We’ve all heard the news. ANN reported that the popular erotic manga scanlation distributor, FAKKU, is going legit! Well, not exactly, according to Jacob Grady, Fakku’s founder and central figure of worship, who recently struck a deal with Wanimagazine, a publisher of many erotic comics and magazine labels. Fakku will continue providing illegal copies of erotic manga of all manner of publishers while simultaneously offer a variety of products for purchase, first and foremost digital and physical copies of Wanimagazine’s comics stock. Now, this piece of news carries a bitter aftertaste, considering you can construe this as a case of success being built on top of piracy. It’s a tough one to swallow, but I believe this to be another example of how anime and manga people involved in piracy shape the future of this hobby.
When I first heard of the news, I wanted to throw Grady into a river. Just look at the guy, his facial hair is a crime in itself! Remembering Crunchyroll’s success story, however, I got myself thinking of other instances where piracy was involved that have shaped the western otaku sphere into what it is today. Crunchyroll offered anime and J-drama fansubs to a new generation of consumers. They had to put in some work with their user base to make that site an attractive investor package, but ultimately if it weren’t for fansubs that site would have never taken off. I knew fansubbers who were bitter about it, but five years later and those tears are all but forgotten history. The fact that Crunchyroll was a pirate site doesn’t bother anyone important anymore because the outlet became an integral part of today’s anime business. What I’m mostly impressed by their success is how they managed to convince Japanese investors such as TV Tokyo to take a shot at them. Visitor numbers alone were probably not enough to have won them over, but perhaps minds capable of thinking outside the box did.
I don’t want to be someone who dismisses a new approach to things, even if highly disruptive, illegal and ethically questionable, after all I’m a pirate myself. Take a look at Sekai Project. Their roots lie in fan translation of Japanese erotic games, they’ve built awareness of their brand on top of that shady legacy. Now they are bringing over products from niche Japanese creators to the west, utilizing the crowdfunding model. Perhaps the Anime Expo incubator is a real thing and people like Jacob Grady and Sekai’s Raymond Qian create new business opportunities there, but the pirate mentality is behind all of that. What enabled Crunchyroll’s legal simulcasts? Folks like Ken Hoinsky, a former fansubber known as Tofusensei, who founded the now defunct MX Media, which specialized in high-speed subtitling, gave way for a new industry pipeline standard. Anime-Sols’ Sam Pinansky, Quarkboy as he was called in the fansubbing circles back in the day, who knocked on doors of different Japanese anime distribution companies and educated their staff on new production methods and consumer expectations in the west. Again, pirates. Even if we jump further back in time, companies like ADV Films and Central Park Media hired fansub people because that was the cheapest and most effective hire of know-how for its time. Heck, even the well-known Anime News Network is using questionable methods to procure anime information, such as paying people to perform low-brow industry espionage, hurting Japanese magazine partners in the process, but the industry doesn’t care. They know ANN is a great partner to have in the long run in other segments of anime promotion business.
This is the point where we ask ourselves, is it just for rights holders to reward people for disseminating illegal works and just being dicks in general? Fact of the matter is something has outweighed that, and if the Japanese side wants to run with that, then who am I or you to object? The otaku industry is resilient and trying its hardest to stay on top of the newest consumer habits. Considering all these developments, whoever has an image of conservative baby-boomer bosses still stuck in their head, they should get rid of it ASAP, as it’s coming out of fashion. They say history is written by winners and I see no reason to doubt a decision of a major comics distributor if they wish to set up shop in the west. Considering everyone who is interested in drawn Japanese porn knows and visits Fakku from time to time, Wanimagazine couldn’t have picked a better partner to work with. Unless of course Jacob Grady doesn’t have a fucking clue what he’s doing.