Claiming that “readers” had pointed out typographical errors and issues, the e-publisher BookLive suspended its ongoing translation of the manga Ranking of Kings. There was, however, somewhat more to it than that. This wasn’t a case of a few commas in the wrong place and a quibble about whether to keep an honorific in the dialogue.
And it was one “reader” in particular, Katrina Leonoudakis, herself a professional translator of some years’ standing, who had brought the case to light by tweeting a damning multi-part analysis of the Ranking of Kings English version. In it, she demonstrated that the script, provided to BookLive by an outsourcing company called Dragon Digital, had lifted huge chunks of an unofficial fan translation.
Now, in terms of criminality, a “ranking of crims” if you like, complaining about this is a bit like a burglar complaining he’s been shot while invading your home. The fan translation is itself an infringement of the Ranking of Kings copyright, and some might think that nicking it was a bit of canny move on Dragon Digital’s part, stealing from the stealers. Except they hadn’t been paid to do that, they had been paid to produce a professional translation.
This has happened many more times than people are prepared to admit. In fact, I vaguely remember the first cases, in the late 1990s, dropping the going-rate so low that companies were only paying peanuts, and ultimately getting monkeys. What this has meant, over the years, is that translation has either become a labour of pure fannish love, or a grim, business-like triage as a minion tells themselves that they will need to turn around x episodes per day in order to make a living wage. Yes, quality suffers. No, I am not surprised.
The act of lifting scanlations has also been substantially more widespread than people care to admit. It wasn’t that long ago that I caught a well-known publisher blatantly lifting a scanlation for something they charged money for in English. When I innocently asked who had translated it for them, they hemmed and hawed and muttered something about bodging something together from “French and German sources.”
I lacked the time or energy to get as forensic as Leonoudakis about it, but it’s safe to say that her discovery has opened a can of worms that is going to wriggle all over the manga industry for some time.
Jonathan Clements is the author of Anime: A History. This article first appeared in NEO #220, 2022.