Robot 6

Smells like teen spirit

A panel from last week's chapter of Naruto. Took me 10 seconds to find it.

There has been plenty of talk on this blog and elsewhere about the economics and ethics of scanlation, but let’s face it, we’re all grownups here. The vast majority of the audience for manga in the U.S. has been teenagers, and teenagers don’t necessarily operate under the same logic that the rest of the world uses.

The anime blogger who goes by the handle One Great Turtle encountered that logic recently during a chat with a college freshman at the University of Kentucky’s Asia Arts Festival. OGT and a friend were discussing the recent trend toward alternative manga:

After hearing this, the freshman subsequently asked “So, like, are they trying to make it cool to read print manga?” at which both I and the graduating senior goggled for a moment before going “what the hell are you on about?”

Apparently, in his high school, it was seen as uncool to read print manga. I didn’t find out then why it was particularly considered uncool, although the perpetual-behindness of licensed releases may have been a factor, as well as a certain sense borrowed from underground aesthetics that licensed titles may have “sold out” or were otherwise “too mainstream”. It’s also interesting to note that the act of “reading manga” itself apparently wasn’t considered uncool. Just reading print manga.

Which, of course, totally makes sense. Teenagers have always hated anything that smells of a sellout, and scanlations are to their readers what bootleg Grateful Dead tapes were to my generation, much more desirable than the commercial product (except the Dead didn’t get all uptight about it and lawyer up). Copyright is utterly meaningless to a 15-year-old. However, this is a phenomenon the publishers ignore at their own peril, because those 15-year-olds are their core audience. The guys in the suits can splutter about contracts and rights and logistical difficulties, but the kids don’t care. And if a bunch of high school students can translate, edit, clean, and post a chapter of manga in a day, a big corporation like Shueisha should be able to do it too.

(Via Ogiue Maniax, which has additional commentary.)



If teenagers won’t read print manga because they’re apparently corporate sell-out books, why would they download free scans from a big corporation? Said corporation would have to upload their series and pretend they’re all other kids doing it, wouldn’t they? Then everyone’s just being lied to. It’d be like finding out your favourite blog is written by some junior ad copywriter who got the short straw.

There was a toy company once with some kind of wireless combating pokemon-type digital pet that would beep when someone with another animal was close by so they could fight. They got their product to sell by going to schools, talking to ALL the kids and finding out who the popular ones were, then giving them all a free toy. The theory being if the cool kids have them, then everyone else will want one.

Maybe someone should pay some ‘jocks’ and ‘cheerleaders’ to be seen reading print manga. Problem solved!

That’s a good point, Canaan, but I think it’s doable. You have to not make your website too slick, though, and depend on it making the rounds via whatever viral media the kids are using these days (it’s still Facebook in my house, but who knows what my kids aren’t telling me). Teenagers aren’t going to go poring over corporate reports to see who owns what; if you supply the goods they want and allow it to be a gathering place rather than telling the kids what to buy next, it might just work. You need the right people running it, though. I would hire the people who are working for scan sites now—from what I hear, many of them don’t get paid so it would be a good deal for them. But you have to give them free rein.

Funnily enough, the idea of letting the scanlators work freelance for the licensing companies and putting it online tends to be met with resistance from the scanlation community. That’s also seen as selling out and letting scanlators get paid for their work, which is taboo. The fact that scanlators wouldn’t be charging money for a pirated product (which was the reason for the original formation of the taboo) and would be doing work of their own volition for actual companies with the right to publish that manga doesn’t seem to matter to most people. The whole idea is that manga should remain some sort of underground hobby, which it couldn’t be if you’re getting your manga from corporations.

Personally, I find the whole thing absurd. As long as you get the story you want, who really cares where it’s from?

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