This is Part 2 of our scanlation tutorial series. You can find all parts here.
Last time, we talked about what got me into Mitsudomoe and the wonderful world of scanlation.
This week, we’ll be taking a look at the very first group to ever work on Mitsudomoe, KS Scanlation.
NOTE: As always, if you have difficulty reading this article, please zoom-in on the page!
For the next few posts, we will first be taking a look at what makes good image editing and typesetting (we’ll be covering the actual Photoshop steps in a much later post). This is because it’s easier for people to agree on what looks good rather than what feels good to read.
Don’t worry though; there will be a series of posts dedicated entirely to translation once we’re done. 😉
That said, I am a firm believer that it’s always a good idea to study and learn from those who came before you, especially when you have no idea what you’re doing in the first place.
Having read all translated chapters up to this point, I decided to leverage everything I picked up from each group so I could apply and improve on what they did right, and avoid what they did not-so-right.
And boy, did I ever learn…
My short experience with KS Scanlation (at only 5 chapters) was a mixed bag. They did a lot of things right, but they also did a lot of things… that left a lot to be desired, so to speak. Here’s what I learned:
What They Did Right:
Don’t Translate the Unnecessary
I’m going to sound like a hypocrite later for this, but I advise scanlators to check for the following signs whenever they’re having second thoughts about translating something:
1. Said text has nothing to do with the main content (e.g. promotional text, publisher info, etc.).
2. Translating said text would be too much trouble for its worth.
Only when all above reasons apply should you leave text untranslated. This is because:
1. Scanlation takes time, so we need to make the most out of it.
2. Translating everything you see could lead to serious burnouts.
3. We can’t scanlate forever.
I really applaud what KS Scanlation managed to teach me on those first few pages. They understood what was worth translating and completely ignored the rest.
No reader in their right mind would complain about missing out on trivial things like promotional text, publisher info, and the table of contents (in fact, most readers skip these pages and head straight for the story anyway).
In a perfect world, scanlators will be able to translate absolutely everything — but we’re not in a perfect world right now, and I doubt we ever will.
And if you do somehow have everything you need to translate everything you see, then holy crap! You are a scanlation powerhouse, my friend!
But for the rest of us normal people, we’ll have to use our best judgment to figure out what needs to be translated or not.
Emulate the Original Text Style
In my opinion, the goal of any good scanlation is to emulate an official English release — so good in fact, that it can’t be distinguished from the real thing.
Now, you might be asking yourself “Why do I have to bother with that original text style crap when most readers can’t and won’t compare my work with the RAWs?” – and you’d be right! After all, why should we waste our time on something most people aren’t going to notice, let alone call us out on?
The answer is: You don’t!
As with all artistic work, everything in scanlation is 100% subjective (from image cleaning, to typesetting, right down to the actual translations). So why bother? Below are some pretty good reasons I see for emulating the original text style:
1. It saves you the trouble of having to come up with your own style.
Let’s say you’re working on a speech balloon with some yellow text on a red background. Once you’re done cleaning it, all you’ll be left with is the red background; so you might as well go with yellow text for your translations, too.
2. You can defend yourself from critics.
Sticking to the author’s original style not only gives your work more authenticity; it helps keep purists off your back, too!
While readers thankfully aren’t known to complain about typesetting (though they can be pretty vocal when they do), you need to keep in mind that you can’t please everybody, so you might as well just please yourself (after all, no one’s paying you to do this, right?).
This unspoken freedom to “do whatever you want” is arguably a good thing for scanlators, because it not only takes away the pressure of having to do a perfect job but also lets scanlators be as creative as they want with their work (and isn’t having fun the point of every hobby anyway?).
So, should you always stick to the author’s original style? I’d say for the most part, yes — but if you absolutely have to make that “improvement” of yours, just know what you’re getting yourself into in case you screw it up.
Replace Text Where Appropriate
With every image cleanup tool at your disposal (you are using Photoshop, aren’t you?), there’s little excuse not to replace text, as it not only makes your pages feel less cluttered but gives it that “authentic English release” feeling, too!
As a rule of thumb, if it’s not gonna be too much trouble to edit or redraw, always replace the text.
That said, you should also remember to…
Overlay Text Where Appropriate
Sometimes, replacing text is too much trouble for its worth — maybe it would require hours of cleanup, or worse, hours of redrawing.
If you ever encounter such a scenario, just know that it’s perfectly fine to take “the easy way out” and put mini translations near the Japanese text.
Handle SFX the Right Way
Remember that part about emulating the original text style? Well, the same goes for SFX too!
You have two options:
a) Redraw the SFX.
Harder to do, but makes for a cleaner page.
b) Put a mini translation near the SFX.
The easier (and sometimes only) option when redrawing just isn’t worth it. Bonus points for trying to emulate the original text style (which may not always possible due to space limitations).
Now, I know not that many groups even bother with SFX nowadays (and you’re certainly not required to do so. In fact, KS Scanlation was the only group to translate SFX for Mitsudomoe before I showed up, and even that only lasted for 2 measly chapters) — but hear me out.
In my opinion, SFX translation is a dying art form – one only kept alive by small, dedicated groups working on obscure titles with relatively small fanbases — but it doesn’t have to be this way.
Scanlators need to realize that SFX bring more to the table than just make readers hear that “punch!” or “slam!” in their heads, or set the mood and tension for a panel — which is why, in addition to these two already good reasons, I’m also adding the following:
- Untranslated SFX break the reader’s immersion
While no reader in their right mind will openly admit to this (for fear of being ridiculed online), the fact is, whenever our brains encounter something that it can’t understand, it has to go through these mental hoops to “hop over” it. This process, however short, is enough to break a reader’s immersion whenever they encounter anything untranslated, SFX included [citation not needed].
It’s even worse when a dedicated reader decides to stop and try to guess what the SFX mean based on how they were drawn.
2. The author put them there for a reason.
Translating just the dialogue is all well and good, but not including the SFX is like buying a scented candle that doesn’t smell like anything — you can certainly still use it as a candle, but it justfeels like you‘ve been screwed somehow…
That’s how reading a manga without translated SFX feels like because the reader isn’t consuming the work as the author intended (not that that’s ever stopped us before).
3. Untranslated SFX often lead to missed out dialogue.
This one’s a bit harder to spot, because not only do authors tend to use dialogue outside of speech balloons, but said dialogue can easily get mistaken for SFX and left untranslated, too.
I see this happen all the time, and it distracts you just enough to break your immersion (I’m obviously not going to provide examples because the last thing we need right now is a full-blown scanlation war).
Okay, maybe just one example…
Did you see it? It’s pretty well-hidden, so it probably took a few seconds to spot.
Right at the top of the panel, Kaieda’s saying “There IS no Santa!” while Futaba and Ryuuta are going “Waaaah!”
I would’ve pointed this out to the anon who was asking for QC on /a/, but the thread sadly got archived before I could even say thanks for all their hard work (also, he already made a zip and asked someone to upload it to Mangadex by the time I got there).
I see a few reasons on why this tends to happen to most groups:
1. The group didn’t intend on translating SFX to begin with and mistook the line for an SFX.
2. No one noticed the mistake in the Quality Check phase.
3. Someone did notice, but couldn’t report it in time.
4. Someone on the team decided that it wasn’t worth correcting.
Now, that’s not to say I’m criticizing all the awesome anons’ hard work on Chapter 239 – far from it! I think the chapter’s great! Just the fact that some anons managed to band together and finish a chapter out of their mutual love for Thirty is a triumph in Mitsudomoe and /a/ history.
I just happened to notice this panel and thought it would make a nice example for today’s post. Also, the anons who worked on this were doing it in their (I’m assuming very short) spare time and were probably in a rush to get it out before they lost their momentum.
Not everything that looks like SFX is an SFX, and sometimes the difference can be very hard to spot — so your safest bet is to just translate everything, including SFX, from the get-go.
4. Translated SFX give readers a better idea of what’s going on.
While you won’t care much for SFX translations if you can tell what they mean just by how they were drawn (or using context clues like character and object movements), most readers will have a hard time with the subtle nuances in the panel because not only is Japanese an onomatopoeia-heavy language, but they have SFX for things that don’t necessarily have sounds too.
Not to mention the fact that the same SFX can also mean different things depending on the context, so readers can’t always go by the Japanese characters to guess their meaning.
If leaving SFX untranslated breaks the reader’s immersion, then translating them does the opposite by engaging the reader more.
5. Translating SFX forces you to be creative.
Because Japanese has an onomatopoeia for pretty much anything, SFX that don’t have English equivalents are a pretty common sight.
In such cases, scanlators will need to come up with their own SFX — something most translators aren’t comfortable with because they feel that adding English SFX makes their work awkward to read.
Trust me, it doesn’t — if you know how to do them well, that is.
For a language that tends to use onomatopoeias in casual conversation, they sure like to skip this lesson a lot. They should really add these things to the curriculum…
6. Readers might miss out on comedy gold.
This one is a bit more subjective since not everyone is a fan of not taking the work seriously (especially when the work itself is serious or dramatic in nature).
But regardless of the nature of the work, having to come up with your own SFX not only helps carry over the author’s original tone; it can also unintentionally give your work new legs several years down the road if your SFX (and even word choice) later on become popular through a fad or meme of some kind.
(Takes a swig of apple juice) You know what? Most groups nowadays just don’t get it… Hearing the sounds in your head and setting the mood and tension should’ve been enough to get them to work on SFX! But nooo..! I HAD TO MAKE UP SIX MORE REASONS JUST TO CONVINCE THEM TO GET OFF THEIR LAZY A—
Ahaha… Well, this has certainly been a… manic post… So I think it’s about time we moved on to the good reasons for not working on SFX. Here’s what I can think of:
1. Not having enough resources (e.g. staff, skills, and time)
And… that’s about it, really.
Any other reason just sounds like pure laziness on the group’s part in my opinion. Let’s listen to some of the usual arguments against SFX:
1. “The readers don’t care.”
While this is mostly true for casual manga fans, I think applying this to all readers is a bit unfair.
If you do a decent job at it, I guarantee that there will be people who’ll appreciate all the love and effort that you put into your work — and really, isn’t doing your best (appreciated or not) the whole point of scanlation in the first place? (Don’t answer that if you think otherwise.)
2. “It’s going to delay our release! Readers don’t care about SFX, they care about fast releases!”
While this initially seems like it belongs on the good reason list above (not having enough time), when a group chooses to skip SFX for no other reason than to “speed things up,” it actually gets closer to item #1 in this list. Let me explain:
The main difference lies in how much SFX translation is going to delay the release.
A good rule of thumb is: if the release is going to be delayed by at least two weeks or more, then skipping the SFX is perfectly fine. If SFX work is going to delay your release less than that (which is usually the case), then you should definitely translate them.
I feel that this half-baked mentality that most groups have nowadays really needs to change because while it’s not ruining scanlation in general, it’s certainly setting a bad example for future groups. You might as well call yourselves “Half-Baked Scans” and let the reader know what they’re in for right off the bat.
UPDATE: I just found out that there was actually a group called HalfBakedScans, and those guys actually put in the effort to translate their SFX:
3. “It’s going to clutter up the page.”
I suggest going over your mini translation placements again, since your font is either too big, or your translations aren’t concise enough.
And if that doesn’t help, then redrawing the SFX or overlaying your translations should do the trick.
4. “I’m not going to redraw that.”
If redrawing is going to be too much effort, please see the answer to item #3 above.
5. “You don’t need it to enjoy the work.”
If you still believe this after reading the previous section on the many benefits of SFX, then I have nothing more to say to you. (tips hat) Good day, sir!
6. “There’s no equivalent in the English language” or “I’m not an onomatopoeia guy.”
I’m very glad that you’re at least trying. We’ll get to making up your own SFX in a later post about translation.
In the meantime, just know that SFX are just as important as spoken dialogue – sometimes more so if they’re the only things on a panel or are the main focus of it.
7. “Even licensed English releases don’t bother with it, so why should I?”
Because you can, and you should.
The ultimate goal of scanlation (and every form of fan translation, for that matter) is to stop the need for its existence. By raising the bar on what counts as high-quality translations, we are setting the standard that all future translations must follow, especially licensed ones.
I know this sounds completely idealistic (and it probably is), but nothing is going to change if we don’t do something different – and what could be more different than doing something that no one else does?
8. “I really don’t care about the SFX.”
Hey, don’t knock it till you’ve tried it — and if you still don’t like it, then you just need to try it some more!
I sincerely hope this section has at least made you rethink your stance on SFX translation because we could all use a bit more “do-kaan!” in our lives. 😉
How to Handle TL Notes
Sometimes, there’s just no English equivalent for something in Japanese (especially phrases and puns). We’ve all been there.
When that happens, you have two options:
1. Make up an English equivalent.
2. Put a Translator’s Note.
Now, I know option B looks like “the lazier” of the two, but it is by no means always a bad move. Below are some scenarios where TL Notes are a good option:
1. The English equivalent you came up with sounds terrible.
2. You can’t come up with an English equivalent (or it would take far too long to do so).
3. You need to explain something that can’t be localized (e.g. obscure references, places, or culture-specific things).
Of course, there are other scenarios where TL Notes are the preferred choice. However, if you do decide to use them, you also need to make sure that:
1. It’s readable.
By this, I mean that the text is easy to read (e.g. not too small and not too close together). If readers have to zoom-in larger than the page’s actual size, you’re doing it wrong.
2. It doesn’t clutter up the page.
Finding a good vacant spot on a page isn’t always easy. If you can’t find one, you can either choose to put your TL Notes over something insignificant (like a piece of background or nameless character) or extend the page’s bottom and add the TL Note there.
TL Notes are just another tool that scanlators can use to help readers get more out of their work. You don’t always have to use them, but they always get the job done.
When Not to Redraw
Sometimes, authors decide to get fancy and put Japanese text outside speech balloons (okay, a lot of times).
This is one of the biggest banes of a scanlator’s existence, and knowing how to deal with them is an indispensable skill.
However, knowing when not to redraw is just as important as knowing how to do it properly, especially when there aren’t that many redrawers in your group, or they’re not that skilled/fast yet.
Below are some valid reasons for not redrawing something:
1. It’s going to delay your release considerably.
Much like SFX, if redrawing is going to delay your release by at least two weeks or more, then don’t bother. And if your group doesn’t have a redrawer or the necessary skills and tools to do their job properly, then you might want to consider coming back to scanlation after they’ve had a few months of Photoshop training.
Of course, if you’re truly desperate (and if you think the fans won’t mind), you can always just white-box everything at the cost of obscuring some of the artwork. Just promise yourself that you’ll at least try to improve in the coming years and you should be A-OK!
2. Your typesetting looks terrible in vertical.
Typesetting text outside of speech balloons is generally harder than typesetting those inside them because in the former, the wider your translations are, the more artwork it’s going to cover up (artwork that the author never intended to get obscured); while in the latter, you have the whole speech balloon to fit your translations however you want.
Since most overlaid Japanese text is vertical and often with very narrow widths, English translations generally look terrible when typeset in the same style, especially when the words are very long (“misunderstanding,” anyone?).
So as a general rule, you should always plan out how your text is going to look on the final version before you start cleaning and redrawing because you can’t always make it work. Trust me, I’ve tried.
I was actually very fortunate that Mitsudomoe’s art style was simple enough that I could redraw most of it with just a mouse (but that’s for another post).
I didn’t like doing it, but I just couldn’t bring myself to white-box anything, especially when it was going to obscure large parts of Norio-sensei’s cute art.
Sometimes I wonder what I’m doing with my life…
Translate Background Details
Similarly to how you should always translate SFX to improve a reader’s experience, you should always translate background details for the following reasons:
1. It adds to the work.
Because the author took the time to draw and write them for us, they must be translated.
Ignoring background details is akin to ignoring side-comments made by characters outside their speech balloons — just because it’s not part of the main dialogue doesn’t mean you can ignore it.
2. It adds to the narration.
Usually, when there’s background text to be translated, it contributes to world-building one way or another or is some sort of throwaway gag.
The only time I won’t recommend translating background details is when the author goes completely overboard for an entire chapter or page (e.g. a panel containing 30+ building signs or something), or when your translations won’t fit into the artwork itself (like on a magazine that a character is holding).
In such cases, a TL Note should suffice. You can even skip translating them altogether if you feel that they don’t add enough to said chapter (though such cases are extremely rare).
Again, while the ideal is that scanlators will translate absolutely everything, knowing when to back away is just as important. Pick your battles, ladies and gentlemen.
Okay, that about does it for what they did right. Now it’s time to take at a look at…
What They Did Wrong:
Didn’t Translate the Necessary
Hey, remember when I said I was going to sound like a hypocrite later? Well, that time is now.
Now that we know that text outside of speech balloons are just as important as those inside them, how do we distinguish between what’s important and what’s not? The answer is by simply reversing our criteria for unnecessary text:
1. Said text contributes to the main content (e.g. expository text, character info, author notes, etc.)
2. Translating said text is totally worth it.
I feel kinda bad that KS Scanlation didn’t bother translating the Comic Haiku, Volume Summary, and Character Descriptions on the cover. They already proved that they could handle colored pages in the prologue, so why they chose to skip the cover page is beyond me.
Didn’t Replace Text When They Could
I don’t get why KS Scanlation chose to do it this way because it’s very clear that cleaning wouldn’t have taken that much effort (redrawing wouldn’t even be necessary).
Perhaps they wanted to show readers what the original text looked like? (I know I did back when I was just starting out, but that’s for another post.)
Didn’t Use Mini Translations When They Could
Just looking at that SFX work is making me uncomfortable. Their translation doesn’t just overlay the SFX poorly, it partly covers text inside the speech balloon, too.
Personally, I would’ve gone with a less-obstructive mini translation on top of the speech balloon with this one.
Went Overboard with SFX Translation
One of the many valuable lessons I learned from my short collaboration with Mac on Volume 7 is to stop handling SFX like this:
And do it more like this:
Much less cluttered and to the point. Also, readers should be smart enough to tell what is and isn’t SFX. I respect our reader’s intelligence and suggest that you do the same. You just need to typeset your SFX in such a way that it can’t be mistaken for dialogue.
Another problem that KS Scanlation did in their early chapters was adding Romaji (English syllabications) for the SFX.
This is going way overboard in my opinion, because not only does it clutter up the page, it also adds nothing for the reader. They don’t need to know how the SFX are pronounced, and they certainly won’t learn their meanings from pronunciation alone.
As a rule of thumb, the more concise a translation is, the better.
Used Different-Colored Text
At first, I thought this was a missed out Layer Opacity issue but quickly realized that grey text was something that KS Scanlation liked to use for certain types of dialogue (like muttered speech in this case). This seems to stem from some western comics that do the same thing.
Whatever the reason, it’s never a good idea to use a different font color than what the author used, especially for black and white pages, because not only does it break the reader’s immersion, it’s usually makes the lines very hard to read too.
Handled TL Notes Poorly
Don’t you just love it when you look up a word, and then it makes you look up another word?
If you’re going to use TL Notes, always give the reader enough information so they don’t drop your work to look at something else.
Used Hard-to-Read Fonts
I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but I’ve been using the Anime Ace 2.0 font for everything since day one. I just made it look different whenever I had to.
As much as I’d like to say that I did it to pioneer some minimalistic, avant-garde scanlation style, the truth is I just didn’t feel like switching to different fonts all the time.
While I have nothing against groups who use multiple fonts (the variety is great, I’ll give them that), the problem lies when they end up using fonts that are difficult to read (cursive ones especially).
If you’re going to use more than one font, make sure that they’re at least easy to read, and prepare to switch around a lot.
Imperfect Quality Checks
I actually used to be guilty of this myself (just look at my very first releases and you’ll know what I mean), back when I was rushing to get releases out as soon as possible, even if meant making a release at around midnight (trust me, you will not be able to QC properly when you’re drunk from lack of sleep).
I ended up having to redo some parts of said chapters and re-upload them, resulting in aggregator sites keeping the outdated versions (why, oh why won’t they fix that!?).
As always, remember to QC your work at least three times before releasing them (I even recommend doing onelast check the following day). Otherwise, you’ll waste time uploading V2 and V3 editions of the same chapter, and nobody wants that.
Didn’t Translate the SFX
It’s too bad that KS Scanlation only translated SFX for 2 chapters. Perhaps they felt that it wasn’t worth it, or that it was too much work at the time.
Whatever made them change their mind, it’s a darn shame that they did.
Didn’t Translate Background Details
Here we have an instance of a throwaway joke going untranslated.
For the average scanlator, this barely even registers as a joke — but for the average reader, it’s some Japanese the scanlator was too lazy to translate which, you guessed it: has now broken their immersion.
As scanlators, it is our sworn duty to translate everything that we can, whenever we can. (What, you didn’t get the memo? Well, now you have!)
Welp, that about does it for KS Scanlation!
I sincerely hope that this post has given you guys an idea of what good image editing and typesetting is all about. We’ve certainly covered a lot of ground today, but we still have a few more groups to go.
Next time, we’ll be taking a look at the second group that worked on Mitsudomoe: Vexed Scans.
See you all on the next post! Same Mitsudomoe time, same Mitsudomoe channel!