When looking for legal manga to read, the selections in English is pretty slim. Readers are limited to eBooks of titles already available in English, the apps Manga Box and Comic Walker which are online only and/or available for a limited time, or Crunchyroll’s all-you-can-read manga which does have several titles not available legally anywhere else, but skews heavily toward the more shonen/senien crowd. If you want more titles directed at women, you need to look elsewhere. Right now, that best elsewhere is Renta!, a Japanese eBook seller that is pushing its English website.
Renta! isn’t a new site. It’s been around since the early 2000s, and has been making manga available in English since 2011. They have recently redesigned the site to attract more female readers by pushing romance, shojo, and ladies titles. At first glance, this looks like a really good site. Just a cursory glance over the site shows lots of titles that aren’t available in English, or would ever be on any publisher’s radar. The translations look well done and the lettering is clean. They even have a section on the site that shows the full translation process to reassure people who there is quality control.
I don’t have a problem with all that. It’s all great, and there are a few tempting titles I wouldn’t mind trying, but I just can’t get over the feeling of deja vu I get when I look at the site. It’s like Jmanga all over. The site doesn’t sell their manga, they rent viewing rights, either for 48 hours or unlimited. This is essentially what Jmanga did. You “bought” the manga, but could only read it online, or later, you could “download” it with their app for offline reading, but you never truly own the manga. This is all well and good until something like what happened with Jmanga, shutdown, takes away everything you’ve invested in.
The other thing they do, just as Jmanga did, is to use “tickets”, essentially points. One point = $1 US, and you can buy tickets in 1, 3, 10, 30, 50, and 100 packages. Oh, did I mention they are also charging 8% tax on ever dollar? So you aren’t paying $1, you are paying $1.08 for each ticket. They seem to think that buying tickets makes buying manga easier. I don’t see the advantage other than to make things more confusing for renters, but that’s just me. Most of the manga is sold by chapter, though there are some full volumes available. I dislike the “selling-per-chapter”, since that can sometimes make a volume more costly. I guess this works for the impatient types, but I’m not one of them. I can wait for the full volume.
Renta! has been around for a while, so they probably won’t just up and disappear like Jmanga did. They already have an established business in Japan, so moving into the Western market is a growth strategy. Focusing on the still underrepresented female market is a smart move. They’ve even gotten a lot of title that were previously available on Jmanga, such as Crayon Shin-chan, the Saito Production titles, and Hirohita.
But, after being burned by Jmanga’s shutdown, and losing all the time and money I invested, I am really gun-shy about doing it again. Renta! has the titles I’m interested in, but not the platform I can get behind. I want and need to have some control over the titles I buy online. Either let me download and back them up like Kindle, Nook and even eManga does, or give me the all-you-can-eat model Crunchyroll has where I’m not investing in a single title but the platform. You can rent to me, but give me the option to rent-to-own. Renta! is the right idea, but on the wrong platform.
This week I take a look back at 2013 and some of the trends in manga that were seen over the year; What became popular, who started and who stopped publishing and comment on what I’d like see more of in 2014. I also have regular features the Weekly Wish List, Vizmanga.com update and the New York Times Bestseller List.
High school junior Wakaba Sakimoto is a normal girl, no matter how you look at her. Everyone around her is thinking about the future, but Wakaba still doesn’t know what she wants to do. Then one day, she meets voice actress Touko Hosaka by accident, and Wakaba’s future changes in a big way…
Koetama was another impulse buy from Jmanga. I’ve always been intrigued with voice acting, and after reading the scenes in Bakuman, I wanted to read more. Then Jmanga licensed this series. The characters are fun, and the premise isn’t bad, even though the whole thing comes off as feeling very generic. But being only the first volume where all the set up takes place, this is to be expected.
Wakaba Sakimoto is a high school junior who doesn’t know what to do about her future goals. Her two best friends, Tomo and Serina already have goals that they are working for; Tomo is practicing karate and Serina wants to be an author. But Wakaba doesn’t have anything she feels passionate about. When Tomo, Serina and Wakaba go to an amusement park, Wakaba finds a lost girl and tries to help her by reading a book the girl is carrying. She starts to reach the girl, but then gets nervous. She is rescued by well-known voice actress Touko Hosaka, and then Wakaba knows what she wants to do; be a voice actress. She has a bit of a rocky start, but then she meets Kuu Sonozaki, another aspiring voice actress, and the two apply to Voice Connect voice acting school.
I had a hard time getting into this title at first. I started reading it three times before I finally got through the first chapter. It wasn’t that the story was bad, it was just so generic. The girl with an untapped special talent, supported by her two best friends, gets dropped into a situation where her talent is needed and noticed by someone important. Even after I finally got through the first chapter, things didn’t really change. The rival, the country bumpkin with dreams in the big city, and the stuck up snob who looks down everyone all make their appearance in this first volume.
Despite all the tropes, I actually liked Koetama. Wakaba, the main protagonist of the series was quite likable. Once she decided she wanted to be a voice actress, she didn’t hesitate getting down to work. She bought books about voice acting and breathing, and practiced on the roof of her school everyday. I liked that his was a decision she made on her own, and didn’t have to be told and pushed by friends into doing it. Even when she seems to have a change of heart, her friends, Tomo and Serina never pressure her, but just support her from the background. Throughout the volume there are hints that Wakaba has a special talent for voice acting, the “soul of the voice”, and a flashback with Tomo shows the idea of voice acting was planted in her at a young age.
I liked all of the supporting characters as well. Tomo is the male childhood friend who seems to have a crush on Wakaba, but never comes out and says anything. Serina is the best friend that has no problem with beating up on Tomo. She is constantly running him over with her bike. Kuu is the spunky girl from eastern Japan and an accent. She has her quirks, such as speaking her mind and getting lost, but her accent was kept in check, so she wasn’t as annoying as she could have been. Amane is the spoiled rich girl who goes into the audition expecting the wow the judges, and does. She is of course prejudice against Kuu just because of her accent and tries to woo Wakaba away from her. I’m sure she’d be won over by Wakabe by the second or third volume. Runa is the seasoned pro who is tough on others but really means well. She is the one the other girls will be chasing to become a star voice actress. She is more talked about than really seen but she doesn’t appear to be haughty star.
Koetama, had a lot of potential. The character conceptualizations were down by four seiyuu: Nakahara Mai, Ueda Kana, Hayami Saori and Yahagi Sayuri, all of whom are credited in the title. We’ve been getting titles about the inside workings of manga lately, so it’s not a stretch for voice acting, since these actors will not only work on anime, but also drama cds. I’m disappointed that I won’t be able to read more of this title. I was starting to look forward to see what happened with these girls next. I don’t hold out hope for Jmanga titles to be rescued, since they were rescuing titles from defunct publishers themselves. I can only hope someone will see the worth of this series and license it on its merits.
Chaos reigns as the curtain descends on the age of the samurai. Atsuhime, born to the Satsuma branch of the Shimazu clan is to wed Iesada Tokugawa, the 13th shogun. However, soon after their marriage, Atsuhime’s beloved husband dies, leaving her to defend the clan as she is tossed about by the waves of history. Watch as this exceptional woman from Satsuma lives out a trouble-filled life while resolutely moving forward no matter what in this moving historical comic!
Well, what do you know, another historical title. What a surprise. Yes, I do love my historical titles. The last one I reviewed, King’s Moon, dealt with Japan just before the start of the Tokugawa Shogunate. This title, Hanagatari Tenshion Atsuhime, deals with the last years of the Shogunate, as told though the eyes of Atsuhime, the wife of the 13th Shogun.
Hanagatari Tenshion Atsuhime begins with the girl Okatsu playing in the fields behind her home in Satsuma. It is decided that she is to become the next wife of the Shogun, Iesada. After a few years and several name changes, she arrives as Atsuhime. She makes a not-so-good impression with the palace staff when she arrives and worse with Iesada himself when she slaps him and basically tells him off. This leads to a real relationship between Atsuhime and Iesada to the point that she turns against the Satsuma Clan in support of her husband, which seems to turn the Satsuma against the Tokugawa, leading into the Bakumatsu. Atsuhime, who becomes Tenshion sees two more Shoguns before the final fall of the Tokugawa Shogunate.
I really like Atsuhime. When she is first introduced, she seems to be a more timid woman, there to do as her clan wishes. That all changed when she faced Iesada, who sounded more like a whiny child. Her outburst breaks him out of his apathy, and she truly challenges him to rise up beyond his physical problems. She shows a strength that not only did no one truly see, but then gives some of that strength to Iesada, who despite his health problems becomes more active in living. She becomes the strength of the Tokugawa as she becomes mother to the next shogun, finds a way to relate to her daughter-in-law, the younger sister of the emperor, holds the palace together through a rebellion led by her own former clan, the Satsuma, and sees the last Shogun to his surrender, and then end of the Tokugawa Shogunate.
There is a bit of introspection toward the end as Atsuhime thinks about the decisions she made and if things could have gone differently. In the end though, she stands by her choices, being as resolute as the mountain her mother told her would always watch over her from her home in Satsume. Even after the Tokugawa fell, and she is given the option to return to Satsume, she chooses to remain with the family she created with the Tokugawa. She may be sad at the path her life took, but she never regretted it.
Hanagatari Tenshion Atsuhime was presented in the way I like my historical manga. It just tells the story without having to resort to long narrations to bridge scenes or time changes. It did have a few narration bridges, but they were brief, and the story carried the narrative most of the time. It made it feel more like a story and less like a documentary. I really enjoyed this title and am glad I got to read it before Jmanga closed.
This week I look at the news from Anime Boston and Fanime, some new license announcements from Seven Seas Entertainment, the Vizmanga.com top 10, and bid a final farewell to Jmanga.
Hiroshima, 1955. Ten years after the city was consumed by a scorching flash of light, the soul of Minami Hirano is still deeply shaken by the earth-shattering explosion that devastated her home and changed her life forever. To the weak, the victims, what did the war mean? What pieces of certainty changed and broke that morning, when the sky lit up with a fire like a thousand suns? A controversial story of the aftermath of disaster, long after conflict is over and the dead are long buried.
This isn’t the first time The Town of Evening Calm, The Country of Cherry Blossoms has been published in English. Last Gasp first published it in print in 2007. Jmanga then got a hold of it and used it as one of its launch titles. It was well received originally, but it took me until the last days to get it and read it. It is a story that deserves every once of praise it received.
The Town of Evening Calm, The Country of Cherry Blossoms, is essentially the story of one family over 3 generations. It follows the Hirano family, starting 10 years after the bombs fell with older sister Minami. She and her mother are survivors of the bomb, and live in a shanty town in Hiroshima. Minami works and takes care of her mother. Uchikoshi is a boy who works in the same office and comes to check on her when she doesn’t come in one day. He likes Minami, but she chases him away. Minami has memories of that day the bomb were dropped, and they haunt her. Survivor’s guilt gnaws at her, and just as she seems to ask forgiveness for living, she succumbs to radiation sickness.
This first chapter, The Town of Evening Calm, was incredibly powerful. Minami seems okay as she goes to her job and helps out her mother at home. But the memories that haunt her, of the burnt bodies everywhere, the desperation to find family members, it was all burned into her mind, making her think the world after, the one where she lived wasn’t the one where she belonged. But more powerful than that was her slow death from radiation poisoning. Much of it is shown from Minami’s perspective, as she loses her energy, coughs up black blood and then loses her sight. All of her observations from this point are heart-wrenching, and it gave me a cold feeling in my stomach when she asked if the people who had dropped the bomb were glad she was dying. If there was ever needed a short story about why atomic bombs should never be used again, this is it.
The Country of Cherry Blossoms follows Minami’s younger brother Asahi, who wasn’t in Hiroshima at the time and was spared the devastation. It starts 30 years later, with Asahi’s children, Nanami and Nagio, and their next door neighbor Toko. Nagio is in the hospital with asthma and Nanami and Toko bring cherry blossoms to cheer him up. The second chapter is another 20 years after the first with Nanami and Toko following Nanami’s father as he visits people around Hiroshima, and how he and Nanami’s mother met.
This second half of the volume didn’t have the punch the first half did. The memory of the bomb is faint now for Nanami and Nagio. But the stigma of being a survivor or related to a survivor remains. Asahi, who after being adopted by his Aunt and Uncle, returns to help his mother, and meets Kyo, a girl who lives nearby and helps out his mother. Asahi watches Kyo grow up and eventually falls in love with her. Kyo, as a survivor, suffers some prejudice at school as her slow learning is blamed on it. His mother, a survivor herself, is against Asahi marrying her at first, because she doesn’t want to see anymore loved ones taken because of the bomb. Later in a letter to Toko from Nagio, Nagio implies that his asthma might be because his mother was an atomic bomb victim, and gives it as a reason why they can’t be together. Nanami has a good answer to that.
Taken as a whole, The Town of Evening Calm, The Country of Cherry Blossoms is a wonderful generational story of a very dark moment in human history. Toko’s reaction to seeing the Peace Museum for the first time is a very real and visceral feeling, even 60 years later. Kouno’s art is simple and cute, contrasting against the darker, heavier story. Minami’s story is a reason why it should never happen again, and Nanami and Toko’s story reminds us why we should never forget. I highly recommend it.
The Life of Akechi Mitsuhide ― Oda Nobunaga ruled the nation with a scorching force like that of the Sun. In his shadow was his faithful retainer, Akechi, who continued his unwavering service to him. Once sharing the same vision for the future, a change of heart sets their paths forever apart. What conclusion did Mitsuhide reach following the events at Hongan-ji? From a great author, comes a beautifully illustrated historical drama full of intensity!
I love historical dramas, so when Jmanga announced this title, that not only took place in the Warring States Era, but also featured bishonen historical figures in a historical setting without any fantasy elements, I bought it sight unseen. While I enjoyed the title in general, it didn’t really fulfill the “full of intensity” part promised in the description.
King’s Moon details the life of Akechi Mitsuhide, a loyal retainer to the famous warlord Oda Nobunaga. The story begins with Mitsuhide already a retainer to Asakura Yoshikage. The retainer to Ashikaga, Hosokawa Fuijtaka, has come to Asakura to ask him to champion Ashikaga in his bid to be Shogun, but Asakura waivers. Mitsuhide, who had spent many years on reconnaissance, believes another man would be a better champion; Oda Nobunaga. Being a cousin to Nobunaga’s wife, Mitsuhide gets an audience with him. Nobunaga agrees to the request, and with Mitsuhide as his retainer begins his quest to conquer Japan.
King’s Moon is described as a historical drama, but it felt more like a docudrama. The drama was interspersed with historical facts. Nobunaga will be talking about a strategy, and then there will be a couple of pages of “And then this battle happened, these people were killed/committed suicide, and Nobunaga took over this area.” Now, I don’t think this is a bad thing necessarily, but it did reduce the “intensity.” The dramatic scenes themselves weren’t all that “intense” either. They were mostly of Nobunaga and Mitsuhide, or Mitsuhide and Fujitaka talking. There were nearly no battle scenes shown. While I do enjoy documentaries like this, even I found this title to be rather dry.
There isn’t any character development to speak of. You are expected to know who most of the people are, but since it was written for a Japanese audience about historical Japanese figures, I really can’t fault the title for that assumption. While the title is “The Life of Akechi Mitsuhide”, it really only covers his time with Nobunaga. The two men are compared as the sun and the moon, hence the title. Nobunage is fiery and direct with his ambitions. Mitsuhide is more subtle, using Asakura, Ashikaga and even Nobunaga to see his ambitions. It’s here that the story seems to drift into the realm of speculation. Kusumoto portrays Mitsuhide as a man looking for someone to bring peace to Japan, and he believes Nobunaga is that man. But the more Nobunaga expands, the more he is shown to be someone who enjoys the killing. Mitsuhide calls him the “God of Death” at one point in the story. It’s at this point that Mitsuhide starts to have his doubts about Nobunaga bringing peace, but what tips him over into betrayal is when Nobunaga gives his castle, Sakamoto to another retainer. There is a definite disconnect between what Mitsuhide expected from Nobunaga and visa versa.
The art is very well done. All the men, and it is all men shown in volume, are bishonen. Nobunaga has a devilish look to him with his wispy mustache and goatee and piercing eyes. Mitsuhide is much more the hero-type, with the long hair and rounder, more reflective eyes. I must admit, all the pretty boys is one of the reasons I chose to check this title out.
King’s Moon is an interesting title if you’re a history buff like me. It gives a quick run through of the Nobunaga years leading up to the beginning of the Tokugawa period. It is all military victories and defeats broken up by bits of personal reflection. For the historical information, this title was great. As entertainment, not so much. There was drama, mostly with Mitsuhide, as he struggles with his choices and following Nobunaga, and the chapters had some nice closing, but overall it was too dry to really be called intense. The history geek in me loved it.
This week I review the digital-only Jmanga title Japan Sinks Volumes 1-4.
I have some good news and bad news…which do you want first? The good news? Okay! According to ANN, over in Japan, the official Gundam portal site has announced the return of the Gundam Seed Astray manga side stories. Gundam Seed Destiny Astray R and Gundam Seed Destiny Astray B will be returning and will feature the characters Lowe Gear, a member of the Junk Guild, and Gai Murakumo, a mercenary with their respective Astray suits. More details about the titles and their starting dates will be in the new issues of Hobby Japan and Dengeki Hobby Magazine later this month. The Gundam Seed Astray manga were published in the US by Tokyopop back in the mid 2000s. I have all of the Astray side stories and really enjoyed them. They fit very well within the Gundam Seed Universe and the characters are a lot of fun; at least in Frame A and B, with Lowe and Gai. They are definitely worth tracking down if you are a fan of the Gundam Seed Universe. They much better than the Del Rey Gundam Seed Destiny manga. It’s too bad though that Gundam doesn’t have the audience to warrant they being licensed here.
As my next story shows, getting any new niche manga at all will be even harder now. After almost two years, the digital only manga site, Jmanga will be shutting down for good in May. Their sister site Jmanga7 is already gone, and the purchasing of manga by member with existing points will continue until March 26. All access to the site will end by the end of May, so members have until then to read the manga they have purchased. No downloads of purchased manga will be provided, but Amazon gift cards will be given to members with balances.
This news came about suddenly, and was quite frankly a shock to me. I’ve been a big supporter of Jmanga. They not only made available titles that most publishers wouldn’t try to print, but also rescued a lot of titles from defunct publishers Tokyopop and Del Rey, and even translated new volumes that furthered or completed some of these canceled titles. While I wasn’t thrilled with the online-only reading they provided, their promise of apps with offline reading filled me with hope. They are the third publisher to put the manga on a 10″ Android tablet, but the only one that had a lot of titles I wanted to read. They brought over some fun cat manga with Edo Nekoe Jubei Otogizoshi and Poyopoyo’s Observation Diary. They continued tactics, a Tokyopop title I loved but was left incomplete, as well as licensing Mythical Detective Loki by the same creator. They released Takao Saito classics that wouldn’t otherwise see the light of day like Japan Sinks, and some great otherwise unknown josei like Urameshiya. I admit I was angry when I heard the news. I didn’t want it to be true, because I didn’t want these wonderful titles, or the promise of more, to go away. I couldn’t wait for Thursdays to see when the next volume in one of my series’ was coming out, or to see what new titles they had. It really brought me down all day.
That isn’t to say Jmanga was perfect. I had my issues with them, such as being able to read their site on my tablet before and after the release of the app. Their price point at the beginning was rather high, especially when they were only giving 5 page previews, sometimes with no dialog at all! I didn’t care for the point system either, and as I said about the no-download option, this situation is exactly the reason I was wary at first. But I took the chance anyway, because I wouldn’t have been able to read any of these titles otherwise. I don’t regret any of the titles I’ve purchased, not even the poorly translated/localized ones. Jmanga has such a diverse line of titles that could really appeal to just about anyone.
One of the things that make me sad about this has been some of the manga community’s reaction. There have been people gloating over the closing, with “I told you so”s and they deserved it. No, they did not deserve to be shut down like this. Not only are their people out of work now, but there is also less manga available to read legally. Whatever you thought about the site and their policies, they had some great service, both through the site and on social media. They were quick and responsive (unlike some publishers **Kodansha**), and they really tried to solve the issues, sometimes successfully, and sometimes not. But just having that feeling that someone is listening can really go a long with people.
So what went wrong? I know this will be discussed for the next few days and weeks. We will probably never know for sure considering how tight-lipped Japanese companies can be about failures. One thing we know for sure from a tweet from the @Jmanga_official account, is that they ran out of money. Some will say scanlations were the cause, I’ll agree with that, up to a point. I don’t think it was the scanlations that killed it, but that a lot of people probably didn’t know about the site in the first place. There have been plenty of examples of people asking publishers to license things that are already licensed, or that they have been publishing themselves! Awareness of ways to obtain legal manga still seems to be low. It’s not too surprising when a search on Google for a manga will result in the first page being almost all scanlation sites, and no sign of the legal publisher until the 2nd or even 3rd page in. Studies show most people won’t go past the first page, so this really hurts discovery of the publishers.
Part of the “shoulda, coulda, woulda” is that the site should have either had mobile apps out and/or been a Netflix type of site with all manga available for a low subscription price. I’ve thought about this second option, and while it seems like a good idea, it occurs to me that sites like Netflix and even Viz being able to sell their digital manga at half print price is that, in both cases, the creators of the media have already gotten their initial investment back. The movies have already been made and shown in theaters, DVD/Blurays sold, and the manga has been translated, edited and published before going online digitally. Jmanga was trying to do this from scratch at the price of titles that were already funded. I’ll admit to being one of those who decried Jmanga’s price at the beginning. But with hindsight being 20/20, and more information coming out about how much really goes into releasing manga digitally, Jmanga was probably selling their manga for too little.
Will we see another site like Jmanga again? Not anytime in the near future. The manga market continues to be too unstable for experiments like Jmanga, and publishers too conservative to take that kind of risk. Right now, I would just be glad to have publishers make their titles available for ALL platforms and not just the few niches they have remained in, to give EVERYONE, REGARDLESS OF PLATFORM, the same reading options. Digital Manga Publishing has taken steps in this direction with their e-Manga site that allows you to download the titles in the reader format of your choice. Of course you pay for that privilege, but that may be the only way for DRM-free manga to thrive.
So, goodbye Jmanga. It was fun while it lasted, and know that you will be sorely missed.
Ruerune, a high school boy with the ability to sense alien creatures, and Pi, a girl science geek, set up an ”X-file”-ish club to help the inhabitants of an alien world. A wonderful work from Singapore’s acclaimed manga artist FSc!!
New York Comic Con, or NYCC, was this weekend, with all the manga publishers making appearances and announcements. Vertical, Viz, Yen Press, even Kodansha and Jmanga had panels to announce their new titles and new alliances.