Vaz July 2009

Vaz is a project manager at MangaScreener and has been an active member of the scanlation community since 1998. Before joining MangaScreener, Vaz translated the manga Under the Dapple Shade, the script of which was later used by MangaScreener to scanlate Under the Dapple Shade. In 2003, Vaz officially joined MangaScreener, and by 2009 is one of the few active members of MangaScreener.

First of all, please introduce yourself!

Vaz: Most people know me as Vaz for years; even my friends around here so why not use that :) Let's say I have been doing stuff with anime/manga since the beginning of fandom in America.

I'm a French-speaking person from Quebec City :) However I'm more of a scanner and project coordinator than a translator for MangaScreener... When I translated in the past, a bunch of the characters ended up talking like Yoda or had some French expression thrown into the translation (which is common in English from Quebec and we often don't even notice).

Tell us a bit about MangaScreener.

Vaz: We are hardly the 1st scanlation group that appeared on the web, but from the titles we selected, I can say that we sure are non-mainstream. By that I mean we are not scanlating fast food series, and maybe that's what made the group significant. Taking chances and doing different products than what is seen everywhere make people notice. In the end, all we want is to bring something different to the fans. Most groups that do scanlations are a little like that. All in all, what scanlation groups want is to bring something good and new to the fans.

Why the name MangaScreener? What was the group's goal?

Vaz: The name means what it says literally... it was a group for screening manga. To be able to read a manga while waiting for an American company to translate it officially, which kinda happened a few time \^_^/

Tell us a bit about the scene before and after you joined MangaScreener, what were scanlation and the community like?

Vaz: My 1st scanlation project was around 1998. That was around the beginning of the scanlation hobby. Before that, there was translation on paper that you had to read beside the Japanese volume. Real scanlation arrived when the graphical tools on Windows / Mac (Photoshop mainly) appeared and with the availability of the Internet in the end of the 90s.

When I talk about scanlation, I mean translations that are directly put on the scans using a computer of course.

So I would say that the real scanlation scene is about 10 years old and before that there was a few years of paper translation to be read alongside the manga. I did my 1st paper translation around '92. If I remember correctly, it was a bunch of Video Girl Ai chapters.

As for more recent years... the community was growing a lot a few years ago but the main commercial companies started licensing a lot of manga, companies like Dark Horse, Tokyopop, Viz, Del Rey and a bunch of others. At one point there was so many series available that scanlation groups started slowing down. However, since last year or so, the bubble blew up and most companies reduced the number of manga they now publishes. As with all area where there is a vacuum, fan scanlation groups are starting to fill the gap anew. The less American companies offer, the more fan scanlation takes over. The fan scanlation scene is reaching its maturity I guess :)

How was MangaScreener perceived by others from the community?

Vaz: Hmm... Judging by the people who downloaded and were in the IRC channels at the time (and still are!), I say that this group was rather well perceived. We released a good amount of manga of different style that were much appreciated. All in all, when a group is there for the fans instead of being there for their ego, it can only lead to good things :)

What were some of the biggest roadblocks MangaScreener encountered throughout its life?

Vaz: Ah! That would "real life", the biggest roadblock of every group. Due to that, editors, translators and scanners would come and go, so the process had to be restarted a lot of time during the life of a scanlation project to find replacements.

How did MangaScreener deal with publishers? Did the group ever get into any trouble?

Vaz: I know that when our group was releasing BECK, the American company that bought the right hired the translator to work for them. We voluntary removed the scans without being asked for. I'm sure most groups do that too. Working on a scanlation is time consuming, so if an American version exists, people will invest their time into working on something else, unless the American product is really badly done or heavily censored.

I will always prefer a paper version to a scan even if it's free. I like to hold a book. Those who will download a manga because it's free wouldn't really buy the real book to start with. Like in every domain, it probably hurts a little but seeing the sales number at the local comic book shop, good manga always sell nicely. I think what's hurting their sale more than everything is releasing fast food manga or waiting until a scanlation is all done to release it in English. If someone has read it all already, buying the book is less likely.

But to come back to the question, MangaScreener never got into trouble because we respected the rules of the games I guess. By that I mean, staying true to the goal that our scans are there to screen a manga until a company officially releases it in North America :)

Scanlation groups were pretty well organized back then, how was MangaScreener organized? What was it like running MangaScreener? Tell us about your day-to-day operations!

Vaz: As in most groups, we have a head leader. That person makes sure all the projects and different teams are doing ok. Also he makes sure to distribute the finished product via the website and IRC channel. Then there are small groups for each project. Each smaller group usually works like this: a project manager that tells everyone what to do and such, a scanner that scans the manga and cleans up the scans, a translator that translates the original into English, a scan editor that puts the translation onto the cleaned up scans and finally someone that will do a quality check to make sure the final product is ok. Sometime a person can do more than one of those jobs at one time. Once a project is ready, the head leader would then get the finished product and release it to the public.

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

Vaz: I would love to say it were my projects but to be fair, I think BECK and 20th Century Boys were probably the most popular and influential. They got published in North America after all :)

MangaScreener often collaborated with other groups to work on joint projects. How did these joints come about? Since two or more groups were usually involved, how were they managed? What's your view on joint projects?

Vaz: I have always been a believer that people working for a group are like free agents. They are free to give their time to whomever they want, as long as they deliver what they promised to do.

Sometime it happens that a group has the scans and that another group has a translator or some other variation of that theme. This is usually what happens when we have a joint project.

This also leads to the second thing I believe in: groups should keep their names even in a joint project. If a group uses another group's resources to release a product, just using one group's name means assimilation and not collaboration. Credits must be given to everyone who worked on a project. As long as everyone plays by that rule, I only have good things to say about collaborations. In the end, it's better to have collaboration on a project than 2 groups releasing the same scanlation.

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

Vaz: All in all, good guys :) Would be nice to see iansmith come back and talk a little, been a long time since I saw him online. The group is his child after all.

There are some "unspoken rules" in the community; for example "do not stealing other's work without permission," could you talk about what some of these rules?

Vaz: There have been some instance of a group trying to start a war with another group by scanlating the same project, but usually that don't last long because the fans just don't care about those wars. We have seen some groups continue a project started by another group when that project was abandoned. Sometime when a group dies up, the people that were working on a project just either join another group to continue (or start something new) or start a new group.

I'm sure there are some animosities between some people/group, but it so small that people don't notice. What I saw is usually the contrary. As an example, I scanlated some titles and a lot of other group asked me if they could use my scans/translation to create a scanlation in another language (like in Spanish or Italian), and as long as they give credits and not try to appropriate the work, most subtitling groups will agree to cooperate. Scanlation is more like what fansub was when it was still on VHS: people want to help each other instead of doing an ego trip.

Looking back, if you could change one thing about MangaScreener, what would it be?

Vaz: Hmm... Maybe not letting the group dry up. A case of 'real life' happened about 2 years ago and since then, not much (if any) got released. I'm currently working into reviving one of my projects. I hope that once I have enough to release, others will try to do the same.

Any memorable stories you would like to share with the readers about MangaScreener?

Vaz: More of a silly story: Some years ago most project managers decided to release fake chapters for April's Fool day. I took various frames of the manga I was working on and created a whole fake chapter saying it was a 0 day release. Making posts in the IRC channel on the night leading to April 1st about how the new chapter had been released in Japan, and due to the 13h difference I was able to obtain it and translate/scan/edit the chapter just in time. But things kinda got weird... I did such a good job that almost no one realized it was a fake chapter. I would have thought that putting the character together in a room with yaoi themed dialogues would have given it away but oh well; I guess the prank was successful.

Is there anything about scanlation you'd like to talk about that's misunderstood by most?

Vaz: I think most people take the scanners for granted; they have the most underappreciated job in the bunch. Everyone see the group name or the translator name but no one thinks twice about the scanner. They only notice it if the scans are bad. But doing a good scan is hard. You have to spend hours to clean up the scans, doing the best you can to remove microdots and such.

MangaScreener seems to be on hiatus at the moment, what is MangaScreener's current status? What does the future hold for MangaScreener?

Vaz: Some think the group is just dead, but judging from the people still logging in the IRC channel, I think the group is mostly in a 'real life happens' mode. I hope to give it a little boost soon with some new chapters and see how it goes.

From what you remember, what was the scanlation scene in general like back then? Do you feel things changed a lot as years went by?

Vaz: I think 10 years ago, people getting into scanlations knew how things were before. Not much translated manga were available and they decided to do something about that. What changed now seems to be that the current generation of fans has mostly been around with all those translated manga available so they take it for granted and almost expect to have groups feeding them chapters at lightning speed.

Ten years (even five years) ago you posted messages about needing help on a project and a lot of people would gladly offer to help in one way or another. Nowadays it seems no one has time or interest to help. This is sadly the result of a generation of fans that were given fansubs only a few hours after the original anime was released in Japan, they don't see the amount of work involved in making a product, all they want is the finished product and they want it yesterday.

Over the years the community seems to have changed quite a bit, what's your view on the “old” versus “new” debate that came up around the mid 2000s?

Vaz: As I just said above, in the past people were more willing to help because they knew how scarce things were before. Now, we are in the "me!" generation, so the new crowd is mostly interested into having their fix. What is going on now is not that different than the fansub scenes from years ago. Back in the 90s, getting hold of a fansub was a hard task. You needed to find a tape trader through FidoNet and arrange to send him an envelope with blank VHS and postage. There were few groups that could do it because of the equipment involved to make a fansub (genlock, computer and S-VHS machines), then the Internet as we know it started and we were able to see anime in the newsgroups. They were raw at 1st. Then around the time where mini Goddesses appeared, people managed to find that they could do subtitles with RealPlayer (those .SMI files from those that remember them). A few months later, people found a way to do the same with AVI.

Why am I talking about fansubs instead of scanlations? Mostly because the scanlation scene was not that different from the VHS sub scene, except the scanlation scene mostly managed to evade the pit traps that happened in the fansub scenes. The progression is not that different to what happened in the fansub scene.

So by looking back at all of that, I would say that people who were around in the 90s lived through all those changes of technology so they remember how it was and are less critical. They remember how to wait and be grateful for what they receive. The new crowd that never lived through those changes just assumes that we must live to give them what they want whenever they want. they do not all think like that but sadly, it's what a big bunch of this new generation are doing in most of their daily life.

At least we are lucky to have been able to dodge the bad turn that fansubs took at the beginning of the 2000s. Fansubs became the new warez and was all about who released faster and put the biggest logo. Scanlation at least isn't about the logo but about the product. Would still be nicer if the new crowd decided to get involved more...

So to resume it, what do I think is the big difference? I think things are too easy now compared to before. Not having to 'fight' for something makes it matter less. Mind you, I wouldn't want to return to the VHS days, but that doesn't mean it didn't have some merits into keeping the community closer together.

What do you feel is the future for scanlation?

Vaz: I don't think it is going to disappear in the future if that's what you are asking. There will always be a 'market' for something good. American companies really lowered their output in recent years and now with the recession, it would seem the fast food shonen manga are mostly what is getting published. That mean a very wide selection is left untouched by the American companies and with the speed of the net nowadays, I'm sure a lot of very interesting projects are just waiting to be done. I guess it's just a cycle and we are at the end of the 1st cycle, waiting to start the second one.

Alright, let's wrap this up, what are some of your favorite scanlation groups or projects you have followed over the years?

Vaz: I can't say I have a favorite group. I will always prefer a paper manga to a scan, but if a scan made me buy the paper version then it's a well done job in my book. And for those who never see any release in North America, don't worry, you mostly do a good job too.

Thank you for your time! Any last words?

Vaz: Let's change the world one manga at a time! :)