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 Digital Manga Publishing’s new iPad app, as well as a couple of manga published for viewing 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.
Digital Manga Publishing | iPad app | iPad 2, iOS 5.0.1 – Though most manga publishers have been playing catch-up when it comes to digital manga, Digital Manga Publishing has been in the game all along. While other publishers have struggled with user-unfriendly systems and disappointing selection, DMP’s eManga store made it all look easy, with its slick, robust viewer and large collection of titles.
Given DMP’s forward-thinking business model, it’s a bit surprising to note that they are one of the last English-language manga publishers to embrace iOS as a platform for digital comics. Fortunately, they’re well on their way to getting it right.
DMP’s storefront is extremely promising, at least at first glance. Buttons across the top indicate a wealth of available genres pulled from each of their BL imprints, as well as standard shoujo and other “mainstream” manga, though clicking on any of these quickly reveals the weaknesses of their iOS catalogue. Several of these tabs lead to pretty much the same small mix of instructional manga and other random titles, with nearly the entire current catalogue coming from their Juné, 801 Media, and Digital Manga Guild imprints. Price point is a weakness here, too. As with eManga, DMP counts on the willingness of BL fans to pay premium for their content, but with most titles going for nearly double the price of single volumes from publishers like Viz and Kodansha, these purchases do feel a bit painful.
I rather reluctantly plunked down $8.99 for the second volume of the two-volume BL series Seven Days, the first of which I’d enjoyed quite a bit, and while the value of a volume downloaded to my iPad definitely feels weightier than an indefinite rental at eManga, it’s disheartening to note that I could have picked it up for less in print from the publisher’s own online store.
Fortunately for DMP, I’ve discovered that I rather like reading on my iPad, perhaps even better than print (thanks largely to inadequate lighting in my small downtown apartment), and the reading experience is something they decidedly get right.
Like all the best apps for manga on the iPad, DMP’s runs smoothly and intuitively, flipping from page to page with no visual delay, and adjusting nicely between single and dual page views, with no reduction in readability.
The one initial oddity is the arrow tab that appears in the bottom left corner of every page. Though it does obscure a tiny portion of the page in view, the payoff is more than worth it. When touched, the tab reveals a smooth-scrolling view of each page in the volume, allowing for quick, easy access to earlier pages at a glance.
As a reviewer, especially, one of the downsides of digital is the lack of physical memory provided by a print volume. Our minds retain the sense of where something was in a volume based on sight and feel, so it’s always easy to find something, usually even after significant time has passed since the first reading. While it’s not possible to recreate this feeling entirely on a digital platform, the inclusion of thumbnail images to the simple scroll bar used by other manga apps goes a long way towards providing a real sense of flipping through a physical book.
Though minimal selection in non-BL genres combined with substantial sticker shock may make keep DMP’s app from performing as well as others, its top-notch manga reader makes it a winner, at least from a usability standpoint. Good going, DMP. – MJ
Nao Go Straight – Guide Dog Trainer Vol. 1 | By Yasuto Tamamoto | Futabasha, Manga Action | JManga.com | Windows XP, Firefox 8.0
There is a certain sort of manga seen over in Japan that doesn’t always make it to North America, and this series is an excellent example of it. You have the bright young protagonist, who is naive and perhaps tends to fail at a lot of things, but has a talent that is just itching to be taken advantage of. They find themselves at a new job, filled with energy and vigor. Then they begin to have second thoughts, as the job is much harder than they’d expected. Do they really have what it takes to keep up with this grueling regimen? And there’s that one guy, who’s their boss or manager or someone with authority over them, who *hates* the protagonist, and finds fault in everything they do. Of course, as the manga goes on the protagonist learns to find the joy in the job, and finds that guy was being extra harsh on them because they showed the most promise. All is well.
The job and the protagonist differ from manga to manga, of course, and here we have the word of dog training – specifically, training guide dogs for the blind. Our heroine is Nao, who keeps leaving or getting fired from jobs. Her problem is that she’s too empathic – which in a setting like Japan can be hideously detrimental. How creepy, she knows how I’m feeling! Then one day she runs into a brash young blind man, Yamazaki. He realizes that the traits she exhibits are a natural for working with guide dogs, and suggests that she check out a school he has a mysterious affiliation with. Of course, there are other, more experienced candidates there as well. This is just the beginning for poor Nao…
I’ll be honest – this first volume can feel really dull. It’s a slow starter, and that can be hard in a series you’re not reading from week to week. Nao is nice and plucky, but ’empathy’ is not exactly a quirk that reaches out and catches your interest. Likewise, the art is OK, but not great – the mangaka was able to put his bland style to better use in Ninja Papa (yes, it’s the same author), but here it’s merely bland. That said, if you’re at all interested in the actual subject of the manga – training guide dogs – the manga will interest you. There’s about 60 Labrador Retrievers here, all seemingly alike, yet as Nao grows to recognize their quirks they gain more personality – particularly Choko, the dog who no doubt will become Nao’s pet project (so to speak). So, to sum up: decent manga, but mostly for dog lovers.-Sean Gaffney
Sherlock Holmes, Vol. 1 | By Toya Ataka | Asahi Shimbun Publications Inc. | JManga.com | Mac OS 10.7.2, Chrome 16.0.912.63 – In this supernaturally-charged version of London, some have attained the power of “Shadow Masters,” people who are able to use their shadows to perform super-human deeds on their behalf. One of these is teen sleuth Sherlock Holmes who enlists the power of his shadow to invisibly probe his surroundings, a talent that keeps him (and his cocky grown-up partner, Watson) in business.
Though I’m pleased to report that this is a mildly fun supernatural detective series in a not-quite-as-good-as-Tokyo-Bablyon sort of way, the question you may be asking is, “What on earth does it have to do with Sherlock Holmes?” The answer is, “Nothing. Nothing at all.”
Though it has borrowed some names from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s legendary tales (including Holmes’ landlady, Mrs. Hudson) and its leads make their living as detectives, that is the full extent of this manga’s similarity to any previous incarnation of Sherlock Holmes. This is unfortunate, for though this series does have some qualities to recommend it (crisp, detailed artwork and genuinely creepy villains, for instance), it suffers badly in comparison to its namesake, and even to most of the original series’ popular adaptations.
The series’ supernatural premise certainly shows promise, though its origins are so little explained in the first volume, it’s difficult to know now whether that promise will be fulfilled. And, unfortunately, a sloppy English adaptation makes for some unintentionally humorous moments, such as in this piece of dialogue, “He is Sara, the actress’ sponsor,” which makes it appear as if the man being spoken of goes by the name of “Sara” (he doesn’t).
Overall, this is not a bad little title, but it might have done better to avoid comparison with far superior works. Though the name “Sherlock Holmes” may certainly draw readers, it’s unlikely to keep them based on such unfulfilled expectations. Buyer beware. – MJ