Artists’ Permission to Translate: Is it So Elusive?

Given the illicit nature of scanlation, most scanlators assume asking permission to translate an artist’s manga is a futile exercise in rejection. This reality is perhaps true for manga from large publishers. However, beyond the realm of commercialized manga, many mangaka independently release their work for people to read for free on Pixiv and Twitter.  For scanlators working for the love of the art, these comics offer them a chance to experience scanlation at its purest: bolstering an artist’s popularity outside of Japan without the “gray area” baggage.

TheElusiveTaco is one of those scanlators who has worked with an author’s blessing. As part of our ongoing Scanlation Speaks series, TheElusiveTaco took the time to talk to us about the ethics of scanlation and more.

Tadanonatsu manga translated by TheElusiveTaco

“Remember that the artist is just another person, and most of them would be happy to have more people reading their work.”

Manga Planet: So to start off, can you introduce who you are and your involvement in scanlations?

TheElusiveTaco: I go by TheElusiveTaco on Reddit, where I’m most active on /r/manga. I’ve been involved in scanlation since 2014, where I started as a typesetter with Village Idiot Scans. I continued to do typesetting up until around the fall of 2016, which is when I left to study Japanese in Japan. I began translating around the summer of 2017 and have been doing that for a few groups here and there, as well as working on solo projects until now.

Manga Planet: You mentioned in your survey response that you work with the artist’s blessings. From what we have gathered with conversations with other scanlators, they tend not to work with a blessing. Could you speak about how you started contacting artists and what made you decide to work with permission?

TheElusiveTaco: So most of my solo projects are done with the artist’s blessing, whereas projects with scanlation groups are without such a blessing (as most are). Around six months ago, I saw a post on /r/anime_irl of a cute comic from an artist known as ただのナツ (Tadanonatsu), and I wanted to see more. Looking at their Pixiv I saw that there were many other untranslated comics, so I decided to try translating one of them. This was my first entirely solo project and it was well-received when I posted it on Reddit. I decided that I wanted to do more of these comics.

I saw that Tadanonatsu was active on Twitter and had their DMs open, and I suppose I felt a certain obligation (?) to at least try and ask them. It seemed like the right thing to do before continuing to translate and edit their comics.

Luckily for me, they said that it was fine to continue to translate/edit and away I went!

From there, the amount of time I spend on the Japanese side of Twitter has increased exponentially and I’m constantly finding cute comics from new authors and messaging them to ask if I can translate them.

Manga Planet: Wow that is amazing. I think I remember actually seeing that comic! How do artists respond when you message them?

TheElusiveTaco: I’m happy to hear that! I have yet to have an artist turn me down, and their responses are simply that they’re happy to see that I’m interested and saying I can do as I please as long they’re credited in some form, and as long as I’m not receiving monetary compensation.

Manga Planet: Would you say it is fairly uncommon for a scanlation group to contact artists?

TheElusiveTaco: Hmm, rather than uncommon, I feel that there is little basis to do so. For most scanlation groups, they are working on series that are officially licensed in Japan, and as such cost money in Japan. So for some group on the internet to, for example, approach the artist or their publisher directly, there is simply nothing to be gained other than a request to not scanlate the series (or perhaps even a cease and desist order, though these seem to be reserved for actual manga hosting/aggregator websites, such as what used to be Batoto). The reason being that the scanlation is then posted online for free.

As far as 個人的漫画 (personal comics, like the ones posted on Twitter which are not serialized), I have not seen a whole lot of these translations yet. Although a great one that comes to mind is The Feelings of a Girl with Sanpaku Eyes being done by a user named Rotoscopic, who asked the artist for their permission (and may even get to have a hand in an official English version, which is something I dream of being a part of).

Manga Planet: Would you like to work professionally as a manga translator?

TheElusiveTaco: Yes. I have done a project with a localization company in which I did typesetting, however translating professionally is definitely something I aspire to. I have even had thoughts of starting my own translation/publishing company, however, that will have to wait until I am more proficient in Japanese haha.

Manga Planet: Could you talk about your experience with that company?

TheElusiveTaco: They were straightforward and easy to work with. Expectations were laid out at the beginning and any questions were easily answered. I would gladly work with them again.

Manga Planet: Thank you! This is a broad question, but what do you think about the relationship between scanlation and the manga industry?

TheElusiveTaco: Hmm, that’s a tough one. As I mentioned previously when it comes to manga aggregators, the relationship is more than a little rocky. With somewhere like what was formerly Batoto, they complied with any DMCA requests on series, and as such, it seems to me that they had an okay relationship as a result. However, Batoto was in the extreme minority of sites that did this (in fact they are the only one that I am aware of). Most aggregators are hosted in countries where DMCA laws are different, or they simply ignore them.

As far as the relationship between scanlation groups themselves and the manga industry, the only situation that I can recall in which a group was asked to stop translating a series was with a Korean webcomic called Orange Marmalade (not a manga specifically but still applicable). So I can’t really comment on that.

I haven’t really delved too deeply, but what I have read from official English localization companies (and some Japanese companies), there seems to be a consensus that scanlation is piracy and a drain on the industry.

Manga Planet: The view that scanlation hurts the industry appears to be the general stance among publishers. Do you believe scanlation is ethical? Or can be ethical?

TheElusiveTaco: This is based on what my understanding currently, and I’m not certain if I know enough to comment on it. As far as I understand, scanlation is -at a base level- illegal. There are no two ways about it, scanning physical manga, or ripping the files from online sites is a violation of the publisher’s copyright and as such is illegal.

That said, I believe that most scanlation groups (at least the ones I’ve been a part of) do follow one single rule: if a series is officially licensed in English, discontinue all scanlation work. There are of course groups that do not do so, however they seem to be in the minority.

Furthermore, the groups that do follow that rule also are not scanlating to make money, though the aforementioned groups that do not follow that rule are often also profiting off scanlation.

Overall, I think scanlation is a plus. It allows many titles to see a far wider audience then they would have otherwise- which isn’t to disparage English publishers, there’s no way they can keep up with all the titles released in Japan. Scanlation fills that gap.
Also, I think I can speak for a significant amount of scanlators when I say that they do what do they out of love for a series. At least that’s how it is for me; a simple thought that “I want more people to see this”.

To sum up, I suppose I think that it is somewhat ethical as long you are not scanlating a series that has an official English localization readily available to the main English market, and as long you do not profit off the scanlations you produce.

Manga Planet: Is there anything you believe publishers can learn from scanlators?

TheElusiveTaco: Having a modern, easily accessible (which includes being mobile-friendly and possibly including the ability to download for offline viewing) method of reading what you publish is vital.  The Japanese sites that I use have this down quite well. However, as I said, I don’t use these services so I’m not sure what the state of them is.

Manga Planet: Thank you for commenting on this! Going back to an artists blessing, do you have advice or tips for translators or groups that want to contact an artist to ask permission?

TheElusiveTaco: If it’s a non-serialized series or comic, I say go for it. The worst they can do is say no. Just be polite (i.e. use keigo), be honest in explaining your intentions and be open to answering any questions they might have regarding the process. Remember that the artist is just another person, and most of them would be happy to have more people reading their work.

Do you want to find out how scanlators can turn pro? Our sister website futekiya talks with Local Manga, a manga localization company that hires former scanlators. Also, are you a scanlator, reader, or artist and want to talk to us? Be sure to fill out our survey and we will be in touch! 

After School Vol. 2 cover by Yasunori Kasuga and Umiharu

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