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Elliot Page

Author: Elliot Page


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Mangabox, Weekly Shounen Jump, eManga

MangaBox

Manga Box is notable for its non-standard model - it is a free weekly magazine comprised of a number of rotating series, releasing a few chapters each day. While not without severe caveats, the service is a welcome and perhaps underappreciated entity in digital manga.

Manga Box offers the twelve most recent weekly volumes of the magazine, with each volume containing chapters from the various series it currently has running, with each title released at different days throughout the week. After 12 weeks, the volume expires and is removed from the service. Some titles appear weekly, whereas others will crop up on a less frequent schedule, which can make for a slightly uneven amount of content from week to week. it can also mean that only a few chapters of certain series are available at one time. One of the interesting features is that the next unreleased volume is shown in the application and is made available “early” if you give the service a plug over Twitter or Facebook.

Also available is a separate “Introduction/digest“ of variable size (up to 100 pages) which contains the start of the currently running series in a compressed block. The app contains the digest for those series that are currently running, whereas the Manga Box website itself contains a digest for all series that it has released, even those that have finished and are no longer available week-by-week.

The key issue with Manga Box (and the reason why I take great pains to outline its model) is that any chapters that come between the digest and the 12 currently available volumes are not accessible, flat out. This leads to some large content gaps and presents a steep challenge to picking up a series if they have an ongoing storyline. Given that Manga Box has been running for a long time at this point, some series have even finished and are now only available in reduced form in the digest, including some of my personal favourites.

The service organisers have previously indicated that they are interested in selling digital or physical books of the series it offers; however at the time of writing the only indication of this is that the Android app requests in-app purchase permissions when it installs. Personal attempts to enquire regarding this possibility have been met with silence. From poking around on the Manga Box site it is apparent that the Japanese version of the app is greatly expanded with much more content, features and (although I cannot be 100% certain of this) the sought-after ability to buy digital volumes of series.

The mobile apps, the primary vector for reading Mangabox content, have nice clean interfaces. Choosing a series is done from a pictorial menu and you can jump between available volumes in a sidebar. The comic reader itself is equally uncomplicated and is very responsive. In portrait view it displays a whole single page, and in landscape you get a two-page spread - even if one of those pages is blank. Pinch to zoom is in effect but while zoomed in you cannot easily change the page without first zooming back out, which feels a little clumsy.

You can also quickly jump between different chapters of a series using a drop-down menu and a hyperlink at the end of each one, which is a nice addition and makes catching up on multiple chapters of an on-going series a lot easier. The mobile applications also have settings for push notifications when new chapters are available, which are irritatingly set to notify you about all series by default. There is also the option to automatically download content when it is released; however in my testing both of these features were somewhat fickle and had a habit of simply not happening - in particular the notifications tended to fire at random intervals. The image quality in the mobile applications is serviceable - not the best in class, but both size and detail are good enough for a phone or tablet screen. This is something that has improved with time, looking back at the  “digest” chapters for older series images are quite compressed and the text is presented in an awkward serif font. 

Manga Box has a very stripped down version of the service available from its website. All series are present; however only the first and the very latest chapter are available to readers. The reader is equally stripped down but is functional - it takes up the whole browser window and displays a double-page spread that it shrinks or stretches the image into to fit the space available. It works in a pinch but it is telling that the site continually points you in the direction of the iOS and Android apps instead.

I really want to like Manga Box. There is a good chunk of content available for completely free that you would not find anywhere else, and I have found some gems I would not have heard of otherwise. However at this stage it desperately needs a way to read series that have content gaps, especially those that have now finished and aged off of the service. As it stands, I have no way to re-read High School Ninja Girl Otonashi-san, a gag comedy series I greatly enjoyed but has now all-but vanished from the service. Given how long this issue has been outstanding however, I don’t hold out much hope for a solution, sadly. I would dearly love to be proven wrong.

 

Weekly Shounen Jump

Weekly Shounen Jump (also known as WSJ, not to be confused with the Wall Street Journal) is a service built around one brand - the self-same digital anthology, released in step with the book’s street date in Japan. Most importantly it includes One Punch Man, the most powerful manga currently running. You should read One Punch Man. More recently the app has branched out to include sales of full volumes of its properties, which is a very welcome addition.

The store is very straightforward both in-app and on the web, in particular with how it puts the magazine up front and centre. Series and back issues are easily navigable, and the layout is clean and easy to jump around. The only, very minor, issue is that it can take time to stream in cover images on the store.

You are required to set up a Viz account to tie your purchases to. Thankfully you use your existing Google Play or Apple ID account for in-app purchases, and you can also purchase via PayPal or straight up credit card on the WSJ website, if preferred. You can pick up individual magazines for 79p or take out a £2/month in-app renewable subscription - note that prices are approximate and at the mercy of the currency exchange markets! At the time of writing all single-series volumes are £5 to purchase, and the service has been known to put on special offers to sweeten the deal. The service provides a free sampler of the magazine itself and select complete volumes, but notably does not provide on-demand previews of all volumes for sale.

One important note is that back issues are not available to purchase in perpetuity for the UK, with only the last three months of issues available to purchase at one time, although the issues you have bought remain accessible in your account in perpetuity. The app also has volumes for many Shonen Jump series of both past and present, most importantly Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure. 

The iOS/Android reader for WSJ is straightforward and responsive. At the start of a volume you get a very quick tutorial and an interactive table of contents that lets you skip straight to your series of choice - this is a small addition but a very welcome one. One mild inconvenience to note is that there is no “read online” option - you have to download the full volume you have purchased in order to do any reading. It can be a little irritating having to download a 150MB volume when you are only interested in two or three series, and is not something you want to try on mobile data. That being said you are getting around 250 pages of content, and as a result the image quality is serviceable, with some smaller details and text sporting some compression and artifacting.

At one point in time the web-based reader for WSJ was a US-only feature, and thankfully this has now been thrown open to all territories. That being said, the web reader is clearly second fiddle to the mobile apps due to some omissions - the table of contents no longer has functioning links, and all the touch control instructions are still in place but not possible within the Flash application. You can still use bookmarks and full screen the viewer however (which you will want to do as it appears small on the screen). As an extra note, the “Help” button does no such thing. The web reader does not cache many pages, so speedy reading or jumping back and forth in the volume will often spawn a “Now Loading” holding pop-up. With all this in mind, it still gets the job done and saves having to download a purchase before reading.

Weekly Shounen Jump delivers a damn lot of comic for your money, with good quality images and in line with the native japanese release date. The subscription option is also very welcome, providing nice “set it and forget it” functionality so you don't need to go unduly out of your way to get your One Punch Man. (Seriously, read One Punch Man)

 

eManga

eManga is the storefront for Digital Manga Publishing, who you may remember from their frequent Tezuka Manga KickStarters. They provide a home for their other imprints (including the Digital Manga Guild) and other publishers such as Project-H.

First off, and I cannot underscore this enough - the navigation on the eManga website is terrible. It combines a busy, image laden-mess with links all over the place, animated and interactive elements, and categories that either don’t make sense or do not lead you to what you want or expect. The whole thing is cripplingly unintuitive and exhausting to use, as well as levying a heavy load on your web browser. The other thing that the site seriously needs is a “Safe for Work” toggle to hide the large amount of 18+ material it sells because it constantly assaults you while browsing.

One of the things that eManga is to be lauded for, and that really sets it apart from other options, is that all their ebooks are provided as downloads, free of DRM and in a wide variety of file formats. If you want multiple file formats of a book there is a minor surcharge, and files are watermarked with your personal ID. The site has some barebones instructions for getting books onto your device(s) which are somewhat flaky, and the process does require some personal investment and research to work properly. This back and forth - finding appropriate software, getting the files physically onto a device, importing the file, fixing errors - takes a non-trivial amount of time and effort to accomplish. Admittedly once you have this pipeline in place (software and method of getting your purchased files into this software) subsequent purchases are a lot smoother but it does highlight one of the alluring points of a combined storefront and reading application like many other services.

After trying three different formats for the same title (Sweet Blue Flowers, a Digital Manga Guild release) I found that the quality and file compatibility was a massive crapshoot. Buying an epub file game me a tiny (15Mb) file which looked like a compressed mess and was non-functional when added to some ePub readers. Purchasing PDF and CBZ versions gave me a larger file (25Mb), but still highly compressed images that impacted the reading experience, especially with small details and text. These also had much better compatability (PDF is near ubiquitous, after all, and CBZ is accepted by most comic readers). The files had other problems including sizable borders at the edge of the page, poor book layout and a lack of chapter markers, the severity of which differed between formats.

While some file formats were better than others, the image compression is overzealous and unacceptable. I can understand that the service wants to prevent possible piracy from people rehosting their purchases but this penalises paying customers. There is even a bounty system presented on the eManga website for people to report re-hosted versions of titles sold on the service. This is an interesting, community-minded idea and I would be interested to know how well this does in practice.

eManga also has a web-based reader which has the best image quality available but comes with its own set of issues and still has noticeable image compression. The viewer has very poor page loading and buffering, as every time I turned the page or jumped to a bookmark it would take an irritating amount of time for it to load in. This happened matter how robust an Internet connection I was on, and these constant interruptions turned me off of the online viewer entirely.

All transactions on the eManga site take place in US Dollars so you need to do a quick bit of currency exchange before buying and it accepts PayPal as well as credit cards.

While it is very nice to have an actual downloadable portable file of your purchase but this comes with a lot of tradeoffs to consider, and actually finding something to buy on the store is no mean feat as well. Due to all these drawbacks it is hard to recommend eManga.

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