|Why Fan Translations Are Still Necessary - by Dan Bednarski (May 16th, 2011)
I was working my normal overnight shift where currently I do duties of a second baker between two locations for my company this past Saturday night into Sunday morning. In my time between the stores before driving to the second one, I sometimes check a few things on my phone quickly which include one of my e-mail accounts and my twitter feed. I saw an interesting tweet from Sakky-chan saying "If they'd get the translations over here faster then fans wouldn't have to rely on other fans to translate for them. Right?" I see that this was in response to a tweet from MoonKitty, which quoted a line from a linked article, "Unauthorized fan translations have largely "soured" Japanese publishers on providing official English versions." Seeing this and agreeing with Sakky's response as a start, this subject was on my mind for the rest of my work shift. That is because I believe that the quote that was tweeted is highly ridiculous in this day and age, where publishers have the ability to essentially close the gaps between Japanese and English (or any other language really, for the purpose of this article I'm sticking with English) releases but fail to do so. I feel that with them using fan translations as a scapegoat, it shows that they are either too lazy to lessen or close the gap themselves, or refuse to modify their business structure to adapt to the changing times and use this excuse to justify this decision.
I am no stranger to having involvement on fan translated works in some capacity. Over a decade ago, I ran a digital distribution site for fansubs. When I started that site, the only commercial releases of uncut Sailor Moon were the three movies. So with this site and various sources, I was able to obtain and distribute every episode and special in its uncut subtitled format. Only the movies were available like that in an official capacity, so I never sought after nor served them. However nothing else was even planned to be released uncut, only the DiC dubs of the first two seasons were available, and even then, only a handful of those episodes were available for commercial release. As announcements and release dates were made for official uncut releases, I took down the affected episodes accordingly, until eventually there was not much of a reason to run the site with only Sailor Stars, the specials, and episode 67 never getting an official uncut release. Currently, I manage a fan translation site, planning the stages of producing English works of technically yet to be released works with the Sailor Moon reprint manga. I say "technically yet to be released" because amidst our project an announcement was made for the eventual release of this particular version, and also because the previous official manga release was not unaltered in its trip across the ocean. This might be splitting hairs to some of you, but this is the way I view it, I don't expect everyone to agree with it. In any case, that is our current project and we are already prepared for handling the takedowns of our work for the official releases later this year.
Notice above that I mentioned for both of my involvements in fan translated work, that I mention the removal of officially released materials. This is but one example of just how much respect fans have for the anime and manga industries. Ever since I first learned of fansubs, the morals of the people creating have always been the same: not for sale or rent (meaning no profit to those people), and the removal of potentially affected content should be released. Most of the fans agree with these morals, and not only support the commercial releases and purchase various other merchandise, they scold those who don't follow those morals! This is a great thing that you really don't see too much of with fans of other industries. With my structured takedown of the S and SS seasons of Sailor Moon, I was actually criticized for not taking them down as soon as the announcement was made! Never mind this was well before any release dates were set. I've already seen some criticism for not stopping the manga project altogether, even though our current postings won't be seen officially for around a year from now, and yes I will have more on that later. The point here isn't that I appear to push the envelope in the eyes of various people; it is that the fans are very supportive of official releases. Not just in the Sailor Moon fandom, you will see many scenarios similar to the ones we see in nearly any franchise that are a part of the anime and manga industries.
That is exactly why the above quote really bothers me. For any anime and manga release, there is a market for it here in the US, and I am sure it is safe to say that the same can be said for other countries. The size of the market for different franchises varies, but it will never be zero. Never. So why, as loyal and supportive fans, more often than not, do we have to wait long periods of time before we can actually officially support and obtain a franchise's various releases?
Let's start breaking this down by using the obvious example of Sailor Moon. Not only because of this being a Sailor Moon site, but because it is a good example that we are all familiar with. I'll start with the anime. It started airing in March 1992, yet we didn't see anything until September 1995. I know what you're thinking, that this is nearly 20 years ago and my argument isn't as relevant since anime wasn't as popular back then and so on. That is a fair point, but was it really given a fair chance? Anime prior to this (including Sailor Moon) for the most part had been changed heavily, not really giving these shows a fair chance in my opinion. By now most people have essentially forgotten that there was a dub of Dragon Ball well before Funimation ever touched it done by Harmony Gold in 1989. Look how much better that did as that franchise was treated with more and more respect over time. Also not helping Sailor Moon and previous anime, were the timeslots. Even with the dub as edited as it was, ratings soared as soon as the show hit a decent timeslot. New fans were learning that this was actually not an American show, but rather a Japanese one. And I say new even in 1995, as there were still Sailor Moon fans prior to the dub. The show would end in Japan in February 1997. At this point in time, there were only 65 episodes in America, with six episodes skipped, two of the episodes combined into one, and the second season not even being completed. One fansubber made the decision to translate everything after where the dub left off. The rest of the second season, the rest of the show, the specials, and the movies, were all fan translated. There was a demand for more Sailor Moon, and a fan decided to supply that demand since the official companies would not. The dub of the second season would remain uncompleted until November 1998, over three years after its initial airing. In this period of time, there was still no official uncut release. The person who had subbed the newly dubbed episodes had ceased production and distribution of these episodes, as they felt an official release was still an official release no matter if it was uncut or not. One group would fan translate all of the skipped episodes as well as the two that were combined into one, and another group decided to translate the entire first and second seasons (though sadly stopped suddenly partway through the second). Still no commercial uncut releases.
In 1999, the US would finally get its first uncut commercial release in the form of all three movies, the first step in a long process for fans to finally obtain these in an official capacity. In response, the previously created fan translations of these movies had their production and distribution ceased. Summer 2000 would give us dubs of the third and fourth seasons, and uncut releases began to take place in 2001. Once again, with the official releases of these seasons, production and distribution ended for the fan translation. With the production of the fan translation of the second season coming to an abrupt halt, there was a gap of episodes between where they left off, and where the earlier subs had started. There was a demand to see these episodes uncut, so a few fans (they never grouped themselves, just decided who would do each episode of the few involved) took a different approach. While VHS fansubbing was the standard, these people did not have the ability to create them. Instead, they were able to obtain raw encodes elsewhere on the internet, and add in the subtitles to that, finally completing the uncut availability of the show to fans. I believe this was in the spring of 2000, maybe the summer, when this happened. It was a great day, I remember being very happy downloading that last episode knowing in many forms, we had finally hit completion of having the show available uncut. Many others were just as happy. Before there was even the first commercial uncut release of any episode, fans had translated the entirety of the uncut show. We wouldn't even see an official release of the first two seasons uncut until 2004, and we all know how that turned out. And yes, even with those subpar releases, distribution of the fan translations for those seasons ceased in respect to the official releases.
While I'm sure most of you reading this are very well aware of the commercial history of Sailor Moon in America, I believe in this day and age a lot of information regarding the fan translations of anything outside of Sailor Stars and the specials has been forgotten. And I wanted to use this history to help drive one of my points. The first two seasons didn't arrive here in an uncut official release for over 14 years. The third and fourth had around a 6 year wait. Though it was less than half of the wait of the first two, 6 years is still a long time. Sailor Stars has never arrived in any sort of official capacity, it's 15 years and counting at this point. Yet fans, though unorganized in structure at the time, were able to complete the entire show within 8 years. If not for the work of fans, we would still be waiting to see the final season.
Now let's talk about manga, since that is what the above quote directly deals with. Being that I am directly involved with a fan translation project, I have experience on seeing how everything is done start to finish, and more importantly the time taken. Right now, I have to chuckle on the usage of words "official" and "fan", because while my group does not have an "official" job in the industry, with the exception of our graphical designers, each step of the process has a person with credentials that could be brought to use in an "official" capacity with ease. I am managing the project, and my credentials are holding multiple management jobs in the past as well as prior project manager experience. While only one is working on this manga project, all three translators on staff hold at least a 2kyuu JLPT certification, with two of them also having Japanese studies degrees from universities in both America and Japan. Just last week we added an editor to our staff, and she holds a B. A. in English. If I had the capital to do so, I'd really highly consider making us a company ourselves and try to obtain licenses, but now I'm getting ahead of myself and somewhat unrealistic for the time being. In any case, for reference purposes, here's how long an average act takes from start to finish:
Taking out scanning the material and for the moment the graphical work, we're looking at nearly 6 hours of work going into one act. The graphical work requires the most attention and can also vary per page depending on how complex images might be to remove the kana and reproduce the base image. One of my most thorough graphic workers gave me the timing info above, making sure I noticed just how much it can vary and lead to a possible hour for some pages. We'll say for this article that an average act is 50 pages, so going by the half hour average we're looking at 25 hours alone for the graphical work. Add them together, and around 31 hours of work takes place for each act, give or take some. Naturally, this is spread out between different people and, especially in the case of the graphical work; some of this is not done in one sitting. However, in a typical 40 hour work week, it is safe to say a little more than one act per week is possible if only one person was doing everything in each step of the process. Of course, no one could expect any one person to do so many tasks by themselves like that. We've got more than one person obviously. Also, since we're fans, we have jobs and other events in our lives, many of us working our 40 hour week jobs and then spending our spare time with this project. For the past month or so, I've been able to keep everyone on a schedule than allows us to post three acts each week. The only exception to this is when there are only two acts left in a story arc, in which case we'll just post those two.
This is where I have to start asking the question in why it takes so long for official companies to release translated material. It takes my group a work week to produce a 50 page act, I witness other groups translate and post 20 page chapters of other works in literally a day or two. Granted these releases are much shorter in page count and almost always ignore the sound effects shown in kana, but if they decided to take that time for them as we do, their translations would still be quite far ahead of any official release. I'm going to continue by comparing the release schedules of the Sailor Moon reprint mangas in both Japan, my group's releases, and the pending official release here in America.
The reprint manga began its release in Japan on September 22, 2003. That day, the first two volumes were released, and they would release one every month until the final one on September 22, 2004 (dates pulled from Amazon Japan). Considering all the work done to improve the images and repackage everything, this is a fair schedule in my opinion. Now let's compare this to the pending American release. This was announced on March 18, 2011, with the first volume set to hit stores on September 13, 2011. The plan is for a volume to be released every two months, which will end the release in the month of November 2013. I have two gripes with this schedule. First, with the time period between the announcement and initial release, as well as between each volume afterwards, I am wondering just why this will be taking so long. I just cannot see how the original Japanese version can be complete in less than half the time than the American version. Naoko already did the hardest part of the work redoing and cleaning the images, how does a mere translation more than double a release window? Admittedly, the graphical work is the biggest factor in a translated release. However, a thorough fan can knock out around 80 pages in a given work week give or take some. Shouldn't a "professional" official worker be able to match, better yet, exceed, that number? If work started on that announcement, almost half of the manga could have been completely translated and had the translation edited in with no issues. Which brings me to my second gripe, and that is the fact that this official release has been in the process of being worked on since September 2010. I know of a couple people who applied after the announcement, wanting to be involved, and being told that the translation was DONE. Yes, as of the first business day after the announcement, the translation was complete. I'm not sure of the status of the graphical work, but one can assume that releases could feasibly start almost directly after the announcement if they so chose to. When the first volume is released this September, we will be seeing a product that was being worked on an entire year. I'm not sure if marketing is a factor or not, however I have yet to see much for marketing for the official release, and if Japan could handle a monthly release, I don't see how America can't. This is a big reason why I feel that companies are lazy or refuse to modify their business structure with the times. Some people might argue with me by saying license holders might have various demands and whatnot, but that only proves as to why this thought process needs to be modified. Especially in a time where manga has worldwide appeal. Mangaka and companies should capitalize on this demand, not push foreigners off to the side for however long they feel like. The original reprints only took a year to be fully given to the Japanese public. Start to finish, the American release will take three years, over two if you want to discount that work has been done on it since this past fall. The fan translation I'm managing? Eight months. Nine if you want to include the few weeks prior to the first act being posted where it was announced and work had just begun. If we had the staff then as we do now, this would be cut down to five months easily, six if you want to include preparation before the first posting. This completely discounts the fact that over seven years have passed between the Japanese reprint and any English translation of it. The kicker? If the official release was announced when work on it started, our fan translation would not have even been thought of. Once again, showing the respect fans have for the industry. Since we did start, we will finish due to fan demand combined with our current postings not being officially available for another year. However that would be completely moot right now had something been said earlier. And our fans that demand and enjoy our fan translations currently? They still fully intend to purchase and support the official release, just as we do.
Now, with these examples of the Sailor Moon anime, and then the Sailor Moon reprint manga, it can be argued that I'm not dealing with anything even close to current. This would be correct. So now I will jump over to a current property, one of the biggest hits in both Japan and America right now, Bleach. The manga is currently ongoing in Japan, with a new chapter each week in Shounen Jump and a volume with a bunch of those chapters afterwards. As is the anime, airing a new episode each week. In the case of the manga, the latest chapter available as of this typing is 447. For the sake of this article and that I can't find what the latest chapter in the American Shounen Jump is, the latest chapter in a separate volume just for Bleach in Japan is currently 432. Here in America, the latest Bleach volume ends off at chapter 305. Going by the volume releases between the two countries, we are behind 127 chapters. This is over two years of material we are unable to get in an official capacity in English. Thankfully, a fan group can satisfy my yearning to read more each week not long after Shounen Jump hits shelves in Japan. The anime is a more interesting topic to discuss. I'll get to why it is interesting momentarily, and will start with the disparity between the two releases. In Japan, the next episode to air tomorrow is 322. Here in the states, this past Saturday episode 204 was the latest to air, giving us a difference of 118 episodes. Slightly less than two years considering weekly episodes, so somewhat of a smaller gap than the manga, but not that much really. You might say it is unfair for me to compare the airing of a dub which takes more work to produce than a sub; however official subs aren't even available until the DVDs are released. So actually, I'm being nicer by ignoring that official subtitled episodes are much farther behind. However, I did say that the anime was more interesting, and that is because the anime industry actually has taken steps to capitalize on the international demand for current episodes in the form of simulcasts. This is a great step in the direction the industry needs to go in, and I was very happy when this practice started, as well as when Bleach was announced to be simulcast. For those unfamiliar with the concept, it is as it sounds. For shows that have simulcast licenses in the states, an episode will be available for streaming viewing to us in no more than an hour after broadcast begins in Japan. When Bleach was announced to have this done in June 2010, I immediately opened my wallet to the monthly fee in order to enjoy this. That was even before the group that was fan translation the show for years announced they were going to stop doing so due to the official airings. Another great example of the respect for the industry, in both the opening of my (and many other people's) wallet and the immediate ending of the fan translation. If you happen to be a fan who has not taken advantage of a fan translation, you are in an interesting situation. The simulcast started with episode 274, though on that date episodes 266 up to 274 were posted to show the start of that season. That leaves you with a big gap of wondering when you will be able to see episodes prior to 266 yet after the official American airings. Hell, even now, not trying to figure out the exact status last year, with the current TV schedules saying episode 207 will air June 4th here, if that happens to be the last episode for some time, episodes 208 through 265 still have no official availability in the states whatsoever. That's a 58 episode blank period for those unwilling to watch fan works, over a year of episodes, with no set schedule currently in place to fill in that gap. Like I said, simulcasts are a great step, now the anime industry needs to find a way to fill in those gaps. Bleach is a more recent show, I'm honestly scared to see how the gap looks for a show like One Piece which began to air in 1999 and is now being simulcast.
The list goes on and on. I could sit here for weeks and months easily, compiling information from so many different franchises. However, save for brand new anime (not manga) that enjoys simulcasts, the turnaround time for any official English release is atrocious. This brings me to my original quips about the quote that sparked this article. Saying that fan translations sour various companies' views on providing an official English (or other languages) version is ridiculous, because they are flat out ignoring the demand for it. If I made a work that had such a big appeal worldwide, you can bet I'd be working to provide as little of a gap as possible to absolutely none at all. The anime industry seems to be getting this; it is time for the manga industry to get on top of this. Especially with the technology available. I have ideas of how the manga industry can handle this, but I'm not going to share them here. I don't need to see ideas I have to potentially capitalize on this market make them more profits and not personally make a penny on them. I've heard stories of those kinds of thing happening, so my stance there isn't me trying to grab attention. In a class I had taken, a teacher of mine mentioned how important it is to mention in your portfolios and interviews how any ideas brought forth in them are your own and cannot be used by the potential employer without written permission. This is because he knew people who did not make such mentions and had their ideas used with no compensation whatsoever. I'm not saying my ideas will be amazing and work wonders, but in the chance that they can, I have to protect myself for future marketability in companies I try to become a part of. But at least I am trying to think of ways to change things up. Whereas various people in the manga industry, at least this vocal one in which I can assume echoes the thoughts of others as well, would rather just complain about what they refuse or are too lazy to do.
Fan translations are there to hold us over until you eventually decide to give us something official, no matter how long it takes you to decide to do so. We fans will gladly support your official releases, and have proven this time and time again. But we are not going to wait until you decide you feel like giving us a translated work. The faster you get a product to us, the faster you get our money. Fans are willing to use technology to have those of us who can't read and speak Japanese enjoy the work you do. We don't benefit financially or live by doing these translations, you do. We do it for the love of the industries. And we show that love when you give us an official release. The question is, are you, the official companies, willing to do the work to close, or at least realistically have a very small window between, the gap? We love what y'all do, why won't you let us be able to support it for such a long time?
Why Fan Translations Are Still Necessary - by Dan Bednarski (May 16th, 2011)
Sailor Moon Re-launch in North America: What I'd Like to See - by Dan Bednarski (January 22nd, 2011)
Can we start to put an end to the stupidity? - by Dan Bednarski (September 19th, 2010)
Goodbyes Are Always the Hardest - by Robert Wheeler (May 4th, 2005)
Goodbye SOS. Good Riddance or Fond Farewell? - by Robert Wheeler (December 16th, 2004)
The Trouble With Whiners - by Robert Wheeler (October 10th, 2004)
Uncut Sailor Moon: Worth the Wait? - Part 2 - by Dan Bednarski (January 6th, 2004)
Uncut Sailor Moon: Worth the Wait? - Part 1 - by Dan Bednarski (September 23rd, 2003)
Disliking Vs. Hating - by Robert Wheeler (April 3rd, 2002)
The Twelve Dubs of Christmas - by Tiffany Wood (December 23rd, 2001)
Optimum Productions? Flagrant False Advertising... - by Robert Wheeler (September 3rd, 2001)
The Anime Translation and American Society Problem - by Dan Bednarski (August 6th, 2001)
Pioneer's First SMS Release: Heart Collection I - by Dan Bednarski (March 5th, 2001)
Annoyance: A Letter to the People - by Tiffany Wood (February 9th, 2001)
Cartoon Network - The Hypocrite - by Robert Wheeler (January 14th, 2001)
Moonian Rhapsody - by Tiffany Wood (December 25th, 2000)
Does Your Site Suck? (Repost) - by Tiffany Wood (October 28th, 2000)
The North American Sailor Moon World - by Dan Bednarski (September 26th, 2000)
The Trouble With Dubbies - by Robert Wheeler (September 13th, 2000)
Sailor Moon Fansubs - by Dan Bednarski (August 13th, 2000)
Does Your Site Suck? - by Tiffany Wood (August 6th, 2000)