relentlessflame September 2009
relentlessflame is a staff member of AnimeWaves. Having been involved in the world of scanlation since 2003, relentlessflame currently runs most of AnimeWaves's operations.
relentlessflame: I'm relentlessflame, a 27-year-old male from Canada, who first became involved with the scanlation scene with AnimeWaves back in 2003. I also help moderating at a popular anime forum, and am a pretty serious anime merchandise collector.
relentlessflame: AnimeWaves was a group formed primarily around shounen romantic comedies. When they first formed, they were part of the initial "digi-sub" craze with Love Hina, but eventually they settled into the manga scanlation scene. In general terms, it was a group that always tried to emphasize releasing quality scanlations in a timely manner, and at the peak of the group's popularity was seen as quite successful in delivering to that objective.
I became a member of the group out of a simple desire to do something in the "scene," and figuring that the best "skill" I could bring to the table at the time was my experience in Photoshop. Of course, I've honestly always been more of an anime fan; at the time, I knew very little about either manga or the scanlation scene. I chose to apply to AnimeWaves because they were working on a number of projects I liked, and they seemed to have the most organized web presence and instructions on how to apply to help. My first staff application test was pretty horrible, but thanks to some persistence and advice from BadAndy [group leader], I stuck it out, and eventually started my first scanlation project with AnimeWaves as an editor (image cleaning/typesetting/script editing). I've since been involved with pretty much every aspect of the scanlation process, except translation.
relentlessflame: In general terms, back at the peak of the group's popularity, quite a community had rallied around the group and its releases. Many people gathered in the IRC channel and on the Forums to discuss both the group's releases, and the anime/manga scene in general. There was also a fairly regular arrival of new staff applicants who wanted to be involved with some of the group's more popular titles, like Ichigo 100%, Open Sesame, and Pastel. In addition to the dedicated following that's pretty inherent to these kinds of projects, the attempted balance between quality and speed came up often as a reason why people liked the group.
relentlessflame: I think the main thing about this, especially in retrospect, is that few things are more motivating for a volunteer staff than a bit of competition. The Ichigo 100% project had been the subject of various collaborations ("joints") over the years, and during this process AnimeWaves eventually became involved in collaboration with Yanime. After a while, some dissatisfaction arose among certain members of the Yanime staff, and they decided to continue releasing the project on their own. Some of the AnimeWaves staff who had been heavily involved with the project weren't satisfied with this outcome, and so decided to continue working on it as well. Hence, a sort of rivalry was formed, with both groups trying to release quickest and at the highest level of quality. I think it became a bit of a "rallying cry" for both groups, and given the project's massive popularity at the time it attracted a lot of attention. Pretty much the entire staff was involved in one way or another; I personally got involved with various aspects of quality checking and script editing. In the end, though, you can only keep up the pressure for so long, and many of the AW staff involved became disillusioned by the project. Eventually AnimeWaves gave up the duplication of effort, and Yanime continued the project to its (unbeknownst to anyone at the time) soon-to-come conclusion.
With Ichigo 100% gone, I think the group lost some of its more passionate fan support, and so the passion amongst the staff members also began to dwindle. Efforts to rally around other projects never really produced the same spark, and the "Internet drama" gave way to "real life concerns." But the group is not by any means dead; dedicated staffers are continuing to plug away at the remaining projects, and this summer has seen a flurry of releases of (the in my opinion underrated) 3.3.7 Byooshi!
relentlessflame: In general, I would say that I've always appreciated groups and individuals who made the effort to produce scanlation works of repute, both in terms of the quality of the translation and script, and also in terms of the presentation, typesetting, and graphics work. In the end, scanlations are in total violation of the Japanese authors and publishers rights, but if we're providing this in an effort to spread passion for these foreign works, I think we still have some obligation to show it respect and do it justice. Though it might seem strange given the above admission about the illegality of this hobby, ultimately it's the authors and artists who deserve the most respect for producing these works. I hope that people will continue to produce scanlations that allow the original creators to shine through, and hopefully cause North American publishers and the consumer base to take notice and want to buy.
relentlessflame: I can't honestly say that any of my involvement in the scanlation community has been all that "extensive," as I haven't had as much time over these last few years to really dedicate to this hobby. But I have been involved with a few groups, and I would say that the biggest roadblock seems to be keeping people motivated. Scanlation is a lot of work, and even more so if you're trying to produce works of respectable quality. Something that may take 3-to-5–minutes to read may require 10–20+ hours of scanlation effort. As much as I don't want to call scanlation a "work of art" (as that doesn't do justice to the true art done by the original creators), there is a certain sense of artistry to it. It can be a struggle to find the motivation to pursue that artistry, especially when other things are always competing for one's time and attention. The level of attrition among new recruits is quite high as people realize that there isn't always the sense of "reward" that justifies the amount of hard work involved. This is doubly-so if you're the sort of person driven to produce works of excellence; few things are more frustrating than having another group take the project you're working passionately on, only to churn out mediocre work that gets praised by the fanbase for simply being available. You could wonder "why am I doing this again?"
In terms of "run-ins" with publishers, AnimeWaves did have a few of these, but in general they are pretty straightforward so long as you're willing to be compliant. Personally, I don't see much benefit in working on licensed projects, as it's a real duplication of effort that someone else is getting paid to do anyway.
relentlessflame: I really wasn't all that familiar with the scanlation "scene" when I first arrived, and sort of learned as I went along. The first step back then was becoming familiar with IRC, which was the only way at the time that you could find and get in touch with many of the scanlation groups and access their works. There was a large emphasis on having the reader community in the group's IRC channel, and so perhaps a slightly greater degree of personal interaction with the staff.
relentlessflame: In general terms, I don't think much has changed in terms of the popular content trends: shounen action is always big, and shoujo tends to have a major dedicated following. But I think the reliance on IRC as a distribution mechanism has been one of the things that have changed over the years, with a much higher reliance these days on web-based manga reader sites. This was met with a great deal of resistance at first by many scanlation groups, but has eventually come to be accepted (even if begrudgedly). Otherwise, I would say that the scanlation community is fairly isolated from change; the methods used today are largely the same as those advocated when I first started, and though the people and manga change, the overall focus and balance of emphasis remains largely the same.
While we saw a short period a few years ago with a large increase in the amount of manga that got licensed and released, this has stabilized somewhat in recent years. The only main difference from an industry perspective is an increased interest in being part of the online manga scene, with some licensors (and even Japanese publishers!) beginning to post works online and otherwise make them available in electronic formats. I think this will continue, but I'm not sure I can foresee any form of digital manga (whether scanlations or licensed products) over-taking the printed book anytime soon in terms of being salable products. (I suppose this is one of the reasons I never delved too deeply into the "scene"—I still need my printed books, and I've read almost all my manga that way! I have a bookshelf full of licensed manga. Maybe I'm just behind the times...? :p )
relentlessflame: Just want to give a special thanks to the interviewer for being patient while I completed this interview (only a month late!), and for all the leechers who have had to deal with my procrastinating perfectionistic ways over the years. Hopefully your extreme patience wasn't a total waste! And I actually am working again on the next chapter of my current scanlation project, whether people choose to believe it or not... ^^;