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Jmanga.com: Even In The Future I Can't Throw Away My Books

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"Letters from the New York Otaku"


By David Cabrera


#74 – Jmanga.com: Even In The Future I Can't Throw Away My Books

I often mention here that I, and all of my geek friends, are moving away from owning physical goods and towards having all of our entertainment sitting on our computer hard drives. We just have too much STUFF (my other job reviewing Japanese toys sees to this), and no space, and it's a very attractive prospect to lose the DVD shelves.

There's one thing that it's been hard for me to let go of, though: books. I like holding a book. I like turning the pages. In the case of manga, I like having the art right there in front of me. When the product is a disc which merely contains digital video, that's one thing. Printed matter is a little different. I have too much manga, too many artbooks, too much that I bought for nearly nothing from Book-Off. DVDs and Blu-Rays are replaceable to me. Books are not.

So while I've had a Crunchyroll subscription for some time now, I am only now using JManga, the Japanese manga industry's website to digitally sell English-language manga to the masses. I consider it a last resort.

Aside from two or three shows passed over by Crunchyroll and fan translation every season, there are enough willing translators for every anime production that comes out of Japan. Manga, obviously, is much bigger than that. Nobody could possibly translate all of the comics that come out of Japan in real time. It would be ridiculous.

Furthermore, even if the US manga business was as big as it used to be, it isn't nearly big enough to publish all of the kinds of titles that come out in Japan. Seinen doesn't sell, old stuff doesn't sell (aside from Tezuka), and so much manga that I'd like to read has absolutely no chance of making it to print.

I'm on Jmanga because I want to buy books that I have no chance of seeing in print any other way.

Now that the site is off a mandatory subscription model-- you were forced to pay $10-25 a month and obligated to buy manga with that money even if there was nothing on sale that you wanted, because if you didn't, your credit would just disappear-- I am finally giving the site a look. My first purchase is Gokudo Meshi, a manga about hungry prisoners who compete to see who can tell the best story about a time they ate something delicious.

No US manga publisher would ever take a chance on something like this in a thousand years. I wanted to buy it from the moment JManga opened. Now that I can get the two available books for $5 each, I've done so and I'm essentially pleased with the service. Though I miss the paper book, my big laptop screen is an acceptable substitute.

The interface needs some help, though: you can zoom, but you don't have a lot of freedom to move your gaze around the image and look closely like you would with a book. This turned out to be very important with a book like Gokudo Meshi, because of the heavy use of explanatory notes for Japanese cuisine that very few English-speaking readers will be familiar with.

With the changes they've already made to their pricing model, JManga is a platform I can now recommend without reservation to any friends interested in reading manga online. However, most people who are interested in reading manga online use a multitude of illegal sites that have existed for years: the situation is so bad that if you Google the title of any popular manga in English (I used Soredemo Machi ga Mawatteiru, one of Jmanga's more popular titles) you'll find 10-20 such sites. Jmanga doesn't even appear. This is a big problem, but as we've seen in games with services like Steam, the way you beat piracy is with superior service. I hope that Jmanga can get to that point, because I definitely want to read more unusual manga like this. In my dreams, they'll eventually translate Masayuki Katayama's mahjong manga...
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