So we left of last time talking about how I discovered manga and the scanlation groups of old(I write this as as much of a reminder for me as it is for you, my dear readers). I talked about the major mainstream manga that became popular and stuff like that. Today we’re going to get look a bit more closely at how the manga landscape was back then and how it slowly transformed into what it is now.
It is a truth universally known, that manga hadn’t become that popular outside of Japan until just a few years ago. There were no large conventions, or manga based events, outside of maybe the occasional gathering in some seedy looking basement to hold exchanges of physical copies of manga. There were a few manga which had been adapted into anime that were quite popular even outside of Japan, namely the big three of shounen, Bleach, Naruto and One piece. Some other manga, like Fruits Basket and To-Love Ru also became popular, but in lesser amounts than the big three. Predating these was the Dragon Ball, Pokemon and Sailor Moon craze of the 90s, which was how the west got an introduction to anime, even if it did not know what it was at the time.
Returning to talking about manga, most manga were translated by small scanlation groups. Scanlation groups themselves only started out as students and other people with relative amounts of free time trying their hand at translating certain raws of manga into english. Because of this, the only manga which had complete translations were the popular ones, and even those didn’t have proper translations.
Another feature you would see with these groups was that most groups had a certain theme to the manga that they translated. Some would only do supernatural, serious manga. Some would only do a certain type of comedy manga. Some would only translate the smutty kind of manga, and you could go one of these scanlation sites and see their catalogue to find similar manga to the ones you were reading.
If you look at scanlation groups nowadays, they’re much larger, hire professionally and have a huge repertoire of manga, of many different genres and themes, that they translate. Look at the list of manga that a group like LHTranslation or Kirei-Cake or Valhalla Scanlation does, and you’ll find all types of manga.
The benefit with these larger types of groups is that you get consistent translations and some sort of quality is guaranteed. Reaching out to them and asking about stuff is also a lot easier. The benefit with the smaller groups, at least for me, was that it was a much more personalized experience. The translator was just some guy in a university, who would scribble out his thoughts in the side columns, or explain stuff in vernacular, or translate very differently compared to a professional translator. The obvious demerit of this was that often times, manga lay dormant for years without new chapters.
I remember when I first ordered my first physical copy of manga, it was the first volume of Kekkaishi, and I opened it and read it. The experience was quite different from reading the chapters online, and honestly, I preferred the rougher language that the online translator used.
There was also an element of exploration, which fueled the curiosity within me, to find and read new manga by searching through archives and scanlator pages and dead websites. Looking at raws and trying to estimate when the next chapter might be released, trying to find out if a certain author or translator is still active or not. If you were an otaku even six years back, you would have had a much more proactive role in finding and reading manga.
Manga was also kind of a rare commodity. You wouldn’t find too many you liked online, and even the ones you found may not be fully translated or might be missing chapters, or be a light novel adaptation and you go on Baka-Tsuki and don’t find the light novel name. Abundance brings redundance, and with the amount of manga available now, the mind tires of thinking of reading so much. The same could be said of chinese novels, where before they were far and few between, with the introduction of the shitty Webnovel app and other websites, a lot of garbage has made it’s way through to the other side.
I still like the manga scene nowadays. Large groups take up projects on popular demand, and smaller groups take up projects on interest. A lot of manga releases are now consistent, and full official english versions are available, both digitally and physically, through the graces of the internet. There’s much more standardization and resources available out there for those who love manga like me, and the kingdom of manga is more prosperous than ever. There are still incomplete translations and poor quality translations, but now there are alternatives, options, choices, where before you would have been stuck with what you got.
One thing that is a bit tenuous nowadays are the official english versions. I’m all for supporting the authors, but sometimes, the official english translations are just a bit too weird for me. They’re either too stiff, or too concise, too perfect, it wouldn’t be how normal people talk. Since official translations represent the face of a company, they’re often stringent and stuck up, losing the fluidity and sometimes endearing dirtiness of unofficial translations. If you like a certain manga and find the official english translation not up to par with what you like, but still want to support the author, I would recommend reading the online stuff and just buying a digital japanese copy off of bookwalker.jp or amazon.jp.
I remember the days when the entire translated versions of light novels like Toradora were available on Baka-Tsuki. Light novels have it much better, since they’re a primarily text based medium, they have better translation via official channels, and since light novels are not nearly as popular as manga, they still have that exploratory aspect to it, but again, they’re become more and more abundant as their popularity rises and more and more of them get anime adaptations, and that means a lot of hot garbage will be flowing through with the good stuff as well.
Once again we bid our farewells my dear readers, my energy and the little bit of internet that was incidentally available today have started waning, so I shall take my leave. In the next episode of Musing on Manga, we shall see how exactly anime and manga have become such huge forces all over the world, what popular websites contributed to such growth, and how it actually affects our consumption habits.
Farewell for now my dear readers, we shall be meeting again sooner than you think.