Explore Viz Media's iPad Manga App - Mania.com

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Explore Viz Media's iPad Manga App

How does it stack up in use and layout?

By Chris Beveridge     November 15, 2010

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The introduction of the iPad early in 2010 has been the impetus for many publishers to jump onto the digital bandwagon in a more serious way than ever before. Love it or hate it, it's a revolution that's definitely been due, though we are definitely more in the mindset that digital and print should live side by side. With the drop the market is seeing for the print side, it's not too much of a stretch to imagine that in a few years the situation will be the digital editions supporting the print, whereas right now the print are subsidizing the digital versions. With the release of the iPad, I made my jump to it when DC Comics started distributing their books digitally and hoped for more manga to make its way out there as well.
Since then, I've played with several of the competing apps that have come out for comics which is the basis of comparison for the new app from Viz Media for manga. A number of apps have populated the comics side of digital distribution since the April launch of the iPad with Comixology, Graphic.ly, Kindle and iVerse being the more well known ones. Manga itself has been sparse with some things showing up via the Kindle through Japanese distribution, but it was the arrival of Hetalia that started changing perceptions a bit. TOKYOPOP used the Comixology platform to launch that title, which required a small tweak to set it so that it would start at the “end” of the book and work in reverse, keeping to traditional right to left Japanese style. Beyond that, what you got was essentially what manga is – a comic book. Just in a different direction.
With so much focus in the last year on manga on the web with shutdowns, legal threats and so forth because of scanlations, a huge hole has been left with the disappearance of the easy to use illegal sites that were out there. Viz Media's making their foray into the digital world on the iOS format with an iPad only app that's custom made rather than using any of the several available platforms. Building something from the ground up is what I had hoped they'd avoid, though it's not a surprise since they wanted something that really focuses on the strengths of manga and its presentation.
The Viz Media manga app is designed essentially like most other apps on iOS devices with comics in mind as it gives us a main features section that highlights the key titles and then offers the standard breakdown of the title with a small summary and either the ability to read the book or buy it with the price. There are no surprises here with the layout since the way it can be done is essentially the same across all the apps out there. The implementation here feels like the Comixology app more than others, but with that comparison the weaknesses are made all the more apparent. With all the books appearing on one page, with the top button only allowing to browse by series name, we lack the ability to just go to free preview books. We don't get to see what the new books are by date. We get either a look at purchased/downloaded books, all books available or settings.
And having used the other apps, those tabs are definitely necessary if you're going through a lot of content, even just browsing to see what you want. Offering up free previews is definitely a plus and Viz Media does an alright job here with that by providing previews for Naruto, Bleach, Bakuman, One Piece and the entire first volume of Death Note. This gives us a look at their main popular titles over the years as well as sampling older and newer books and the differences are pretty stark. I'm generally a fan of all the properties they have here, but some aren't going to come across all that well in the shift, unlike US comics which end up looking sharper because of color reproduction compared to the original monthlies, especially of older books.
Dragon Ball is the weakest of the bunch but that's no surprise as it's more grayscale at times than clear line work. When you move up to work from the 90's such as One Piece and then Naruto, it does get a bit cleaner looking, but some of it is still owing to the age of the materials itself. The newer material, and that done with a much more striking looking, really lets the digital manga aspect shine. Death Note looks good but even that pales next to Bakuman which has the blacks leaping off the screen. The artwork for it really draws you in and it feels like it flows much better than the other titles included here. When going through this book, you definitely got a much better impression of what the medium has to offer in the digital form over the print. The cleanliness of it makes it all the richer.
In terms of usability, the Viz Media app again comes across as decent and it certainly works, but it's an adjustment if you're coming from the comics apps in general. Those apps approach the double page spreads differently than how Viz Media is. With Comixology for example, when you swipe onto a double page spread, it puts both pages on the screen in what you'd consider a letterbox style. You just tilt the iPad and you get it all laid out completely properly so it's not too small. With Viz Media, you're supposed to view everything in this manner by going in landscape mode and viewing two pages at a time even when there aren't any double page spreads. I found this to be really disconcerting since if you read in portrait mode, it gives you just half of the double page spread which has it coming across as clunky. After the smoothness of how the US comics apps handle double page spreads, this issue really left me disliking it.
But after spending time working through all the free books included, I did get into the groove of it all and enjoyed them as much as I could considering I read all of them years ago outside of Bakuman. I tried reading it both in portrait and landscape mode but I kept finding with this work, especially in comparison to Dragon Ball and Naruto, it worked a whole lot better this way outside of the double page spread issue. The flow of it works nicely and it was definitely easy to get into. Prior to this app I had only really read with any seriousness the Hetalia manga but Viz Media has a lot of potential here. I just find myself wishing they had gone with a known quantity and built out a personalized app from that instead of going from scratch.
There's a lot of work to be done to really get this up to speed in terms of usability for people, especially because of the go it alone model. Comixology is gaining its appeal since it works on multiple iOS devices including the iPhone but also because it has web browsing element as well so you can be on your PC. I'm also going to make the easy bet that they'll have an Android version ready before Viz Media will. But what Viz Media really needs to do first and foremost is adjust things so that you can see what's new, when it's actually released by date and....
… release more material. In the first two weeks of the app, they've only added second volumes for Bleach, Death Note, Naruto and One Piece but it's not apparent for some of those because of their featured page not listing them. You have to go into the individual series page to see it. With no notifications of new volumes available and no by-date breakdown, it's easy to miss things. And it also doesn't help that the content is really so very limited here. They truly needed to launch with at least three to four times as much content as they have in their new with more variety. They needed shoujo, seinen and more. They need to show they're committed to it before people will buy.
For a lot of people who are like myself and just want to read, but not own boxes and boxes of manga that they may never read again or have bookshelves filled that they can't manage, there's a whole lot of potential here. Viz Media just needs to catch up to what everyone else is offering. The one thing they do get right over what TOKYOPOP and Comixology is doing right now is that they aren't doing the by-chapter approach but rather the full book route. With books so far running 5 bucks a pop, it's right where my cost of entry is in giving me the value I want from it. Books I can read without taking up space that I can take with me anywhere.


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