Vanderguard August 2009

Vanderguard is the founder and leader of Condensation, a shoujo scanlation group found around since 2004. After five years of operation, many of Condensation's staff members have become busy with life and moved on from scanlation. As a result, currently Condensation is put on hiatus indefinitely.

Please introduce yourself!

Vanderguard: I'm called by many nicks, and the ones that know me best, just call me Van. I promoted Japanese culture—manga—by making it accessible to an English-speaking audience. I wasn't always a fan of Japanese culture, anime and manga specifically, but one Saturday morning in college, I was flipping through channels and came across Pokemon. I'd heard of Pokemon before, but generally just trashed it as a kids' show. But, I was captivated, and so it began.

I started to watch anime. One of the first series I saw was Flame of Recca. I was disappointed at the ending and when I expressed that feeling online, someone told me that I should read the manga, because the manga goes past the anime. And that began my exposure to manga. I hadn't known before that it existed or what it is. Back then, manga—published as graphic novels in the U.S.—wasn't widespread. It certainly wasn't mainstream, so most of the manga that I read was scanlated. After reading scanlations for a while, I wanted to help out the groups doing this. I worked with many groups, until I eventually formed my own.

Even though I read scanlations, I still bought books. I currently own over 2,600 translated-into-English (TIE) graphic novels, and 2,200 Japanese tanks (original manga). I think it's important to support the manga industry to continue to foster its growth.

What scanlation groups were you involved with? You are the founder/leader of Condensation...tell us a bit about the group, what kind of group is it? What was its goal?

Vanderguard: I have helped Dragon Voice, ShoujoMagic, Sugar-Oasis, Entropy, and others that I can't recall. I started Condensation to bring over a series called Kapo-n! (>_<) by Iori Shigano. It was just a one-off, hobby/fluke thing, but grew into Condensation, which scanlated mostly shoujo/josei works.

What were some of Condensation's most popular or well-known projects?

Vanderguard: Our most popular projects were Honey x Honey Drops and Cat Street.

What was the scanlation community like back when you first got into it? How did Condensation fit into the community and how was it received by fans?

Vanderguard: The community was smaller. The main shoujo group was ShoujoMagic and there were other smaller groups, Eden, MegKF, etc., too. One of the first projects we did was Itadakimasu! by Yoshihara Yuki. I didn't know that Eden had planned on doing it, and I had asked to use her raws for Joousama no Inu (later released by Go! Comi as Her Majesty's Dog), so when we released Itadakimasu!, needless to say, she wasn't pleased, and revoked permission to use her raws. That was just a taste of the drama that arose from "stealing projects" from projects (series) that were "claimed." We had not made that mistake again, but it was made against us. At some point, you just begin to shrug it off with a "whatever" feeling.

Other than that, we fit in quite well with the Shoujo community, and even worked on projects jointly with Entropy. We shared so many staff, we were essentially sister groups. The other groups Conden worked with directly were Aku Tenshi and Dark Kitsune on Kyou Kara Maoh! (eventually licensed by TokyoPop), and HMR with Hush. HMR dropped out of the Hush project, and we dropped out of KKM.

Tell us a bit about joint projects between groups. How do these joints come about? How are they usually managed? Does it make the scanlation process faster or does it introduce more problems? Finaly, what's your view on joint-projects in general?

Vanderguard: Joint projects are series that are worked on by two or more groups. Usually they happen because the groups want to work together, or two groups want the same project, or groups need to work together because they don't have the staff to scanlate the project themselves.

Joints can make a project come out faster, but the speed is ultimately determined by how fast the individual staff members complete their portion. If one group is slower than the other, it can create problems. Or if there are differences in opinion on how a project should be done (HQ vs. HS).

I think I find them to be a tad troublesome because you don't have total control, but overall, I think they're positive. Two heads (groups) are better than one.

What were some of the biggest obstacles Condensation faced? Are there any common pitfalls that new groups tend to fall into? Did you have any run-ins with publishers?

Vanderguard: The biggest obstacle was having the right mix of staff at the right time. Also, we had a problem with other language groups taking our work and rescanlating it. I do not approve of rescanlating because the resulting work is even further from the original (i.e. there are things lost in translation).

I think the most common pitfall is not to think things through. They try to please fans by being quick, but the product is trash—hence the term speed scanlations. We haven't had any run-ins with publishers, nor do I know of any group that did. I think the case may have been different if we scanlated works that were licensed, or kept scanlating a series that became licensed. I do know that some publishers read scanlations to get more information about series that they can license.

What's your view on speed scanlation and the "quality versus speed" debate? Most speed scanlations are found in the shounen scanlation scene, has the issue occurred within the shoujo scanlation community?

Vanderguard: I don't believe in speed scanlations. I think it's horrible to not bring your best work and best effort to a project. The manga-ka did their best to bring us the work, and so we should do our best to translate that same feeling/quality. Speed scanlations have permeated the shoujo community. Shoujo Manga Maniac was (is still?) the most prolific one that I can remember. Some of the groups that took projects we did, did poor work with them. I don't remember which ones they were, because at the time I found out about it, I just wanted to ignore it.

Are there any staff from Condensation you'd like to mention?

Vanderguard: I'd like to praise each and every person that helped out with even one release. We do this for free because we love manga. So spending time on even one chapter is worth thanks. I give the most thanks to those who have helped the most—I'd name them, but they may not want to be named. I've gotten to know some of the staff so well, that we've become friends offline, too. I'm thankful for those friendships. I'd like to thank the people who shared our releases with others, and the people that stuck around to support our dream of bringing manga to the masses.

What's the current status of Condensation? What does the future hold for the group?

Vanderguard: Conden is currently on hiatus. The people that kept it running have other time commitments. Who knows what the future will bring? With luck, the publishing companies will realize all of our projects deserve to be licensed, and then we'll be out of work. :)

What were some of the groups or projects you've followed over the years? Are there any individual or groups that you particularly looked up to or liked?

Vanderguard: I've followed too many to pick one. I have respect for Entropy and ShoujoMagic. I've enjoyed reading the releases they've put out.

Are there any interesting stories or tidbits you'd like to share about Condensation or the scanlation community in general?

Vanderguard: Hmm, we liked to do spoof parodies as birthday cards in some of our releases that were rather popular. Running a group is like running a volunteer organization. It takes time and you have to want to do it, and so does everyone else on board. It's not glamourous. And I gave so much time to scanlating, that my GPA suffered.

How did you balance scanlation with real life?

Vanderguard: It depends on how much of a life you have! A lot of the time, for Conden, there was no balance. I remember nights when I'd be up past midnight working on a release with someone on the other coast. (Not only was it hard to coordinate with staff, it's hard to work across timezones.) There were weekends where all I did was scanlate to get releases out. I definitely had burn out, which may be why I don't have the drive to be as active with scanlating anymore.

What do you feel is the future of scanlation?

Vanderguard: I can say with certainty that scanlators love manga, but what form that love takes is how we differ. I have two thoughts regarding the future of scanlation. The first is that it is less necessary because companies have been licensing series so much so that they have to cut back on what they release because of shelf space and consumer dollars. With so many titles available for consumption, why bother with scanlations? However, there are always more unlicensed stories than licensed ones. Some will never be licensed because they may appeal to a niche, or unprofitable demographic. Even good series with wide appeal may never be licensed. In that sense, I think that scanlation will persist. It is my hope, though, that the next generation of scanlators gives their best to the work they do.

Thank you for your time! Any last words or shout-outs?

Vanderguard: I thank the manga-ka for creating such wonderful worlds and stories for us to lose ourselves in. I thank the financial backers that enable the publishers to release graphic novels. I think though, that when you buy a book from a publisher, it should be HQ. I've bought books that were ridden with typos, typesetting errors, or printing errors. I've seen pages that looked like they were run off of a poor copier. And I've bought books in series that publishers have later abandoned. I think that publishers need to hold themselves to a higher standard than they currently are. One last shout out to the community as a whole—the sites that reported on manga and releases and kept people who would have otherwise been in the dark, in the light.