Welcome to Going Digital, Manga Bookshelf’s monthly feature focusing on manga available for digital viewing or download. On the first weekend of each month, the Manga Bookshelf bloggers review comics we’ve read on our computers, phones, or tablet devices, to give readers a taste of what’s out there, old and new, and how well it works in digital form.
This month, we take a look at manga published for viewing on an iOS device and in your web browser. Device, OS, and browser information is included with each review as appropriate, to let you know exactly how we accessed what we read.
Cross Game, Omnibus Vol. 1 (Japanese vols. 1-3) | By Mitsuru Adachi | Viz Manga app | iPad 2, iOS 4.3 – For quite some time now, I’ve stood by quietly as my esteemed colleagues raved about Mitsuru Adachi’s Cross Game. I meant to catch up, truly I did, but as more time (and more volumes) passed me by, the idea of catching up at $15-$20 a pop seemed more than a bit daunting. Fortunately, the Viz iPad app has changed all that, offering me the opportunity to buy these volumes for half their print price, and on a terrific platform to boot!
It’s difficult to know what to say about Cross Game that hasn’t already been said (and better) by my cohorts, two of whom selected it as their favorite “C” manga. Probably the best I can do is to just say, “they’re right.” This is sports manga as it should always be done—moving, character (and relationship)-driven, and as deeply rooted in the lives of its characters as it is in the sport that brings them together. And while it doesn’t require a background or interest in baseball to enjoy Cross Game, Adachi doesn’t trivialize the sport either. The series is dazzling thanks to spectacular emotional resonance rather than super-human displays of athleticism.
This triple-length volume, spanning the first three Japanese volumes, was both sadder and funnier than I expected. Adachi broke my heart completely within the first third of the volume, while consistently making me smile with his warm humor and occasional breaks in the fourth wall. It’s exactly my kind of manga, blessed with strong female characters and lots of emotional messiness, while pleasantly lacking in melodrama. Three volumes is a terrific amount to start with, too, and certainly helped me to fall in love with the series.
Cross Game looks beautiful on the iPad 2, so crisp and detailed, there’s no need to zoom in, panel-to-panel. I mainly read in vertical single-page mode, which offers the biggest image, but this series reads well in the horizontal two page-spread as well. Reading manga on the iPad is really a joy, and definitely a habit I could get into, as long as the pricing remains reasonable. I’ll certainly be picking up more of Cross Game. (also available at vizmanga.com) – Melinda Beasi
Veronica Presents: Kevin Keller, Issue 2 | By Dan Parent | Archie Comics App | iPad 2, iOS 4.3 – Comic creators who work in a shared universe face specific, conjoined responsibilities when adding a new character to that universe: they have to simultaneously generate interest in the addition while reassuring the existing audience that they aren’t going to go too far off of the ranch. The situation poses some interesting challenges, and success stories aren’t exactly numerous. One noteworthy example is the addition of a gay teen, Kevin Keller, to the wholesome solar system that is Archie Comics.
Like the rest of the teens in Riverdale, Kevin is basically a nice kid with his own set of hobbies and interests. Unlike the rest of the teens in Riverdale, Kevin is romantically interested in members of the same sex. That’s not the core way that Kevin is different, though. What really makes him stand out is that he has a specific goal in mind for his future: he wants to serve in the military, just like his beloved father, and his family and friends recognize that this might be more complicated for an openly gay person than it would be for, say, Archie or Betty. (The military would love to have Betty; she’s frugal, hard-working, cooperative, and can repair automobiles.)
It’s an interesting choice that the ostensible problem with Kevin’s sexuality isn’t interpersonal. Nobody in his family or circle of friends gives his gayness a second thought, and why would they? Aside from Betty, he’s probably the nicest, most thoughtful student at Riverdale High. Of course, that’s the problem with Kevin in the narrative sense; Riverdale teens don’t age and haven’t since their introduction, so career-anxiety-related storylines will always be somewhat of a dead end. With the future not really in play, the publisher needs to give the character some individual spark that can generate the kind of in-the-moment stories that the rest of his classmates enjoy.
It’s great that Archie has thoughtfully and successfully made their student body more diverse. Now they just need to make Kevin a fun, funny, functional member of the cast rather than just a Nice Young Man Who Happens to Crush on Other Nice Young Men. – David Welsh
Girlfriends, Vol. 1 | By Miruku Morinaga | Futabasha, via the JManga website | Windows XP, Firefox 7.0 – It’s not just salaryman manga about ninjas and bento lovers at Futabasha, they also have a close eye on the typical “otaku” reader as well. The magazine Comic High! began in 2006, and basically advertised itself as shoujo stories for young men. Titles that already fit this genre, such as Towa Oshima’s High School Girls, were brought over from other magazines, and several new titles were commissioned from up and coming talents who knew how to draw cute girls being cute.
One of the more famous names, at least to yuri fans, was “Morinaga Milk”, a mangaka who had a short yuri series running in Ichijinsha’s Comic Yuri Hime, a magazine devoted to “Girls’ Love” manga, usually of the Story A variety (I like this girl, hey she likes me back, look we like each other) as mentioned several times by Erica Friedman on her Okazu site. Many of these stories tended to feature a meek, dark-haired girl and her more outgoing, lighter-haired girlfriend; indeed, that describes Kisses, Sighs, and Cherry-Blossom Pink, her Yuri Hime series as well.
Now that Morinaga has moved to Comic High and is given a broader canvas, she is able to develop things in a slower and more realistic way. And that’s what we get for the first volume of her series Girlfriends, which in this volume might better be written “Girl Friends”, as despite the occasional “what is this strange feeling in my chest” moment, and the cliffhanger ending, there’s very little yuri here, the story being content with developing its two leads and their group of friends. Mariko is a quiet, studious girl who doesn’t have many friends, at least not until she is dragged into a social life by vivacious Akiko, and the first volume is mostly taken up with Mariko’s wonder at the things that everyday girls do – they actually go out after school! And shop!
This volume starts slow, as I noted. If you’re here to see girls confessing to each other and becoming a couple, be warned it doesn’t happen here. But it’s cute. Indeed, Girlfriends Vol. 1 pretty much fulfills the mission statement of many of Comic High‘s titles – cute girls behaving cutely. If you’re a fan of that, this title should appeal to you. – Sean Gaffney
Gokudou Meshi, Vol. 1 | By Shigeru Tsuchiyama | Futabashi/JManga | Windows 7, SeaMonkey 2.4.1 – When Shunsuke (or possibly Junsuke—the translation is inconsistent) Aida is sentenced to three years of hard labor for assault and kidnapping charges related to his host club empire, he finds that his eight fellow cellmates at Naniwa South Prison have an interesting tradition: every Christmas Eve, they have a storytelling contest about the best meal they ever ate. The winner gets to take one item from everyone else’s special osechi meal that the prisoners receive as a New Year’s treat.
Aida’s not so much the main character, though, as simply our entry point into the competition. While he listens to the others’ stories—focusing on dishes like soba, sushi, okonomiyaki, and “tear-inducing gyoza”—he works on his own strategy, learning which sorts of stories and foods work best, and hearing about some of the failures from last year (“stewed achilles heel of a deer…!?”). Primarily, however, this manga is all about the food, which is lovingly depicted in all its regional varieties. One learns a little about the characters through their stories, but nothing about prison life. Mostly, the guys just sit around the table and attempt to entrance each other with their culinary tales. Since I happen to really like food manga, I enjoyed Gokudou Meshi quite a bit, but I can see how it wouldn’t be everyone’s cup of sake. (Haha. I kill me.)
JManga’s manga reader is very easy to use and navigate, and I primarily read using the full-screen option. Occasionally, I’d have to zoom in to catch some of the smaller sound effects (lots of munching and even some “nom”s), but otherwise the images and text were clear. Despite the confusion over Aida’s first name, the translation was actually somewhat smoother than the previous JManga title I read (Ekiben Hitoritabi), with one typo and one instance where “it’s” was used instead of “its.”
Gokudou Meshi is up to eight volumes in Japan, so readers may be in for several years’ worth of competitions with very little action in between. Hopefully volume two will be available soon so I can confirm that suspicion! – Michelle Smith
So I Married an Anti-Fan, Vol. 1 | By Wann | NETCOMICS | iPad, iOS 4.3, Safari – Melinda and Michelle’s recent Off the Shelf column prompted me to visit the NETCOMICS site, something I haven’t done in well over a year. I’m pleased to report that not much has changed since my last visit. The basic distribution model remains the same, with readers paying 25 cents per chapter to rent a title for forty-eight hours. The catalog has been updated, however, with new chapters of fan-favorites as well as brand new titles.
Among those new arrivals is So I Married an Anti-Fan, a romance in the Full House mode. Like Full House, Anti-Fan features a feisty, down-on-her-luck young woman who becomes financially and romantically entangled with a handsome celebrity. The heroine of Anti-Fan is Geunyoung Lee, an aspiring writer stuck in a dead-end newspaper job covering celebrity gossip. When she snaps a pic of popular actor Joon Hoo in a less-than-flattering light, Geunyoung loses her job, sending her into a tailspin of destructive behavior: she builds a website declaring herself to be Joon Hoo’s number one “anti-fan,” sends him a blackmail letter, and protests outside his apartment building. Eager to quell rumors about Geunyoung’s motivation for hating him, Joon Hoo extends an olive branch: if she agrees to play his manager on a reality television show, he’ll make sure she’s compensated for lost wages.
Though the premise is credulity straining, the execution is surprisingly nimble. Geunyoung initially seems like a stereotypical manhwa heroine, all bluster and impulse, but Wann digs deeper below the surface to explain the source of Geunyoung’s rage. She’s a believable mixture of bravado and self-doubt, mustering the courage to publicly reject Joon Hoo’s offer of a handout while privately castigating herself for her reckless spending and foolish behavior. By the end of volume one, Joon Hoo, too, seems more like a flesh-and-blood person than a standard-issue sadist who delights in seeing Geunyoung suffer. He’s nasty — there wouldn’t be a plot if he were nice from the get-go — but, like Geunyoung, his anger is rooted in real pain, making it a little easier to imagine how these two characters might eventually fall for each other.
If I had any criticism of the series, it’s that the artwork is very uneven. The lead characters are expertly rendered, but many of the bit players seem to have been assembled from scraps: eyes from here, noses from there, plaids from leftover sheets of screentone. The backgrounds are flat-out lazy, relying heavily on Photoshop and simple, geometric renderings of buildings and furniture to convey a sense of place. Still, the plainness of the artwork isn’t a major obstacle to enjoying this opposites-attract story, as the script and the lead characters make a lasting impression. – Katherine Dacey
Some reviews based on digital copies provided by the publisher.