Scanlation Speaks: Investigating Detective Conan Scans with Korn

“I want to see a world where every child is entitled to reading what’s accessible to them…”

Back in 2010, Gum with the landmark website Inside Scanlation documented a shift in the English language scanlation communities between 2006 and 2008.

With such large-scale rejection of the old code against scanlating licensed series, the purpose of scanlation also shifted from “introducing people to obscure manga” to “scanlating to read licensed and unlicensed manga for free.” By 2008, scanlation was mostly associated with getting free manga online.-GUM

What has changed since 2018?  Perhaps not much. Many scanlation groups stop working on a series once it is licensed since they operate under the idea of “introducing” or “spreading the word.” Yet, several others continue even after official non-Japanese releases. Motivations for these types of groups are difficult to generalize. In the end, no matter how different the intentions, the scanlated versions of officially licensed series typically end up on aggregator websites ranging from the Mangago to MangaDex.

The decision to continue scanlating, however, can have a larger impacted on fan communities and the manga industry as a whole. Previously, we spoke with VikingHedgehog and Jin Chan Yum Wai regarding how Jump scanlations affect fans and their experience as readers. To understand the thought process behind those scanlating a series that already has an English release, we interviewed Korn of Korn Scans. Currently, Korn Scans are working on “remaking“ the entire Detective Conan series, a popular manga written by Aoyama Gosho and licensed by VIZ Media. At the time of this article’s publication, they have uploaded 997 of 999 chapters of Detective Conan.

“While the manga publishers have their rights to sell the mangaka’s work more and more, scanlation has its reason to exist in the first place.”

Korn Scans

Manga Planet: Could you please give us a self-introduction?

Korn: Hi, my name is Korn, as the name speaks, and I am the group leader of Korn Scans.

Manga Planet: How did you become involved in scanlation?

Korn: It’s a rather long story. It actually began out of nowhere, really.

I only started scanlating Detective Conan around May 2017. It’s my only and favorite series that I’ve ever binged reading ever since I was a kid, because the series is very popular where I live and it’s known to people from all walks of life here as well. When I grew up a bit more, a few years before now, I wonder how each chapter is made and what the procedures are behind it that makes reading it so fascinating. And then I do see a lot of scanlators who devote their time and effort into each chapter with a lot of group members, to make each chapter the best way it should be, not just for this series but for other series as well.

That’s actually something that not just me but anyone should appreciate the time and effort of said scanlators. So I thought it’d be cool and fun if I actually try to see how I can do it on my own. Filling in text for speech bubbles of characters is something that is quite artistic because it gives me the feeling that I am actually making the characters alive and “speak their minds” as well as designing the whole story plot to make things interesting for readers.

So this led up to May 27th, 2017, the day that I officially became a typesetter – I just received some help from a certain someone who helped me through with setting up the banner, the logo for the group, and I began rolling right into it, with a lot of passion and curiosity along the way.

Manga Planet: What motivated your decision to scanlate Detective Conan and “remake the entire series!” as you state on your Tumblr?

Korn: A big part of the reason why I choose this series to scanlate stems from the fact that my parents banned me from reading comics when I was around 13 years old. They imprinted the idea into my mind that comics are bad, they hurt your eyes with those fonts, they bring no lessons to you except random gratuity or even sometimes really NSFW content like the regular showbiz’s “attempt to be humorous”. That for a while made me lose faith in comics, until that one fated day when I dropped by my cousins’ house to spend the night there. It was all fun and such until one of my cousins showed me her collection of 65 Detective Conan volumes on her bookshelf. Every single volume, while I had none, and even though each volume cost like, not even a single US dollar at the time, I wasn’t even allowed to buy one. Hours later, my cousin spent time talking to me about Detective Conan, and she even told me that if I’d like, I could even borrow some of the volumes or come read anytime I want. That was the first day that I had ever tried to open my heart to comics and thoroughly enjoyed my first time for comics and especially the series itself.

Speaking of Detective Conan, throughout 10 years, I’ve never failed to read any volumes at all. There are some volumes I even reread multiple times. At the time, I was quite dreamy and dreamt of one day that I would be able to finally “make” Conan, via working in a manga publisher or something. But the notion of companies, industry and such was very blurry to me back then, until only a few years prior to now, that I learn of a thing called “scanlation” that actually exists.

So I guess my time had finally come. But at the time, I was very busy with school, a lot of things going on in my personal life, so I couldn’t dedicate time to this, and I certainly wasn’t aware of how painstaking and brutal it would be should I begin scanlation. I could only find my chance to begin the series in May 2017, after having enough time to research the matter, the procedures and how things work.

Why do I want to “remake the whole series”? Yes, there’s a reason for that. Aside from the fact that I got banned from reading comics, I simply thought, “If I cannot buy stuff, how about making stuff myself?”

It was such a pity to witness a series as long as Detective Conan (more than 1000 chapters) has the majority of the chapters buried in such poor scan quality, translation, and typesetting and these chapters are everywhere on the internet and the fans just have to accept it as it is, for roughly two decades now. Not to mention that the accuracy of the content itself is highly questionable, with many primitive resources that these old chapters get at the time (scanlated around at least 12 years ago or so)- no digital scans, raws look grainy, inconsistent/incomplete information, so on and so forth. Later on, I also learn that even the later chapters, which were done with much better resources, also had problems of their own, such as critical main plot misinterpretation, not-good-enough scans, etc. Initially, I only planned to remake as many chapters as possible since I didn’t know how much time I really had, and also, to help improve the series as much as I could.

It was a rough start. I started remaking the series with no prior experience in typesetting, redrawing, even using Photoshop or whatever skills. Since I was a group leader, recruitment became impossible with someone who didn’t have any experience like me. So I had to work on my own for the first around 70 chapters, including cleaning, redrawing, typesetting, asking for raws, proofreading, tried to release them and get feedback. Honestly, to say the least, they weren’t that great back then. But that’s alright, because as more people joined my team and the work was distributed more evenly, our agenda expanded, and with more experience gained along the way, we’ve decided to remake the whole series (up to 999 chapters) just to end everything related to the dark times of the series and to make it great again.

Deep down inside, while we largely enjoy what we can produce for the readers, I also know, that I don’t want to see any children whose parents ban from reading comics will have to suffer like me. I want to see a world where every child is entitled to reading what’s accessible to them, in the best way possible, even if it’s comics, and can fully enjoy what they choose to read, especially a long and popular series like Conan.

Manga Planet: What is your perspective on the relationship between scanlation and the manga industry?

Korn: Now that I learned how prevalent scanlation is, I say that the existence of scanlation and the manga industry alongside is inevitable. It’s definitely not even close to something called “symbiotic” relationship, as scanlation is considered “grey” (and even more grey for us), while the manga industry legitimately tries to make the mangaka’s work more popular via better selling on the market. But I do believe that scanlation has its own right to exist in a lot of ways.

Using Detective Conan as an example, I think that the localization of characters, locations, banners, etc from the manga industry makes it usually worse for readers to enjoy the series properly, because the cultural vibe, the sense of place, and the originality are already lost. Or, if the manga publishers are too slow on their release, like Viz Media only covering up to Vol. 67 while there are 95 volumes of Conan right now, can make it much harder for manga readers to catch up with the plot. Factors like this, I believe, are the reason why scanlation comes into play, even though it’s considered “grey” with free content, like our group, who never requires any financial support/donation and our content is 100% free to access online. While the manga publishers have their rights to sell the mangaka’s work more and more, scanlation has its reason to exist in the first place.

One more thing people tend to mistake is, just because we scanlate a series, doesn’t mean we don’t love the mangaka or want it to be poorly sold. Not everyone has enough interest or money to buy volumes, and for a lot of cases, they can’t for genuine reasons. I dearly wanted to buy volumes in my country when I was a kid, to show that I really really love reading Conan and also, to support the hard work of the mangaka who works absurdly hard to produce the contents for the fans, as a form of “giving back,” just that I wasn’t even allowed to buy any.

I believe anyone can both access free contents AND buy volumes to support the author – I know plenty of people who do this. Bottom line is, getting more fans to have a chance to read and enjoy the series is also very important to make a series successful and well-rounded, and we scanlators are merely trying to do our job as spreading the words and engaging more readers.

Manga Planet: From my understanding, many scanlation groups drop a series once it is officially licensed. What is your stance on this policy?

Korn: I think this is a good practice for most series. This ensures that the content is up-to-date for the readers, just so the readers can always follow up with the latest news and what’s going on with the series with the official licensing. This also ensures that the manga publishers have a better chance at selling the mangaka’s work to the public, which will ensure that the author gets their royalties and a lot of attention from the fans if they are able to deliver the chapters timely and the content is good enough. Unfortunately, this varies among series. Contrary to One Piece, where Viz is almost caught up with the most recent chapters, Detective Conan isn’t a series where Viz Media catches up with the most recent storyline (in fact, they are almost 30 volumes or more than 300 chapters behind), even though Conan was licensed back in 2004. So overall it really depends on the quality and the speed of the manga publishers for each particular series itself.

Manga Planet: How much both time-wise and monetarily wise do you (and your team) spend on scanlation?

Korn: We have some members sticking with us from the very beginning of this scanlation project up to present. Monetarily, we don’t have to pay for anything at all – we managed to have people scout for high-quality raws for us, so all we need to do is to scanlate, including typesetting, cleaning, translating, proofreading, redrawing, whatever necessary for the procedures for each chapter. But still, I consider us lucky in this regard.

I personally have spent more than 2200 hours working on 989 chapters of Detective Conan up to date, since May 27th, 2017 (yes, I have tracking logs of time used on scanlation specifically since I know this project is going to be a very long one, just to keep up with time management between scanlation and academics). I also spent a good deal of time revising and reworking on a bunch of chapters due to my lack of experience when I first started in the first few months, and because I spent time covering most scanlation skills, including typesetting, redrawing, cleaning, etc on my own back then, I spent some more time than other members before they joined the group. My teammates are specialized in different fields like cleaning, translating, or quality checking, but overall I say they’ve also invested at least hundreds, or a thousand hours into this Conan project, and we have been working every day ever since this remake project was started. The majority of my teammates who joined the group didn’t have any prior scanlation experience either, aside from a good understanding of the story plot and overall familiarity with the series, so that also explained why it took time for us to get things right.

Manga Planet: How do you compare your work to Viz’s release?

Korn: Our work is 100% fan work, that is, using our translator’s overall proficiency in Japanese to translate the content into English, and utilizing the best possible resources like the best possible scan quality present. We stick to original Japanese names, locations, banners, etc and even using Japanese honorifics to show hierarchy. We also make sure to add in translation notes to denote puns that are probably used often in Japan, or to explain what some historical denotations in Japan mean. We also release a lot faster than Viz. However, the issues with Viz’s releases are that they localize characters, names, and everything else into American terms, losing originality of the storyline in the process. More notably, they tend to cut things short for characters’ speeches, occasionally cutting out some connotations in a character’s speech that could deliver something important. Because of that, I say Viz overall fails to capture the most iconic and dramatic climaxes in Detective Conan, by their too-much-freedom translation that more than not strays from the real intended meaning.

Manga Planet: Just to clarify, your group is currently working on chapters of Detective Conan that VIZ has already published in English? Do you believe working on chapters that already has an official release hurts the sales of the series?

Korn: Yes, we’re working on Conan chapters even though Viz has already published in English. Well, for the majority of them only, since Viz has only released up to Vol. 67, while we cover up to Vol. 94, meaning there’s still a good 27 Volumes that we’re ahead of Viz. Speaking of sales, it’s hard to say since we have no exact way to know if our chapters will affect the sales. In my country, the volumes keep getting sold annually and the statistics have always been positive (more volumes are sold each year) even though the series has been going for so long. With Conan being a very popular series in most places, I don’t think the sales are affected at all, because I’ve known and seen quite a lot of young fans who are passionate about buying the volumes, at least in my location.

Manga Planet: Many scans include notices with “support the artist” and links to where you can find the series. Do you include these in your work?

Korn: For our group, that’s not the case. Since we’re working on so many chapters, and if we include such notices, which are involved with Viz Media, it can cause future involvement and more attention from Viz Media, who won’t like the fact that they are really behind and we will have redone the whole series. Rather than that, such notices are often included in different Conan communities to encourage readers to support the author rather than in scanlation work.

Manga Planet: Would you ever want to work in the manga industry in the future?

Korn: I have no intention to work in the manga industry in any future. Much as I like scanlation overall, I’ve only ever read and scanlated Detective Conan, not any other series at all, because I’m not quite curious about any other manga in existence. Also, my family probably won’t like to see that, haha, since they have never known that I’ve been not only keeping up with reading comics but also even involved in making comics for this long. So that wouldn’t be something I want to face when my family’s preconception about comics hasn’t changed one bit.

Manga Planet: You mention your location and country quite a few times throughout your answers. Could you possibly let us know where you are talking about?

Korn: It’s a country in Asia, where manga prospers. You can take a guess if you’d like to, but I’d prefer to keep it a secret. I learn from Detective Conan that “a secret makes a woman woman,” you know. *laughs*

Manga Planet: Do you believe Detective Conan and manga, in general, should be made available to people even if they cannot afford it?

Korn: With Conan, affordability is not really the problem, as separated into single volumes it might take forever but they can be collected. The problem is accessibility, missing official translations and distribution (meaning next to no libraries have them), as well as quality (translation vs. localization problems as stated earlier). We’d like to think that it is a great work that can teach people many things (and make them fondly remember these moments) so it should be made available to people in high quality no matter if officially and in paid version, or if that seems to fail in free fan version (both have their pros and cons).

Manga Planet: If VIZ contacted you to stop working on Detective Conan, would you stop?

Korn: Yes, we will stop, as does any group, I believe. However, the advantage we have over a lot of groups is that we aren’t working on the newest chapters of a series. All these 999 chapters have been released before by different groups and done under different conditions of raw quality, translation quality, typesetting methods, so on and so forth, and most of them have been aired as well. So for either readers or viewers, mostly that’s nothing new to them. We only work on remaking the chapters, renewing the series by giving readers access to better information manga-wise (the anime has much better sub, while the manga quality has been bad for at least one decade, so for the most part, the fans turn to watch the anime to catch up or understand things rather than reading the manga). We only have just some chapters left to work on, to complete this project anyway. Unlike groups who work on newest chapters and don’t know when a series will end and have more concerns if manga publishers contact them along the way, we definitely know where our endpoint is, so there’s much less pressure for us.

Manga Planet: Is there anything you would like readers to know?

Korn: With all that said about the existence of different sources to read, the reader is the one choosing what to read, if they choose to read Viz it’s their choice if they read the fan scanlation it’s the same thing. There are fan communities serving both sides, so we don’t want to force someone to do something they don’t want. Nor do we want to be ridiculed for doing a series that people think is unnecessary (there are those that are too lazy to do licensed series).

Another thing is, I believe any readers can become scanlators. The distinction may be big, but it’s actually not. Our group members began empty-handed, and we were just readers before this project began. I would like to say that if one has enough enthusiasm and has legitimate cause for becoming a scanlator, feel free to actualize their choice. And good luck to them as well, since scanlation is brutal and will probably take away from them more than give them back.

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