Sometimes you want to drop all your regular obligations and try something completely different.
At least that’s what happened to me this month. I’ve been blogging less, but I’ve been writing more. I’m working on a collection of fandom-inspired short fiction. And, since Otakon, I’ve been working hard to translate my new doujinshi, a Japanese term for fan-published manga, usually featuring characters and storylines from official anime or manga. Think fan-art.
First off, I couldn’t have done this without my childhood friend Kailer, who took Japanese for four years and knows a lot more kanji than I do. We spent a week texting, Gchatting, and finally getting together in person to construct an accurate English translation.
The doujinshi in question is G-rated, but no less trashy for that. It’s a moving tale about everyone’s favorite Yowamushi Pedal protagonist Onoda passive-aggressively convincing Imaizumi to wear a maid uniform—headdress, undergarments, and all. Of course, I realized the importance of sharing such a document with my fellow English-speaking fans.
Laugh all you want but I’ve learned more Japanese translating a doujinshi and contacting the artist than in like, 20 weeks of class. — Lauren Orsini (@laureninspace) August 19, 2014
However, it was only after we finished interpreting all 12 pages that I began to wonder, “Wait a minute, is it even legal to scan and share doujinshi online?”
Perhaps you’ve heard of September Scanlations, a doujinshi translation group that was recently asked by some doujinshi artists to take down their work. The group dismissed the artists’ concerns as racist, stating “most are very unhappy knowing that non-Japanese people are reading their stuff,” and blocked all Japanese IPs from their site. Needless to say, the translation group is having a difficult time earning sympathy from fellow English-speaking fans!
According to Ben Applegate, an editor at Kodansha Comics, doujinshi are illegal. However, unlike manga scanlations, which are always frowned upon, doujinshi scans often seem to be overlooked by anime and manga publishers, the way fan-art and fanfiction are.
Overall, there’s one thing Applegate stressed: never put something online without permission.
“To be 100% legit, you would need permission from the doujin author as well as the rights holder of the original work,” he said. “If you want to reach out just to the doujin author and offer to do an English version, that would be super cool of you. Even if it wouldn’t resolve all of the legal issues, it’d probably be the best you could do.”
Fast-forward to Kailer and I writing an email to the doujinshi author. I’m really proud of it since it even uses several kanji characters, so here’s a screenshot.
With differing laws between the US and Japan, it is sometimes hard to tell if our derivative fandom works (art, fiction, even translations) are legal to share. But I do think it is every fan’s duty to ensure they’re not hurting people when they do so.
What I mean is that it’s really important to me to get the artist, Shihoko’s, permission. (It’s less important to me to get Wataru Watanabe (the author of Yowamushi Pedal) to sign off on it; I am certain he has no idea this doujinshi exists and might be traumatized if he did.) Just because fan works are a little trickier than manga doesn’t mean putting them online without permission is somehow consequence-free.
So for now, I’m just waiting until I hear back from her. And for those of you weirdos who actually want to read my translation, don’t worry, I’ll keep you posted.
Update: I heard back from the artist and she made it exceedingly clear that she’d prefer I not share the doujinshi or my English translation online. So I won’t. The end.