Can Publishers Ever Catch up?

Although slowly, manga publishers are evolving to meet fans’ expectations. In 2012 and 2013, VIZ Media embarked on simultaneous English releases with first Weekly Shonen Jump Alpha and then Weekly Shonen Jump. International fans (in select countries including the USA, Philippines, India, and Singapore) can read One-Punch Man, My Hero Academia, and One Piece, and other series the same day as Japanese readers for $25.99. Yet, Weekly Shonen Jump still does not include all Jump titles, most notably Haikyu!!. Scanlations of Jump series have not slowed either, and in fact, sped up.

Weekly Shounen Jump English
Weekly Shounen Jump can be purchased on VIZ’s website.

Currently, MangaStream releases Weekly Shounen Jump scans days before the official English and Japanese releases. How MangaStream’s activities impacts sales of these series remain to be seen, though it does edge scanlation closer to the dark edges of the “gray.”

Haikyu!!: The Gray Zone in a Gray Zone?

While VIZ publishes up-to-date chapters of several Jump titles scanlated by MangaStream, Haikyu!! occupies a hazy area within the scanlation gray zone. Haikyu!! is a series officially licensed but not up to date. Since July 2016, VIZ has published Haikyu!! volumes at a rate of one a month and is currently at chapter 235. Fans in specific countries can also read the latest translated chapter for free on VIZ’s website. From a fan’s perspective, VIZ is behind with MangaStream posting chapter 315 on August 25, 2018.

Haikyu!! On Weekly Shounen Jump
VIZ releases officially translated English Haikyu!! for a limited time.

What are the implications of a “slow” English release and how does it impact a global fandom?

As part of our series on scanlation, we spoke with VikingHedgehog, a moderator of r/haikyuu. In response to a Reddit discussion on our Ryoko Nicole interview, VikingHedgehog posted an answer about the “entitlement” of readers as well as confusion surrounding the nature of scanlation.

While our interview focuses on said “entitlement,” we also touch on the impact of “free” manga among other issues. Manga Planet emphasizes  VikingHedgehog’s statements do not reflect those of r/haikyuu’s moderators or the community.

r/haikyuu Reddit community

“As long as the leaks exist, on some level, it’s join in, or die, for a foreign fan. I hate that.”

Could you please introduce yourself?

VikingHedgehog: I’m VikingHedgehog, one of the moderators of the Reddit community r/haikyuu. We are a nearly 13,000 strong group of English speaking Haikyu!! fans from all over the world.

What kind of “entitlement” among Haikyuu fans do you see?

VikingHedgehog: I think the entitlement I see in the international Haikyu!! community is about the same as I see in other anime and fandom communities. We are in a bit more of a tricky situation in terms of the manga publication though. Haikyu!! is officially licensed in English by VIZ, and they release a volume every month. But they are still at least six months or more behind the Japanese release, and they do not run Haikyu!! in the English language Weekly Shounen Jump (WSJ). So in terms of reading the current manga chapters even fans who can, want to, and in some cases do – pour money into Haikyu!! will still read the scanlations because there simply isn’t a legal option currently available to fill that need. I’m included in that. I throw tons of money at the series, but without a legal option for the current Haikyu!! chapter it isn’t a case of “just wait until Monday,” unless you know Japanese.

That aside, I see people asking where they can read the manga online all the time. When I see these questions, I direct them to places like Amazon or the VIZ website so they can purchase the volumes. Of course…that’s rarely what they are asking for. There is a lot of the feeling that manga as a whole can’t fail because it’s just too popular in general, and so you don’t need to pay for it because “oh somebody else is paying for it, so it’s fine.” That isn’t how it works, though.

Where do you think this entitlement comes from? (Why do you think they want it before the official release in Japan?)

VikingHedgehog: I think the entitlement is a combination of a lot of things. A lot of excuses. A lot of laziness in some cases. I think some of it is ignorance. I see a lot of people who just don’t know that scanlations are illegal. Tons of people think sites like MangaStream are the official ones. Then there’s a huge subset of people who even when they find out that those sites aren’t legit, will still pick them because it’s free. Or the excuse I hear a lot from people who would normally put money into a series is that “If I wait until Monday to read it, all of the discussion will be done.”

Haikyuu fandom
An unpopular opinion from r/haikyuu reflects the reality of Japanese fans.

I hear people say that about stuff like One Piece and My Hero Academia all the time. Which is, very sadly, a valid point. Sites like MangaStream scanlate from early leaks, the rumor through the grapevine is that they pay huge amounts of money to people who work somewhere in the publishing process in Japan to leak them early. Usually, they have them about Thursday or Friday of the week before. It’s roughly two to three full days before when WSJ hits the shelves in Japan. Now, this isn’t strictly applicable to Haikyu!! as this series isn’t run in the English WSJ. But for series like One Piece, My Hero Academia, and a ton of others – the chapters that are published in English on Monday are the same chapters released in Japan on Monday. A lot of fans don’t realize this. You keep hearing about how “VIZ is behind! They aren’t up to date!” In reality, for a lot of series, it’s just that the illegal sites are early. When “everybody else is doing it” and if it’s old news by Monday, fans just don’t want to wait. They want to be part of the discussion.

Twitter gets absolutely riddled with spoilers and fanart the weekend before the new chapters come out because of these leaks. People even sometimes harass the mangaka there, which is another whole level of entitlement I won’t get into. But so then even fans who are waiting until Monday for the official release will be spoiled if they set foot on social media. A lot of it is carelessness by fans, some of it is ignorance – I hope most of it isn’t maliciousness.

In your post, you characterized your position “the supply guy.” Do you still feel this way?

VikingHedgehog: Yes, and no. I used to be the only Moderator awake at that point of time, so I would be the one posting the Discussion Threads with a link to the scanlation. We have more Mods now, and I don’t usually do this job, so a lot of that stress is gone for me now, but the idea still exists.

Strictly speaking, the purpose of what we are posting is a Discussion Thread. It’s a space for fans to talk about the chapter. Ages ago, before I became a Mod, they added the links to the scanlations to make it easier for people to find. And the process just kind of stuck. Now it’s at the point where people mistakenly think we are the scanlation group or are affiliated with them. They think we have inside info from the scanlation group. In some cases, people have gotten downright nasty with me in the past over the fact that we “have to” post the links.

Which is, to be blunt, silly. A quick google search brings up the scanlation sites page. It’s right there. So what started as an act of convenience for people, of course now is a chore. Another subreddit for another WSJ manga made a choice to stop linking to the scanlation sites because their manga is up-to-date in English with the Japanese. And I have heard it nearly destroyed the community.

People simply refused to take the extra two seconds to google. Then of course, even if the community makes the ethically right choice to stop linking to the scanlations, there’s the question of when do we allow the discussion to begin? Do we post the thread on Thursday/Friday, when the leaks happen, or do we not post it and allow any discussion on it until Monday? And while I personally, if Haikyu!! were up-to-date in English, wish I could say we’d wait until Monday, I’m put between a rock-and-a-hard-place with the knowledge that it would, in short, simply destroy the fan community I care so much about. Everybody would just move to another space or platform to discuss.

As long as the leaks exist, on some level, it’s join in, or die, for a foreign fan. I hate that.

Could you possibly explain your stance on scanlations and Manga Stream

VikingHedgehog: I do think scanlations have a time and a place, in general. To be honest, though, I preferred the old method back in the 90’s and early 2000’s before “scans” when if you wanted to read the foreign language manga you purchased the tankoban volumes and then found a line-by-line translation somebody had done and read them side-by-side. Sure, it wasn’t a nice reading experience, but I supported the official release and felt way better about it than I ever have opening a site and reading a scanlation online.

That aside, there are a ton of tiny stories that will just never see an English release, and while I still strongly believe fans should be buying the Japanese volumes as well to support it, I generally turn a blind eye to the scans of those series. Scanlations have been great in terms of “testing the waters” on something. I think it’s something that has been beneficial to even the publishers in the past. Publishers can see, through the fan work, what series are popular at the moment and by the time they license it, likely already have an established fanbase for a series. In truth, without fansubs of anime and the old line-by-line translations, the whole industry in the West wouldn’t have taken off like it did in the first place. So I do think there are times and places where, while not strictly speaking morally right, scanlations are okay.

I’ll be honest though and say that most of what MangaStream publishes isn’t something I feel that way about. In the case of Haikyu!! there is not an official English option, yet.

I really do hope VIZ will give us Haikyu!! in the English WSJ soon, but it hasn’t happened yet. But with series like One Piece, My Hero, and a ton of others in WSJ, I’m left with the question “why?” Just…why? I am speaking as an American fan, and I believe they [MangaStream] are run out of Australia, so maybe it’s a region locking issue, and for them, they can’t get the series in English through VIZ, I’m not sure. VIZ is up-to-date on those big series and publishes in English on Monday, same as Japan does. Why does a group feel the need to steal the content, put all of the time and effort into translating it and typesetting it, etc. (which does, in fact, take a very long time) just for the official release to follow two days later? Is it impatience? Is it because of the sense that if they don’t do it, somebody else will? I honestly don’t know. I can’t speak for them. But as a fan who wants the series I love to find the financial support they need, it leaves a bad taste in my mouth. Why steal all of WSJ every week, when (most) of it will be officially available two days later in English?

It’s a complex issue, and I don’t have answers for it. I just know that as a fan I hate that these series are being stolen and that in turn leads to a loss in sales for the artists. And while it’s true, some people who read the scans do go on to buy the volumes, it certainly isn’t everybody, not even by a large percentage. People will still default to the mindset “why pay for something when you can get it for free?”

What efforts did you (and the other people) take to inform the community about the Haikyuu scanlation situation?

VikingHedgehog: Any time I see people call the scanlations “official” I jump in and point out that they are, in fact, not. When I see this kind of blatant misinformation, I try to make sure I chime-in with the actuality of the situation.

MangaStream Haikyu!! situation
Seven months ago, r/haikyuu encountered a “supply” problem.

Earlier this year, for whatever reason, MangaStream didn’t release Haikyu!! one week for a few days, and didn’t tell fans why. It caused a ton of stress for me as a Moderator, and I took a lot of heat, due to fans not realizing I have literally nothing to do with them and do not have inside information on their processes. I took that time to make sure the community I moderate knew that because of the illegal nature of scanlations, it was probably a supply issue and that we had no information, and were not affiliated with them in any way. We only post the links for the convenience of our subscribers. I think it did make the community generally more aware of the situation in terms of “this isn’t official, and these are people giving up their free time to translate this, so I guess I’ll get it when I get it.”

But it certainly didn’t help the situation from an official release standpoint. I tried to push the VIZ survey for several weeks, telling fans that they should fill that out and request Haikyu!! if they wanted to get an official, steady source for the manga in English. A few people did respond and loved the idea. It’s not like the whole community is unaware. But there were a lot of people saying “Why should I? I can’t get VIZ’s translation in my country, so I don’t care.” Which I guess is valid, but I feel like that doesn’t really help the situation.

I see a few people taking to Twitter to try to get the word out to try to stop people from posting the spoilers early on Twitter. All those fanarts and reactions put on Twitter under a # on Friday have the potential to (and do) spoil Japanese fans as well as any fans of a series that gets an official foreign release on Monday. It’s just bad behavior. A lot of it is probably ignorance, but not all of it.

It sucks, from my point of view though, that with Haikyu!! it still falls into that dead, slightly murky space of “officially licensed but not current.” When people say they are starting to read the manga, I will link them the volumes on Amazon to make sure they at least know it’s out there!! But there still will come a point when if they want to read Haikyu!! (and they will!! It’s seriously a fabulous story!) they’ll have to read the scanlations or learn Japanese, at least until the point if or when VIZ gets current on the series.

In Japan, a “good” fan is typically expected to buy the manga, purchase goods, etc.. Do you believe there is such a thing as being a “good” fan? What does this expectation look like outside of Japan?

VikingHedgehog: I do, yes! Which is a very controversial thing to state in the fandoms outside of Japan, I think. I had a close friend once ask if I thought she was a bad fan for not putting any money at all into the series. It was hard to say that to a friend, but the answer is yes.

There comes a point when if you aren’t putting any money at all, be in DVDs, manga volumes, or merchandise, back into the series…well…just don’t cry to me when the series fails and gets canceled. The argument is always “I can’t afford it,” and it’s true that on an international level there are tons of people in various countries and so yes, the few USD it would cost to import merch or a manga volume from Japan – that’s a ton of money for some of them. I do understand that. But in terms of here in America, a subscription to Crunchyroll or other streaming services for anime is a few dollars a month. A manga volume can be bought on sale on Amazon or sometimes even in brick-and-mortar stores for $7 or $8 USD, digital versions are even less. Sure, it all adds up if you go all in, but if you truly love the series you claim to love, that one manga volume a month might mean you give up one Starbucks coffee or something. Again, I know these are sweepingly general statements, and not everybody has the same financial situation, but a lot of the time, it comes down to priority. And when push-comes-to-shove, the series they say they love so much, just isn’t a priority to them. Which is fine, we don’t all have to love the same things, but you aren’t entitled to read that manga then or watch that anime. It isn’t a right, free and clear. There comes a point where if you enjoy it, you need to support it. Just saying, “Oh but I’m spreading the word, so it’s fine,” isn’t enough. Did any of the people you “spread the word to” buy anything? If not, you’ve done nothing to help the series. Don’t pass the buck like that.

Fan communities can be some of the coolest places I’ve ever seen, with some of the best people I’ve ever met in life. But they can also be terrible cess-pits filled with entitlement and bad behavior. I just want people to realize these communities are built around a series and business that can fail if there isn’t enough money in it. Series get canceled all the time. You have to support what you love if you want it to stick around. Don’t except that anybody else is going to do that for you.

What do you believe publishers (and specifically VIZ) can do to serve the Haikyuu community better?

VikingHedgehog: In terms of Haikyu!! we just want to see it in the English WSJ. VIZ is, truthfully, already giving it the star treatment in terms of volume releases. One a month is fantastic, and in the past two years they’ve made a ton of headway in catching up with Japan, but we’re still a long ways off. As of writing this volume 26 came out in English, and volume 33 came out in Japanese, but there are still many more chapters past volume 33 that haven’t been published in tankobon format yet.

I already think that the yearly price on VIZ’s digital WSJ is a steal. It breaks down to about $2 a month. I just wish it had Haikyu!! In it. Sadly there will still be that issue of the illegal leaks being two to three days earlier, which means some people will just never take the legal option, which sucks. But I’m not sure that’s something Viz can fix since it’s leaked out of Japan and into countries like Korea and China where a lot of the issues are stemming from.

I do think some issues come from region-locks. I understand why they exist, but I think some efforts to break those down could help the community in general. It takes one more excuse off a lot of peoples lists. “But I can’t get it in my location!!!” being able to say, “Actually, yes you can!!” would be something I’d love to be able to say. With the Internet being what it is now, we live in a worldwide fan community, and in a lot of countries where there isn’t a huge fandom population they will interact with and access media in the language most of them know – English.

The English speaking fandom isn’t limited to North America/U.K./Australia/N.Z. – I’m personally friends with fans in parts of South America, the Philippines, Slovenia, Germany, and India, just to name a few. And so while I can preach and push all I want to buy the volumes!! for some of those countries, the import taxes would be insane and make it truly cost-prohibitive to most fans, and digital editions will often be region-locked which leaves them in a dark outside of the scanlations. I realize that’s an absolutely huge task, one that might not even be possible to break through, but in an ideal fandom world, I’d love to be able to tell everybody, everywhere to please support this!! and have it be something that they could easily do with the click of a button.

VikingHedgehog’s statements do not reflect those of r/haikyuu’s moderators or the community.

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