In What is an Otaku? I talked about how I became an otaku. While writing that article I realized just how long I have actually been one and I suddenly had the urge to write a historical retrospective of how I started and how the anime, manga, light novel and xianxia scene has changed. Looking online I really couldn’t find anybody that has written an op-ed piece like this, though insidescanlation.com does have somewhat dry, but very in-depth history on the manga scene.
In the Beginning
My first notice of anime came when I was living on a farm and was around 15 years old, it happened on Saturday’s in the very early morning’s before the cartoon block would kickoff. The Fox channel would show a cartoon I had never seen or heard of before called Dragonball. Now, unfortunately, I only got to see 3 or 4 episodes of this intriguing cartoon before Fox inexplicably took it off the air. At the time, it never even occurred to me to check online to find out what it was, after all, the most common way to connect to the internet at the time was on dial-up with 28.8kbs speed, AOL was the biggest internet provider in the US, Mosaic, Netscape & Internet Explorer were the only browsers available and search engines were in their infancy. Then that summer a new channel over-the-air channel was created called KWWB and they were playing the very first anime that I actually knew was an anime, Pokemon.
Now Pokemon is considered an old hat and people make fun of it, but back then it was like nothing anybody had ever seen and it took the US by storm. I watched every episode of that first season and was upset that I couldn’t watch the 2nd season because Cartoon Network owned the rights to it. Lucky for me, 6 months later we moved back into town and got cable. Not only did we get cable, but I managed to convince my parents to get cable internet, it was blazing fast at 10Mbs.
Enter Toonami and Toriyama’s World
Now I was able to watch shows on the Cartoon Network called the Toonami and Adult Swim blocks. Shows like DBZ and Yu-Yu Hakusho were amazing and I wanted more. I was searching the net using this new search engine called Yahoo or at least at the time it was new to me when I stumbled across this website called Toriyama’s World. It was a website devoted to the creator of Dragonball and Dragonball Z and they had just started releasing something called manga. Curious, I clicked on the first manga chapter of something called Hikaru no Go, proceeded to unzip the file and check out the image files. I wasn’t too sure if I liked it at first but it really wasn’t due the content of the manga. It was actually due to have to manually click on each image file to bring it up on my screen. Frustrated by this I searched the web and finally found a workable solution, though it wasn’t ideal. Proceeding to download manga chapters of Naruto, HxH, Hikaru no Go and One Piece for further study because while I still wasn’t sure if I would like manga or not I did see enough to make me take a closer look.
I became hooked. Over the summer, I delved deeper and deeper into the manga/anime scene. I found amazing mangas at places like MangaProject, MangaScreener, Band of The Hawks, SnoopyCool, etc. I spiraled into this wonderful world of manga and that was how I found out the existences of anime fansubs groups like Soldats, Elite-Fansubs, etc.
Anime Fansubs and Manga’s Rising Popularity
I didn’t know it at the time but I had actually hit the scene right before its popularity began to skyrocket. I still remember like it was yesterday trying to figure out how to join an IRC server, join the IRC channels and register my nickname so that I could join the anime fansubs channel to download the anime. The group would announce on the website a rough time of when they would release the episode on the channel and the channel would become similar to a group of ravenous wolfs waiting to pounce on its prey as the channel swelled 10-20 times larger than its normal population. Soon as they announced the episode was released the wolves would pounce and the chaos would begin as the release bots would be flooded off the channel in an IRC equivalent of a DDoS attack.
There was a lot of difficulties with finding fansubbed anime’s, especially the older series. Often you would find a anime you wanted to watch, go to the listed IRC channel and find out that the group no longer existed or that the files were no longer available for download. To get around these problems dedicated fansub sites used a revolutionary site, at the time, called Streamload. You created a free Streamload login and got 15gb’s of free data storage. If you needed more, you would need to buy a monthly subscription and your one download at a time restriction would be lifted. What made the site revolutionary at the time was once a file was uploaded into storage you could then send it like an email to another Streamload user and that user could then add it to his storage. Using Streamload whole series could be sent with one click of the mouse to someone, even the ones licensed in English.
Anime fansub and manga scanlation groups have a lifecycle that they follow. Usually, the group is formed by students in college or high school with an interest in manga/anime. Some were also looking to showcase their talents so they could be hired on by the likes of Viz, FUNimation, etc. They recruit, they grow and they have a bunch of series with a fast release schedule. Inevitable problems start creeping in, slower releases, people graduating into the workforce and people splitting from the group to form their own. Then one day the group fractures, the slow trickle of releases stop and it dissolves. This is what has happened to almost all of the groups I know about. I saw this for the first time with Toriyama’s World.
Toriyama’s World was the 2nd biggest manga scanlation site on the net, but it fell and it fell fast.
- The first death-knell was when they decided to for direct download on their site the first fansubbed episode of Naruto. It was like a tsunami hit the net with website after website being brought down in an inadvertent DDoS style attack. You see, most manga scanlation groups had free download hosting and most were on one of the biggest hosting companies in the US at the time. So when that link got hit hard it brought down almost the entire hosting network and signaled the death of free downloads for next couple of years. Understandably the company revoked all free download hosting services, to get downloads you would have to pay. Toriyama’s World became the butt of many jokes in the anime community due to this mistake and they understandably struggled for awhile before righting the ship.
- A few month’s after righting the ship the final death-knell came, it was the English version of Shonen Jump. Remember when I said most people joined the groups to showcase their talents to the companies? Well, Toriyama’s World began working hand in hand with Viz on Shonen Jump and most of the manga’s on Toriyama’s World were licensed to Viz. A lot of the group jumped ship and were hired by Viz. Toriyama’s World due to this partnership was also accused as a sellout by the manga community.
Toriyama’s World would struggle on for a little while, releasing chapters at such an infrequent pace that it became yet another joke in the manga community. The group had also become somewhat of a pariah in the community due to how they handled the very blatant Viz Shonen Jump transition. Some other popular manga sites struck back by endorsing Raijin Comics, a competing manga magazine.
The Fracturing of the Code
The licensing of the manga’s on Toriyama’s World would be a watershed moment in the manga and fansubbing community and it would be the first time I would become more than just a leecher. The community at the time had a somewhat ambivalent feeling about their fans, after all, how would you like it if you would constantly get harrassed about releasing chapter or episodes, hence, they coined their own term for the fans that just leeched off their hard work and so they called us leechers. Some groups would even go so far as to release fake chapter or episodes to teach the leechers a lesson.. it was frustrating to spend 2 hours downloading an episode only to find out it was a fake episode.
Scanlation and Fansubber groups all had a code of ethics that they followed due to the gray area that they operated in. Once a manga or anime was licensed, it would be removed from availability and no new releases would be done. Unfortunately, the popularity of anime and manga had grown too big and it had become mainstream. The masses could not and would not accept this code of ethics and it caused a split in the community. Those who followed the code and those who said screw the code. I, being desperate for more of my
crack manga was on the side of screw the code, I want my manga!!
On Narutofan, I took action and merging the available raws + translations I started releasing scanlated chapters of Naruto. I was soon approached and asked to join a new manga scanlation group called ShoujoMagic, a group that would later become the biggest manga scanlation group in history. I hesitated for awhile but ultimately decided against joining, instead, I once again became a leecher.
This divide on ethics created splinter groups that would continue to release anime or manga’s that were officially licensed.
Soon after my invitation to ShoujoMagic, Tazmo, the Narutofan website owner, became the center of a huge controversy. Tazmo started hosting other groups manga scanlations and anime fansubs on his site but was requiring people to pay him to download. The manga and anime fansub groups were understandably upset, they had released those for free but Tazmo was tricking people into paying for it. Stop Tazmo became the rallying cry of the community. While the community was focused on stopping Tazmo a more insidious threat to their model was emerging. Around this time, I discovered a site called Baka-Tsuki, a site dedicated to Light Novels.
Lot’s of changes started happening within the community but for the average leecher like me, anime became easier to find but paradoxically manga became more difficult.
The Rise of Bittorrent and Mangafox
In 2001, Bittorrent was created and released on the internet and by mid-late 2002 it had become the de-facto method of distribution for anime. While the IRC release method didn’t entirely disappear, it was easier and made more sense to use Bittorrent for anime releases. Manga on the other hand, due to the licensing ethics fracture, adopted a bifurcated approach. The groups doing non-licensed manga would announce on the website and release it in their IRC channel, though towards the later years they started using file locker sites like Megaupload and Mediafire. Groups, like #null, were doing licensed manga and would only release the chapters on their IRC channels, because of this you would have to visit these channels almost every day to see if they had released something. Most manga-trackers would not show releases of licensed manga to boot which made finding the latest chapter for Naruto, One Piece and Bleach a chore.
In this time period, the Stop Tazmo campaign was still going strong and completely missed the advent of the true threat to manga scanlation groups, manga screeners. Creating good manga scanlations was a time consuming and somewhat expensive task. You would need to buy 2 copies. One copy of the manga for translations while the other copy was for scanning. You would have to cut off the binding and separate the pages. You would then have to scan each page into a digital format, make sure each scanned page was good, you then would have to clean up and level the image. Then you would have someone photoshop the Japanese text out and replace it with English in the manga, QC and fix anything missed in the previous processes. To do all these you needed to be dedicated and you would need money.
To cover the costs manga sites would frequently host donation drives, raffles and other types of events designed to bring in money. Now, not all people would donate or join in on these events, so you would need large amounts of visitors. MangaFox, the first manga screener would directly threaten that.
By the time the community recognized the threat, it was too late. They first tried preventing MangaFox from uploading the chapters from their groups and failed. Next, they tried using the public to stop MangaFox but didn’t understand that leechers were gonna leech and the attempt failed. They tried educating the public on just what was at stake but it didn’t stop the mass exodus from their sites. Some groups became so fed up that they obnoxiously watermarked a Stop Mangafox on all releases for the first week before releasing a normal chapter. The manga community started slowly dying and was only when they created their own manga screeners that the bleeding stopped. In the present day almost all manga’s are all released on manga screeners and manga scanlation groups only have websites for announcements. Meanwhile, in 2006 sites like Youtube and Crunchyroll were created and it would signal the death of fansubs.
Crunchyroll and Simulcasts
Seeing the wild success of Youtube, Crunchyroll modeled itself after it and created a community-based site that fans could upload, share and stream anime. I had heard of this anime streaming site when it was created but I was satisfied with using Bittorrent for my anime needs and I thought the site could never last due to it being in the cross-hairs of multiple anime licensing companies. I was wrong and Crunchyroll actually managed to become an official part of the anime licensing scene. It wasn’t until the advent of Simulcasts that the true future of anime scene became apparent. Slowly the anime companies followed suit with FUNImation, Netflix and Hulu joining the anime streaming bandwagon. With almost all series being licensed worldwide the moment they are released, the reason for fansub groups to exist has virtually disappeared. RIP fansubbers, your goal of sharing anime with the world has been accomplished.
Baka-Tsuki and Xianxia
Even though I had been on the scene for 7 years, light novels were still virtually unknown to me. Finding Baka-Tsuki was a revelation to me and I fell in love with reading light novels. I still occasionally read manga but my focus has completely shifted to light novels. I didn’t know it at the time but I had once again was on the leading edge of the community because it too was shifting more to the light novels. In Japan, light novels were being used as the source for anime and manga production. Most of the anime released today have their source’s as light novels. I would stay a devoted light novel reader as its popularity began to soar and the light novels began to be licensed at an ever increasing pace, just like anime & manga.
Entering 2013 I began searching for other types of reading material and stumbled upon spcnet.tv and a thread called Stellar Transformations. Once again, I would find myself on leading edge of the community. Xianxia is a fantasy based version of traditional Chinese martial arts and it is hugely popular in China. I found Stellar Transformations a mere month before Ren would create the Coiling Dragon thread on spcnet.tv. It would be another few months before Ren would create his site called WuxiaWorld and cause Xianxia to explode across the net.
In my 15 or so years on the scene, I have seen so many sites rise and fall but every year I have seen manga, anime, light novels and xianxia get more and more popular. I feel so happy that something I love is finally getting it’s just due in the world.