Translators and Early Fanscan Projects
Without translators, there can be no scanlation, therefore translators are a vital asset to any scanlation project. Throughout the years, there have been many translators that stood out. In the years before 2000, many of these translators ran their own script sites, and played an integral role in the early development of scanlation.
Many manga were actively being translated long before 2000. Back in 1998, there were already a few major translation/fanscan efforts going on, and yes, the practice was referred to as fanscan before the word scanlation (or scanslation) became popular.
Ranma ½ and Other Rumiko Takahashi Series
Rumiko Takahashi's Ranma ½ was a popular target for translation. There was a Ranma ½ translation newsgroup that dates back to around 1989. Another Ranma project, The Ranma ½ Project by Jason Satoru Doyama, was launched on June 3, 1996 and provided translations of selected Ranma ½ chapters. Doyama also ran two other projects between 1996 and 1997: The Dragon Ball Project (site operated by Smurfbon) and The KOR Project. The Dragon Ball Project and the The Kimagure Orange Road Project were probably some of the earliest scanlation projects, where texts were laid on top of images using MS Paint.
Another Ranma ½ translator was Robb's Studio Robb, which began translating the manga in 1996, and later went on to translate and scanlate other manga as well. As time went on, Studio Robb began scanlating other manga as well. The group was one of the few one-man groups that could generate a following that rivaled normal groups.
The Ranma ½ Project later went down but was succeeded by The New Ranma Project. The New Ranma Project was headed by two individuals who went by the name of SHADE and EvlNabiki. The project produced primitive scanlations of Ranma ½ and was actually able to finish the entire second half of the series when Viz's official release of the manga slowed to a crawl, all in one year's time.
Regarding Viz's slow release of Ranma ½, Viz was releasing the series in the old comic book format (slowly) up until 2003. At one point, Viz even took a few months off when they ceased the publication of the comics because the graphic novels were trailing behind by around two or three volumes. So there were a few months without new material.
This lasted until April of 2003, when Viz cancelled their entire line of monthly comics and replaced them with graphic novels that are set to come out approximately every three months. Viz began releasing the new material on September 6, 2003 (Special thanks to the folks of Rumic World for this info).
From The New Ranma Project's history section:
The New Ranma Project is a group of anime/manga fans that banded together to create home grown graphical translations of the Ranma ½ manga. Our goal all along was to translate the SECOND half of the manga series. This being all the chapters that Viz comics have not yet done.
The project began in February of 1999 with EvlNabiki and myself (SHADE). Taking our cue from The Ranma Project (or the original Ranma Project as we personally call it now, not to mention stealing the name since we were too lazy to think of one ourselves) we began to scan and graphically translate a handful of chapters of Ranma.
In the middle of April, we began posting our work to the usenet newsgroup alt.binaries.pictures.anime, along with requests for volunteers to help us out, since the task we proposed to do was WAY too big for only two people to do. There was an immediate reaction, with a few people volunteering to help out. From then on, bolstered by a slow but steady stream of new volunteers, our project grew in size, and continued to translate chapters at an ever increasing pace.
EvlNabiki & I, since we had the import books and scanners, did all the scans, then handed the chapters off to our volunteers for the rest of translation work to be done. They then sent the finished chapters back to us, and we posted them to the newsgroup.
Our project completed 235 chapters of Ranma. That is every chapter between book 17, part 5, and book 38, part 9, which is the end of the series.The numbers I just gave are according to the japanese numbering system created by the Shonen Sunday collection books. Viz comics numbers their chapters differently. I'll get into that more later.
A typical book of Ranma in the Shonen Sunday collection numbering system has 11 chapters in it. Each chapter being 16 pages. A very rare chapter might be 17 or 18 pages.
In the final two books of Ranma, books 37 & 38, due to a handful of extremely long chapters, book 37 only has 10 chapters, and book 38 only has 9 chapters, even though the books are the same length as all the others.
For more details and history on The New Ranma Project, read the project's Readme file.
Takahashi's works seem to be a popular target for translators. After Viz discontinued the Urusei Yatsura manga in 1998, fans started a project called Project ILM: Industrial Lum & Manga, where fans would translate chapters of Urusei from Japanese to English, and post it online. Some would even place the English translation on top of the original Japanese image. The ILM Project was started by Michael Howe, creator of the Rumiquirks Webpages. Many became involved in the project, including the popular Urusei website Tomobiki-cho. However, the project did not go well due to a lack of discipline, time, and various other factors among its participants, and almost came to an end.
After a few years of inactivity, one of Rumic World's board members, Frogisis, made the suggestion of getting Project ILM started again. In October 2002, Rumic World took over the project. In just one year, Rumic World had finished what Viz and others couldn't: translating over 20 tankoubons of Urusei Yatsura.
Another popular translation site was Wot-Club's Inuyasha translation, one of the longest-running translation efforts ever. Started by Chris Rijk in 1997, the site provided translations of Inuyasha chapters as they were released in Japan. Sometimes a translation would even come with a few magazine scans. Before scanlations became popular, these scans were a real treat to the site's visitors.
Wot-Club also had a Ranma ½ site called Ranma 1/2 FAQ that was quite popular for awhile, and Rijk translated selected Ranma ½ chapters as they came out in Japan, quite an impressive feat at a time when there were no "weekly speedscans."
In Japan, Inuyasha's serialization did not end for a long time. With the emergence of Inuyasha scanlation from the likes of Ear-Tweak, Wot-Club quickly lost its audience and eventually Rijk became burnt out. In 2006, Rijk stopped translating Inuyasha.
In 2007, the Wot-Club site went down, and so one of the oldest and longest translation projects disappeared without a trace.
Another manga that was popular with translators was Akira Toriyama's Dragon Ball series. In 1996, Jason Doyama and Smurfbon launched The Dragon Ball Project, which offered actual primitive scanlation as opposed to just the script. In 1997, the project was closed due to Viz's licensing of DBZ.
Another Dragon Ball project that went on hiatus after Viz's license was the Translated DBZ Manga page. The Translated DBZ Manga page was a tag team of Joeseph Teed and Peter Michaud, where Michaud provided the scanlation while Teed hosted the files. Some of the translations used by the group were taken from Anime Crisis, a Japanese animation club from Las Vegas that also offered some primitive fansubs translations as well as a little bit of Ranma translation.
Other Dragon Ball scanlation projects include CDC's Dragonball Archive (they also used translations from Anime Crisis), Dragon Ball Kissaten's Translated Manga, and last but not least, The Daily Dragon Ball Chapters project (DDBC). DDBC was a very popular Dragon Ball translation site founded in 1997 by Eric Phan that later became possibly the largest source and repository of scanned/translated Dragon Ball manga. They also hosted fanscans of Dragon Ball from the likes of Foobar's Fanscan Service. DDBC scanlated Dragonball by using Mustek 600 III EP to scan in lineart (saved as GIF), and edited the images with Paint Shop Pro 4.0. Below is a brief blurb on the creation of DDBC from its founder:
One day, I came across a site called The Dragon Ball Project. It didn't look too impressive, but I checked it out anyway. I clicked on the picture links. "Eh? What's this?" I wondered. It was a comic book format of Dragon Ball (DBP was offering the first five hilarious chapters of volume 3 they've been taken down because Viz has released that part of the series commercially) I loved the comics. I began to look around for more. At the time, there were only a couple of sites that offered fanscans. The largest two were Pete's Translation Page (which did volume 25 and half of volume 26) and CDC's Page (who did volume 29 & 30 and scanned a heck of a lot of manga for me to edit). I downloaded and read all the manga available at the time. But it wasn't enough. I wanted more. I wanted the whole darn series. At the rate the translation sites were going, though, it wasn't going to happen. That gave me an idea I would open up a fanscan site! To indulge my zealous desire, I went to Best Buy and bought a Mustek 600 III EP for $90, the cheapest scanner available at the time. I borrowed volume 35 from my brother's Korean friend, got a translation for the volume from Anime Crisis (who did text translations for thirteen volumes, an invaluable asset) and I was set. The Weekly Dragon Ball Chapters was born in Sept 97. My first scan and editing jobs were terrible. I cringe when I look at them. A month later, I decided to go daily and changed the site name accordingly to The Daily Dragon Ball Chapters. That went on for awhile, and I got through a huge chunk of the series. Several other people supported the drive. Spamdini, Danny Athar, CDC, Marlin, Kaine, and various other translators made it possible to get the entire series done. (see the Manga FAQ to see who did what)
DDBC was also responsible for perhaps one of the very first scanlation guide as well as various editorials on the legality of fanscans. DDBC ceased operation sometime after 2000, presumably replaced by modern scanlation groups that began emerging after 2000.
Rurouni Kenshin and Others
Nobuhiro Watsuki's samurai manga Rurouni Kenshin was also very popular with translators. Before Viz began releasing the manga in the United States, scanlation and scripts of the entire series of Rurouni Kenshin were already available on the Internet.
One of the most well known RK project was Spamdini's Tales of the Swirly-Eyed Samurai, a site originally hosted on Geocities and one of the few sites online since 2000 that served scanlated chapters of Rurouni Kenshin.
Other notable RK translation projects include Maigo Chan's Ruroken Translations, Rurouni Kenshin Manga Translation Living Room and a RK translation directory called Serizawa Kamo's Rurouni Kenshin Translations Index.
Since 1996, translations of CLAMP manga like X and Magic Knight Rayearth were available from the CLAMP Mailing List (CML) Manga Translation Team. Translations of other popular series like Sailor Moon, Slayer and Yu Yu Hakusho were also available online. Translations of shoujo manga like Fushigi Yuugi were available on sites like Tasuki no Miko's Fushigi Yuugi page since 1999.
By 2000, the Internet was bustling with translation and primitive scanlation projects. There was Space Coyote's The Nameless Manga Translation Site, FutuTabetai's Great Teacher Onizuka, Vaz's Under The Dapple Shade, Saint Seiya (which is also one of the earliest online reading sites) and Sorcerer Stabber Orphen. A large amount of manga translations were available online, and the translation scene faintly resembled the scanlation scene in 2004.
By 2005, most individual translation sites were all but gone, replaced by scanlation groups that were more organized and more efficient. However, the effect of a good translator for a scanlation group is still immense, and throughout the years, there have been many "star" translators.
One of the most well known and respected translators was MangaScreener's Stephen Paul, also known as flyingrobots. Some of the series Stephen translated include Monster, One Piece and Beck. As with most other skilled scanlators, Stephen later went on to translate for U.S. manga publishers, and even continued to translate Beck via Tokyopop.
Fast forward to 2009, a new wave of skilled "public translators" became dominant as most high profile translators from 2005 and before either moved on to the manga industry or retired. These "public translators," including cnet128, HisshouBuraiKen and MangaHelper's njt, frequently released their scripts on community sites like MangaHelpers so other groups (mostly speedscan groups) could use them for scanlation. As with the older generation, some of these new translators also began working within the industry.