Tsubasa September 2009

Tsubasa is the founder and leader of Aku Tenshi, a scanlation group founded in late 2000. Although Aku Tenshi was originally created as a simple fansite, it was later turned into a full-fledged scanlation group. Throughout the years, not only did Aku Tenshi produce numerous high-quality scanlation, but its presence also benefitted the scanlation community in general as many of its staff members branched off to form their own scanlation groups. At the end of 2008, Aku Tenshi went on hiatus as Tsubasa decided to take a break from scanlation.

Please introduce yourself!

Tsubasa: People usually know me as my online alias, Tsubasa. I am the co-founder of Aku Tenshi, with my sister VIvi, until she phased out of it and I took over it eventually. I do pretty much everything in the group, from scanning to translating to editing to websiting(?). The reason I got into it was because at the time when I was 15, around 9 years ago (which was pretty much the start of scanlation), manga was not very well-known back then, so I wanted to promote and share manga with the English-speaking community when I am able to. A-T is my sole concentration, so I never really traveled around other groups unless it was for favors or what not.

Tell us a bit about Aku Tenshi, what kind of group is it? When and how was it formed?

Tsubasa: Originally, it was just a random anime fansite that has info on stuff I adored at the time, Doraemon, Sailor Moon, and the likes. It was a very low-key website because I was just learning how to make websites and playing with Photoshop at the time. My families were immigrants and I kept my manga even when I moved, everybody spoke English here and we really wanted to share what we loved without the language barrier.

It was until one day, my sister and I decided to scanlate D.N.Angel as soon as we got a scanner, since we really liked D.N.Angel a lot and wanted our real-life friends to read it too. We didn't realize it would get so popular online since we were only doing this for our friends. Eventually, with the encouragement of our friends and the online community, I got much more interested in scanlations, so I started an actual scanlation site.

Where did the name Aku Tenshi come from?

Tsubasa: Honestly, I could not understand myself much back then. When I wanted to start an actual scanlation site, I wanted a coolish Japanese name, something like an angel, but evil too, lol. I think it had something to do with my obsession with D.N.Angel and Angel Sanctuary at the time. It could have been worse, I was learning Japanese at the time, so I had simple words like "baka epitsu" (idiot pencil) or "niku tabemono" (meat eating) or something weird and crazy like that. Thank god we didn't end up with any of that...

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

Tsubasa: It was much smaller back then, groups actually knew each other and we respect each other's boundaries (aside from a few unmentionable oddities). There were big groups and there were small ones, but we knew each other's existence. Fans were also much more responsive toward us. I really enjoyed the days when fans actually come into my IRC channel to just chat and play trivia, or drop a line at our forum to say "thank you for the hard work."

I would say my group is just one of those slower groups who have our own pace, we never mass produce releases, but we never stopped doing it. Time is spent more on the quality of the scanlation, I dislike sloppy fast-paced work. I also don't like to force people to do the work because I'd feel like a douche for yelling at them to do free work. It's all voluntary, and I would rather make friends in this group than bossing around. To me, scanlation is fun, and it's not mandatory work.

There's been an unwritten rule for some groups including mine. We do not steal (as in do the other group's project) other group's projects unless there was a valid reason (like, say, the group gave up, or shut down, etc.). And then there's the rule of not doing and dropping projects that are licensed in English. Sometimes with regrets, I follow those rules to my best effort.

What do you feel were some of the biggest roadblocks Aku Tenshi encountered throughout its life? Did Aku Tenshi ever get in trouble with any publishers or similar organizations?

Tsubasa: I've never really encountered much of it; I never extended out and just did my own thing. But if I must say something, then I guess it was when I had to compete with other groups for certain projects. Those always gave me headaches and heartaches.

Another similar mention was when I tried to extend the direction towards fansubbing. Huge mistake as the scene in fansubbing is way more frantic, way more stressed, and way crazier. I remember I had to stay up till 6am because of the airing time difference in Japan. We wait for it to air in Japan, then our contact in Japan immediately uploaded the video file, then the translator would translate it right after in less than an hour, and the editor would be on standby and so on. It was all very hectic since the fansubbing community is so much more competitive. After that, I don't think I will ever step foot near that.

I did get contacted by publishers who have licensed a project of ours before it was announced in public, so I could take it down beforehand. I complied since I was pretty happy about it, that and I could finish off whatever I had done and not waste anymore effort. Since I followed the unwritten rule, I never had any more troubles with publishers aside from that.

How was Aku Tenshi organized? What was it like scanlating with Aku Tenshi?

Tsubasa: Hahaha, I would say I run it with an iron fist, but that's not entirely true. Even though I run the group, I had a lot of help from other dedicated staff. And after some time when I had more staff, I organize it with 5 processes, each with different staff doing it. Scanning > Translating > Proofreading > Editing > Quality Check, then release. Most roles are taken by my staff while I fill in anything that needs attention. But in the end, I learned to choose projects carefully, making sure that I had the resource. For most of the projects I made sure I had the first most essential resource, scans. My manga library collection is huge now due to that. And I would like to quality-check everything in the end before we release anything since I like my stuff high-quality. That's mostly how it works in the group, unless of course there are special circumstances.

What do you feel is Aku Tenshi's most popular or influential project?

Tsubasa: I'd say we started with D.N.Angel, but eventually expanded to a lot of other rather popular titles such as Gravitation, Kingdom Hearts, Ouran Kokou Host Club, and more recently Kaichou wa Maid-sama. I don't know if I should feel proud or not, cause I swear that publishing companies eye my projects. Even ones that I know are very unlikely to be licensed get licensed. Maybe I just have good tastes? Lol...

Any Aku Tenshi staff not currently present that you'd like to mention or talk about?

Tsubasa: Yuta, Ocean, Spiff, nuu, nata, Crispy, Marissa, Holywo, Persi, stargirl, Kiri, Fievel, fallacy, DevilGL, mimi, zamelia, harihara, Fuji... Too many for me to list! I have lots of current and former staff that have all been wonderful. Some parted ways to start their own group, some parted ways just cause of life, and some stayed for their loyalty. I really owe it to all of them for all the work they've done for me and the group. And I've made many good friends out of it too. So I can't just list some of them as they've all been good to me!

Any memorable story you would like to share with the readers about Aku Tenshi?

Tsubasa: My annual April Fool's joke that I play on people, I turned my site into an "Ode to David Hasselhoff." It was a purposely badly-done website with flashy soul-damaging images of "sexy" David Hasselhoff. And people actually fell for it, our forum was bombarded with "concerns," it was the funniest day of A-T's life!

What are you up to these days? What's Aku Tenshi's currently status... the group seems to be on hiatus at the moment? Any future plans for the group? What's your opinion on how scanlation has changed in the last few years compared to the early-2000s? What do you feel is the future for scanlation?

Tsubasa: These days, I've just been chilling and getting lost in the road life. I guess right now would be Aku Tenshi's biggest roadblock! Nine years and counting, should it still run after so long? I've made my contribution for what I originally wanted to do with this site, which is to promote manga to the English-speaking community. And it's worked somewhat, it is now much more accessible. Manga is now available in every chapters, Barnes & Nobles, and so on. But manga sales aren't doing so well and we see a huge decrease in licenses, so scanlation would only hurt the already crippled economy right now, would it? My scanlations would only encourage the companies to license the title, so should I keep doing it to enhance the need?

The scanlation world is much more different than it was back then. In recent years, I've been hurting myself to find new staff. I've noticed with the easier access of technology (Photoshop, scanner, etc.), everybody seems to want to start their own scanlation group! Most of them are very new, so they seem to disregard many of those unwritten rules. Especially with so many groups, there are so few projects left to do that they compete with each other for it.

My group's projects have been targeted as well, but what can I do but continue to do what I do. And because of this, it was sad to see less and less appreciation and response from the readers, that's the one thing that kept me going. But the readers care less about you when there are like 10 groups doing the same project. People are now doing scanlations for fame and glory instead of promoting manga. I'm not saying that all of them do this, but it's saddening to see the scanlation world to be heading that way. Now that just made me sound like an old hag...

Currently, I'm taking a break to decide on the fate of A-T. All my years in scanlation were the best I've ever had. I really enjoyed doing scanlations, from editing to scanning to idle chats with fellow staff. I would really like to continue as long as I live, but at my own pace without disruption. I really don't know what direction I'm headed, either way, I think I've done my part well, maybe I could continue to do so.

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?

Tsubasa: I have my own resource to read manga since I know the language, so I never followed any other groups. But when I do, it's just to make friends. There are some groups that I respect though, like Toriyama's World for starting the whole manga boom, MangaScreener for introducing people to seinen manga, SnoopyCool for being cool~ Omanga for introducing awesome horror manga to people. Shoujomagic for producing a manga a day (do they still do that?)! And groups that my former staff started on their own, like KEFI, Boku-Tachi, Psycho Pandas, etc.

Thank you for your time! Any last words?

Tsubasa: Not much, I felt like I've just written an essay! But I felt the need to vent all this up! So I apologize for making you read this O_o But you are always welcome to contact me again if you have further questions!