Firedog September 2009
Firedog is the current head of Manga Jouhou, who took over the site after Deathscythe officially retired in early 2009. Firedog has been one of the site's founding members and long-time Editor-in-Chief.
Firedog: My name is Jason, known in some parts as Firedog, and I am the Managing Director of Manga Jouhou. If MJ were a ship, I'd be the Captain, elected by its crewmen to oversee its operations, bring in additional crewmen, make sure cargo gets passed in and out, and generally keep it afloat.
Granted, that kind of setup would make us more of a pirate ship, or a privateer at least, but that's not exactly inappropriate. Arrr.
Firedog: Like most people, I'd wager, I got into scanlations by...well...reading scanlations. I think the first title I read in scanlated form might have been Crunchy Cheese's Hellsing releases actually, though I really can't be sure. I have guest-proofed, guest-cleaned, and guest-edited for a number of groups over the years but never been a full time member of any. What time and energy I have for manga has pretty much always gone into Jouhou and that's not likely to ever change.
Firedog: IRC. That's really it, more than anything else... IRC. Long before the proliferation of blogs and /chans/ provided community, or Bram Cohen's nifty little coding had become the widespread form of digital distribution it has today, the scanlation community and its entire catalog of releases existed in that magic world of IRC channels. That's really what got Jouhou going actually, more than anything else and everything else, the fact that the scanlation world was tied into IRC and so were we, allowing us to meet and greet scanlators that might have otherwise been suspicious of us in a real time environment.
IRC is still wildly in use of course, and that's not too likely to change, but in the old days IRC was all that existed. Now it's more of a throwback effort, or an axillary function of a group, instead of having a situation where the only way to be in contact with a group is by visiting their channel.
There were so many big groups back then... Toriyama's World, MangaScreener, Omanga, Band of the Hawks, SnoopyCool, MangaProject, ShoujoMagic... way too many to mention. It was the day of the mega-groups, you see, where the bulk of the hit series being worked on were all centered on a few select giants. There have always been smaller groups of course, but I think the increased ease of digital distribution along with the decrease of the cost of site hosting, along with the proliferation of the blog-style Internet presence, has led to a more even distribution of work now than existed back then.
Firedog: A history of how Jouhou got founded really isn't too terribly important really. The key thing though is WHY it was formed. Before Jouhou, there really was no true single place for manga related info. Noated had some info (centered around scanlations and releases), to be sure, before it went belly up, and some of the bigger anime sites like ANN and AoD had some content. DailyManga had just come out shortly before, but they were very oriented on scanlations and were French-based. It was a pretty open field.
So along we all came, everyone for their own reasons and with their own backgrounds (though mostly all from Ars Anime and Something Awful, or both) but the idea was the same for us all... to create a site that had the kind of information we thought was useful so that other people didn't have to do the kind of crazy searching around through the backwaters of the internet to find things out that we had all done at one point in time or another.
Firedog: Well, it was a "hey, it works, lets sort of start posting and see where things take us" situation. We had no idea how well things would work long-term or how well we would be received, or even how long we would last. The adage "for fans, by fans" may be a bit worn, but in our case it was pretty much true. Everyone involved hoped it would be well-received and used and love and so on, but the core thought was still "this is cool, we should do it, hopefully others like us will think so too" and everything else would have to follow, or not, on their own.
The reception was kind of quiet at first...for maybe three weeks. Then several of the larger scanlation groups either linked us, posted about us, or stuck us in their IRC topic and all of a sudden we were swamped with visitors, much more than we had expected so soon and much more than we could handle. I remember at one point in time we were so close to overflowing the bandwidth allocated for the site and couldn't find out for sure what would happen once we went past that point that we stuck a pure HTML hard coded front page up and added updates manually to try to keep the bandwidth down. That prompted the first of many hosting moves we would undertake over the years.
Firedog: DailyManga was sort of our sister site from an odd, French-speaking mirror universe I suppose, in the early years. We mostly aimed at different audiences and generally shared release info between each other, with some of their release watchers sitting in our IRC channel and some of ours in theirs. Over the years, that changed, mostly I think as the scene shifted further away from IRC being the primary form of scanlation community and distribution, but we were on good terms and were not really competitors in anything but a friendly sense.
MangaUpdates looked at what we did, what DM did, and designed a site around the idea of doing the same general thing but learning from what we did well and what we did not do well. In some areas I think they have succeeded quite well and in others maybe not so much. Manga Jouhou has always had a strong stance against scanlating licensed releases (the 6th post ever made on the site was to make that stance official), so we could never compete with a site that willingly ignored that concept, and have never really tried. The ease of getting both licensed and unlicensed release info in one place meant we would be losing traffic to them before long, so it did create a situation where we had to be more proactive about steering away from relying on scanlation-related info for our viewership.
Firedog: It's funny, I long ago lost count of the number of times I have seen Jouhou called a "scanlation hub" or a "manga release hub" on other sites. Jouhou was never meant to be a scanlation hub or a release hub; which group was releasing what and when was never meant to be the reason the site existed. If it had been, we would have called ourselves something like Manga Updates. Jouhou refers to Information, and it is information of all kinds that is our lifeblood. When this all started though, it was scanlation info that was most needed and most wanted, and scanlation info what was closest at hand. I guess it was a bit like picking the low hanging fruit, but the ease with which we could cover scanlations meant that it became something that overwhelmed all other forms of information.
Over the years that has changed significantly. We always covered some news and we always did some reviewing, but we have slowly evolved to the point where that has become more of the focus of the site than scanlations are. It hasn't always been an easy process, nor a smooth one, but somehow we always work it out one way or the other.
Firedog: I remember a time when it was positively verboten for a publisher to even be seen speaking to a person that might have anything at all to do with that dirty little "scanlation" thing. They went from tolerant to intolerant as scanlating grew. I lost it in an email switch some time back, but for years I held on to an email from one of the largest of U.S. publishers sent to me by a member of their PR staff that said they would love to work with us (presumably to get us PR materials, review books, etc., though the email never said so) and that I should contact them to work something out... once we had removed that scanlation stuff from off of the site. Needless to say, that never happened.
Publishers are still somewhat leery of scanlators and scanlations, but have learned the hard way over the years to temper their reactions. This is probably partly a common sense reaction to the idea that you don't risk pissing off your market, especially when it's a niche market, by doing things to turn them against you, partly due to there being a number of publishing staff that also do double duty as scanlation staff, but also an acknowledgement of the pure, cold, numbers. At the height of the manga boom (so far), when you have people like ADV promising to release 500 titles a year and such, the number of licensed releases coming out in English still accounted for a small number of the titles being serialized in Japan, Korea, and China. Even without factoring in older series that have finished their runs, the number of titles available to scanlate is just staggering. As a result, I think you see the publishers working to squash people effecting their bottom line by releasing scanlations of licensed titles (or worse, scans of the actual books) if they can do so with minor fuss, ignoring activities that aren't a direct threat to what they are doing, and above all, trying to keep up friendly appearances.
Firedog: We have relaunched our news team under the new direction of Mark, a full-time reporter and nationally syndicated entertainment columnist who's come aboard to assist us in making sure we have news of the highest standard being posted. I'm keeping a completely hands-off approach to it so I can't give you many details about what he's got in mind to move us even further forward, but I suspect his next step is to work on bringing in some translators to help us get more timely news from Japan.
We are in the process of expanding our review efforts a bit, focusing on published titles of course, but the next big thing I'm working on rolling out now is the long-awaited complete U.S. release calendar. I'm still doing the early stage testing so I don't have an exact date for when it will go live, but I'm hoping to have it out of beta in the next month or so.
The Jouhou Blog will also be making a return sometime in the near future, with a more defined purpose and some additional features that weren't part of the original incarnation. There are also some minor tweaks in the works, some of which have already been taken care of, but most of that I suspect will be invisible to the day-to-day users of the site.
Firedog: There are so many groups out there who have had releases I enjoyed that a list of them all would be far too long. That said, if I were to set up the "stranded on a desert island with only one group's releases" scenario, then the one group that always released stuff I liked from the day I met them till the end would have to have been Omanga.
I'll have to pass on the personal shout-outs though, because I know my Swiss cheese memory will result in me leaving people out.
Firedog: Klatu Barada Niktu!