As the character of Dr. Ian Malcolm says in the film Jurassic Park, life finds a way.
Scanlation is a fun portmanteau of scanning and translation. I love English. I love how it just invents any word it needs. Scanlation involves scanning the original Manga into digital format, having the Japanese text scrubbed or ‘cleaned’ from the pages, having the original text translated and then re-lettered onto the digital pages.
As a translator I find this to be fascinating stuff, because of two things: The ‘hive mind’ aspect where a bunch of folks who may or may not be expert in the Japanese language collect via the Internet in order to collaboratively perform a translation; and the fact that this sort of translation work is, in fact, very difficult because you’re not only working with a difficult language, but you have to fit your translations into the existing space in an aesthetically-pleasing way.
Why Is Scanlation So Popular?
There are many motivating factors for Scanlations. As mentioned, it’s a very, very slow process for Manga to be officially translated, and fans simply don’t want to wait months or years for the next issue of an exciting series to make its way to the U.S.
The official translations are also usually deemed inferior, firstly because they employ what’s called ‘localization’ – changing puns and references to things the foreign market will understand, which many fans think harms the quality of the stories; and because the translated versions are often physically altered to accommodate English-speaking readers. The pages are flipped horizontally, for example, so that English readers can read them left-to-right instead of right-to-left as native Japanese do.
The other motivating factor is that many of the Manga that have very adult or even erotic themes are not translated at all, because they are perceived as not welcome in American markets. This leaves the Scanlation Community no choice but to do the work themselves.
Scanlation is fascinating, and is starting to get some mainstream attention. JManga Inc., which distributes digital manga comics on the Internet, has announced a Manga Translation Battle, a contest involving translating Japanese Manga to English. The contest involves translating a sample chapter from one of three titles: Tomonori Inoue's ‘Coppelion,’ Nana Haruta's ‘Chocolate Cosmos’ and Akira Saso's ‘Shindo.’
While some in the Scanlation Community find this contest to be underwhelming, the fact that it exists at all tells me that scanlation is breaking into the mainstream.
For me, that’s exciting, since scanlation is basically amateur translation work. I wish I’d had access to a vibrant community of people interested in translating works from other languages when I was younger.