This is Part 3 of our scanlation tutorial series. You can find all parts here.
Last time, we talked about what KS Scanlation did great and not-so-great while working on Mitsudomoe.
This week, we’ll be taking a look at the second group to work on this awesome series, Vexed Scans.
NOTE: As always, if you have difficulty reading this article, please zoom-in on the page!
KS Scanlation is one of those groups that has clearly gotten better with age. In fact, they’re very much still active at the time of this writing and have improved tremendously both in their translation and image editing game (and yes, that includes their glorious SFX work too!).
Just goes to show you that there’s no way to go but up in this world as long as you keep at whatever you’re doing and are still having fun in the process.
Unfortunately, the last remaining member who worked on Mitsudomoe doesn’t have the time nor desire to work on this series again at the moment, so I guess this means we’re still stuck with each other for more years to come. Hey, we made it this far, am I right? 😉
In any case, I’ll try not to repeat what I said last time to keep things short (unless I find that something truly bears repeating), so please don’t think that Vexed Scans is a bad group in any way just in case I have more comments than praises for their work.
Anyways, without further ado, let’s take a look at:
What They Did Right:
Typesetting with Personality
Now, you might be thinking that I’m giving Vexed Scans way too much credit right off the bat. “Really, Sunfish? Points for tilting their text 15 degrees to the right? Who do you think you are? The new headmaster at Hogwarts?”
No, I assure you. There’s a very special reason for this first point. One that I feel most scanlators (and new ones especially) don’t notice often enough, and that is:
There’s more to expressing one’s self through text than just fonts and styles.
I feel most groups nowadays don’t know or care enough about this aspect of typesetting because they see it as nitpicky perfectionistic behavior — similar to the ones we always see on TV where some character nobody likes just has to keep everything juuuust right. Got a picture frame that’s hanging at a slightly tilted angle? Or tiny smudges on the edge of your bathroom mirror? Perhaps there’s a thin layer of dust all over your computer? You bet these guys will be all over those things in a heartbeat, and let me tell you something:
We desperately need more people like them in our industry.
Think about it! Being a perfectionist isn’t (and shouldn’t be seen as) a bad thing. Most people just tend to associate the term with those they’ve met who literally can’t do anything else because they’re too busy “perfecting” whatever it is they’re currently working on, but there’s so much more to it than that.
I’m not saying that we should all be perfectionists and beat ourselves up whenever we fail to nail that perfect release each and every time – that would be a fool’s errand because there’s no such thing as a “perfect release.” Scanlators are human too after all, and what could be more human than being imperfect?
What we should all be doing is aiming to nail that perfect release each and every time, because when you aim for the top, you’re sure to hit a decent mark (most of the time).
“But what does being a perfectionist have to do with tilting text?” you may ask. Well, everything!
We’re not just talking about angles here – we’re talking about how to put more personality in our typesetting.
Consider the following images and tell me which is more expressive:
While you can certainly feel how loud the characters are being in the first one, the second version tells us so much more – and I didn’t even have to alter the text all that much!
By simply tilting the above two dialogues towards each other (the muttered line on the bottom of the left one even more so), we get an idea of how aggressive the speaker on the right is being, and what little backbone the speaker on the left is showing. He’s definitely trying, but we just know he’s gonna wind up eating that dish one way or another. Classic anime tropes taught us so!
Usually, when I’m dealing with “awkward” or “defeated” dialogue like this, I typeset my dialogue in italics. However, it is just as important to know when to stop there, and when to go beyond that. Sadly, the only way to figure it out is through one’s gut feeling, a little bit of judgment, and years of experience — so the only way to truly learn is as you go.
When I said I felt that most typesetters nowadays overlook the fact that they can be way more expressive with their text, I meant that they often neglect to tweak their text’s other attributes like direction, orientation, angle, and even individual letter sizes.
Truly, there’s an endless combination of styles out there just waiting to be put to good use, and it’s our job as scanlators to discover them and make the most of what we’ve got in this medium.
Translated Handwritten Text
I’ve mentioned time and again on this site how Norio-sensei’s handwriting is the bane of my hobby as a scanlator. It’s like she knew the guy who’d eventually pick this series up would be completely dependent on Furigana so she intentionally used her handwriting on as many annoying places as possible (I still have yonkoma translation flashbacks to this day, in fact. All those wasted hours trying to decipher badly written kanji… Gone!).
In any case, I’m quite impressed that Vexed Scans’ translator was up for the job (you can’t really tell from this picture, but some of Norio-sensei’s handwriting is so hard to read, they even stumped some veteran translators over at the Little White Butterflies IRC).
While knowing Japanese will certainly help in scanlation, nothing beats having the ability to recognize kanji no matter how poorly it’s written, so be prepared! Be VERY prepared!
I actually got the idea to add a credits page after every chapter thanks to Vexed Scans (right down to using one of the full-color pages overlaid with faded white as a background).
While most groups are content with just having small, plain lists of their staff (some even opting to have no credits page at all), having a whole page to express yourself like this and connect with the reader even for just a brief moment really gives you that sense of accomplishment that you actually did something worthwhile today.
Not only do you get to talk to fellow fans of this series and give credit where credit is due, but you also get to advertise your site and recruit new staff members (or whatever else you wanna do).
While not essential to being a successful group, these pages help make your releases feel more personal– and they’re certainly nice to look at!
I was pleasantly surprised to see how expressive Vexed Scans typeset their SFX (of course this didn’t last either, but I digress).
Tweaking each letter to get the perfect size, angle, and placement is no easy feat – I know because I’ve done it and continue to do so. No one but the most passionate of readers will notice the hoops we go through just to bring them the best darn release we can possibly make, but doing a good job should be its own reward – and knowing that we did a great job last time helps us keep it up for next time.
The above is a perfect example of what I’m talking about when I say that translated SFX and mimicking the original text style both contribute to a seamless reading experience.
With little to no Japanese text to distract the reader, they can blitz right through each dialogue, SFX, and panel from start to finish – and before they know it, they already had a great time!
Mimicked the Original Text Style
I really liked what the typesetter did for these chapters. Everything from the font, color, line thickness, and stylization was carefully thought out. The attention to detail is what really makes these chapters special.
Of course, it’s not a perfect replica of the original style – but it’s close enough that it doesn’t really matter.
I’ve seen typesetting on colored doujin pages in my time that would put most groups today to shame — and most groups today don’t even work in color! These doujin scanlation groups would actually handwrite SFX and dialogue for most scenes that require them (scenes which I cannot describe here due to legal reasons, but I’ll leave that to your imagination). They actually invested in hardware like pen tablets for their craft, something most groups today don’t have the desire nor means to do so.
We really need to step up our game, because seriously — when the H-gallery has better-looking releases than we do, can we even call ourselves scanlators anymore?
This one is actually a no-brainer because, as we all know, no one likes reading faded manga pages where dialog is the darkest thing onscreen. In fact, this is probably the first thing most readers will notice even if they don’t realize it.
The image quality of your pages matter.
“No friggin’ DUH, Sunfish. Of course image quality matters!” I hear you say – but do you really know what that phrase means?
Let me explain:
(NOTE: You can click on images to view their actual size.)
Alright, it probably looks like I’m complaining about the most active and prolific group to ever work on Mitsudomoe before I came along, but in this line of work, it’s crucial to be able to separate the art from the artist – or more specifically, to respect the group, but treat their releases as fair game.
Clearly, TDX’s cleaner made some effort to make the top page sharper than the RAWs (in that there’s more contrast) – and while I’ll agree that everything’s certainly darker in TDX’s version, darker pages does not a good scanlation make.
It’s not enough for cleaners to remove every text that the typesetter will replace, nor clean up obvious specs of dirt left in by the scanner because those things are part of their job.
No, cleaners should also be very, VERY careful about tampering with a page’s attributes, especially with regards to image compression. Just look at how awful the top page is – not only did all the colors get messed up, but they added a crapload of artifacting too!
This is why lossy compression should be avoided like the plague. You’re more than welcome to compress as you see fit, but make sure that the image quality doesn’t suffer. It’s always more preferable to have a larger file size than a terrible image.
Now, to be fair, TDX was most likely using the magazine scans instead of the much cleaner tankoubon scans, but just the same, we live in such a technologically advanced era right now that there had to be a Photoshop technique out there could have produced much better results.
I’ve seen groups turn newspaper-quality RAWs with faded ink into something you’ll mistake for high-quality RAWs, so our current tools are definitely up for the job.
If nothing else, I want you guys to remember to always save your work in PNG (arguably the best format for images due to how flexible it is), preferably optimized for the web, and with compression that doesn’t affect the image quality. You’ll be glad you did.
Always try to stick to (or improve on) the quality of the RAWs, because the last thing we want is our readers suddenly learning Japanese all because our English pages suck so bad.
NOTE: I’d like to briefly mention that I missed this point for KS Scanlation last time, so apologies to anyone who noticed.
I like how even back then, Vexed Scans was already doing a lot of things right.
All-too-often, I see newbie typesetters do something like the following:
While not too terrible, a more appealing version would be something like:
You see, vertical typesetting naturally lets you take full advantage of the shape and space inside speech bubbles because they follow the flow of the original text (Japanese usually being written from top to bottom, then right to left). Not only do they let you fill up said space in a visually appealing way, it’s more expressive too!
While you can achieve a similar effect with horizontal typesetting, 9 times out of 10, vertical typesetting will always come out on top.
Note that this only applies to short dialogue, which is usually limited to one-liners, gasps, and outcries – and because these types of dialogue don’t come up too often in manga (unless you’re working on a horror or action series), I encourage all typesetters to use vertical typesetting whenever the scene calls for it.
Partially Translated the Covers
I’m still disappointed that Vexed Scans didn’t go all the way with translating the cover, but the fact that they went out of their way to translate the comic haiku was a good start.
Not that many groups translate covers anymore, most likely due to the amount of effort that would take — but hopefully, that will change in the future.
While it won’t necessarily break the reader’s immersion (because they’ve barely even started yet), having them miss out on all those details the author added is one of the greatest sins a scanlator can commit (aside from, you know, scanlating).
Anyway, that’s all the good points I managed to find so far. Now let’s take a look at:
What They Did Wrong:
While not necessarily a bad thing due to how English translations generally don’t fit very well inside panels because of their word length, typesetters should strive to avoid (or at least minimize the amount of) overflowing text whenever possible because they don’t just cover up the artwork, they also break the reader’s immersion by being hard to read – especially when said text leads the reader’s eye in directions the author never even intended (which we’ll get to in a future post).
Thankfully, there are a couple of ways to avoid these: one is to simply hyphenate your translations so they can fit nicely inside your speech bubbles, and the other is to transform or resize the text and make it narrower, usually with some white outlines to separate the text from the borders.
So in short, text that flows out of speech bubbles and panels is usually a bad thing, so try to avoid them as much as possible.
Typos, Typose, and more Typoes
The only thing worse than breaking the reader’s immersion is breaking the reader’s immersion through sheer incompetence.
Now, this isn’t to say that Vexed Scans is the worst group in the world – they certainly made a great contribution to the Mitsudomoe fanbase when no other group wanted to step in – but being the only option isn’t an excuse for not doing a good job.
I simply cannot stress the value of good quality checking enough, so I’ll emphasize it as best as I can:
Quality Checking isn’t just the quality checker’s job. It’s everybody’s job.
No one takes a group that constantly makes typos seriously. You’ll be mistaken for an ESL group at best, and a machine-translator at worst (and machines don’t even make typos anymore).
Bottom line: Always make sure to double and triple check your work – and if you have the time, do a quadruple check!
Didn’t Clean Between the Lines
Just look at that text on the right. Isn’t it just a pain to look at? What kind of reading material has words that are hard to read?
I’ll tell you what kind: a terrible one!
I didn’t start cleaning art between (and inside) my text until my second volume, Volume 6, and let me tell you, it was one of the best typesetting decisions I ever made.
By taking out art that’s messing with our text, we’re letting the reader experience our translations unhindered by distractions like lines and screentones — and as we all know, an undistracted reader is a happy reader.
Too Small Typesetting
All too often I see typesetting that’s a little too small for comfort – and when your text is already difficult to read on computer screens, imagine the hassle of having to read them on tablets and phones!
While small typesetting is sometimes acceptable when there are no other alternatives to make our translations fit inside the panels, my advice is to stick to a minimum font size of 10 for such cases.
The reason I recommend size 10 is because it keeps words readable without having to zoom in all the way on a page.
Note that size 10 isn’t set in stone – it’s just what I found works best for me. You still need to play around with the resolution and actual size of your pages to find out what works for you. Too small, and your text will be barely visible while zoomed out; too large, and your text will be too distracting.
Finding the right font size for your series is pretty much trial and error, but it’s one that’s worth doing every single time.
Too Narrow Typesetting
I get that the above font is actually pretty popular among some groups, but it’s just too narrow for my liking, especially on smaller screens or when the page is zoomed out.
While narrowing your typesetting due to space limitations is usually acceptable, typesetters should try to avoid having to do so as much as possible either by revising their translations to be less wordy (giving more breathing room for your text), or sacrificing breathing room for more readability.
Either way, try to avoid narrow typesetting as much as you can – they’re very hard to read, and when you make the reader work for their entertainment, they’re going to find something else that doesn’t.
Didn’t Clean Up the Original Text
This one looks more like a missed out cleaning job than a typesetting choice since the original text was already small to begin with and wouldn’t have taken that much effort to clean, but whatever the reason, typesetters should always opt to replace text whenever possible so the reader isn’t hit with any information that they wouldn’t be able to digest.
That, and the fact that Japanese text under English ones is just so hard to look at.
Like I said last time, untranslated text is akin to noise that the reader has to subconsciously block in their head, and the less noise they have to go through in your releases, the better.
Left Some Dialogue Untranslated
I stand by my statement from last time that translators should always aim to translate 100% of whatever they’re working on, and Vexed Scans’ releases are no exception.
The missed-out lines above were most likely a byproduct of them giving up on translating SFX, and mistakes are the only acceptable reason for leaving anything untranslated.
Translators who deliberately skip lines for whatever reason should really consider finding a different hobby (you can’t really call it a profession if you’re not being professional). Thankfully, I have yet to meet or hear about such cases, and I hope I never will.
Bad Text Placement
I remember once reading an old book written by Scott McCloud called “Understanding Comics” where he talked about proper spacing within speech balloons – specifically how to properly place your words inside them to avoid overwhelming the reader.
Generally, every comic artist agrees that the ideal word placement inside speech balloons is something like the following:
Notice how the blue areas (where your text goes) has:
a) Nice breathing room between the text and the border.
b) Follows the form of the speech balloon/box.
While there are plenty of other more complex shapes out there, the above rules of thumb still apply.
Of course, doing this isn’t always possible (especially when your translations can’t be hyphenated, or the words just can’t be arranged properly), but keeping the above concepts in mind is a great first step towards being a better typesetter than most groups have out there.
Empty Speech Bubbles
Aside from typos, empty speech bubbles are another sign that a group “just didn’t care” – and you never want your readers to have such thoughts that at the back of their minds.
This could easily be avoided by adding quality checks after every step of the scanlation process:
- The translator makes sure he didn’t miss out anything.
- The typesetter makes sure he and the translator didn’t miss out anything.
- The quality checker makes sure both the translator and typesetter didn’t miss out anything.
If only every group took the time to check their work, several cases like the ones above could’ve been avoided over the past decade or so.
Thankfully, empty speech bubbles are almost non-existent today, and the only way to keep it that way is to keep being diligent with our quality checks.
We have this concept in programming called “DRY” which is short for “Don’t Repeat Yourself.” Similarly, I encourage all scanlators to avoid translating the same page twice.
You don’t want to spend extra effort on something readers will most likely skip because they’ve already seen it (and the fact that readers get to see your translations next to the original Japanese text is a nice plus).
Spend that time and effort where it matters: working on something that’s never been seen before!
Similar to the untranslated dialogue section above, translators and typesetters must keep a sharp eye out for easy-to-miss lines like this one.
Such lines are easy to miss because they’re often very small and out of the way, where only the most obsessive of readers could spot them – but as scanlators, we have an unspoken duty to be even more obsessive than our readers.
This is especially upsetting when the missed out dialogue wasn’t that well-hidden to begin with, such as the line above.
Sure, only people who have the RAWs will notice, but could you really sleep at night knowing you did a poor, half-baked job? I know I can’t…
Untranslated Pages and Details
I’ll never understand why some groups actually choose to skip translating bonus pages like character descriptions and series trivia like this one. It boggles the mind.
We’re here to bring a series in its entirety to an audience with no hope of ever experiencing it otherwise goshdarnit, and such blatant disregard for the original source material should be enough to get one’s scanlating license revoked (if such things existed).
Like I said before, if the author bothered to add it to their work, then we should also bother to translate it for our readers – especially when they have direct connections to the series we’re working on.
Redundant TL Notes
I don’t quite get why Vexed Scans decided to use a TL Note for this one. With a little extra effort, they could’ve just as easily replaced the Japanese text with their translations.
Let this be a lesson to everyone out there: Never use TL Notes for anything that you can typeset normally – especially when you’re not explaining anything.
Remember: TL Notes are for explaining; Typesetting is for entertaining.
I shouldn’t really be talking about translation right now, but I have to mention it briefly here so consider it as a preview of an upcoming post.
Wordy translations not only make typesetting harder, they’re usually more of a detriment to the reader too. They’re awkward to read, overwhelming to look at, and generally clutter up the page.
For example, instead of saying “There was nothing in her way” here, the translator could’ve revised it to say “She tripped on thin air” or something to that effect (I’m also just realizing that this panel probably isn’t the best example in the world for this topic, but this post is already one month late and I’m going to finish it today no matter what).
By revising your translations until they’re short enough to fit neatly inside your speech bubbles while still keeping all the personality and emotion the author intended, you’re not only making your typesetter’s job easier, you’re enriching the reader’s experience too!
The Mitsudomoe manga is pretty messy in general (I know this from experience), with random ink dots and pencil lines strewn about on every other page. I don’t really think it’s the scanner’s fault because I have a sneaking suspicion that the manga pages actually looked like this.
But whatever the reason for having messy RAWs, it is the cleaner’s job to make sure such messes don’t make it to the reader.
This is probably nitpicking by this point because most groups are happy enough with just translating character dialogue and calling it a day, but true scanlators go above and beyond that – they make sure their releases are the best releases their readers are gonna get, sometimes even better than what the Japanese readers got!
Didn’t Do the Research
As scanlators, we shouldn’t just be looking out for cleaning, redrawing, and typesetting errors, because the sneakiest of the bunch, translation errors, are the hardest to find.
They’re difficult to spot because their telltale signs are often only factual or contextual, meaning only an expert translator who knows their subject matter well will be able to spot them.
We’re so used to breezing through our own panels during quality checks because we made them ourselves that we end up bundling these errors with our releases where they will do the most harm – breaking the attentive reader’s immersion.
Why attentive? Because only attentive readers keep track of what’s been going on since Chapter 1, and only attentive readers spot what’s factual and what’s not, what’s canon and non-canon, and most importantly, what’s really going on versus what the scanlator mistakenly presented.
There’s nothing worse than a reader stopping themselves mid-read just to say “Wait a minute, he’d never say that!” or “That doesn’t sound right…”
While I will commend Vexed Scans for doing the color page instead of the black and white version, it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that there are only twelve animals in the Chinese zodiac, not twenty.
The translator must’ve gotten confused between the characters for twelve (十二) and twenty (二十) — though the problem could’ve easily been avoided had they taken the time to do quality checks or make a quick Google search (or count Mitsuba’s panties in the picture, but who’d wanna do that?).
Just goes to show you that no matter how well you know a language, it never hurts to be diligent with your quality checks.
And while we’re on the subject of Googling stuff, let’s not forget how they…
Were Very Rude to the Reader
Never, EVER do this. It not only insults the reader, it breaks their immersion too.
If you’re going to be rude, you might as well not have left a TL Note there in the first place. Anyone who cared to know more about the term would’ve just Googled it on their own anyway.
As scanlators, we must always be careful to never put in anything that doesn’t contribute to the reader’s experience (unless you’re having fun with your TL Notes, which I’ll admit to being guilty of every now and then).
They’ll just end up cluttering the page and distracting readers from what they should be focusing on, which is enjoying your work.
Welp, that about does it for Vexed Scans! I sincerely hope that you guys at least learned something new today.
Next time, we’ll be taking a look at all remaining groups at once: You Don’t Want These Translations, /a/nonymous,and TDX. It’s gonna be a doozy…
See you all on the next post! Same Mitsudomoe time, same Mitsudomoe channel!
8 thoughts on “Scanlating the Sunfish Scans Way Part 3: Vexed Scans”
Apologies for taking so long with this one (again). This was supposed to be published sometime in mid-November, but some real-life stuff came up.
Anyways, see you guys next time for something completely different! 😉
Floating Sunfish, out!
The kagami mochi thing. Jesus, I almost forgot about that. I’ve seen plenty of bad translator notes in scans that add pointless things like “Google is your friend” or something, but that’s the only one I’ve seen that basically just says “look it up yourself, asshole” and nothing else.
Anyway, thanks for your work on this. I’ve been practicing a lot of this stuff on another manga project, and I look forward to becoming skilled in some of these areas, notably typesetting sound effects. Matsuoka’s ‘eeek’ in that one panel is wonderful, especially considering how much work must have gone into something that most readers would spend less than a second looking at. I’ve at least improved in that area, but I should still stick to my day job at this point.
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You’re welcome, and glad you liked it! 🙂
I’m also super excited to get to the actual Photoshop steps section (it’s gonna be a big one), and am very glad that you’re actually getting to put all this stuff into practice.
Many thanks for sticking with me over the years despite the constant delays. It really makes working on this series even more worthwhile. 🙂
Floating Sunfish, out!
This has been quite informative! Thank you!
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Thanks for the info.
BTW, while Vexed should be commended for deciphering the handwriting… they must also be condemned as posers, since I spot at least one invention in the example given.
On the one marked as “impotent”, after a relatively short but painful search, I have identified the text as 隠れオタ, which is a slang meaning “closet otaku” (or as weblio suggest, “passing away geek”).
Your observation is certainly valid, although I wouldn’t exactly “condemn them for being posers” per se… 😅
While I will agree that sticking as close to the author’s original intent as possible is the ideal, sometimes, for one reason or another, we scanlators wind up making stuff up on the fly — either because the author’s handwriting is too obscure, the words don’t make sense even in Japanese, we feel it’s not entertaining enough for our target audience, etc.
I myself am guilty of doing this from time to time, to be honest. 😅 In fact, if you compare my latest releases with the RAWs, you’ll probably notice that I frequently tamper with the source material in hopes of making Mitsudomoe more entertaining for fans in the west.
The validity and final results of our decisions are completely subjective as well, and the best we can hope for is that they either resonate with most of our target audience, or that they at least won’t mind our changes very much.
Many thanks for sharing your thoughts, though!
I look forward to engaging in more conversations like these in the future! 😊
Sorry, I don’t know what’s the internationally accepted way to indicate that something is half-joking is.
At most, I may be mad because the “ota” part was quite legible, and when you find that, a safe way to go both into the insult and fidelity fronts would be “nerd”.
I was just noting that that particular example did not exactly qualify for “able to read handwritten text” and is rather “adaptative improvisation when in a pinch”, which is not bad (quite good, instead), but still not the same.
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Haha, I see. 😅 I personally use emojis like ;P to indicate that I’m half-joking about something.
I think that would help prevent misunderstandings in the future.
As for why I chose this particular panel as an example, it had the most prominent use of handwritten text (so far) and I was quite satisfied with their other pages that I didn’t notice that they improvised their translations as well.
In any case, we’ll touch on each group’s translation chops in the future once we get to them. I’m sure it will be very interesting. 🙂