Not all Scanlations are the Same?

Over our last few interviews with artists, scanlators, readers, we have discussed entitled readers, the blight of aggregate websites, author consent, “slow” publishers among other issues.

Publishers (and readers) tend to make generalizations about scanlation. We want to emphasize not all scanlations are the same, the differences between them depending largely on the group, manga genre, and community around it. Ryoko Nicole‘s passionate interview is rooted in Boys’ Love English publishing and fandom. VikingHedgehog‘s thorough explanation of how VIZ’s publishing decisions and MangaStream’s speedy scans impact the r/haikyuu community reflect the global popularity of shounen titles. GGANG-E‘s fight against mangago is not even about manga scanlation but aggregator manga/webtoon websites, the culture of “free content,” and illegal uploads of officially licensed Lezhin webcomics. Through each of these interviews, we hope to explore the complexities surrounding the uneven globalization and distribution of manga and the situation fans find themselves as a result.

This time, we take a peek at yuri manga, a genre that English publishers are slowly beginning to publish. The Zärtlichkeit du Yuri (Tender Yuri Scans) graciously spoke with us about their work with yuri manga and doujinshi.

“Yuri shall conquer the earth!”

Manga Planet: Could you please give us a self-introduction?

We are The Zärtlichkeit du Yuri! We’re a yuri scanlation group that was founded by Mai, Dareka00 and Bronx three years ago from working on, like every respectable yuri artist, Touhou doujinshi.

We’re a very international group, with members from France, Germany, the United States, Spain, Singapore, Finland, Australia, Canada, and Ukraine. Yuri is a contested term, and is somewhat analogous to yaoi, but it roughly categorizes stories of (generally romantic) relationships between women. It is not a fetish category, has been turning more towards openly lesbian stories lately, and has a readership roughly split between gay women and straight men. We tend to have a soft spot for adult life yuri, but we work on whatever our translators want to translate. We have pretty high-quality standards for a scanlation group, and to that end we try to stay consistent, easily have as many review sessions as Renta!, use a house and professional style guide, require application processes, and have training guides, practice, and review processes analogous to apprenticeships.

Our number one motivator though is to support the proliferation of yuri; we want to get as much yuri to as many people as possible and built the community as much as possible. We actually often say “Yuri shall conquer the earth!” and our releases tend to get between 30,000 and 40,000 readers, which is simply not feasible for doujinshi by other means.

While there doesn’t exist a platform akin to Renta! in the yuri scene, and we don’t have the technical skills, capital, artist contacts, or legal support to start one, we would be all ears, if someone does. And we are absolutely interested in any artists/authors/mangaka that would like their work localized. We do not have any distribution channels, though.

Mai: I’m Mai, co-founder of TZdY and main editor. I also teach our new members in editing and giving advice to them. Since I seem to have a good eye on the small details, I also check the releases for any errors. Additionally, I also handle the raw providing and coordination of our releases, though it’s also thanks to the group that everything is running so smoothly.

Altair: I’m Altair, a copyeditor, proofreader, frontman, and overall militant grammarian for the group. I generally interrogate word choice and punctuation use to control the flow of reading, causing the reader, for instance, to slow down and contemplate an image between bubbles or move quickly past it. I think I may speak on behalf of the group when I say that the reason I scanlate yuri is because it provides purpose, identity, fulfilment, community, and creativity the likes of which you generally can’t get in a job in this society without major economic sacrifices, but all of which are integral to personal well-being.

And Mai is our fearless leader, don’t let her tell you otherwise!

Dareka00: Hello, I’m Dareka00. I’m French, and I’ve been a self-taught Japanese student for eight years. I discovered the doujinshi culture via Touhou Project sometime in 2010, which motivated me to learn Japanese itself. This consequently led me to TZdY because I was looking to do more with the skills I had built up over the years, and that opportunity came when Mai and Bronx were looking for help with Kimi no Tame nara Shineru translations.

Raida: I’m Raida, Spanish and one of the newest members. I barely knew about scanlation before joining, but my teammates taught me and I found in it an exciting new hobby. Long live yuri!

Inugami: I’m Inugami from Ukraine, and I’m a professional translator, majoring in Japanese. Joining TZdY for me was a wonderful opportunity to test my translating skills on my favorite manga genre.

We’ll include responses below from other members of our group as well.

Manga Planet:  How long have you been scanlating and how did you first get involved?

Mai: I’ve started with scanlation around 4.5 years ago when someone asked me to help out with translation and editing. TZdY was founded around 3 years ago and that’s when my scanlation activity increased.

Bronx (Proofreader): I started four years ago as a proofreader, but that didn’t last long. I got back into manga scanlation when Mai picked up Kimi no Tame nara Shineru by Kuzushiro. I noticed that she was working on it by herself so I asked if I could be of help, that was around 3 years ago.

Raida (Editor): I’ve been scanlating for around 5-6 months and I got involved by my desire of helping yuri to grow further, after being practicing around 3 months by myself.

Arashura (Translator): I wanted to give back to the community, so I poked around forums and started translating about three years ago with another scanlation group. When that group quietly went inactive due to real life, I took a break until about a year ago, when I joined this group.

Altair: I started about a year ago when I planned to enter the publishing industry and saw this as a great opportunity to grow my skills and help yuri flourish! I first got involved when I saw some people criticizing TZdY’s work and thought I could be of service. The particular release was NSFW, which is an entirely different challenge to copy edit! I love to read yuri as a romance genre because of how emotionally fulfilling it is, but also because of how refreshing and real the stories are when they aren’t defined by traditional gender relationship roles. It’s not heteronormative if you will, and the world needs some queering up.

Inugami: I joined TZdY less than a month ago, after roughly two years of being an avid reader. Actually, it’s my first time joining any scanlation group. At some point, there were no more interesting new manga for me to read, so I decided to help making one. I scanned through various scanlation groups, chose a few most competent ones, and waited till one of them posted an application for translator.

Manga Planet: What are the costs (both time and monetary) of running a scanlation group?

Mai: We usually spend 50-100€ per event on doujinshi and shipping fees, sometimes more. It depends on the available books. We do these kind of orders every 3 months. Then there’s a monthly expense on magazines or occasionally tankobons, which sum up to around 10€ per month. Since we’re not running any server for our website, we gladly don’t have to pay for anything else. As for the time consumption, it depends on how much work is available and how much free time I have. I’d say around 5-30 hours per week for me.

Bronx: If I’m working a good amount it’d be 2-4 hours a night. But since it’s not every day I’d say about 9 hours a week. Actually, I didn’t count the responding and discussing, but that’s really spread out. I’m more interested in how long it takes to translate something.

Raida: I’m quite more relaxed now, but on my better weeks I could easily spend 30~40 hours. I would say around 15 per week now.

Arashura: I usually budget three to five hours to translate a one-shot story with roughly 20 pages. I may then take up to an hour over the next day to mull over phrasing. My recent ones for this group were done over flights for work haha.

Inugami: 20-25 hours per week in average. But that’s just because I have no full-time job at the moment. Of course, it excludes QC, chatting, etc. It’s really difficult to calculate the exact amount of time spent on TL, since I usually spend more time pondering on it, than on actual data input. Like when I have some trouble with choosing an appropriate equivalent, I go shopping while contemplating on it, and by the time I’m back, I usually have a proper translation in my head. But does it mean I should include the duration of my shopping tour into the amount of time I spend on TL?

Altair: I generally spend between 5-15 hours of work on scanlation a week, depending on how much work my full-time job is taking and how busy I am with other yuri-related projects. This work, though, fuels me, so I don’t really consider my time spent doing it as a cost. I donate to Galette and buy Comic Rakuen and Comic Yuri-hime too, but these aren’t exactly scanlation costs as much as they are personal ways to make up for pirating! Really though, the overhead in scanlation is almost non-existent.

Dareka00: I think the monetary costs of scanlation groups isn’t that big of deal; I don’t think I’ve seen a single group or person in this space who isn’t passionate about the works they translate. I think that unless you live in a country with a weak currency or low wages, the monetary part isn’t a concern. And even if you have little income, as long as you have internet access, with the quantity of raws (untranslated works) available online you can make a case that scanlating is entirely costless.

In my opinion as a random scanlator, and having participated in a good number of scanlation groups over the last few years, I think most groups will require more or less the same amount of effort and time to function smoothly. This lends itself to two things: Actual productive work (translation, organization, and coordination of people) and group management (taking care of people and their feelings, drama, conflict, making decisions (if the group is not a pure democracy, which it can easily devolve to as I note below)).

In my opinion, the most important element that will dictate how well a group is going to function is the chemistry of the people in a group. If a group gets along well, everything will then go well 95% of the time. People will work on releases, they will communicate, and everyone will be able to focus on their own work and getting better at it. And, as long as people remain motivated, you won’t even need a leader as the group will function as a democracy. It’s pretty moving to behold.

On the other hand, a group with, or even a community that has, bad chemistry and bad leadership can turn the experience into something very negative. I’ve participated in some French scanlation groups in the past, and I’ve seen and experienced a lot of senseless drama firsthand, which ultimately turned a whole community with productive members into a giant stalemate. Many groups split and many hours were lost to a cycle of drama that still isn’t even over yet. I believe once a group starts to get plagued by drama, if you only take half-measures against the problem, and if both or all sides of the dispute aren’t satisfied with the resolution, then the group will have a much higher probability of dissolving.

I hope my point of view was insightful enough. Again, in my opinion, group chemistry is one of the most important aspects of scanlation. Great connections will make your life easier, whether you’re a leader or a casual member, and a bad group mood will make your life quite unpleasant when you’re invested in the group. Especially when it destroys that group. I’ll finish this response by saying that, personally, the gains of being a scanlator have outweighed the losses by a pretty big margin. So, if the cost feels reasonable to you, you should try it out.

Altair: Join a scanlation group!!! Find us at your local recruitment center.

Manga Planet: What is your view on the relationship between scanlation and the manga industry?

Mai: Scanlation in the yuri scene fills the gap that the manga industry leaves. There’s barely any yuri work licensed, in Spanish, Finnish, German, English, nor French. I’m glad about any license a yuri work gets, but it’s not enough as of now.

Bronx: Like Mai said, scanlation fills in the gap. Yuri is picking up in popularity, thanks largely in part to a particular licensing company, Seven Seas, but there’s so much more yuri that wouldn’t be considered profitable enough to be licensed. As a fan group, we can scanlate what we want without worrying if it’ll sell, we pick up what we want to share with fellow yuri fans.

Altair: Similarly, when it comes to yuri, as our numbers show, there is a huge demand (in wider markets) that the publishers are incapable of meeting. We’re also able to work on all the odds and end yuri that isn’t guaranteed to sell well or even break even with a professional publisher because we have almost no overhead to worry about. I do recognize that what we do is unethical, which I’ll tackle below, but I do come off as pretty unapologetic. I would like to support the creation of yuri (through the artists and publishers) in a more structural way (that is, I don’t kid myself that if I go and buy one yuri tankobon that I’ve done by good deed for the industry). Still, while I know that scanlation harms the manga industry, our community and readership would shrink and likely die off without it, even if the publisher’s readership would grow slightly.

Dareka00: I think here there’s an important distinction between groups translating doujinshis and manga that won’t get licensed in the west versus groups that translate licensed work. I don’t know much about the latter, so I’ll only speak about the former. I believe they coexist in equilibrium with official releases; they allow publishers to get a sense of what’s popular or not, and they also bring new readers to the scene which would have never read any manga if it wasn’t available for free. I remember hearing a French manga editor saying that most (French) groups were following editors takedown requests a long time ago, but I do not know if modern practices have changed, or if English groups behave the same way. I’m absolutely not up to date on that front. I think that as long as groups respect western editors by taking down scanlated works as they get officially released, then no harm has been done. Because, despite all the outrageous research major companies have funded, people buy and support artists when they can.

Inugami: Imagine yourself living in a country where scanlated manga is virtually the only one you can obtain. Publishers will never consider your market worth of the effort, and when you try to order something directly from Japan, it says that your location is out of service. Despite all that, there’s a huge readers’ community here, and the demand has become particularly noticeable several years ago when local community ceased to contribute in the Russian market. So, while admitting being grey, unethical, parasitic, etc., I do believe that we’re doing a good job for those people, who are physically unable to get their favorite manga in any other way.

Manga Planet: Have you ever directly contacted an artist about scanlation and your projects?

Mai: No, but I wish we really could without fear. Maybe we can in the future.

Arashura: No, but another one of my groups floated the idea of collaborating with artists to help them release to the English market.

Altair: We have not, but I’m extremely interested in talking with any mangaka. If you happen to know any yuri artists, send them our way!! If they think our quality standards are up to their expectations, that is! There are a ton of complications with this, which I’ll outline below. And unless the artist is willing to have their work localized for free, we don’t really have any reliable or effective distribution channels for their work. Now… if there were such channels, we might be in business.

The closest contact we’ve had with an artist was when we started in on the second part of a series by Irua we were working on. In the afterword, Irua stated that a foreign reader had shown her a scanlated copy of her original work and asked when the next chapter would be out. She was very upset and threatened to cancel the series if someone translated and uploaded her work without her permission. Though we suspect it was the Chinese version, we were still pretty worried about upsetting Irua, even if technically our work has the potential to do this to every artist we’ve worked on. We stopped work on it immediately. ((We would love to work with you though, Irua~~~)). Ah, and Kanarashi once liked a screenshot on Twitter of one of our releases of her work. This was a moment of sheer terror.

Raida: I would love to! A Spanish-speaker youtube, cynthiartH, made an interview with two quite popular yuri artists, Taiyaki and Tamamusi, and both of them were happy that people overseas like and appreciate their work. In the case of Taiyaki, she even wants to release an official version of her works in English and Chinese. So as Mai said, maybe in a non-distant future…

Manga Planet: What do you wish readers knew about scanlation?

Mai: That it’s a really time-consuming hobby. I wish people would ask less about “when is the next release.” We’re doing our best to get things done quickly, but sometimes it’s just impossible. Also, please support any official releases in your country so the industry will know that there is a demand for yuri. A common line that falls often in yuri discussions is “Yuri doesn’t sell.” Prove it wrong.

Bronx: The effort it takes to work on a quality release. I’ve seen reader’s beg and badger scanlation groups about releasing chapters as soon as possible but it takes time; I’ve seen some groups or translators flat out quit because of that.

Arashura: Adult life aaangst stories are precious. Also, don’t harass authors or scanlation teams.

Altair: That if they want to support the official release, they can go to the library! Get your books there. Damn, people. Support our libraries. And pre-order your favorite series to see them continued. Also that we love youuuuu~

Raida: Support yuri artists to the extent you can, either by buying licensed works or directly from Japan. It helps more than most people think. And support scanlation groups too. Scanlators really appreciate any positive comment!

Manga Planet: What do you believe publishers could learn from scanlation?

Altair: Hah! I think they could learn a lot! Particularly when it comes to our motivations, our workflow, and just what employees in this generation are looking for. I will say that I don’t think scanlation groups test the waters and publishers could do just fine without us! This is about our community though, not their market. Let me see if I can make this talk interesting by focusing on labor and by not repeating anything Ryoko Nicole has already mentioned! Which you can consider reiterated here, though what I’m going to say may have been said (to some degree) a bit more articulately before.

For starters, at least in our genre, I think they should understand that we’re extremely passionate about our material and would be ecstatic to be doing our work legitimately. I can confidently say that any group would love to collaborate with yuri artists. As easy as Renta!’s public letter to scanlators made it seem, it is really not all that feasible for us to simply go legit. As I mentioned, apart from lacking legal counsel, knowledge, and capital, we don’t have the ability to mitigate the risk of becoming entrepreneurs as this society doesn’t provide much in the way of social safety nets. Unless you’re from the upper economic quintiles, you have to be ready to turn a hobby into a professional career, to sacrifice your life outside your job in the meantime, or you have the kind of life where you can engage in a few years of economic precarity, debt, and insecurity on top of the loans it likely took you to get the professional skills required for such an endeavor. Not to mention if you’re supporting a family, attempting to go legit will be next to impossible.

I also think they could learn a lot from our labor practices. We have democratic control over the labor processes of this hobby, complete freedom in what we work on and how we do it (directly connected to our personal beliefs), which is the kind you can’t really find outside of a workers co-op style of business model. Every member has a say in what we work on, how we work on it, and the particulars of the translation, visual editing and redrawing, copyediting, and quality of our work. We also split the emotional labor (project managing, working with new people, answering questions) between us, which is something else you can’t do with the standard model. There are plenty of less radical ways to incorporate this in your business as well, but I’ll leave that to you to figure out.

Our process allows us to avoid the generally exploitative model of being told you’re “doing what you love,” “doing it for the art,” or, in our case, “doing it for the artist” to justify low-waged, contingent contract work with no benefits in order to sustain a permanent growth model rather than a worker-based, sustainable workflow. And while this will sound venomous, please, please spare me the excuse that you have to rely on contract work and pay your workers lower wages because of scanlators. Run your company with integrity and sacrifice a little growth for the workers. If you can’t, then you should treat that as a crisis and examine how well you understand your employees, what motivates them, and what you’re doing to help their lives. Don’t just assume you can abuse surplus labor the way the gaming industry does.

I’m extremely sympathetic to the author and, while I understand that the publisher is the medium that pays the author—meaning that if piracy hurts them it, in turn, hurts the author—I do not view the author and the publisher as one entity in this rhetorical sleight of hand. They are employer and employee, and, as with for example a plight that befalls Disney or Amazon, my heart goes out to the employees rather than the company. Do not hold their jobs and livelihoods at ransom because of piracy; you sound like a Midwestern US factory threatening to move out of the country because taxes are too high. Perhaps you should remember upon whose work your company rests and what systems have supported you along the way.

In the end, I think you, the publisher, needs to understand that when we weigh the purpose, identity, fulfillment, community, and creativity we get from scanlation against the existential ethical concerns factoring into western publishers tied to physical distribution and Japanese markets waaaaaay over in Japan—plus economic insecurity via entrepreneurship, contract labor, or less-than-liveable wages—we’re going to be sticking to scanlation unless you can make this easy for us. It’s the same with our readers. If you make it easy for them, then they’ll purchase more of your publications. Consider the lessons of Spotify and Netflix in their victory over piracy—it is far easier to listen to Spotify than it is to steal music and to watch Netflix than it is to download movies. Why isn’t it easier to pay to read manga than it is to pirate it?

The Zärtlichkeit du Yuri is a yuri-focused scanlation group well on their way to establishing the yuri empire that will one day overtake the world. You can contact frontman Altair at altairediting@gmail.com and check out his upcoming yuri-scanlation-themed podcast The Macaron Press Radio Hour, and the group itself at tenderyuriscans@gmail.com if you’re interested in working with, consulting, or poaching them.

Scanlators and Manga Readers: Manga Planet wants to hear from you!

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