Make things harder to find, and some of the lazier people will stop trying, but not trying and buying English manga are two very different things. In the end the thing that matters the most is sales, and whether or not this does anything.

Let me come out and say that yes I read scanlated manga, as though it weren’t obvious. I love reading series online, but that doesn’t mean I only see manga as a free source. I support the official release, and when I say I support it I do. I own 26 volumes of One Piece, around 20 volumes of Bleach, 5 volumes of Air Gear, 12 volumes of Beet, 13 volumes of GetBackers, the entire Deathnote series, the first few volumes of 20th Century Boys and Pluto, and other assorted volumes of a wide range of series. I’m also friends with another manga reader who owns hundreds of manga that collectively total into the thousands who shares his manga with me. I don’t read manga and not support the source. That’s a very horrid thing to do, but you might notice my collection is incomplete. I have 26 volumes of One Piece, but the American release is well into the 50s (I want to say 54 but I might be wrong). 54 volumes? I’m barely half way there, but I’m slowly adding more to my collection. I say slowly because manga is an expensive hobby to have. A very expensive hobby.

Four years ago manga was cheaper to buy, and came out slower. A Shonen Jump title cost about $8 a volume and came out every three or so months. Now volumes come out about every month or so and cost $10 a piece. I won’t complain about manga coming out faster because now it makes following the English release an actual viable option at least for popular Jump titles, but the price increase hits hard. I don’t want to bore you all with math, but I want to emphasis just how expensive this is as a hobby. Let’s say One Piece is at 54 volumes. That’s 28 additional volumes I need to purchase at $10 a pop, so $280 before taxes. Now One Piece isn’t the only Jump series I follow, and ideally I’d love to own the entire Eyeshield 21 series as well. Currently there are 33 volumes of the series out, and four more to come before the series closes, so that’s another $330, so with two Jump series that’s about $610. I also want to catch up on 20th Century Boys and Pluto. Now there are 11 volumes of 20th Century Boys out and 8 volumes of Pluto. A volume of each of those series costs about $13, so that’s about $273. So for those four series I would be looking at $883 or about $936 after taxes. That’s to catch up just on the series I’ve already read and want to support. I honestly don’t know if I make that much disposable income in a year, so you can see the problem.

In addition that’s only if I purchase those series. I’ve already read 20th Century Boys, Pluto, and Eyeshield 21 thanks to OneManga, and I’m caught up with One Piece. What if I wanted to try a new series? Manga, like all mediums, should be about expanding your horizons, but I’ve already established that manga is a very expensive hobby. How often is someone really going to be willing to spend $30 or $40 dollars to see if they’ll enjoy a manga? See, it’s often impossible to judge the quality of a manga just by its first volume, and often many manga require twenty or thirty chapters before they really sell you on the plot. Heck, most manga make it about twenty chapters before they’re canceled, so there’s always the risk in buying into a series that will just get canceled before you know it. What I’m trying to say is that the smaller series are really going to be hurt here. Back when I only read manga in their English release I purchased Flame of Recca as I wanted to try something new. I purchased eight volumes of the series before I recognized it for the no-thrills, wasted potential, crap-shack of a plot that it was. I kept having hope that it would get better, and it didn’t. I spent $80 on the series, and that was when I was a teenager so almost all of my income was disposable. Now I’m in my early twenties working a job to pay my rent and take care of my mother, and spending hundreds on a series I may not enjoy is just not a risk I’m willing to take.

Now I’m not complaining about having to buy manga. That’s a fact of life, and it’s not the only expensive hobby out there. In addition no one is saying I have to buy those manga all at once, and spreading those series over years can make the total go down drastically. After all, it’s a collectible just like many other medium. However my problem lies in the smaller series. The fact of the matter is, that these series are just too expensive to risk, and there’s no way to really curb that beyond having a friend buy it first assuming they’re in a better financial situation. I can’t wait six months to buy this manga used, or wait til it comes out on DVD to rent it for a buck. A manga is about $10 today, and it’ll be about $10 four years from now… maybe more considering how the economy goes.

Now I have a ton of series I would love to purchase if they see an American release like Liar Game, Steel Ball Run, Break Blade, Zippy Ziggy, and Beezlebub, but I only know I enjoy those series because I’ve read a good majority of them through scanlation sites. In addition even though the big name manga sites are gone, is there any doubt in your mind that by next Saturday you’ll be able to find the newest editions of One Piece, Naruto, and Bleach? The big series will never disappear. There are entire communities built around those titles, so it’s impossible to think they can ever be lost. However the smaller series without established fanbases? Those are the ones people will stop reading. Those are the ones that’ll be forgotten, and that really sucks.

I’m not complaining because I hate spending money. I can find reviews, or take a risk on a new manga if I really want to, but in the end the series that really suffer from this are those small series. People won’t take a risk on them, and now some of the best series out there will be completely ignored. Many might never see a conclusion in their English release. Heck, Zatch Bell was only a volume or so away from completion before the company pulled the plug on the series, so without finding and reading the scans online how would anyone finish the series? Or what about a series like Double Arts? It was a Shonen Jump title that got canceled after 21 chapters. There’s not a snowball’s chance in hell that it’ll ever see an English release, so what happens to a story like that? And what about the American Shonen Jump? In Japan a series gets exposure in Jump so that its popularity can be established. American Jump doesn’t feature any chapters of Toriko or Bakuman, so what about them? They have to solely rely on fans who already know about the series.

I worry about the medium. Manga is a great medium and some of my favorite stories ever are told in it. This “War Against Scanlations” will ultimately hut the medium if nothing is done. Now I’m not an idiot. I understand 100% that these companies are losing money because of scanlations, and they have every right to want people to purchase their stuff. I agree with this. That’s why I support the manga I really love. However I fear for the medium. There are hundreds upon hundreds of manga series out there all ranging the spectrum from good to bad, but manga doesn’t have the same support that other mediums have. It’s a lot easier to pick out a potentially great movie or video game than it is to pick a hidden gem of a manga. And that’s if said manga even gets translated.

However I want to play the role of the optimist. I want to say that in the end our community will thrive and become stronger than ever. Maybe more companies will be put forward to review series and volumes. Maybe an entire new system will be implemented to help give previews to smaller series. Maybe companies will start to use cheaper paper or find new ways to cut the price of manga. Maybe manga publishers will utilize a method of viewing translated versions of the most recent Japanese chapters on their websites, or a way to digitally distribute manga that can help curb the expensive cost of producing physical volumes. Maybe, just maybe this will all be for the better, and if so I hope I can be a part of it, because I don’t think I could stand watching the manga industry fail.


  1. I was just absolutely stuned to see that one manga was done. Like you said the smaller series will be seriously fucked in the american/european market. I will always be following a series like Berserk because, let´s face it, it´s just one of the best manga series out there but especially superb underground series will never have a real chance to get a foothold in the market with this situation.

  2. Smaller series don't get a foothold in the market through sites like One Manga regardless. They're too fringe to be published here, and the folks that would have already read the volumes, so what % actually double dips? I doubt it's a high number.

    I think in general the scanlation sites were asking for it. They had started to treat content other people own as if they owned it free and clear, and had started trying to make money off stuff they really had no right to in the first place.