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Translating Manga Fandom: The Case of Manga Scanlation
All the way back in April 2013, we did a poll titled "Translation Accuracy vs Fluency."
Question: Which aspect of a translation is more important to you?
Accuracy: I like manga translation to retain characteristics of the language of the original, to show the linguistic and cultural differences between Japanese culture and my own. - votes: 9633 (73.6%)
Fluency: I like manga translation to read as if the author was native English speakers, so that linguistic and cultural differences are minimized. - votes: 3458 (26.4%)
There were 13091 total votes.

This was requested by a member named mattfabb in order to write a thesis. Well, he's done with the paper and graduated with a PhD in Translation Studies at Cardiff University, UK. He's still doing research in scanlation, so feel free to drop a comment below or email him at mattfabb[_at_]

A presentation he did can be found here:

A section of the thesis that was specifically written for the presentation can be found here: 20Kobe%20Article.pdf?dl=0
Posted by lambchopsil on 
June 25th 2:02pm
Comments ( 19 )  
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» TundraDweller on June 25th, 2015, 8:33am

laugh That's so cool. Imma go read it now.


» podlizurko on June 25th, 2015, 8:59am

I read the presentation only and he did quite a good job just there, no time to read his whole thesis currently unless its short can someone tell me how many pages it is?


» mattfabb on June 25th, 2015, 9:04am

Actually its not the whole thesis, its just one chapter, adapted for the presentation I gave on the topic of scanlation!


» frostmachine on June 25th, 2015, 9:15am

That is so cool. Congrats, Dr. mattfabb. cool


» mattfabb on June 25th, 2015, 9:22am

Thanks! It would have not been possible without the help of fans. So many people helped me out!


» odyssey on June 25th, 2015, 1:41pm

not just manga translations do I feel that way but dubbing of animes as well. I mean I hate when they drop the honorifics or change how characters address each other between dubbed and subbed. Specially if its something like Onii/Onee-sama changed to just Brother/Sister. That's going formal respectful to complete informal.


» cmertb on June 25th, 2015, 1:48pm

This is a little underwhelming IMO. There's probably more space devoted to discussing what manga is, how it's categorized, doujins and otaku than to scanlation itself.

Some theories I find very questionable. E.g. "It is within this framework that scanlation can be conceptualised as being an appropriation of dōjin cultural practices." Of course, the term "appropriation" might mean something different in the professional jargon of whatever field this is, but if I interpret it as borrowing, then no. Most scanlators aren't aware of doujins, don't follow them, and generally don't care. Only a handful of groups would ever touch a doujin. Any similarity you might find is accidental and based simply on the fact that this is a group of loosely organized volunteers doing in parallel the work of an established industry. By the same token, you might argue that e.g. car enthusiasts modding cars for whatever purpose appropriate doujin practices, or any other cottage industry you might care to think of.

Going further: "Scanlation, then, can be said to play the same role of the Comiket at a transcultural level, as the function of scanlation is to circulate Japanese manga in translation outside the control of traditional publishing institutions." Considering that scanlation practically predates commercial translation of manga, you can't say that this is its function. It was never meant as such -- when it started, there was simply no alternative.

And a note of interest:
"While the commercial translation of manga, especially into English, has seen a decline in recent years, indigenous alternatives to Japanese manga have been slow to emerge. ... Rather than interest in manga subsiding with the decline of commercial translation, what seems to have happened is that the bulk of translation (most notably into English, but also into other languages) has been carried out by scanlators, outside the boundaries of traditional publishing systems."
Uh oh. To what extent is scanlation responsible?


» mattfabb on June 25th, 2015, 2:04pm

Hey cmertb long time no speak!

Keep in mind those are formulated as working hypotheses to research the phenomenon, but I am curous about your last point: Are you saying that the reason why a domestic alternative to shojo manga is slow to emerge in the because of scanlation? I dont get it.


» cmertb on June 25th, 2015, 2:57pm

Hey Matteo. Well, I hope my objections will help you modify those hypotheses. smile

My last point isn't actually a point, it's something that troubles me a bit. Given that domestic alternatives failed to arise, we have this niche audience served by scanlators and commercial translators. And I think from the way you phrased it you can conclude that scanlation is responsible for killing off the manga publishing industry.

I don't know if it's true or not, but some consideration of the issue wouldn't hurt.


» mattfabb on June 25th, 2015, 3:06pm

I see it the other way around: historically speaking, after a period of time, translated literature tend to be supplanted by domestic literature. It is unlikely that the manga boom would have lasted forever. However, what seems to be happening is that manga have managed to retain its 'underground cool' somehow through scanlation?


» cmertb on June 25th, 2015, 10:44pm

Well, if we suppose that scanlation is killing commercial translation, then it would also explain why domestic manga failed to arise to any meaningful extent. If you can't profit off translation, you would be that much less interested in investing in domestic production.

Also, you have to consider cost of production. If for a novel, the difference in cost between original writing and translation isn't that great, then for a comic it is far greater because you aren't redoing the pictures from scratch, which are the most labor intensive part of the creative process. Thus, the leap from translation into original production is huge -- maybe even impossible.

Finally, as one of your sources astutely points out, there are two different aspects to manga: the visual and the socio-cultural. Even if Japanese visual language isn't being adopted, who's to say that many cultural aspects aren't making their way into Western comics and other media (in terms of traditional cliches and archetypes)? I'm not familiar with comics, but there are already some movies and cartoons clearly influenced by Japanese pop culture.


» mattfabb on June 26th, 2015, 12:09am

Cmertb, I agree with you with the idea that scanlation is the main way in which Japanese visual language (and the culture associated with it) are spread outside Japan. Maybe in future we may see new forms of comics emerging from the scanlation community?


» VawX on June 25th, 2015, 6:13pm

This is actually pretty interesting, I'll read it later when I'm home mmm...
As much as we're doing this scanlation for free, we're doing it whole heartedly so sometimes it's a lot better than the official one mainly because we're a community and we grow together mmm...


» fishiiie on June 26th, 2015, 11:16pm

Wow, congratulations Dr. Fabbretti! Did not know you could get a PhD on manga/scanlation. Very cool. Question though: what are you hoping to do as a post-doc?

[...And from your presentation, I feel shocked that there are less than 5% of us Canadians here on mangaupdates... *kinda lonely*]


» mattfabb on June 27th, 2015, 12:13am

Thanks fishiie! I didnt know I could either until the end lol

As for the post-doc, good question! I think I could either do more research on scanlation groups, or maybe look in more detail at manga and manga culture in Japan. I was kinda hoping to get some ideas from the feedback I'll receive...


» ckrit on October 31st, 2016, 12:47am

Quote from mattfabb
Thanks fishiie! I didnt know I could either until the end lol

As for the post-doc, good question! I think I could either do more research on scanlation groups, or maybe look in more detail at manga and manga culture in Japan. I was kinda hoping to get some ideas from the feedback I'll receive...

As long as you are focusing on the linguistic aspects of it all, I think it would be a good idea to pay attention to and discern between the quality of certain groups. That said, because we are dealing with mostly amateur translators here from all over the world, there are different approaches and theories on what a quality translation consists of. A general trend would be, for example, that scanlators focusing on more adult-themed material like seinen, josei or simply alternative manga, tend to go for a more liberal approach while those investing themselves in more mainstream works often opt for literal and stilted translations (which sometimes end up being utterly nonsensical).

Another thing I find incredible is that a lot of self-proclaimed die-hard fans of Japanese culture will claim dropping honorifics is an outrageous act, but at the same time are unaware of how common translation errors and misinterpretations of the source material occur This is obviously not the reader's fault since they supposedly don't know Japanese in the first place, but systematically overlooking obvious bad translating and/or proofreading to include certain terms that don't always make any sense in the English just goes at the cost of a certain standard that should be present in professional translating but hardly ever shows itself in amateur translation.


» T1 on June 28th, 2015, 11:16am

lol it's the opposite when it comes to light/web-novel translations laugh


» eni on July 3rd, 2015, 2:43pm

This is really interesting. I have to read through it later when I have time.
I did my bachelor's thesis on the scanlation (consumer) youth scene (for social work) and now prepare my master's thesis on the community relations in one of the international groups I work with (for social anthropology). The linguistics aspects are very interesting. Congrats on the Dr.! I have still a long way to go till the phd. I've seen some others researching "in the scene" from different disciplines. Maybe we should form a network, hehe biggrin


» mattfabb on July 3rd, 2015, 11:08pm

Thanks! We should form a network! I would love to read your thesis. If you need, I can send you my PhD thesis, just email me.