JManga: One Month Later

A month ago, JManga debuted online, with a list of about 180 or so titles from various publishers, about 45 of which were available to purchase as volumes. Since then we’ve seen about 15 more titles added, and about 5 more available to buy, meaning we have about 200 titles both real and potential up there. I want to try to break it down by publisher, and see how each of them have handled the launch.

First off, incomplete grades are given to Akaneshinsha, ASCII Media Works, EastPress, Enterbrain, France Shoin, Fujimi Shobo, Fusosha, Gentosha, Houbunsha, Ichijinsha, Issuisya, Jitsugyo no Nihoa Sha, Kasakura, Media Factory, Nihon Bungeisha, Oakla, Ohzora Shuppan, Shinchosha, Shodensha, Takeshobo, Tatsumi, and Takuma Shoten. Clearly not everyone was going to be at the same level of readiness when the site debuted, and I can totally understand not having product ready from all 39 publishers. I’m hoping we’ll see more in the next few months from many of them.

Gakken and Magazine House (1 title each, available to purchase). I applaud these guys, who clearly are going to have a name recognition problem even among hardcore manga fans such as myself, but who were ready and waiting with something for purchase right off the bat. Gakken’s Manga Science looks like a cute educational manga, and 234 pages for $7.50 is pretty good compared to the rest of the site. As for Magazine House’s Young-kun, well, I think it depends on how much you like 4-koma. The art certainly won’t be drawing you in, so it lives and dies by its gags. Also, $5.99 for 140 pages is pretty good at this site.

Akita Shoten (6 titles, none available for purchase yet). Typical of most of the larger companies here, Akita debuts by promising a few of their already released in NA titles in a digital format. Though Tableau Gate never actually came out due to CMX’s demise.

Asahi Shimbun (7 titles, 1 partially available for purchase). An interesting josei/horror publisher, mostly known here for the series Petshop of Horrors. There’s some intriguing stuff here, and one of the more recent series, Sherlock Holmes, has a chapter available to buy. No idea if it’s a BL series or not. Knowing manga publishing, likely it’s suggestive and that’s about it. :)

Bunkasha (3 titles, none yet available for purchase). Another publisher I know very little of, and an intriguing if small variety of promised titles. One apparent sex comedy/mystery, one gag comic, and one horror. I’m quite interested in all three of these, and hope to see them eventually and learn more about the Bunkasha philosophy.

Futabasha (29 titles, all available for purchase). The big dogs here, and clearly, in my opinion, one of the major movers and shakers behind the entire site/venture. They’ve had very little play here in North America before, and are ready to make this their reminder that they have an awesome manga history too. We get 13 titles, all from within the last 5 years, from their seinen magazine Manga Action!, only one previously available here. 2 from the old-school Manga Town magazine, four from josei comic Jour, two (possibly 3, I’m not sure where Confession ran) from shoujo magazine Comic Mahou no iLand, and seven from moe and otaku-friendly Comic High! and it’s online counterpart, Web Comic High!. That’s a really nice variety, hitting most demographic areas (bar straight shonen for boys, which I think Futabasha lacks in Japan as well). As for pricing, they have decided on a uniform $8.99 for every title. While easy to remember, and handy for stuff like the 251 page Drifting Net Cafe, folks reading Crayon Shin-chan, which has half the pages but costs the same, might be a bit irked. I suspect Futabasha set the ‘standard’ price. It should be a dollar or two lower, IMO, and I suspect that may be why we haven’t seen…

Hakusensha (8 titles, none available), Shogakukan (10 titles, none available), and Shueisha (13 titles, none available). Everything seen here is a Viz product. I’d love to see some previously unreleased stuff, or even previously cancelled stuff (UY? Banri Hidaka?), but there’s a larger issue here: almost everything with these 3 publishers is on sale at Viz’s website for about 3-4 dollars less than the ‘default’ price at JManga. If they simply port their cloud of titles to JManga, folks would likely start avoiding higher priced titles. But if they price them at $8.99… who on earth would buy them there when they’re cheaper elsewhere? I seem to recall those at the SDCC JManga panel noticed a look of discomfort when pricing was mentioned… this may be a reason why, and also why these three are sort of a token presence for now.

Kodansha (5 titles, none available). Speaking of token presences… Kodansha is busy working on getting their brand back out there after the Del Rey hiatus, and I suspect after they do they will be, as Viz and Yen have done, working on their own digital initiative. Till then, this may be all we get… 5 of their most popular titles, all previously available in NA, possibly digital soon.

June Net (10 titles, none available), Libre Shuppan (20 titles, 4 available), and Shinshokan (9 titles, 6 available for purchase). The big players in BL here, and they’ve given everyone something to wait for. There’s a lot of previously released stuff from DMP and Blu here, but all three publishers have brought out (or plan to) their heavy hitters, with lots of Nitta and Tateno sitting there. Shinshokan is especially strong, having 2/3 of their offerings now available. Not bad. Pricing seems consistently about $8.95.

LEED Publishing (10 titles, 6 available). I think LEED also came out of the gates strong, mostly as most folks know who Golgo 13 is, and a lot of these titles are extensions of that type of manga. Saito’s been trying to go digital in Japan for a while now, so likely had stuff ready to go. I like that there’s some 60s stuff from Shonen Sunday and Magazine available, as well as more recent endeavors. If we do see Golgo 13, it may be LEED’s own editions (Saito owns the company, I believe) rather than Viz. And there is one non-Saito author as well, making us hope for more hardboiled stuff from Comic RAN and Comic Ran TWINS. LEED is also fairly hardboiled about their pricing… they’re easily the most expensive publisher here, and the price goes up the more pages there are. Hawking, which is a 400-page omnibus, is about $20.00. I suspect they may find sales disappointing at first for that reason.

Shonen Gahosha (7 titles, 3 available). One of the more intriguing names here. They and LEED are the only ones to have been releasing titles after the debut. They started off with their 4 biggest titles in North America (Excel Saga, Hellsing and the two Triguns), as well as one title unavailable here but also from Young King OURS. Since then, they’ve added a second Young King OURS comedy… and a manga from their cat-oriented manga magazine, Nekopanchi. That alone gains big praise from me, as I love seeing manga genres totally unfamiliar to me. Their pricing seems in line with Futabasha’s, about $8.99 each.

Kadokawa Shoten (63 titles, none available). Well, they’ve got ambition, if nothing else. Easily the most presence on the site. And the titles they’re choosing, very much in line with their media-oriented business statement, are anime franchises, and game franchises, and very appealing to otaku. There’s even a few non-moe things here, such as Mail and Todenka, which are both in the style of Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service. And yes, I’d really love to see that Higurashi book. HOWEVER, by showing us 63 titles, and delivering, to date, zero… it’s not a good way to start off. I would have tried, if they couldn’t get things out of the gate fast enough like Futabasha did, only putting up a few select titles as potential ones, and then rolling out the bigger guns when they’re available. If I had to give a grade to date for them, however, it’s all flash, no substance as of yet. I would suspect, however, that they may be the OTHER major force, besides Futabasha, behind the JManga initiative, judging by their listings.

As for the site itself, the reader is fairly easy to use. I do note that it is hard to zoom in on anything except the center of the page, so if you want to read a corner or edge you’re out of luck. Also, some titles, particularly ones with night scenes (hi, Ninja Papa) have inner monologues written against backgrounds in black text – making them VERY hard to read. Notably, the corresponding Japanese text is left in – it’s also black, but has a much stronger white border. I realize that English requires more space, but I’m hoping it’s something that can be thought about, if nothing else.

No doubt there have been a few growing pains. The read online system is a good way to combat piracy, but of course means you don’t own your manga – you are merely paying for the right to read it. And it can be taken away by the publisher if issues crop up, which can’t be done with a book. A print on demand option would be fantastic. And the points system is rather confusing, especially as a point is clearly 1 cent – I didn’t bother using them when discussing pricing above. As for the pricing itself, $8.99 isn’t horrific, but when your competitors (and yes, that is including Viz, who have far more famous manga available for cheaper prices right now) are undercutting you, you’re going to have people debating if they want to pay 9 bucks to see whether that weird food manga is any good, or 6 bucks to read another volume of kickass ninjas. And I suspect the ninjas will win.

That said, this is really more than I expected when I heard about the initiative. There *is* some clear effort to make titles previously unavailable here, and not just things based on anime or games that are out over here (though they have those as well). There’s shoujo, seinen, josei and kodomo stuff I’ve never read before all waiting for me, and in a variety of genres that include supernatural mystery, salaryman fantasy, foodie, medical, and even cat detectives. I suspect we’ll have a much better idea of the site’s future, though, when we start seeing Volume 2s. Saito has some, but as I said he’s farther along in his digital initiative. If Futabasha can crank out Vol. 2s for some of the more intriguing titles by October, and Kadokawa can release some of their content, then I think JManga will be around as longer than just a flash in the pan.

And if Shonen Gahosha gets Excel Saga on there beyond a promise, I will personally fly to Japan to kiss their feet. :D

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  1. When I read Deb Aoki’s interview with some of the reps at SDCC recently, it sounded to me like Kadokawa was planning on just posting information about their titles, and didn’t have any immediate plans to release actual manga. (from the interview: “Naobumi Ashi (Kadokawa Shoten): As far as Kadokawa goes, we will be providing just information on our titles. We plan on releasing information on all of the titles that we are currently releasing digitally in Japan, and Kadokawa is currently deciding what kind of connection to have with JManga and our other U.S. publishing efforts.”) So I’m not really expecting to be able to read their titles anytime soon, but I may have interpreted the statement wrong.

    I still hope to see more great things come of this initiative, and am really hoping for more reasonable prices soon. I’m amused to see many people clamoring for POD books—I’d love to own a physical copy too, but I think the point of this venture is to be a digital resource for titles that are impractical to put in print. But what are we manga fans, if not demanding? :D

    (disclaimer: I letter one of the Shonen Gahosha titles, but aside from that I don’t know much more than anyone else about the inner workings of the site or the many publishers it represents.)


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