History of Scanlation
|Fandom:||Manga, Manhwa, Manhua|
|Dates:||1970s - present|
|See also:||Scanlation, Scanlation Process, Scanlation Ethics|
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Scanlation dates back to at least the 1970s, but the modern scanlation scene didn't arise until the mid to late 90s. Inside Scanlation divides the history of scanlation thus far into three periods: The classic era, the golden age, and the "new world". These roughly correspond to the 1970s through 2003, 2003-2007, and 2007 to the present. They characterize these three periods as follows:
- 1970s-1990s: The scanlation community is centered around a few large groups. Early groups distribute offline. Later groups are organized through IRC or usenet.
- Mid 2000s: The community is centered around release announcing sites that track many groups.
- 2007-present: Groups "speedscan" popular titles and distribute through aggregation and online reading sites.
Scanlation of manhwa and manhua into English has tended to be a part of the same communities and traditions as the "scanlation community" Inside Scanlation describes. Scanlation of East Asian comics into languages other than English has sometimes followed the same trajectory, especially when translators are working from English scanlations or are sharing raws with English-speaking scanlators. Events in US manga fandom and in the US publishing industry have a disproportionately large effect on the scanlation community, and the timelines below reflect that.
In addition to the "scanlation community" described by the time periods above, there are, of course, many other traditions of fannish translation, including fannish translation of manga, that have arisen independently. A notable example are the From Eroica with Love translations that circulated in media fandom in zine form.
- 1977 - "Dadakai" (a four-man group including Frederik Schodt) translates Tezuka Osamu's Phoenix. This translation has the author's informal approval and is later incorporated in the official release.
- mid-1980s - Lily Fulford worked with other fans on early fan-produced, unauthorized translations (produced as photocopies, without scanning) of the first 15 issues of the From Eroica With Love manga before scanlations were commonly understood in media fandom. These translations were copyed/pasted into new English zines.
- 1989 - There is a usenet group for Ranma 1/2 translations.
Not much is going on. A few big projects exist, but there isn't much unified community. Pure text translations are common, especially from one-person teams. Scanlations are mostly crude MS Paint efforts. Many people host their work on Geocities or Angelfire and add their sites to webrings.
- 1992 - There are translation projects on usenet groups like rec.arts.manga and alt.manga. The works of Rumiko Takahashi are especially popular.
- 1996-1997 - Translation projects exist for series like Ranma 1/2, KOR, Dragon Ball, InuYasha, X, and Magic Knight Rayearth.
- 1998 - The IRC channel #mangascans is created.
Collectively, the scanlation community releases about 15-20 chapters of scanlated manga a day.  Large groups with many members releasing chapters from a dozen projects on a consistent release schedule form. One-person groups become less common. Most groups know each other; many share staff. Rivalries tend to be over quality rather than speed, and major conflicts are usually over ethics (dropping series, scanning series other groups are already working on, etc.) In an effort to differentiate themselves and to avoid overlap, groups begin to have a distinct focus, usually mainstream shounen, shoujo, or more mature, highbrow series. Distribution and communication happen via IRC. Some groups begin distributing via BitTorrent. Many scanlators go on to work in the pro industry.
- 2000 - Mangascans, the "first modern scanlation group" is formed.
- 2001 - FuguTabetai writes GMAO (Great Manga Application Onidzuka).
- 2000-2001 - Other early groups like MangaScreener, Toriyama's World, SnoopyCool, Studio Robb, MangaTranslation (run by FuguTabetai), and Suou Jima (aka Random Manga Translations) are founded.
- 2001-2002 - Members from the first generation of groups and formerly groupless scanlators form many new groups, including ShoujoMagic, Manga-Daisuki, Manga-Sketchbook, Storm in Heaven, and Project Omanga.
- 2002 - Many people from Mangascans form MangaProject. They focus on quality: buying manga themselves to ensure consistent scans, enforcing a house style, proofreading, etc.
- 2002 - Manga-Sketchbook and other groups based in Europe begin scanning manga released in the US. The Furry Triangles (rumored to be an offshoot of MangaProject) continues scanning titles that have been dropped after being licensed. These groups are highly controversial among other scanlation groups of the time.
- 2002 - Readers find scanlations through directory sites like Noated and Majstorsky Comics.
- 2002 - Korean Manhwa Translations (KMTS) is founded.
The manga boom in the US creates a massive influx of new manga fans. Many new scanlation groups form, often starting with projects already being scanned by established groups, especially bestselling Shounen Jump titles. As many as 50 scanlated chapters a day are released, about half of them shounen. The scanlation community begins to be organized around new aggregation/database sites like DailyManga and Manga Jouhou.
New groups tend to be smaller and work on only two or three series at a time. They frequently focus on speed rather than quality. Typical ethics in the scanlation community shift radically. At the same time, the large number of groups and leads to scanlations of many niche genres such as yaoi and doujinshi. Some groups focus on art books, light novels, visual novels, and other related materials. Many groups begin to scanlate comics from outside of Japan, particularly manhwa.
- 2005 - Baka-Updates starts a manga section. Manga Jouhou begins reporting on manga industry news in addition to scanlation releases.
- 2005 - Online guides to scanlation technique become common.
- 2005 - MangaHelpers is founded.
- 2006 - Shoujo Manga Maniac, an early, notable shoujo speedscan group, is formed.
- 2006 - MangaUpdates gets its own domain name. It slowly takes over from Manga Jouhou and Daily Manga as the primary release tracking site.
- 2006 - OneManga is founded.
- 2007 - Freelance-Manga staff contact Viz to complain about the InuYasha localization. Major complaints include the flipping of pages, lack of honorifics, removal of profanity, and inconsistencies in the translation.
By 2009, the scanlation community is releasing as many as 100 chapters of scanlated manga per day, 70-75% of them shounen. Many small groups focus on the same few contemporary Shounen Jump series, especially Naruto, One Piece, and Bleach. New groups, including many single-person teams, form constantly, usually without mentoring or influence from older, established groups.
Raws, especially raws of new Shounen Jump chapters, are increasingly easy to find. Sites like MangaHelpers allow people to offer up parts of a scanlation project (raws, scripts, cleaned images) for other scanlators to complete, decentralizing the scanlation process and taking the focus away from traditional scanlation groups. Scanlation releases and activity on Fridays and weekends skyrocket.
High profile direct download and online reading sites supplant IRC as the main form of distribution, particularly for speedscan groups of mainstream shounen. At the same time, many shoujo and yaoi scanlation groups communicate, organize, and distribute through sites like Livejournal or require readers to sign up for their forums. Groups with a more traditional focus (like older shounen or seinen titles) often remain on IRC.Members of the older generations of groups are mostly in their late 20s or early 30s and leave the scene, taking their view of ethics with them; many of their groups cease operation. Scanlation of licensed series increases dramatically. Inside Scanlation describes the change:
- With such large-scale rejection of the old code against scanlating licensed series, the purpose of scanlation also shifted from "introducing people to obscure manga" to "scanlating to read licensed and unlicensed manga for free." By 2008, scanlation was mostly associated with getting free manga online.
Newer shounen groups like Binktopia, Red Hawk Scanlations, Japflap, Franky House, SleepyFans, and Hueco Mundo produce competing speedscans of the same Jump titles. Major shoujo groups like ShoujoMagic shut down and newer ones like Aerandria and Antebellum Scanlations replace them.
By 2008, online reading sites like OneManga, Manga Fox, and MangaToshokan explode in popularity. Direct download sites like MangaHelpers and MangaShare also begin offering online reading. These sites usually host lower quality versions of files than scanlators might make available on IRC or their own websites. They also often only archive one version of a chapter (usually the first one uploaded). In addition, many readers who get into scanlations during this period are much more aware of these sites than of individual scanlation groups. This makes the sites ideal for many speedscanners but bad for a lot of traditional groups.
Crackdown on Online Reading Sites
In mid 2010, a major crackdown on scanlation aggregation and online reading sites is underway led by a coalition of US and Japanese publishers. Many sites such as OneManga and Manga Fox are closing, removing all of their scanlations, or attempting to reposition themselves.
This is a major blow to most readers who got into scanlations in the late 2000s. Many fans are reacting to the closures as though they signal the end of all scanlations. Readers who are familiar with earlier eras of the scanlation community or who mainly follow alternative types of scanlation groups (those that still operate on IRC or distribute via Livejournal, for example) are less affected.
Some fans are worried, seeing this as the first step towards the closing of database or release-tracking sites such as MangaUpdates that have not yet been contacted by publishers. Others see this as a call for the scanlation community to self police and return to its earlier stance on licensed series. Fans outside of the US who rely on English language scanlations but who do not have access to commercial US releases have been particularly vocal about their disappointment.
It is widely speculated that this crackdown may drive scanlators underground--back to IRC or to locked forums and livejournal communities.
Another Attempt at Legal Scanlation
In late 2010, Digital Manga Publishing began to gather participants for its Digital Manga Guild, an attempt to use scanlators to produce licensed, legal digital manga.
Inside Scanlation covers the history of the scanlation movement in great detail. This wiki article is heavily indebted to their research.
- Inside Scanlation, "The Land Before Time"; accessed July 28th, 2010.
- see Talk:History of Scanlation
- Matthew Thorn. Girls And Women Getting Out Of Hand: The Pleasure And Politics Of Japan's Amateur Comics Community, 2004. (Accessed 29 July 2010)
- Inside Scanlation, "Rise of the Release Trackers"; accessed July 29, 2010.
- Inside Scanlation, "The First Modern Scanlation Group"; accessed July 28th, 2010. "The first modern scanlation group, Mangascans, was formed by darkshard in April 2000 at mangascans.cjb.net."
- Inside Scanlation, "Generation Jump"; accessed July 29, 2010.
- Inside Scanlation, "Entry into the Mainstream"; accessed July 29, 2010. Inside Scanlation provides a good summary of the feelings of the older scanlation groups on this cultural shift: "The community's spirit of 'scanlating to spread the love of manga' was slowly shifting to 'scanlating to get free manga.'"
- From a copy of Freelance-Manga's letter; accessed July 29, 2010. Link courtesy of Inside Scanlation.
- Inside Scanlation, "Generation Jump"; accessed July 29, 2010.
- Inside Scanlation, "The 'Raw' and 'Speed' Movement"; accessed July 30, 2010. Inside Scanlation describes the effect: "MangaHelpers became one of the main sites enabling and supporting the excessive scanlation of Shounen Jump manga by the many groups that arose with the help of the site's large community of raw providers, translators, and editors. The site's popularity has resulted in Friday becoming the most important release day of the week for scanlation. The race to scanlate Shounen Jump manga the fastest has resulted in skyrocketing release numbers on the weekends." Shounen Jump officially comes out on Mondays, so large bookstores and people with subscriptions often get it a couple of days early. Add in the 12 hour time difference between Japan and the US, and this means that the earliest scans are generally available Friday night in the US.
- Inside Scanlation, "The 'Raw' and 'Speed' Movement"; accessed July 30, 2010.
- Publishers Weekly, "Japanese, U.S. Manga Publishers Unite To Fight Scanlations"; accessed July 30, 2010.
- Wall Street Journal Blog, "Japan to U.S.: Stop Manga Piracy!"; accessed July 30, 2010.