26 February 2018

Some Thoughts on a Decade as a Scanlator

Let's see if I can go another 10 years before YHWH give me arthritis or some shit.
I wasn't planning on this post, but a 10 year-anniversary literally doesn't come every year, so allow me to ramble a bit today about my thoughts on the past 10 years as a scanlator.


Historie c39, first manga I translated
First rambling point about the the 10 year dating. I began my scanlation hobby with Historie chapter 39, but I have no idea when that exactly was. Mangaupdates says Feb 4, 2009 but that's probably wrong since it was only after several days that I thought it would be a good idea to update my release on that site. Now some of you at this point might be telling me, "Uhh, 2009? Wouldn't that mean you're only 9 years old as a scanlator?" That's intentional, because I wanted to use this as a convenient transition point to talk about something that annoys me but I never felt like devoting an entire post for: East Asian age reckoning.
So for people who don't know what the East Asian age reckoning is, it's basically a system of counting age originating from ancient China where you start by counting at 1. Historically, it was widely used in East Asia, but nowadays, it's only used more on an informal basis while for official government purposes, the Western system is used to conform to an international standard. Now this system doesn't actually bother me at all. What annoys me is how people keep giving bullshit reasons to talk about how this came about. The most common explanation is that those exotic slant-eyes are counting the time that the baby lived as a fetus! Ooh, they're so [insert some Orientalist trope]. Another explanation is that the ancient Chinese didn't have a concept of zero when they came up with this system.

Why don't I find these reasons plausible? Firstly, how many other cultures didn't really have a concept of zero when they came up with systems to count human ages? Every fucking one since the concept of zero is a significant achievement in mathematical thought and came much, much later than the invention of basic numbers. Secondly, I don't think it's clear at all that ancient Chinese people thought that a baby lived inside its mother for a whole year. The time it takes for women to realize they're pregnant is more variable than you might think even today. So just imagine how accurately and quickly a woman living back in ancient China would be able to figure that out without pregnancy tests to verify her suspicions. As a result, rather than the modern knowledge that pregnancy lasts around 9 months, they probably would have started counting from when they were more certain, which could cut the time by anywhere around 4-8 weeks, meaning they probably would have thought it was closer to a little more than half a year rather than a full year.
But there are better reasons to be highly skeptical and this becomes quite obvious when you realize the East Asian age reckoning isn't some quaint or weird idea, but it conforms to a system that all of us are familiar with: cardinality and ordinality. Okay, okay, when I put it like that, it sounds unfamiliar, so just take a look at the image above instead. In the Western age-system, you communicate cardinality. You say you're 10 years old because you have lived 10 years (plus a bit). In the East Asian age-system, you communicate ordinality. You say you're 10 years old because this is the 10th year since your birth. The Japanese terms for these two systems make this pretty evident too. The Western system is known as Man-nenrei (満年齢) while the East Asian system is known as kazoe-doshi (数え年). The kanji for the former refers to how many complete/full years you've lived, while the latter refers to simply counting the years. If you're getting confused, the tl;dr version is that the East Asian age reckoning counts ages the same way we count the year. Jesus wasn't born on 0 AD. He was born on 1AD because that was the first year of our Lord (well, "our" as in those of us that matter and are going to heaven). 2018 doesn't mean a full 2018 years have passed since Jesus was born, but rather that this is the 2018th year of our Lord's birth. This system of counting by ordinality is why in the East Asian system, you go up an age when a new year arrives. You're not counting the length of time you have lived. You're counting the Nth year since your birth. That's why translating "N 歳" as "N years old" is technically wrong because "years old" is not an expression of ordinality. Of course in modern usage, 歳 can mean that because East Asian countries have adopted the Western system. Finally, consider that in classical Chinese, numbers like 一, 二, 三, 四 (1, 2, 3, 4) can refer to ordinal or cardinal numbers (context determines which is being used), meaning that to say a baby was "1" would not mean he was "cardinally 1" as a Western person may be inclined to think. As a side note, I've never actually seen any historian talk about this, so if you're 100% sure that my explanations are wrong, please do tell me.
Okay, with that historical-mathematical rant out of the way... So yeah, this is my 10th year as a manga scanlator and it is sort of strange that I've been keeping it up for so long. Sure, having a decade-long hobby is nowhere near unusual. Plenty of people say they've practised some musical instrument or sport as a hobby for more than 10 years. But in other ways, it's different because it pretty much is a second job of sorts. As much as I like scanlating manga, I'd be lying if I said that the whole 2-3 hours I spend on photoshop per chapter is an enjoyable experience. It's not like playing tennis or video games where you're having fun as you're actually doing the thing. Any sense of accomplishment or pleasure comes after the chapter is done. And many times, it's not even when the chapter is done, but only after a volume or an entire series is done that I get that hit of accomplishment or pleasure. And that can always be ruined by pangs of cringing at bad translation choices, typesetting errors, or other mistakes as I'm looking over a finished product. I can't speak for all manga-scanlators since I'm very isolated within the wider manga scanlation community, but if you look at how many scanlators just drop out from the scene even after a year or so, I think it's safe to assume that a good chunk of the scanlation-process feels like a gruelling job for many. 

Another way that scanlation is different from other hobbies for me is that I keep it entirely secret. It's not some shit like mad violin skillz that you can just bust out at a party and impress people (Violins? At a party? ...yeah, I don't ever go to parties if that wasn't obvious). I've met a few people who've actually read stuff I've translated but I'd never in a million years point that out, mostly because I strictly want to keep "Hox", who has no moral qualms over translating loli-stuff or saying racially offensive shit, as an internet persona and not let it get mixed up with my non-internet life.
I still can't believe pepe became an alt-right symbol.
So why do I keep at this? If I had to be brutally honest, it's probably because I'm not a socially well-adjusted person. Granted, that's basically a given since I've browsed 4chan for over a decade but if I were some married guy with an extremely fulfilling career, I'd either have dropped out long ago, or reduced my scanlation-output by 90%. But there are other, less pathetic reasons why I keep at this hobby, too. One, so many scanlation groups out there are working on stuff I consider pure trash (rest assured, my tastes are 100% objectively sublime according to my ego). So because I desperately want to see some kind of discussion of manga I really enjoy, I slave away hours and hours on photoshop. The catch-22 is that because of all the hours I spend translating, I have less time to search which groups are translating really interesting manga (I've got such a backlog of stuff to read...).

Now It's common knowledge that a lot of scanlators are really just doing it for their e-peen, and while I can't deny that it's somewhat nice to have my e-peen sucked on the internet, for me, what really makes me happy is if I can find somewhere on the internet, people actually discussing the manga that I've translated. This is probably baffling to groups who do really mainstream stuff like Attack on Titan or Boku no Hero Academia (neither of which I'm fond of), but seeing even a positive comment or two on stuff like Noramimi or My Name is Nero makes me giddy. It's also incredibly frustrating to see many of the stuff I translate get NO discussion at all (are my tastes really that unusual?). Oh well, c'est la vie.
The other major reason is that there's something about the act of translation that deludes the translator into thinking that he's the creative mind behind original work. Whenever I look back on a moving scene or a memorable line I translated, it feels very different than when I had first read that scene in Japanese. In my mind, there's an unmistakable notion that I myself am heavily responsible for the emotional impact. It's an incredibly presumptuous and arrogant delusion, but given that translation is more of an art than a science, it's not totally wrong either. I wish I were more the creative-type to come up with amazing manga like Takemitsu Zamurai or Wombs, but I know I'm not so please world, at least let me have this. As such, I really can see this as a hobby I'll continue with until I die. In other words, if I ever go a full year without any updates at all, that probably means I went the way of Grumpy Ojisan (R.I.P.).

Well, that's really all I have to say in my rather self-deprecatory reflection of being a scanlator. Even if it wasn't too interesting to read, I hope you at least learned something about East Asian age reckoning. If you're interested in my history-related posts, let me know which one you want to see first: logistics in pre-modern war, the concept of Empire in East Asia, or my opinion on Varoufakis' political memoir, "Adults in the Room: My Battle with Europe's Deep Establishment." And yeah, yeah, I'll have more manga releases coming in a bit.

P.S. One other series I've translated under another name is One Piece as the translator Nep Ece (from v5 to v38). I did it because I didn't really like the Viz translations for the early volumes and the previously existing fan translations were terribad. Not Duwang-level bad but still pretty bad. I'm confessing now since I plan to make v39 the last one I do, since my original objective has been fulfilled.

44 comments:

  1. I don’t really care, but...
    1) Concept of Empire
    2) Logistics
    3) Varoufakis

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  2. Thanks for your work, been enjoying a lot of manga you've translated over the years. Cheers!

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  3. Damn, 10 years scanlating mainly alone. That's a serious feat.
    You are one of the few scanlstion groups I follow. You pick the coolest stuff to scanlate. I actually downloaded your whole folder and not many (completed) manga are left to read from it.
    Many thanks for all your work!

    About the topics, I'd say the order you put them is good!

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  4. What a coincidence, I don't even follow this blog for updates but I got nostalgic when looking at my list of finished manga. So today I looked you up since I still remember the /a/ threads of Kurosawa and the Zero series. You're cool and I wouldn't be worried about the loli or racially offensive stuff since you always struck me as a reasonable and chill guy. Unless of course you have a patreon for alt-right commentary videos about SJWs being POWN'ED that I'm unaware of, then I would start worrying

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    1. Hox actually writes avant-garde racist novellas and posts snippets on /lit/, but he's smart enough not to use his trip for that.
      https://warosu.org/lit/thread/S10249418

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  5. Pepe as alt-right symbol provided the most hilarious moment of the 2016 election - and there were many, many to choose from - Hillary Clinton's official website putting up an article warning people to be wary of the horrifying racist frog.

    Your comments on why you translate are pretty similar to Daniel Lau's, back when he was still alive. He called it being "almost creative":
    https://web.archive.org/web/20160420181522/http://www.daniel-lau.com/?p=1635

    Thanks again for picking up Wombs! Now if only you'd pick up Paperakyu, I'd be so happy... C'mon, it'll give you an excuse to talk about Unit 731! (Maybe)

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    1. You mean Daniel Lau is MIA, right? Do you know if anyone is doing the last volume of 'Boys on the Run'?

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    2. Yeah, I haven't forgotten about Paperakyu. It's definitely on my to-do list.

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    3. @signorRossi Boys on the Run was finished by a Batoto/Mangadex only group called "Nameless". It's probably a solo group.
      https://mangadex.com/manga/1954/boys-on-the-run

      @Hox I'll be sure to remind you again a year or two from now.

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    4. @Anonymous
      Thanks for the directions on 'Boys on the Run', I think I myself checked last time in december for new releases... :)

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  6. something something, 9 years rounded up.

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  7. おめでとう!

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  8. Happy 10th anniversary!
    Thanks for the great manga you've released throughout the years!

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  9. Do Jigoku no Alice ! ! ! JIRO MATSUMOTO

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  10. Replies
    1. Not so well. I expect March will be a sparse month for releases. There'll be more coming in April.

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    2. When in April can we expect them?

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    3. Mid-April is when I can get back to scanlation so late April most likely for new chapters.

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  11. Hey Hox,

    Congratulations on your decade of translating manga. I'm not sure why I decided to check out your blog today as I no longer read anyone's translations. I used to, but I mostly stopped doing so around 2011 -- I only made a special exception to finish your translation of Punpun. (A series I've since then re-read in Japanese while fondly remembering your translation of it.)

    Anyway, your expert translations were what gave me the inspiration to give a shot at translating manga myself a couple of years ago. My attention back then was quickly taken by another translation project, but just recently I've gotten back into manga and right now I'm very much enjoying translating what will be my next project.

    So thank you for the inspiration. Because that's what you are to me, and you're sort of what I keep in the back of my mind when I'm translating nowadays. It's always: "aim for that Hox quality."

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  12. Do you still have plans for finishing Shiji? The first two chapters were a nice revisitation of Yokoyama.

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  13. Happy anniversary!! I found you through Franken Fran scans and it's a joy to see you're still around and about :) Thank you for all your hard work all these years!

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  14. Happy 10th anniversary! I read Palepoli yesterday and absolutely had to know who was putting out these projects, thank you for your excellent taste and great work!

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  15. Man, I want you to know that your work is really important. I am a Brazilian dude that almost only reads in english, but I want you to know that lots of other languages translate manga from your work. I know it isn't the best option and it should always be translated from the original, but the results are that more people get to know those manga even if they can't understand english or japanese.

    I am a scanlator too, not for long manga but Fate strips, I know how much time you invest in doing that can be done in less than 10 seconds reading, but when I see people commenting on that, the act of sharing it with other is really nice.

    I consider you along happyscans and illuminati to be the best scanlators in english, and what you and the other guys did, is the work that will be alive in some form even if you are long gone. So thanks mate, you are doing more good and bringing more happiness and joy than you think.

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  16. I'll always thank you for picking up the task of finishing "Soil". It was totally unexpected and therefore I was so happy, almost like the world was giving me an undeserved gift.

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  17. Thanks for all the work!

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  18. Happy anniversary Hox! Thank you for not only being one of the best English language scanlators, but also for bringing attention to good, lesser known manga. I often pick up a series just because you're translating it. Your nine years of effort really shine through in the quality of your translations.

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  19. It's always a pleasure to discover new mangas on this blog. I am a scanlator too and in my opinion scanlation's main purpose is to increase knowledge about mangas/mangakas. And, let's say it, nobody does it as you do. Thank for your work (I recently read Soil. Damn good manga!)and for your deepenings (Ashita no Joe's one was brilliant and I keep referring to it every time I'm having a conversation about that manga).
    Happy anniversary!

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  20. Almost all the manga I read at this point is just from people's personal hobby blogs (FKMTKrazy counts right?) so let me just give my appreciation there. Even though I haven't been able to convinced anybody I know to read Tomorrow's Joe, or Innocent Children Crusade, or Sangokushi I still like to mention them when it's relevant. Good shit dude.

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  21. I would gladly suck ur penis Hox. I know u know.

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  22. Sorry for late 10th anniversary congratulation. Thank you a lot throughout the years.
    I found you because you did Mirai Nikki and picked up Punpun from Kotonoha. Both Kotonoha and you have admirable taste of manga. While Kotonoha returns to real life after more than 10 years scanlating, you're here to stay at the scene (which I'm not sure is a blessing or a curse?).
    Like someone above has pointed out, Daniel Lau's words were the first things that came to my mind when I read your view about translation. I also felt the same thing back when I still did scanlation in my native language. I am still a translator but not manga translator anymore. Man, it feels so nostalgic. I'm gonna cry...
    Finally, thank you once again for your scanlation and your insight into East Asia age reckoning.

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  23. So sorry for this ridiculously late reply, but anyway: congratulations on your 10th (9th?) anniversary! And of course, we're all rooting for 10 more!

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  24. Congrats Hox! It's been a while since I've been super into reading a ton of manga because of working and life but I saw somebody reading Sangokushi on my twitter timeline and it reminded me of you. Glad to see you're still going strong.

    Also, on your point of feeling that sense of accomplishment from translating lines and the creative process of that, how do you feel about translators being listed as one of the authors of a manga officially in licensed stuff? I saw this one translator who constantly fights people over ILLEGAL PIRATE SCANS and how nobody should ever read them talking about fighting Amazon to list his name as one of the authors of some of the Go Nagai and Kitaro works he was translating and it really rubbed me the wrong way. I do get what you're saying though and agree about translation being an art and requiring creativity and being a good writer in your own right. So I'm a bit mixed on that guy's assessment, especially with classic manga like Devilman or Kitaro. Would you enjoy seeing something like Ashita no Joe written by Asao Takamori and HOX, drawn by Tetsuo Hara or soemthing like that?

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    1. "
      Devilman: The Classic Collection Vol. 1 Hardcover – May 22, 2018
      by Go Nagai (Author),‎ Zack Davisson (Translator) "

      This specifically is what I'm talking about, from Amazon's page for Devilman: The Classic Collection vol 1 coming later this year.

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    2. Listing a translator (as a translator, not an author) is a fairly standard thing for both fiction and non-fiction. It's also useful for the consumer if there are ever multiple translations of a single work, as it allows one to easily tell which is which.

      So yeah, on that principle, I agree, though obviously I don't agree with the whole pirate scans bit.

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  25. At the least, you're definitely well regarded as a good scanlator within the scanlation community. Thanks for all your hard work!

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  26. I feel obliged to congratulate and thank you for hanging on for so long (do you ever cringe when someone, either jokingly or ironically worships you on the internet, though?). Recently, I really like your translations of Ashita no Joe (among other things), though I can't really judge the quality itself since I can't read Japanese, nor am I a native English speaker. Somehow Joe sounds like a Yankee or an American punk, was that deliberate? It really brings forward his wild temper, being a massive hothead he is. Thank you for translating it. I know it sounds cringey, but Joe's story really motivated me, even though he's not exactly a good person. Perhaps precisely because he isn't so. Also, I'm interested in your review of that Varoufakis' book, and your thoughts about him.

    Cheers.

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  27. Thank you so much for your hard work!! especially Fukumoto series and Punpun

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  28. "but seeing even a positive comment or two on stuff like Noramimi or My Name is Nero "

    lol, my name is nero is a piece of cr*o next to a great manga like SnK, yet you are comparing them and feeling don because people prefer a superior story. its your fault sometimes you taste is simply sh*t and you pick up lame stories

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  29. Thanks! I really do enjoy reading your works! Keep it up :D

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