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Going Digital: November 2011

Welcome to Going Digital, Manga Bookshelf’s monthly feature focusing on manga available for digital viewing or download. Each month, the Manga Bookshelf bloggers review a selection of 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’ll take a look at Kodansha Comics’ new iPad app, as well as several 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.


Apps

Kodansha Comics | iPad app - Digital manga was the unofficial theme of this year’s New York Comic Con and one of the major announcements came from Kodansha Comics, who launched their new iPad app during the convention.

For those familiar with Viz Media’s app, Kodansha Comics’ layout will be comfortingly familiar, right down to the “Store,” “My Manga,” and “Settings” buttons at the bottom of each page. The one notable difference in layout unfortunately highlights Kodansha’s biggest weakness—one that’s hopefully temporary. While Viz features a lengthy drop-down list of titles in its app’s upper right corner, Kodansha uses a featured tab to reveal its full catalogue of… four.

Acquiring digital rights for manga is clearly a tricky business, as we’ve seen particularly with companies like Yen Press, who have no official ties to Japanese publishers, but it’s surprising to see such a small selection from a company like Kodansha, whom one might expect to have an advantage. Even now, nearly a month after the app’s launch, no new series have appeared, and it’s not difficult to imagine the bulk of Kodansha’s potential readers wandering away with nothing to read.

What Kodansha lacks in variety they make up for in pricing, as long as you’re a fan of Hiro Mashima’s Fairy Tail. While most volumes on the app sell for $4.99 apiece—comparable to the price of a used print volume in most stores—at least for now, volumes of Fairy Tail can be picked up for just $2.99 a pop. As I’ve stated before, I think $4.99 is a tad high to encourage bulk purchases, but it would be difficult to resist the opportunity to pick up, say, a ten-volume series for just $30… that is, if it’s a series one really wants to read, which brings us back once again to the question of variety.

Kodansha’s only other potentially bothersome quirk is their decision to use what I assume are progressive jpegs for the pages of their digital manga. What this means for the reader is that each time a page is “turned,” there is a moment’s delay before the next image comes into focus. See the video below for a demonstration of what I mean.

While it’s likely that one might get used to this particular idiosyncrasy over the course of a volume, I personally found it very distracting, and it’s not an issue I’ve been required to overcome for any of the other digital comics apps I’ve tried, including those from Viz and Yen Press. While those apps have provided me with an experience comparable (and perhaps even superior) to reading a print volume, this particular aspect of Kodansha’s app interrupts my experience at each page turn, making choosing digital feel like a real step down.

While Kodansha seems to have caught on to bulk pricing ahead of most manga publishers, slim selection and a clunky images may keep them from being truly competitive in a rapidly growing market. - Melinda Beasi


iOS

Oishinbo A la Carte, Vol. 1, Japanese Cuisine | By Tetsu Kariya and Akira Hanasaki | Viz Manga app | iPad 2, iOS 4.3 – One of the wonderful things about new digital platforms is that they give underappreciated titles (and I must apologize in advance for the following, potentially multilayered pun) a second bite at the Apple. When Viz first released its sample of Oishinbo volumes in print, the publisher was clearly very excited about this project. They pushed it hard, and they didn’t spare any expense on production.

It’s easy to see why. The title is huge in Japan, still running in Shogakukan’s Big Comic Spirits with more than 100 volumes in print. And its subject is fascinating: food, from the humble to the transcendent, with every stop along the way. It held the promise of being a crossover title, interesting to comic fans and foodies alike. Alas, it didn’t turn out that way. But now, readers who might have been reluctant to spend $13 on a book can spend about $6 on a digital version, which gives me hope that a wider audience will discover it. It also suggests that Viz isn’t ready to give up on publishing more Oishinbo in the future, because they’ve seriously barely scratched the surface.

The series is about two newspapers, each trying to craft the be-all and end-all of gourmet menus. A brash, frankly snotty young reporter is in charge of one, and his bullying, know-it-all father is helming the other. Father and son hate each other for good reasons, as they’re both pretty obnoxious, but the passion for food and discovery on display here overcomes the toxic familial dysfunction. Like The Drops of God, Oishinbo is less of a throw-down than a know-down, and you don’t really need to care about the ongoing plot, since the books cherry-pick subject-linked stories to focus on a specific culinary theme.

I bought each volume as it came out, and they’re cherished items on my shelves, so I’m unlikely to buy a redundant digital version, but I did look at it on the app, and it looks terrific. At the very least, read the free sample chapter: it’s a nifty blend of father-son venom and gourmet education, and, if you like it, you’ll like however much of Oishinbo Viz is able to provide. - David Welsh


Web Browser

Joshi Kousei, Vol. 1 | By Towa Oshima | Futabasha, Comic High! | JManga.com | Firefox 8.0 - I’d been interested in this one, as it was a title that I’d bought all nine volumes of when it was first put out by Dr Master several years back. I knew that the translation would be different by past experience with other JManga titles, and also wondered if the scanned art was better (it wouldn’t be hard). For those unfamiliar with the title, Joshi Kousei was brought over here as High School Girls, and was a ‘shoujo comic for guys’ – i.e. a guys’ comic that starred girls talking about girl things. The main cast featured four different types of idiotic girls and their goofy lives in an all-girls’ school. (Later volumes added two more). Whether you enjoy it or not depends greatly on how much you like broad comedy that is not ashamed to revel in sex and bodily function humor. It’s not Ping Pong Club, though, mostly as the girls are still very cute, likeable flawed characters.

As for the translation, it reminded me how two different groups can take the same Japanese and come up with very different things. JManga and Dr Master’s dialogue is clearly based on the same material, but each sentence, each bit of dialogue is different. I can’t read the Japanese for comparison, but at a guess, I’d say JManga’s is the more technically accurate – Dr Master seems to have been very loose about things. That said, Dr Master’s adaptation works best, as the girls’ dialogue actually sounds like something that a high school girl would actually say – JManga’s can get too caught up in precise verbiage. I also noted that JManga’s was far more explicit than Dr Master’s – the girls are more foul mouthed here, and the chapter with the ‘remember the chemical formulas by using filthy words’ plot has words that are far more filthy.

However, the big reason that fans of the old High School Girls volumes might want to rebuy Joshi Kousei online is the art/scans. Dr Master’s scans were terrible, some of the worst I’d seen in modern manga, and looked like 3rd-generation xeroxes (they probably were). JManga’s has access to the original, and shadowing and tone actually look like what they are now. It makes a world of difference – the manga looks modern now, as opposed to twice-removed, and the girls are cuter now that we can see that’s just shadow on their faces, rather than the five-o-clock shadow it appeared to be with Dr Master. Given this, if you are a fan of High School Girls, I’d say this is worth a rebuy, especially at the current sale prices. The translation is a little awkward in places (especially early on), but the art upgrade makes up for it. Also, it’s funny. - Sean Gaffney

Otaku Type Delusional Girl, Vol. 1 | By Natsume Konjoh | Action Comics | JManga.com | Firefox 3.6.24 - “Otaku girls don’t care about reality,” explains one of the characters in Otaku Type Delusional Girl. “Anime or celebrity, they are deep within their world, loving their favorite character.” His description certainly applies to Rumi Asai, a shy, bespectacled fujoshi whose obsession with yaoi manga is all-consuming. Abe, her long-suffering boyfriend, does his best to appease her, donning cat ears to resemble Asai’s favorite character, reading all twenty-five volumes of her favorite series, and agreeing to pose in a compromising position with his pal Chiba. Why Abe agrees to such an unending stream of humiliations is a mystery: Asai is far more interested in seeing Abe kiss Chiba than in being the recipient of Abe’s affections.

Though there are a few genuinely funny moments, most of the humor revolves around the stale trope of mistaken identity. Abe and Chiba’s classmates believe the boys are romantically involved with each other, leading to numerous scenes in which one (or both) vigorously assert their heterosexuality. The literal-minded translation puts an unfortunate, homophobic spin on the jokes, even when the underlying punchlines aren’t mean-spirited. Worse still, each chapter follows the same template, allowing little opportunity for the characters to interact in fresh or surprising ways. Even the introduction of Masai, a fangirl with yuri leanings, does little to enliven the proceedings; her main role is to say and do suggestive things to Asai. (At least the fan service is equal opportunity.)

The bottom line: if you adore My Girlfriend’s a Geek, you might find Otaku Type Delusional Girl appealing, if clumsily translated. Other readers will find the story too repetitive and familiar to be genuinely funny, especially if they’ve read other series starring an obsessed fangirl. - Katherine Dacey

So I Married an Anti-Fan, Vol. 2 | By Wann | NETCOMICS.com | Windows 7, SeaMonkey 2.4.1 - I’ve long been a fan of the NETCOMICS business model, which operates more like a manga rental service than an actual storefront. Instead of selling its customers a complete volume of material that they can read as many times as they like at no extra charge, NETCOMICS provides its content in chapters and charges a mere $0.25 for each one. Readers have two days to read the material, from the time they first access it, and if, after that time elapses, they wish to read it again, they’ll have to pay again. This might be a big turnoff for some, but suffice it to say that I read this entire volume of So I Married an Anti-Fan for a whopping $1.75.

It’s hard to argue with a price like that, especially when So I Married an Anti-Fan continues to be an enjoyable read. Alas, life is not currently so rosy for its scrappy protagonist, Geunyoung Lee, who is now filming a reality series wherein she acts as manager to Joon Hoo, the celebrity who got her fired from her old job. Joon is snooty and disdainful at first and one really grows to sympathize with Geunyoung, especially when she realizes that the producers are editing the show in such a way to play up her mistakes and stir up even more of the negative sentiment she was hoping would be quelled by her genuine desire to do a good job.

Of course, it was inevitable that Joon would begin to see Geunyoung’s good qualities, namely that because she dislikes him and wants nothing from him, he is able to be “a free man” in her company. While I approve of this realization, Joon’s jealousy and actions when Geunyoung gets lost in Tokyo—he rushes off to find her and when he finds her at a friend’s place he drags her out with enough force to leave bruises—leave something to be desired. I sincerely hope the dynamic of their relationship won’t turn out to be similar to the one Melinda found so troubling in Wann’s previous series for NETCOMICS. - Michelle Smith


Some reviews based on digital copies provided by the publisher.

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Comments

  1. I always wonder why so many manga readers try to make transitioning from one page to the next so fancy. Just take a lead from all the manga scanlation sites.

    • Well, I have to say that I appreciate their efforts overall. I might not like the type of images Kodansha decided to use, but I *hate* reading scanlation sites. The slow-loading, browser-based images, crappy image quality, and inability to choose a 1 or 2-page view… Viz & Yen’s readers for the iPad are versatile, fast, and the images look great. If I’m paying for manga, that’s the kind of experience I want.

  2. Really glad to see mention of the translation quality of JManga this time around, as their quality seems inconsistant enough to warrant a mention. From what I’ve read so far it’s never unreadably bad, but their literal translations can lead to sentences that don’t flow well in english. That bad sentence flow can really negatively impact the delivery of jokes and punchlines. I hope they’ll get some new editors in there to help make their translations read better. Just for the sake of comparison I decided to read some of the scanlation and Jmanga versions of Girlfriends side-by-side and I generally found myself preferring the scanlation, which is a bad sign.

    Don’t get me wrong, I love what they’re doing, and I don’t notice much problem with some manga (Soredemo Machi wa Mawatteiru is one of the better ones IMO), but there are some definite quality dips in their editing that I don’t notice frequently from any of the current print publishers.

  3. You might want to mention that Otaku Type Delusional Girl was licensed in print by Media Blasters as Fujoshi Rumi; they got up to V3 but it’s on hiatus now since Media Blasters seems to be on the rocks. (I haven’t seen the JManga version but the Media Blasters edition has copious endnotes explaining all the geek trivia.) I got the rest of the series in French, and on the whole I rather like it, certainly much better than I like My Girlfriend’s a Geek. The guy-oriented fanservice gets a bit much, especially towards the middle of the series, but it ends up being a sweet romantic comedy.



Trackbacks

  1. [...] bloggers review the Kodansha iOS app and a variety of manga available digitally in their latest Going Digital column. Melinda Beasi and Michelle Smith discuss a handful of recent releases in their Off the [...]

  2. [...] past about other JManga titles, which sometimes suffered from overly literal translations; witness Otaku-Type Delusional Girl, better known in English as Fujoshi Rumi. Hyakusho Kizuko, however, is a pleasant surprise; the [...]



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