Maybe Scanlators Just Gotta Scanlate

Lately I’ve been following a most insightful user on Twitter called otaku dog. A Japanese person running an otaku goods import service, otaku_dog has made his presence known on the internet through his desire to engage with the English-speaking anime fandom. While I have not tried out his “Otaku Personal Import Agency,” I have had a chance to have a few discussions with him via Twitter.

It was in one conversation that he talked about how he is not only a fan of anime and manga, but also American comics, particularly Neil Gaiman’s Sandman. He spoke of his desire to read more of it, but that the translation never finished and that in general translation projects of American comics tend to die down and never revive.

“American comics translating projects often do not continues to last….(;- -)”

I do not know if he meant official translations or fan ones. Regardless, it made me think about the scanlation and fansubbing community, and how for all of the negatives in those communities, from the egotism to the translations wrought with errors to the personality clashes and drama and millions of other problems fan translators can have and often do, things still get translated. It might be the most popular series which get the most attention, but we see translation groups occasionally gravitate towards  fairly obscure series, even if the motive is to garner attention and praise. This is a huge contrast to otaku dog’s description of the reverse and in a way it’s quite impressive.

One possible factor for this wide disparity might be the fact that Japanese comics generally have significantly less text than their American counterparts, particularly with someone like Neil Gaiman penning the work. This is related to the differences in storytelling through panels that emerged between the two countries, and even those from the Golden Age that were produced purely for the enjoyment of children and not today’s older audience tended to be densely packed with text, making translating American comics possibly more time-consuming.

The difference in text density between Japanese and American comics also makes me think about that old stereotypical moment from throughout the decades, where a parent takes a child’s comic book away because it isn’t “really reading,” and that pictures in books are a sign that it’s juvenile. If only those parents knew about the brevity of dialogue in manga…

(By the way, I’m well aware that the title of this post can be a bit misleading.)