StarfleetCpt's Blog

June 3rd, 2010
Wow I didn't know MAL had these. Also I guess I should update my About Me thingie to be less dorky.

Anyway I read this and decided that Melinda Baesi sucks. So I decided to troll her in the comments but she kept deleting them. And then she wouldn't approve my comments anymore. So I wrote this instead and posted it in a completely different message board, so if the formatting's screwed up I'm too lazy to fix.

Well, looking around, it looks like you have removed all of my troll comments. And now you've implemented an approval process for comments since, perhaps due to my trolling. Touche. I suppose this means I'll have to reach into my tactics of last resort - a serious essay in response.

Now to preface this, I've read over your essay - a few times, in fact. I've read over all the comments up to this point, reading over your responses (and yes, trolling in reply to them, even). I've read related links, taking both sides of the issue. In short, I've tried to examine the issue in some depth to actually come up with what I hope is at least an intelligent response.

I suppose the first thing I should say is that, I too, am an artist - or more specifically, someone who has aspirations. I'm not much of an artist in the more traditional sense, which leads me to settle either for asking for help, or to become an artist with the written word. Furthermore, the anime fandom and anime world are the whole reason I have had this aspiration, as it has opened my eyes and exposed me to an artistic medium that has been so expressive with ideas and sentiments I have rarely seen in Western works, printed, illustrated or animated. I mention this specifically because, yes, I understand where artists are coming from. I understand that artists create work as a desire to get paid - or, if nothing else, being paid allows artists to continue their works.

I am also not justifying scanlations either. And in the interests of full disclosure and intellectual honesty, yes, I've read scanlations too (I'll get back to that one, too). So yes, I do realize how important rights management is, how important making money is, and how the issue of piracy effects this. So no, I'm not trying to counter your arguments by saying that we should allow free-for-all scanlations to persists. That is not the point of this response.

What is the point is that, to put it bluntly, I think your essay is rather lacking, even outright lame. You respond to the more emotional appeals of scanlation justifications, but much of that response is in turn emotional appeal. The logical bases and other facts aren't addressed. I'll address the logical bases, facts, concerns, and solutions on the scanlation side of the problem (so perhaps I'm backpeddling on my previous claim that I'm not trying to justify scanlations - perhaps I'll say I'm playing "Devil's Advocate" here as a few of your responders already have). I'd like to see what you have to supply for the other side.

I suppose the first place I should start is to talk about my own history with scanlations – and by extension the history of scanlations and anime/manga fandom. Many people were introduced to the anime fandom in the first place through scanlation groups. I myself wasn’t one of them, but until I started reading scanlations my interest in the fandom and culture was limited in scope and exposure. It was pretty much whatever Adult Swim happened to be showing at the time, which included a lot of interesting programs (Cowboy Bebop Trigun) but, as I said, my exposure was limited. I had no idea what kind of world lay out there amongst the whole anime fandom, the whole anime culture It took a while to even bother to venture out into it, and a big part of it was the scanlation subculture. As I slowly entered into more and more online groups, various titles began being thrown about - Bleach, One Piece, Naruto etc. Most of these either were already being shown in their anime form on the Adult Swim or general Cartoon Network blocks or eventually will be, but a lot of the titles being thrown about - BLAME!, ARIA etc – were much more obscure. Their animes weren’t being aired over basic cable, weren’t subbed yet or even didn’t exist in any form. As a part of even just looking them up, I was exposed to scanlations. Much of it was a result of being directly linked to scanlations when I asked friends about it. As I said before, it opened up a whole new world to me, to see the full range of artistic expression that the medium had to offer.

Many people get their whole first exposure into this world through scanlations. It exposes many more titles that otherwise would just continue to languish into obscurity in this part of the world. It exposes people to the types of genres that are much more powerful in expression to the typical fair that they’re used to, or exposes fans of a particular genre to the whole scope of what’s available. So yes, there is a lot of exposure to be had through scanlations.

In fact, in many cases this is the total amount of exposure they’ll ever experience. I of course refer to the large selection of manga titles that will never be licensed in the United States. Among them is a relatively obscure, quaint little work called Yokohama Kaidashi Kikou It happens to be amongst my most favorite manga. And scanlations are the only way it’ll ever come to this country.

Scanlations will probably be the only way American fans can experience Yokohama Kaidashi Kikou. Image credit MyAnimeList’s Café Alpha

In fact many of my favorite titles will never see the light of day here - Kabu no Isakiamong them, by the same artist as Yokohama Kaidashi Kikou. Hard-working, dedicated scanlation groups are the only means I or anyone have to be able to view these wonderful works (and I whole-heartedly hope you’re inspired to read them, too, or at least read the Wikipedia article). Yes, I said hard-working and dedicated. They too grapple with the moral implications, or at least the particular scanlation groups that translate these particular titles, and they make no pretenses about the author being obligated to do and present his works for free, for total public consumption. But they also do it out of genuine love - yes, I said love. They’re legitimately trying to spread interest and appreciation for a manga-ka obscure even in his own country, to spread the joy and expression he shares through the magic of a pen and ink, or, failing that, at least keeping that expression alive amongst a group of dedicated enthusiasts.

Kabu no Isaki, by the same artist as Yokohama Kaidashi Kikou, is another title that will likely only be reads by Americans through scanlations. Image credit Wikipedia

Yes, I am aware that you said that scanlation groups do some good. This is an example. Ideally, of course, these scanlation groups would just stop there, helping to spread the word of a talented manga-ka very expressive in his or her thoughts and storytelling, and all the manga sales would increase sharply and manga sales would be as mainstream as superhero comics are here. In an ideal world Yokohama Kaidashi Kikou would be licensed, experience huge sales and made into a major motion picture starring Kiera Knightly, Adrian Broody and directed by Jerry Brockheimer (did I just suggest that for a mono no aware piece? I guess I just did!)

But as you pointed out, this is not an ideal world. There are many scanlations of even popular and very commonly available manga. Scanlations of Bleach are far more timely than their licensed counterparts. So beyond giving works that have no hope of getting licenses exposure, I can’t offer much of a defense of justification. But to simply point fingers at the fandom and yell stop reading scanlations! isn’t much of a help either, and perhaps even as much of a disservice.

In fact this was brought up in one of the replies of Deb’s posts, which you even responded to: “If they can’t come up with ways to get customers to *want* to purchase things that *can’t* be copied online then they deserve to go bankrupt.” You simply write it off as a flimsy justification for scanlation, but I see it as the harsh reality we now live in.

I opened up this essay with the statement that I consider myself an artist, or at least a wannabee artist hoping to aspire to the same level as his favorite manga-ka in some form. But I’m also, perhaps even first and foremost, a capitalist – or at least that’s what I was raised to believe in. I’m old enough to remember the Cold War, and I was raised by a guy who was paid a few bucks to go sit on what was then the East-West German border in a thin armored shell on tracks. Whether I like to admit to it or not, my political leanings, economic understandings and core idealology are very much rooted in the ultra-capitalist, “greed is good” conservative Reaganomics of the era.

The fact of the matter is, “If they can’t come up with ways to get customers to *want* to purchase things that *can’t* be copied online then they deserve to go bankrupt.”

That is one way DVD producers are using to combat piracy. There are many ways, all of which are valid, but I’ll get to that later. You can get a person interested in a product – or accept that they’ve gotten interested in it through piracy, previews, or what have you. You can then <i>build</i> in that interest by offering products that they can’t download, or at least through providing and entertaining the fandom to build that interest and that desire to actively support the product rather than to become a casual fan.

Actually, there’s a very good video on, where else, but Youtube, that talks about this very subject . It’s definitely something worth watching, particularly as it pertains to this very subject. Of course you probably disagree with it, but once again, there are ways around piracy.

as he says in the video, “Look at this beautiful package. Can I download all this? No, I can’t. That’s fucking retarded.” Image Credit CommercialsIHate

To provide another quote, “that’s what happens if your product is good enough.”

Whether we like it or not, piracy is becoming a fact of life. Some industry and mediums are even doing something about it.
I’m not the only one who’s crying for a better product. CBR has a very good albeit short essay on this subject as well, straight from a Twitter of the former Go! Comi manga publishing house’s creative director . In short, she says publishers must adapt Her bullet-points, as ripped straight from CBR, are 1. (1) Make a story available world-wide simultaneously in all major languages. (2) In a digital format. (3) With perks for pre-orders. (4) And goodies that digital pirates can't reproduce. (And yes, that's possible. Goodies they can't compete with, like author chats.) (5) Rip off business model 4 pirate sites & one-up them. They offer a Wii raffle for a subscription to a d/l site, u offer author-signed Wii. Use the assets YOU have that pirates CAN'T have to compete with free. She concludes with the following food-for-thought: My dream pub company is multimedia + print + Etsy + Cafepress + Goodreads + Facebook + fan community. Is that too much to ask? *bats eyes*

Go! Comi’s former Creative Director, who had published works such as Cy-Believers, told CBR in a recent article about how the manga industry must adapt to combat pirates by offering superior product. Image credit CBR.

Speaking of YouTube, actually, right at this very moment as I’m writing this, I’m listening to Lady Gaga’s Poker Face On YouTube, for free. Legally, the official Lady Gaga music video, on her and Sony’s shared official YouTube Channel Vevo. Here I’ll even link it for you

It took the music industry a while to figure this out, but actually beating the pirates to the punch and putting it up for free themselves is turning out to be a pretty good tactic. Just look at all the exposure Lady Gaga’s gotten in two years, going from a virtual unknown to even the culturally ignorant pundits on Fox News being unable to ignore her. People love her or hate her; there’s no in-between. If you know the name Lady Gaga, you have an opinion of her. Just look at all the events she’s performed at, her live ticket sales, and her chart sales which seem little effected by piracy. Even blogs about dogs talk about her.

Lady Gaga’s image has exploded in part due to music videos provided for free on YouTube, straight from the music producers themselves. Image credit Dog Blog with Dr Caroline

In fact, going back to the music industry example, it seems that all that ballyhoo about piracy killing the music industry has been greatly overblown all along . The only people who pirate the stuff are people who wouldn’t buy it anyway. It’s a slightly different story for manga, however – but it’s one with more troubling implications than just piracy alone.

Perhaps this is only because I don’t hang out around the comic book circles all that much – I prefer to stay within the manga fandom, and most of my exposure of good old traditional American comics is either through the local paper or through Linkara’s excellent Atop the Fourth Wall column on That Guy With The Glasses (I sure do a surprising amount of name-dropping here, do I?) So perhaps comic book scanlations are just as big of a problem as they are for manga, and I just don’t realize that. Perhaps the recent sale of Marvel to Disney is a consequence of that. But, as far as I know, comics don’t have the same problem as manga does. In fact – and I may be mistaken – but I am under the impression that a big problem of comics is that people just aren’t reading them period, or at least not in the numbers the big comic studios like Marvel and D.C. would like to see. I’ve heard all sorts of things about this – backlash from the big TPB (that’d be trade paper back) trend of the 90s, Joe Quesada screwing up Marvel with, amongst other things, the truly infamous One More Day debacle behind Spider-Man, and so forth. But, once again, the studios have found ways to adapt around those problems, or at least trying to. And the results are wonderous! We’re getting big-budget movies (and, just in case you’re wondering, apparently piracy doesn’t have much of an effect for movies either , greater exposure for lesser known franchises (even Watchmen and Kick-Ass got massive media exposure for their respective movie launches) and a big push to bring quality to the actual print storylines.

The traditional comics industry in America has faced its own challenges, and have answered the call in their own way. Are there lessons the manga publishing industry can take home as well? Image credit Wikipedia

But, yes, what are the lessons the manga industry can bring home from their more “traditional” counter-parts? The “Traditional” market at least has the advantage of having direct communication between artists, directors and publishers. Unfortunately, the manga industry doesn’t have that luxury. In fact, some have even argued that the manga industry as it exists in this country is more or less an afterthought.

And perhaps that’s the biggest issue here. Maybe the manga and anime industry here just isn’t big enough.

[url=]Anime News Network’s Brian Hanson[/url] fields questions about this sticky subject from time to time and I have found his opinions interesting and, for the purposes of this essay, invaluable . In the example I just linked to, he mentions that Bandai’s expected sales of The Meloncoly of Haruhi Suzumiya have been disappointed, though still strong. It could even be argued that piracy has only trumped up what publishing companies expect for sales, an argument Brian seems to make. It’s true that Haruhi has become an outright icon in the manga and anime culture, and much of it is the hype that has been spread around by, yes, scanlators and subbers. But perhaps the real consequence of piracy is the excessive hype and consequent expectations that works are expected to perform in this country? After all, as I previously linked to, most people who pirate music weren’t likely to have bought it in the first place. And in the anime and manga fandom, many of the fans who do pirate still buy the merch, as Brian explains in another Answerman column . Once again, it’s worth reading what he has to say, as he does have thoughts on the “gray” area within anime and manga piracy.

So if sales expectations are too high regardless of piracy, just how big is the anime and manga industry in America anyway? I believe the simple answer is that it’s just not big enough and never would be. It’ll never be as big as the aforementioned comics industry, and also aforementioned, even they are experiencing a lot of trouble right now. In fact that so many manga publishers even manage to stay afloat in this economy is amazing. As a capitalist, I recognize that, no matter how good a product is, sometimes the market just can’t support it, even if all of your fans are buying everything you have to offer. The Doosenberg brothers’ car company had struggling moments even at the height of 20s consumerism. Betamax also had its dedicated group of hardcore fans. But there just weren’t enough of them to keep the products moving. At this point, it’s also worth noting that manga and anime sales in this country pale in comparison as they do in their own “domestic” market. The Japanese anime and manga studios recognize this, which is why few series are made with an international taste in mind, and even fewer still with an eye at major American sales. Most of the “tailor-made” American anime and manga is just that – tailor-made, including being made in these shores by the “traditional” American comic studios. Are they really manga at that point, or just comic books done in a manga style?

The market just wasn’t enough for the great Duesenberg, as the company began to falter even at the height of the Roaring 20s. Image credit Wikipedia

I’d really like to see how much money a Japanese manga-ka sees from the American market, even a big-time in this market one like Tite Kubo. Is it enough to even make him care about this market, even if piracy wasn’t a problem? We do seem to forget, at times, that we are in effect enjoying someone else’s product – and I don’t mean an artist who is sharing his work in exchange for money. We’re taking a big endeavor or enjoy a product that, at least when we start out, is culturally alien to us, and the artists’ first intents were always for his or her domestic audience to enjoy primarily. It’s a nice side benefit that even we can enjoy such esoteric works like K-On! and Lucky Star, but it’s another realization we have to make – it’s highly doubtful your favorite manga-ka gets much money from these shores or even cares about the market you live in, let alone for you.

It’s a rather fortunate coincidence that Americans and Japanese alike can enjoy esoteric slice-of-life manga like K-On! But works like these are made for Japanese audiences and a Japanese cultural understanding first and foremost. Image credit Wikipedia

Anime and manga, whether we like to admit it or not, will always be a niche market. I think a lot of the financial problems experienced today in the industry is a failure to realize that, and to try and make it mainstream by publishing everything and anything they think will have appeal. And as Brian Hanson can tell you, it’s just not working out that way. So the real problem might not be piracy, but that there just aren’t enough fans to go around.

So yet another solution, perhaps the best solution even, but undoubtedly the most painful solution is to just ride through the contractions and see who survives, and in accordance to Darwin, who does survive shall be the fittest. This also means a lot of potential titles lost to American audiences – unless of course they get picked up by scanlators. Perhaps for you it’s not a pretty thought, given the substance of your essay. I’m not saying I like it either; frankly I would much rather see Yokohama Kaidashi Kikou get picked up for a license myself.

But, as I said, pointing blame at scanlators, as justified a position it is and as unjustified as they may be, isn’t exactly helping the industry either. It’s little more than pointing a finger at a group of people who are unlikely to listen and do anything about it anyway.

And yes, copyright and digital rights management is a way to tackle the piracy challenge. In fact it’s a legitimate way. Even ignoring the legal costs, piracy has always been a problem, and it’s a problem best tackled proactively. Just ask your local Gucci or Armani retailer – even non-creative, more tangible products have had these problems, and yes, they too have had to go out and adapt.

So if the manga industry truly wants to survive, it can look at it from that perspective: either adapt, or contract. And even if they adapt to the best of their ability, contraction is still a clear possibility. It’s simply up to the whims of Adam Smith’s proverbial invisible hand – for its invisibility is something nobody can detect, nobody can reign in, can assert no control over.

All we can do is mitigate, work together and hope for the best. And working together will indeed go far; it’s how the anime and manga culture and communities got built in the first place. And keep in mind that scanlators are not trying to destroy this wonderful thing we have going here; I probably don’t need to tell you, but, they, too, want to help out in any way they can, to help their fellow fan. In fact, perhaps as a community, we can keep manga and anime coming to our shores, and perhaps bring in some of the more obscure yet more wonderous titles here too. A good place to start is here ; some of the suggestions are less serious than others, but it can’t be argued that going to cons and just enjoying in the community spirit helps. And who knows? Maybe we can make it work. Maybe we can get Yokohama Kaidashi Kikou made into a big-budget production and let its author know that he’s got a dedicated fandom here, too.

Or maybe not. But then again, they also said Watchmen was unfilmable.
Posted by StarfleetCpt | Jun 3, 2010 2:39 PM | 0 comments