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Platform review: Viz on the iPad

People made fun of the iPad when it was first announced, from its seemingly limited functionality to its unfortunate name, but over the last year it has proven to be probably the most exciting new device to enter the (as Steve Jobs likes to call it) “post-PC” market.

Besides offering much of the same day-to-day functionality we require of our desktop computers (web browsing, e-mail, and so on), it’s also a terrific tablet reader and possibly the best personal gaming device I’ve ever seen. Now with Apple’s recent announcement of the upcoming iPad 2, complete with new video cameras and (frankly amazing) new versions of iMovie and Garageband written especially for the iPad, it’s definitely the device every forward-thinking company wants a piece of.

If this is beginning to sound like a paid iPad commercial, that’s only because I have to pretty much fight my husband to get just a couple minutes of time on his iPad, that’s how much use he gets out of the thing. It has become the centerpiece of our gadget-geek household (which is saying quite a bit), so not much could make me happier than to see my own personal geek obsession making inroads in the iPad market. Comics publishers, including a few manga publishers, have been putting out apps left and right, and we’ve got ’em all.

Viz’s iPad app has an immediate edge over its current competitors in the manga market, simply because Viz has actually managed to acquire digital rights for titles from Japan, something that companies like Yen Press and Dark Horse have had some pretty obvious difficulty with.

Most of the titles offered are popular ones too, like Bleach, Naruto, and Vampire Knight, with a few surprising treats like older series Rurouni Kenshin and some quirky shoujo picks like Natsume’s Book of Friends and Otomen. Shounen series dominate the app by far at this point, with no sign at all of older-aimed titles from Viz’s IKKI and Signature catalogues, and just the barest sprinkling of shoujo.

Navigation is simple and pretty intuitive. The app’s landing page features three simple tabs in the middle of the screen for checking out new arrivals, as well as “featured” volumes and a small selection of free previews.

A button on the top right provides access to a list of all available series, though there doesn’t seem to be any way to flip through all available volumes, the way one might in the bookstore aisle. Not that browsing between series is a hardship at all, as the “All Series” button remains on every page of the app.

Purchasing or previewing a volume is pretty easy (though full volume downloads can take some time), and everything is purchased in-app. But the app does require that you create a Viz account before you can make purchases using iTunes. And since signing into your account moves you away from the screen where your purchase was initiated, you have to manually navigate back to the original page in order to complete the purchase. Fortunately, once you’ve signed in, you’re not required to do so again during the same session.

Getting to the important stuff: Viz’s manga looks great on the iPad, especially when viewed as single pages, portrait-style. Images are crisp and clear, and text is easy to read.

In wide-screen, double-page mode, artists with heavy inking and contrast fare the best (like Bakuman and Death Note‘s Obata), while those with a lighter, sketchier style suffer somewhat with the smaller page size, though nothing is genuinely difficult to see.

Enlargement of a single panel is incredibly easy. Double-tap on any panel for a close up, and then double-tap to return. The iOS two-finger pinching works on all pages as well, both in single and double-page mode.

Overall, the iPad makes a great comics reader, and Viz’s app takes full advantage of its capabilities.

Purchases are downloaded directly to the iPad, so they can be saved in your library forever–a much nicer deal than most of the online “rental” models we’ve seen from manga publishers up to now–and first volumes of all series are currently offered for just $.99 apiece, which is a pretty unbeatable deal.

The $4.99 price tag on subsequent volumes is a bit too high to encourage buying in bulk, especially when brand new physical volumes of most of these series can be found for just a few dollars more on Amazon (and for at least a couple of dollars less used). While it’s easy to imagine buying volumes of newer, currently running series (like Bakuman or Toriko, both available now) for that price, the idea of trying to catch up with long-running series (like Bleach or One Piece) at $5 a pop is much less enticing. Lowering the price of later volumes by even just a dollar would make these longer, older series more attractive, especially as bulk buys.

Accessing all your downloaded manga is very easy–just a single click on the “My Manga” button found at the bottom of every screen, and preferences can be set for maximum storage size. Any overflow can be deleted from the device as needed, then re-downloaded whenever you’re ready to read. The app’s storage settings allow you to see or hide titles not currently stored on your device, whichever you prefer. You can also choose to be notified (or not) when new volumes of your downloaded series are available for purchase.

With such a relatively small percentage of Viz’s catalogue (just sixteen series at this time) currently available in their iPad store, it would be a stretch to describe it as a great source for manga, but it’s not difficult to imagine the possibilities.

Many have already pointed out its potential as a platform for long, out-of-print series, particularly the scads of fantastic 80s and 90s shoujo Viz put out on their now-defunct shôjo imprint. Packaged “omnibus” editions with several volumes for a reduced price could be very exciting as well, making it truly feasible for both old and new fans to catch up on longer series they might have missed during their original print runs. Whether Viz is willing or able to make any significant volume of its back catalogue available remains to be seen, as is whether or not any of their more sophisticated titles will ever hit these digital shelves.

Still, Viz is adding new manga to their store at a pretty brisk pace, as Kate recently reported in her coverage of their new “March Madness” campaign. Let’s hope we’ll see much more to come!

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  1. Now this feels reasonable compared to what they’re doing in Japan with, I think Shogakukan titles, where th cost is equally the same as that of the printed copy.

    I personally think it’s a great marketing move for Viz and I hope other manga companies would do this. I mean, strangely, most of the people I see using their iPad on the commute are those who are either watching movies or reading manga (through pirated means). Unfortunately, I’m not exactly sure whether this service is available to the Philippines (wishes it were, then I get to read the SigIkki titles in English, but I highly doubt it due to licensing issues).

    I wish I could test this but huzzah! an iPad evades me.

    Thanks for making a feature though! This excites me so.

    • Now this feels reasonable compared to what they’re doing in Japan with, I think Shogakukan titles, where the cost is equally the same as that of the printed copy.

      There are a few reasons why I think the price is too high here, but my main reason is this: Too much of what’s available are older volumes that can be purchased cheaper in print if you don’t need them to be brand new, and who does? This is not valuable OOP stuff, mind you, but, like, early volumes of Bleach. $4.99 is too much for a digital version of Bleach volume 2. Bakuman? Sure. It’s relatively new. But not those early volumes of stuff like Bleach and Naruto.

      Since print manga here costs so much more than it does in Japan (And I totally understand why that is, they’re printing in much, much higher volume over there) manga fans are already paying premium prices for everything they buy in print, and most who have already turned to digital are picking up free fan scanlations. If Viz wants to compete with pirated scans, they need to make being a fan of digital manga much, much cheaper than being a fan of print manga, and since there are no reproduction costs involved, they can and should make it more feasible for potential readers to race through those early volumes of long series. Buying up 30-something volumes of Bleach to catch up to the current print releases is not going to happen at $4.99 a volume.

      Thanks for making a feature though! This excites me so.

      Well, thank you! I wish I could just send you an iPad to show my appreciation! :D

      • The same can be said in Japan, actually. From what I remember, the cost of a digital volume there is around 500 yen thereabouts (can’t seem to find the article I read before). If I lived in Japan, it would be unreasonable to get the digital copy too because it’s just cheaper to get that same old volume at a used bookstore for 100 yen.

        However, in the Philippine context, where english manga is sold for $12, getting it at $4.99 is not a bad deal for us. I would totally get this app and purchase the entire set of Pluto and Monster and every other favorite title from the SigIkki line (and maybe Maison Ikkoku and Kekkaishi)

        I must agree that they have to put those prices lower and perhaps they would once the profit margin for the new titles coming out would be good. At the same time, not everyone would probably think about Viz’s intention in doing this. I mean, I think at most, Viz is thinking of portability. It’s a lot better lugging an ipad than lugging 10 volumes of manga you wish to bring with you on a commute home. Still, not every kid thinks that.

        By the way, looking at the list, are those currently only the Shounen Jump titles? How about SigIkki titles? Are they available as well? Also, I suppose for travel purposes, getting one free volume at some time is nice.

    • Unfortunately, it’s not available in the Philippines—at least if you signed up for iTunes using a Philippine credit card account. I get the “Your request could not be completed.” error from iTunes which re-directs me to the US store. (Same problem for Viz’s novels and the iBookstore.)

  2. Ouch! That is really pricey. 99 cents sounded great, but then I read on. XD

    I think the best thing would be to keep th $1 first volume prices, with $5 being only for new releases, and then dropping (to $2-3, if they don’t want to go all the way to $1) after X number of months, and also offering bulk discounts if you buy X number of volumes in a single series, something like that.

    • Yeah, that’s definitely along the lines of what I’ve been thinking too. I know I’d buy a lot of manga that way, if they got in some series I was more interested in collecting.

  3. I have now developed a slight case of iPad envy, but I actually have most of the featured series in print, anyway, so I don’t particularly need it.

    My main reaction is, “Ooh, I hope this convinces Melinda to read Rurouni Kenshin!”

    • Ha! Well, I actually own vols 1-7 in print, which is what they have so up so far in the store, but assuming they put up more, I could see myself continuing past 7 that way instead of trying to buy the books. :)

      • I’ve always maintained that volume 7 is where it gets really good, but I’ve just begun a Kenshin reread and have found that the early volumes are much better than I remembered. Episodic plots, but good introductions of the characters and stuff.

  4. iPad envy grows with your review, even though I don’t read manga. Hee.

  5. Those screen grabs look amazingly crisp! I’m glad to see Viz didn’t skimp on image quality for their digital manga—that seems to be a huge step in terms of combating scanlation groups. (Seriously, could you imagine the backlash if it had been low-res?)

    • The images look even better in-person—I wasn’t able to get things in perfect focus with my phone camera, which is what I used to take these! :) I had some trouble holding both devices steadily.

  6. Katherine Dacey says:

    This is a great review, Melinda! Those photos are very helpful in demonstrating the image resolution quality.

    I have a feeling that VIZ’s one dollar promotion is a pricing experiment; I wouldn’t be surprised to see VIZ try other price points in the future. Dark Horse promised to offer deals to readers who wanted to buy several issues or volumes of a series at once; if those kind of digital bundles are a success, I imagine that other publishers will follow suit. I’d love to be able to purchase the full run of a series at one go, especially if I could get a discount by buying them as a set.

    • Thanks, Kate! I wish the photos were in better focus, but I had trouble holding both devices steady! :)

      I suspect you’re right about the one dollar promotion. I do hope sales pay off for them, so they’ll offer more!

  7. rui-no-onna says:

    While I would like lower pricing on manga, Apple does take a 30% cut so that cuts in on the profits. I have no idea how much cheaper Viz can afford to sell their manga.

    The omnibus idea is a good one particularly for longer series. I find myself not buying volumes for some longer series not because of lack of funds but because I lack shelf space. I wish I had mentioned that in their iPad survey. Still, the biggest issue is availability of titles. Considering the extent of Viz’s library, there’s practically nothing available on their iPad manga app.


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