I think I’ve discovered why I scanlate.
People who leave nice comments on this blog often thank me for my tireless efforts in promoting the titles that I scanlate here. Building an audience with the hope of them eventually being licensed. Providing a service for people who will never be able to read the original themselves.
(warning: massive, terrifying rant ahead)
Oops. If any of those things ever happened, they were happy accidents. Those things have never been my goal. If they were, I could do a lot better than what I’m doing. I’d be petitioning publishers, sending printed versions of our scanlations out to them and anyone with actual clout. I would send Junji Ito to filmmakers. I would send A FALSIFIED ROMANCE to anyone who has ever had to teach Dostoyevsky. And I would do it all anonymously.
But I’ve never done any of that. No, the reason I keep doing this is pretty much the most selfish one possible.
I do it because I’m a failing creative person, and translating manga is almost creative.
Translating manga is 99% taking dialogue from another language and rendering it into English. Sometimes there is a one-to-one answer for how to translate a line of dialogue, that a machine could find. Most of the time, there isn’t. There’s a lot of wiggle room to think about how to express something in English that wasn’t originally in English. It’s very similar to the process of writing dialogue for an original creative work, but you’re given such strict parameters that I can’t call it creative. It’s almost creative.
For people who are almost creative, scanlating is a lot of fun. These are many people who write, or would like to write. People who are almost writing. Scanlating scratches this itch, and gives us a sense of ownership on a manga title without having to draw a single line. We’ll go above and beyond, trying to make a line of dialogue the best it can be. Sometimes we’ll go too far and totally out of bounds, trying to “improve” a line of dialogue by putting in stuff that wasn’t there. Sure no-one pays you, but you get to do it however the fuck you want.
Japanese is a more ritualised language than English. Sometimes where English will vary the words in a sentence, you can get that same variation in Japanese by changing intonation, timing or any number of other things. Baka literally means ‘idiot’, or ‘stupid’ in English. But while it’s perfectly normal for a Japanese adult to throw that word around a lot, if you have a character do that in English they will sound like a child. If they’re not supposed to sound like a child in the original, then you’ve gotta mix it up a little. You’ve gotta change it to keep it the same.
I don’t always get this right, but I do care about stuff like this. If a line sounds weird when said aloud, I won’t put it in. I would say that 99% of scanlations are full of lines like these, ‘clunkers’ that would make you choke on your popcorn if you heard them in a movie. Moreso than the outright theft of their IP, I think creators would be outraged if they truly knew how the dialogue that they most likely put a lot of thought into was being turned into the most rote English possible. Out of love, of course. It amazes me how many people want to be translators who clearly have no interest in reading or writing in the language they are translating into. Which is all anyone will ever see.
Luckily, very few people give a fuck. Fans of Japanese visual culture have always been content to get ‘the jist’ of the dialogue and let the pictures tell the story. That’s why fans of western comics can reel off an alphabetised list of their favourite quotes from their favourite comics, while the only memorable lines that manga fans know tend to be ironically hilarious, or worse, in Japanese.
I can only imagine how much it must suck to be a professional translator and have so few people know or care that it’s an art as much as it is a science. And the few people who do know tend to care very deeply about excising the art from it completely, in the name of staying faithful to the original text, to the point where even localisation companies are caving into that attitude.
So I scanlate partly as a fuck you to that attitude, and partly because it lets me piggyback onto someone else’s creative work without having to do the real hard yards myself.
And it’s not just the translation bit, I’d be amiss in not mentioning the other fruits of the author’s labour that I’m appropriating. All the thanks and praise, like I wrote and drew the thing. The giddy feeling of releasing something and waiting to see how people will react, like I have any stake in it at all. If you google my name, I’m the first match. The next match is some guy with a Ph.D. In what? Who cares motherfucker, I scanlate comics!
I’d feel guilty, but no-one has ever tried to stop me. I might at some point have to stop myself.
I’d be interested to know why other scanlators or translators do what they do. Let me know in the comments section or on your own site if you have one, and I’ll link you.