Interviews

Chara August 2009

Chara is the current leader of Be With You Scans (BWYS), a scanlation group found by Earth Dragon that has been around since 2003. Although Be With You Scans mainly scanlates works by CLAMP, the group also scanlates other shoujo, seinen, and josei series from time to time.

Please introduce yourself!

Chara: I'm the leader of Be With You Scans, Chara. My relationship with BWYS began in 2004; after being a reader and lurking in the channel, I began editing for BWYS. I have since edited or done small tasks like making websites for other groups, but I've always considered BWYS my primary group. I had the title of "head editor" for some time. In 2008, the founder stepped down from the group and I've been managing it since then. Today my job involves coordinating the staff, managing the site and forum, as well as editing, typesetting, quality-checking, and odds and ends within the scanlation process.

Tell us about Be With You Scans, what kind of group is it? When and how was it formed?

Chara: We were founded by Earth Dragon in 2003 when he was only fourteen. BWYS has always had a focus on the body of work produced by CLAMP, and in the early days we made as many of their works available as we could, such as Angelic Layer, Chobits, Clover, and X.

Today I consider the group to have a focus on shoujo, josei, and seinen. Basically anything but shounen.

Where did the name "Be With You Scans" come from?

Chara: To be honest I don't know, I've never asked Earth Dragon. I've always assumed it had to do with the opening theme for the TV anime adaptation of Chobits though, "Let Me Be With You," but I cannot yet verify that.

Tell us a bit about the scene back when you first got into scanlation, what was it like? How did Be With You Scans fit into the community, and how was it received by the community?

Chara: There were a couple of huge differences back then that made the scanlation culture different from what it is now. When we started, things like one-click hostings, online readers, Lurk, or Baka-Updates Manga didn't exist yet. HTTP, XDCC bots, and BitTorrent were not as prevalent for manga, so readers would often have no choice but to brave using IRC in order to access scanlations, and they would have to learn how to download via file servers (f-serves).

I consider BWYS a second-generation scanlation group. Today we'd be on the older side of groups, but when we formed there was already an establishment of older groups (which I now consider first-generation). Those groups were ultimately very influential, having produced the first English versions of manga like Hikaru no Go or Fruits Basket. These big older groups had the best quality in scanlation for the time, and they released regularly. For both these first two generations, scanlating began with the thrill of discovering something new that you loved, and working together in scanlation teams was the only way we and our peers could access this medium. Reading the releases of first-generation scanlators is how I began actively reading manga. I think we're currently on the third or fourth generation of scanlators.

I can't say how these first groups saw us at the time, but readers loved CLAMP, and so they liked us. I think a good deal of people who have read CLAMP has read from us at one point in time or another.

What do you feel were some of the biggest roadblocks Be With You Scans encountered throughout its life? Did Be With You Scans ever get in trouble with any publishers or organizations?

Chara: We've never had issues with publishers. We no longer offer Chobits or Clover because I feel they have been widely legitimately available for a long period of time, and they were published in a level of quality that was superior to the scanlation versions of them. You can even borrow Chobits or Angelic Layer from many libraries in North America.

One of our biggest roadblocks was when our most productive editor ever left the group. She had been instrumental in allowing BWYS to have daily batch releases which is a loss still felt today. Currently our biggest roadblock is a serious lack of exceptional quality-checkers and proofreaders.

Scanlation groups were pretty well organized back then, how was Be With You Scans organized? What was it like working at Be With You Scans?

Chara: BWYS has always functioned as a dictatorship, in that one person is in charge and has ultimate control over decisions. Staff who used IRC were private messaged or emailed work and deadlines without much choice in what they would be doing. Since most translators refused to use IRC, no one but the leader had any interaction with them at all. Those who did use IRC bonded and regularly talked to one another. In 2005, under the previous leadership, BWYS experienced a mass resignation of staff (all of whom were IRC regulars) due to disagreements with the decisions of the leader, so this form of governing can go very wrong at times. Having experienced that, I try to be as evenhanded as possible. I see myself more as a coordinator of people, and I try to make everything as transparent as possible to all members of staff. I urge people to use IRC or the forum so that staff members can interact with one another independently. Many of my current staff have been here as long as I have and work on their own, so I rarely have to reprimand or remind people of their work.

What do you feel is Be With You Scans's most popular or influential project?

Chara: I consider our flagship projects to be Tsubasa Reservoir Chronicles and xxxHOLiC. I remember when these projects were first announced and eagerly awaited their first chapters. Today we are the only scanlation group that has released Tsubasa and HOLiC since the beginning and are still working on them. We're also the only group releasing them from tankoubons (HQ) so we know our scanlations are the versions of archive for many.

Any Be With You Scans staff not currently present that you'd like to mention or talk about?

Chara: I suspect what really led to our success as a scanlation group, along with having hugely popular projects by CLAMP, was Yadi-chan, the editor mentioned above. Without her, I think we would have been unable to release as frequently as we did then, and it was important that we were able to release regularly in that early part of our history.

Maris, another principle editor, has also been vital to our history. As well as being prodigiously productive, she has enabled us to have access to rare and not so rare CLAMP works by providing raws.

All of us editors have contributed to what we consider a high standard of quality in BWYS by demanding good tankoubon scans and skillful editing, but it wouldn't be possible without the keen eye of two other long-time members, kiwiish and Foxfire, who have shaped our current quality-checking/proofreading process. If only I could figure out how to clone them.

While I know I'm an editor with a high level of skill, I don't think I was ever as productive as any of these people while I was editing for BWYS. Even the managerial aspect of leading is at times a struggle for me. I think my strength lies in even-handedness and diplomacy.

Any memorable stories you'd like to share with the readers about Be With You Scans?

Chara: The 2009 April Fools joke was quite the fiasco. April Fools is an important date in the CLAMP universe, being the birthday of the majority of their protagonists as well as their anniversary. We pretended to drop our most popular projects, Tsubasa and xxxHOLiC and released daily chapters of hentai instead, but we made it realistic by planning to extend the prank for a full work week and alleging staff disagreements, frustrations with the readers, and a coup d'├ętat. Our prank was really believed by some and was ended after three days when the staff member who had pretended to have staged the coup received a death threat via anonymous email. The disappointment of the real readers who believed the prank had rendered it tasteless so it was high time to stop.

What are you up to these days? What is Be With You Scans's current status? Any future plans for the group?

Chara: We're still working on Tsubasa and HOLiC and many miscellaneous or rare CLAMP works. March Comes in Like a Lion by Umino Chika is a non-CLAMP project which I consider of high priority for us. Today we are a tankoubon-only group (or HQ only). Any new projects we pick up will be unlicensed ones, although exceptions are possible.

What are some of your favorite scanlation groups or projects you have followed over the years? Was there anyone or any group you looked up to in particular?

Chara: I looked up to Siana's ShoujoMagic for what was an edgy balance between good quality and consistent release times. By releasing as many unlicensed titles as possible, countless people discovered new shoujo manga, many of which were certain to never receive a legitimate English release. People would read manga because it was done by SM, not because the title or the author was well known.

Before BWYS came on the scene, Aku Tenshi had provided several CLAMP works. I remember looking through their application process for editors in 2004, and their standards of quality particularly impressed me at the time.

The Furry Triangles, purportedly MangaProject in disguise, was a group whose method and quality strongly intrigued me as I read their Hana Kimi.

I think Toriyama's World is due more credit than is given for helping to popularize shounen manga and especially Shounen Jump to the Anglophone community.

Hemuloki is a personal old favourite, though not for any particular reason.

Sadly, all old groups are just shadows of what they once were.

What do you feel is the future for scanlation?

Chara: Scanlation groups including BWYS need to learn to embrace online readers, maybe by having their own online readers on their sites. The immense popularity of one-stop places to get manga like OneManga and Lurk show that individual scanlation groups are going to get less support and interactivity from their readers. Less and less may come on IRC to chat real-time with the providers, and this is all probably inevitable.

Simultaneous international multi-lingual releases of manga will largely eradicate scanlation reader-base IF they are made affordable and accessible. If the Western publishers get it right—that is, they publish at truly professional levels of translating, typesetting, design, and on materials on par with the Japanese counterparts, I would never dream of scanlating or reading the scanlations for such a work.

Thank you for your time! Any last words?

Chara: Individual scanlators are gradually being abandoned by readers in favour of third-parties where one can access hundreds of titles in one location. At the same time, manga itself is becoming more globalized, edging down the need for scanlations. Maybe the proper place for scanlation is to be a test-bed for manga; to see in a real life scenario what will be popular with Western audiences and what should be licensed. And there will always be manga that will never get licensed, because not all manga is profitable or acceptable with Western audiences.

Scanlation is not piracy, we do not scanlate for profit. Scanlators and their readers are not supposed to be opponents of the industry, we are supposed to be the audience of the industry. However, no one scanlator or group of scanlators should ever be used as a measure for all scanlators. The Internet is a wide and wild place and anyone can be called a scanlator.

Scanlation itself is now approximately ten years old, and the original scanlators have largely left the community. While I lack confidence in the new generations of scanlators, I still think this is an interesting place to be.