The War on Manga

Written by Zach Logan

This is an editorial. The views and opinions expressed in this article do not reflect the views of The One Piece Podcast or Raftel Productions. This Monday we will be interviewing Stephen (One Piece translator for Weekly Shonen Jump Alpha) and Molokidan (One Piece translator for Mangastream’s now defunct scanlations). Make sure to tune in!

A War on Two Fronts by Zach Logan

No matter which side of the debate you land on, the manga industry is radically changing. The corporations that published manga in the United States are deteriorating. Around a year ago, VIZ Media downsized significantly and began to cut back production. Tokyopop shut down months later. Borders bookstore shut its doors completely in 2011, rendering a huge blow to the manga industry in a time when it was already crippled significantly. The industry has reacted by shifting distribution to digital development. VIZ Media developed their solution in VIZManga, and later, in Weekly Shonen Jump Alpha.

Scanlations have existed for well over seven years, and have become more pervasive than ever. OneManga, a former scanlation giant, was one of the top 100 websites as ranked by Google in 2010. Mangastream, largely heralded as its successor, garnered well over 400,000 Facebook fans, and over 100,000 followers on Twitter. This kind of brazen promotion and popularity has caught the eye of the owners of the properties these sites have reproduced. In Japan, Shueisha and other companies have looked to shut down these sites. Stateside, VIZ Media has represented these publication conglomerates in looking to protect their market brand. These sites have hurt their bottom line after the bubble popped in Asia, and after the recession began in the United States. This process has essentially turned into a game of “Whack-a-Mole.” For those not familiar with this American pasttime, it essentially boils down to the fact that Shueisha and others close down one site, only to see another pop up. The only way for the game to end, in this case, is to prevent a need for the moles to come up, or tape all the holes down so that the mole pops out just where you want it.

There are some simple facts that need to be percolated amongst the anime and manga communities:

The Internet is not free. In Reno v. American Civil Liberties Union the Internet barely escaped a law that would have banned all obscene materials. Not only would this have essentially ended the Internet pornography industry, but it would have provided the standards we have on basic cable television to the Internet. In the wake of that case, the Internet has blossomed and been a bastion for libertarianism. It is still, however, not free. If you do something illegal, you still are liable. If you provide scanlated materials to a mass amount of people, the companies that own that material can shut you down. Intellectual property exists to motivate those who create to continue creating. It’s law that is so sacred that it’s in the U.S. Constitution. These laws are what make the works of Oda, Kishimoto, and even Kubo a possibility. For those who claim you can do anything you want on the Internet and expect no consequences, you not only maybe hurting yourself, but you are hurting the principles that make it possible for creativity to proliferate.

The Internet provides. The Internet is unquestionably one of the greatest innovations of the century. It has provided a means of instant communication to people around the globe. A mere decade or so ago, the proliferation of manga legally (or illegally) simultaneously, near-simultaneously, or earlier than the release in Japan would have seemed far-fetched. This has created a sense of entitlement, but I don’t mean to say that in a wholly negative context. We are all intellectual property criminals, let’s face it. The Internet creates a means of distribution that makes it impossible to resist. The ability to read the latest chapter of One Piece as soon as it comes out is not only easy, it’s a brainless task. How can a struggling manga industry, then, take this kind of model and still incentivize and reimburse those who put their time and energy into it? A lot of fans also ask, how can I make sure what I (would) be paying (would) go to the author and not a corporation?

VIZ is trying to fight the scanlating by producing Weekly Shonen Jump Alpha, and they’ve certainly come closer than anyone else at producing a model that may work. The problem is twofold.

First, the hurdles of licensing. Any reasonable fan can admit that it’s likely easier to do something without following the rules then it is to follow the rules. Scanlators merely scan, translate, and render the images they take from the magazine and put it online. VIZ, on the other hand, goes through a painstaking process to make sure the license can allow certain distribution models (from color pages, to statements in the text), they have to figure out how to distribute it, they have to pay people who translate, edit, and typeset all the material, and they have to get everything approved. One may produce a product that pays back to the original author and has better quality, but the Internet will always go to the first because they provide a means of consistancy and speed.

Second, the hurdle of geography. Licensing goes far beyond the intermediary steps we do and don’t know about. Weekly Shonen Jump Alpha, though unfortunately behind by two weeks from the releases in Japan, still provide quality translations. The problem is, those translations are only provided to those in the United States and Canada. The international manga fan remains in the dark. There’s no way around it, because in order to legally distribute manga online (simultaneously or not), the company of each individual state would have to get approved. This is no easy task, nor is it likely to pan out in many smaller states.

So this presents us with the war on two fronts. The war on scanlations, and the war on the manga industry. The war on scanlations can never end unless an alternative can be reached that is legal and affordable for everyone. The war on the manga industry cannot end until the war on scanlations concludes.

We are left with some difficult predicaments: am I entitled to read my manga chapter every week without paying? Is the dissemination of that material on the Internet a crime, and if I read it am I significantly hurting the author and the creators of the work? Can the manga industry ever provide a reasonable alternative, a la Crunchyroll for anime?

We must push VIZ to speed their Shonen Jump Alpha releases in the wake of the shutdown of Mangastream. We must push Shueisha to provide Shonen Jump Alpha as an immediate alternative to those around the world. So instead of complaining and whining, make your voice heard and let them know you want simultaneous worldwide releases of One Piece (or whatever your favorite manga might be). It may seem impossible, but it’s already begun to happen to anime. It maybe possible for manga as well.

Keep reading for former One Piece Podcast member, Tsukento, and his take on the current situation. For his full article, check out his blog.


VIZ’s “War on Manga” by Tsukento

Think the title is a little silly? Unfortunately, it’s an accurate portrayal on the exaggerations some fans are going as far as to make over on Viz’s Facebook page. Why is that? On February 11, 2012, manga scanlating group, Manga Stream, published a statement on their website that said they would be no longer doing fan scans of Weekly Shounen Jump manga due to demands from Viz. The following series’ were affected:

  • Bleach
  • Claymore
  • D.Gray-man
  • Hunter × Hunter
  • Katekyo Hitman Reborn!
  • Naruto
  • One Piece

Needless to say, as soon as fans read this, the internet seemed to explode.Now let me first start things off explaining my own thoughts on the situation. I’ve been pirating virtually everything since back when Napster was the big thing everyone was using before it became a big hot issue to download music over the internet. Even to this day I still do it; games, anime, manga. Whether it be streaming or download. I am very much the definition of a pirate.

However, I can rightfully say that I still support the industries I seem to “steal, plunder and rape” from with my hijinks. I have lord knows how many boxes full of manga volumes, anime VHS tapes, DVDs and a couple of Blu-rays, as well as an obscene amount of games purchased physically and digitally. If you’ve seen my posts on Twitter, chances are you’ve stumbled upon my photos of my collections and random purchases.

I may not be able to buy anime and manga right away as they come out, but I still find my ways to chip in when I can to not only support the industry but to get the things I like when they’re released here. With that, I also understand that it costs companies like Viz money to obtain a license from the original company so they can then translate their product, mass produce them and then ship them out. Some series’ are major hits whereas some aren’t. Sometimes there’s not enough money to be made because the series doesn’t have a big enough fanbase, while sometimes it can be the fault of the company for not backing it properly to raise awareness. It’s never easy to pinpoint which is the exact cause.

With the loss of the WSJ manga being brought to the internet by Manga Stream, it’s both a hit to the fans as well as the pirates. Viz’s hopes were clearly meant to force pirates to look to legal methods for reading manga digitally, which they offer with Weekly Shonen Jump Alpha. Unfortunately, the fired attack also managed to hit some loyal fans in the same process. Fans of Claymore, D.Gray-man, Katekyo Hitman Reborn! and Hunter × Hunter were equally angered by the removal of their series’, as only three of removed series’ are even being shown and promoted in WSJA. The KHR! fans are a little more upset as this is a series that has spanned for 37 volumes in Japan, with only 16 released by Viz, as they have no plans to continue translating the series, having placed it into indefinite hiatus status.

It’s also understandable for some other fans who pirate for other reasons to be upset – neither the manga nor WSJA is available in their regions/territories. As of this writing, WSJA is only available in the US and Canada. This leaves a majority of the world locked out, especially those that are native-English speakers. With no way of being able to officially obtain their manga, what other alternative did they have? One could suggest they import manga from the US, but that becomes rather pricey and (honestly) inconvenient. This is a problem that’s been affecting them with anime streams and with Viz hitting Manga Stream, this only doubles the punishment for those who couldn’t pay for these, even if they wanted to.

Viz has a LOT to do if they want to make WSJA something to turn to as an alternative to pirating manga. They need to make their service available offline for those not using smart devices. As it stands, you’re only given temporary ownership over your volumes of WSJA for a fixed amount of weeks. Why can’t subscribers keep them if they bought them with their subscription? Why do they have to be online in order to read them on their computers? A program similar to Steam would benefit Viz greatly, as it doesn’t hinder those who purchase the manga greatly, allows them to access these things while offline and still prevents them from sharing them online with those who didn’t pay for them. As it stands, Viz’s methods are more closer to Origin.

Not only this, but this should be more accessible to other platforms. The iOS shouldn’t come first at all times; especially when reading manga on a cell phone is an extraordinary pain. That’s the 1st page of Bakuman Vol. 1 as through my iPhone 3GS. No modification was done to the image. It’s exactly as it appears on my phone and requires all sorts of zooming and swiping in order to properly read any manga on Viz’s app. If anything, it would be more ideal to work a way to get manga apps onto the 3DS and PSVita. The PSP originally attempted something like this with various western superhero comic books. Their screens seem like much better alternatives than the smaller smart phones.

Finally, the big issue being they need to focus more on other series’ to promote what they have and raise awareness, rather than focusing on the small group of manga they’re boasting about in WSJA. With the additional pages they mention having, it would be more ideal to rotate around certain series’ or at least do spotlights. Heck, best option would be to turn to fans and get an idea of what they want to see. On top of that, attempt to reach outside of the North American market. One of the big problems the anime industry (and sometimes gaming) suffers from is when certain parts of the world won’t ever see a stream or release because no one will license a property for their area. One of WSJA’s main drawbacks is that several people are left out because they’re not able to access it.

Now with all that said and done, don’t mistake this as me bashing Viz or anything of the sort. If anything, my suggestions are merely constructive criticism pointing out what’s wrong with their methods and services, along with a few ideas of how they can be fixed. The fanbase, however…there’s no fixing that. After browsing Viz’s Facebook page, I’m left utterly baffled some of these people can even form a coherent sentence, as their anger towards Viz is the equivalent of a child. Some fans are being very civil and expressing their concern calmly. Some just outright bashed their heads on their keyboard and hit “Send.” I think it’s only fair I now look at what they have to say and point out what exactly is wrong with some of the fanbase.

This is going to be the part where I pick some Facebook comments and give my two cents on them (aka tear them apart). Obviously I won’t be including any full names, because I’m not a jerk and don’t exactly want anyone getting the idea it’s cool to harass people on their Facebook page. Remember, this is for education and entertainment; not bullying.

Kris: money whores!
Joshua: Thanks a lot you jerks, MangaStream is 10x better than you. You’re just upset that it was popular unlike you.
Davey: Jealous that a group does a better job than you – and for free?
Francesco: You are evil. EVIL SATAN WORSHIPPERS!
Daria: That moment when a business is anal because a free provider does pretty much everything better.
Francesco (Again): Now that’s where you were hiding, ADOLF HITLER!

Nothing but “u jelly” and senseless name calling. Didn’t think running a business to ensure your product made a profit and wasn’t being stolen equated to being a money whore and being worshippers of the Devil. News to me.

Bilal: I used to buy your issues whenever they were out in my country. Since you guys put an end to Mangastream, I am never ever going to buy anything from Viz again.

Now this one makes no sense. If you bought issues when they were available, why would you forcibly limit yourself by not buying anything at all?

Robby: Oh, and if you wanted…make viewing of manga online free. Going digital means you can do that.

No. No that doesn’t. You know nothing of how that works. Shueisha would kill Viz if they offered these things for free online. Not to mention, they’re the ones who give the final okay to what Viz does.

Trevor: You guys are WAY behind on Bleach (Which is at Chapter 480 in Japan, You’re at Chapter 424 from what I saw, Which is the beginning of the previous arc…its going to be over a year until you catch up!)

Actually, Bleach is at Chapter 477 in WSJA. So it’s only 3 chapters off. Might help if you keep up with current events, rather than randomly complain.

Rin: I hope your company bankrupts and burns. LONG LIVE MANGASTREAM!
Abdiasis: I’ll be happy to watch your sales go plummeting down!
Alex: Let s boycott them so they ll go bankrupt…… hopefully!!!

Yeah! I hope hundreds of people lose their jobs and have to struggle with money! I also hope for the only major company that helped shaped this industry to crash and burn, preventing us from ever seeing official releases again! That’ll teach those MONSTERS for taking away my illegal goods!

David: your fate will be the same as Tokyopop.

Being owed tons of money after being cheated out of it by Borders and because people like you refuse to buy manga?

Tom: Congratulations Viz, I don’t buy your products often but I always buy naruto games when it’s coming out and now I won’t

Congratulations! You’re taking your anger out on Namco Bandai, the ones responsible for publishing those games. Nice job!

Estevan: I will spread the word NOT to subscribe to the poorly received Shonen Jump Alpha, it won’t. If you think I’ll buy the manga and B&N, think again. It’s practically a library.

So in other words, you never used Alpha, otherwise you wouldn’t word it as if you’re going to explain based on the experiences of others. You also never buy manga, considering you see bookstores as libraries. So really, what exact right DO you have to complain for?

Torres: You will not stop internet freedom!

…The freedom to steal manga? I’m not sure I follow.

Terresa: I will learn Japanese and buy straight from Japan. The result? Faster, more accurate manga and I am supporting the artist directly and not having to give money to companies like this one.

To bad part of the money is still given to the publishing company. Oh, did I forget to mention that Viz is a part of Shueisha? So your goal accomplishes nothing. If you have the time and money to spend on getting lessons to learn another language for the sake of reading manga, then you have the time and money to pay for official releases.

Luis: trying to monopolize those series, uh? so are you guys gonna stop the other groups as well?

Well…they kinda do have the license to them, after all.

I’ll stop here. Now take a good look at the comments above. Is this really what our fanbase looks like? Shallow, petty, self-entitled whiners who feel they DESERVE to be given free things? As I’ve mentioned earlier on, there are definitely a lot of problems Viz has that needs to be worked out as they effectively hurt people outside of their range that couldn’t even contribute if they wanted. Said folks have been calm and explained carefully why they don’t like the situation. Meanwhile, the outspoken vocal individuals have clearly shown their true colors and how, for a good majority of them, they have absolutely no idea what it is they’re talking about or how things work.

Look, Viz is a business. They have Shueisha breathing down their necks on making sure they don’t screw this up and to make sure they try killing off as much rampant piracy as possible. They kinda have to keep your money in their interest. It’s not like they don’t take an interest in the fans, either. After all, we did get an entire Shonen Jump dedicated to the fans. Yeah, they still need some kinks to work out with everything. But to outright compare them to Adolf Hitler? Because they took down your illegal manga? Are you kidding me? This is partly why I don’t actively take part in any fanbases; the people surrounding it tend to outnumber the ordinary, sane fans.


February 2012
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