So, Kodansha’s planned manga app – “K Manga” – which they’d yanked all their titles from various simul-pub services (like Azuki) in preparation for, has finally come out, and I’d like to give some quick thoughts, and compare it to Square Enix’s Manga Up app, and with it the Shonen Jump, Viz Manga, and Azuki apps.
K Manga & Manga Up!: Using the Japanese Model
There is a model of manga app distribution that is somewhat popular in Japan and isn’t widely used in the US – I encountered it back with J Manga, the last big attempt by Japanese manga publishers, operating completely independent from their English licensing partners, to try to operate their own manga services and cut out the middlemen. These services are based around buying individual chapters on an ad-hoc basis, either with an amount of currency or keys that are provided through general usage (or paying for a subscription), with the option to buy more keys or unlock currency if you run out before the start of the next cycle.
This is the polar opposite model of the Shonen Jump App, Viz Manga, Crunchyroll Manga, Azuki, and Manga Planet services, which effectively use the Netflix model – you pay a subscription fee and get hot & cold running manga. Shonen Jump has a theoretical limit of only being able to read 100 chapters a day, and Manga Plus only lets you read chapters for free once – but otherwise, you don’t have to spend that much, and taking advantage of the services’ backlogs are fairly hassle-free.
Now, part of the reason why the model used by J Manga and others works so well in Japan is that a lot of these works don’t have to go through any delays based on negotiations with American licensing partners in order to handle distribution, and they’re already in the native language of the user base. If works are going to be delayed at all, it’s for the sake of not undercutting buyers of the magazines they’re published in (much as with the delay with new issues coming up on the DC Universe and Marvel Unlimited apps).
How K Manga & Manga Up Use It
The core problem with how K Manga uses this model is that it basically overcomplicates it. Each series has a selection of chapters available to read for free at any one time. Then, each day you’re given a ticket to “rent” a single chapter of a manga for free. There is a separate currency that is used to buy a chapter of manga. However, not all chapters are available for rental, and you do not receive daily quotas of purchase currency, as “points”. You can purchase additional rental tickets or points with money. However, points can only be purchased in certain denominations – you cannot just buy enough points to buy a chapter or bunch of chapters of manga – much like how Xbox Store Points were sold back in the day.
You can also earn a chance to win free points by watching an ad, and then getting to pick between three chests that each can contain either 5 or 50 points. However, you’re more likely to get 5 than 50. There are special offers you can take part in that will allow you to earn more points, but those also require you to install additional apps, or even spend money on other games. Plus, most chapters run at a minimum of 69 points (nice), which means that you’d have to take part in multiple offers or watch multiple ads to have a chance to get enough points in order to buy a manga chapter.
This is aggravated further by many manga chapters being split into 2-3 parts, each sold separately, so you’d need to buy multiple parts to get an entire chapter. It makes K Manga a very unpleasant experience to use.
Manga Up is a little better – it uses the same “free trial with subsequent chapters costing currency” model – but it only uses one currency, and you get enough points each day to read multiple chapters, even if a work has the chapter split into multiple parts. It’s still not enough for a real binge, say if you’ve got a long commute or have a couple doctor’s appointments, but does work for reading some manga on your break at work. However, it also splits some chapters up into multiple parts, creating a situation where you could run out of your free currency partway through a chapter – creating a situation where you have to shell out more money to finish reading the story.
Is that the point of this model? Yes. Is it predatory behavior? Also yes.
Also, I checked some on the censorship side of things. Manga Up’s censorship is less pronounced but still present – I checked the lesbian sex scene in Dead Mount Death Play chapter 5, and a character’s buttcrack is censored, but everything is otherwise intact – the characters are still explicitly having lesbian sex, and particular sex acts are clearly visible. For K Manga I checked The Café Terrace and Its Goddesses, and while there were a couple of shots that were a little more censored, there were others that were less so – the Barbie doll anatomy on a female character’s crotch area in one shot is uncensored in one version, and has a censorship blank applied in the version on the app – while a nipple on a side-view of a character’s breasts is not censored – censorship that was present in the published versions that have been used for some scanlations.
Of the two services, Manga Up is the one that was easier to use, but that said, it was also one that didn’t have a lot of the manga in its back catalog that I would have wanted to read – such as Vinland Saga in K Manga’s backlog. However, K Manga’s service was so much of a hassle, that I’d be better off buying individual volumes digitally through Amazon or Kobo, and if they weren’t available (or Kodansha started pulling them from there), I would give serious thought to piracy if I couldn’t get a legal version, if only because the K Manga app is just so much of a goddamn pain to use, as I doubt I’d actually be getting my money’s worth.
In short, manga apps should provide an easy and convenient way to just read your manga. Neither K Manga or Manga Up provides that, and the fact that both companies have pulled their work from the services that do provide that only goes to make clear that Japanese companies just don’t understand the market for anime and manga outside of Japan.
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