One of the common elements of series featuring giant robots and the teams of humans (or human-like aliens) that pilot them is the part where the individual robots unite to form one giant super-robot ready to smite anything the forces of evil throw at it.
I was thinking of those types of series when Publishers Weekly broke the news earlier this month about a coalition of manga publishers that have joined forces to fight the growing problem of "scanlations," manga that’s either fan-translated from the original Japanese or copied outright from the U.S.-published books and made available on the Internet, often for free.
The coalition comprises a veritable who’s who of the manga industry. The Japanese side has the top four publishers – Kodansha, Shogakukan, Shueisha and Square Enix – among its members, while the U.S. side has Viz, Yen Press, Tokyopop and Vertical. To put into perspective how wide ranging this group is, the rights to all 10 of the manga on last week’s New York Times bestseller list – including established hits like "Naruto," "Vampire Knight," "Bleach, "Yu-Gi-Oh," "Negima," "Battle Angel Alita: Last Order" and "Hellsing," and rising stars "Black Butler" and "Alice in the Country of Hearts" – are owned by at least one of the coalition companies.
The move was a broadside shot against many of the arguments made over the years to justify scanlations. Sure, scanlations have done their part in allowing fans to read obscure manga that stand little to no chance of being released stateside in their native language. But they are also increasingly being used as an avenue for fans to get the latest chapters of the most popular series for free, publisher rights to sell those series and creator royalties be damned. "English publishers are taking too long," the common cry went. "We want our new (fill in top-selling title of choice here) now."
Cannibalized sales and copyright infringement are what prompted an industry that has remained largely silent on the topic to finally act. Looking at the quotes in the Publishers Weekly article (available at www.hsblinks.com/2hm), a common theme emerges: "We didn’t want to have to do this, but we will prosecute to the fullest extent of the law those who violate our copyrights."
Some of the larger scanlation-hosting websites reacted immediately. MangaHelpers began taking steps to close and relaunch with a new initiative: OpenManga, an "online manga, digital publishing and social platform" that has few concrete details on what it will accomplish other than what I included in this sentence. MangaFox pulled more than 350 series, many at the request of scanlation groups themselves.
But after a few quick Internet searches, I confirmed that all of the top manga series I mentioned earlier continue to have an online scanlation presence. Do a search for "Naruto manga" on Google, and Viz’s official page doesn’t even pop up until the sixth page of results. The coalition clearly has some work to do.
So what’s a manga fan to do? I’d encourage you to read up on the issues. One of the best pieces I’ve read debunking scanlator arguments point by point was written by Lissa Pattillo over at Kuri-ousity.com; read it at www.hsblinks.com/2hl. There are also several publisher-endorsed ways to legally get manga online, for free or cheap. Next week I’ll take a look at a few of the available options.
Anime around town
» MangaBento: This group of anime- and manga-inspired artists will meet from 1 to 4 p.m. Sunday at the Academy Art Center, 1111 Victoria St., Room 200. For more information, visit www.manga-bento.com.