JManga Splash Page

This review was going to be about the manga Aoi Hana (translated as “Sweet Blue Flowers”) and how much I love it and its author, Shimura Takako (who also wrote Hōrō Musuko, released by Fantagraphics as Wandering Son). I was delighted when JManga announced that it would make Aoi Hana available in translation, and I visited the website immediately to see how the translation and presentation looked.

I have had trouble with JManga in the past, but that was about a year ago, and I figured that the site would have fixed most of its problems since then. Alas, I was horribly mistaken. Instead of talking about Aoi Hana, then, I’d like to talk about my experience of using JManga.

I am basing what I’m writing on my experiences of accessing JManga during the past eight days (November 26 – December 3) using a laptop running Windows 7 and equipped with a 13.1″ screen. My main browser is Firefox, but I tried using Opera and Internet Explorer as well. All three browsers are the most recent releases and running fully updated versions of Java and Flash. I experienced the most problems with Opera and the fewest problems with Firefox. (For the record, the JManga site did not work on the Safari browser installed on my iPad at all, and JManga has no app compatible with Apple devices.)

First, let’s look at a preview of Aoi Hana

JManga Preview Page

Well, that’s informative.

I tried to access previews of five other titles but could only find a working preview for one of them.

I suppose I came to the site knowing that I wanted to buy this manga, so I went ahead and bought it.

These are some samples of how the manga appears in full-screen mode on my laptop…

JManga 1

JManga 2

JManga 3

JManga 4

As you can see from the above images, unless you’re reading the manga on a huge screen, it’s almost impossible to read the text.

The image quality in general isn’t that sharp to begin with. Here’s a sample from Hatarake Kentauros, which is offered by JManga under the title “Working Kentauros”…

Working Kentauros

Even though this manga uses a different font, and even though the panels are larger and the text is less dense, it’s still difficult to read.

It’s possible to zoom in onto the page and drag the image around your screen. If you do this, however, before too long your screen will freeze into something like this…

JManga Frozen Screen

…and you’ll have to restart your browser (and possibly your computer) to get your browser to work again.

If you need a break from reading the tiny, blurry, headache-inducing text on JManga and leave the reader open but untouched for more than sixty seconds, you’re in for a surprise when you come back and try to turn the page…

JManga Loading Screen

…and you’ll have to restart your browser to get JManga to start working again. Since the reader has no bookmarking function, you’ll also need to flip through all of the pages you already read from the beginning to get to where you left off.

Even if you don’t step away from the reader, sometimes you’ll get the loading screen between one chapter and another, or even randomly as you try to turn the page in the middle of a chapter. Even with a lightning fast internet connection and a secure network, making it through even a short book on JManga required me to restart my browser several times.

Reading manga on JManga is not impossible, but it’s not easy, either.

So, is it worth it?

On JManga, manga are purchased with points. As of today (December 3), Aoi Hana cost 499 points. Unfortunately, the minimum amount of points you can purchase is 1000 (which costs $10.00). What this means is that, if you only want to buy one volume of Aoi Hana, it’s going to cost you $10.00. If you do buy this volume and have 501 points left over, you can use your points for another manga, which seems fine until you realize that the next manga you want to read costs either 599 or 899 points.

What this model should be paying for are added incentives. Unfortunately, the JManga site itself is poorly organized, and it’s difficult to find what you’re looking for unless you already know where to find it…

JManga Search Results

The site design is brash and busy and filled with pop-up ads: Read this manga!!! Check out this article!! Have you subscribed to our weekly newsletter?!?!?!

One especially annoying pop-up…

JManga Pop-Up

…persistently urged me to “update your info” so that my account on JManga looks like a profile on Myspace.

In conclusion, browsing JManga and using the site to buy and read manga is a thoroughly annoying and disappointing experience. This makes no sense to me, as many of the titles available on the site can easily be found on scanlation websites (a scanlation of Aoi Hana is the second result of a Google search for the title) that offer high quality images for free without the necessity of restarting your browser every five minutes. The people who buy manga on JManga are thus choosing to spend money to support the site instead of simply finding and reading scanlations for free. I don’t think anyone, no matter how young or internet-saavy, wants to come off as an entitled fan, but the experience of using JManga almost makes it feel as if people who choose to use the site are being punished in some way.

I have no problem with the concept of digital manga. I love reading translated manga on my iPad through the Viz Manga app, the Yen Press app, and the Digital Manga Publishing app. I’ve also had good experiences with the Sublime Manga site, whether reading manga on the site’s browser-based reader or downloading manga as a PDF document. Even the experience of reading manga on a Kindle has improved as titles are reformatted and updated to accommodate larger screens with higher resolutions. I love the Shonen Jump Alpha and Yen Plus magazines, and I loved Viz’s Sig IKKI site back when it was still updating. Digital manga is a wonderful advance in publishing that helps to support the translation and release of manga in America while giving titles such as Aoi Hana a chance in the American market.

JManga has updated its site and user policies according to reader feedback in the past, and I hope it will continue to evolve and improve in the future. Although the site doesn’t currently meet the standards set by other digital publishing platforms, it features some great titles. Still, I think both these manga and their readers deserve better treatment.

5 thoughts on “JManga

  1. I sadly have not found time the last few years to indulge my interests in manga or anime, but, thanks for this review! I think those who are more actively (than I am) looking for a mode to access (i.e. purchase) and read manga online would get a lot out of such reviews.

    And, maybe someone from JManga will notice your review and take it as constructive criticism, to go and revisit their distribution method / technology.

    1. Over the past year and a half or so, I have actually sent seven or eight messages to JManga. They always get back to me really quickly (with responses that I don’t think are form letters), but the only issue I’ve brought up that’s changed is whether or not you can read the manga you’ve bought if you’re not enrolled in a subscription.

      I feel a little bad about hating on JManga, since they’re got some good people (such as Erica Friedman) working with them to release good manga. Still, there’s this strange attitude among the JManga subscribers I’ve encountered on the internet that not fully supporting the site is tantamount to either wanting all manga to be free all the time or not knowing how technology works. It’s difficult to give good examples of the shortcomings of JManga without using screencaps, and thankfully I have a ready-built screencap-supporting soapbox right here.

      Also, I really wanted the release of Aoi Hana to be good. *shakefist*

      Anyway, I can’t wait until releases its version of the Kindle Fire HD on December 18. Right now I’m still trying to keep up with the American manga industry, but once I get my Japanese Kindle I’m not sure I’ll have any reason to read manga in English anymore…

  2. First of all, thank you for taking the time to write up this long review. You definitely make some good points about usability issues – especially with regard to small screens – as well as how cluttered the current layout of the site is. Both of these are being worked on for the next major overhaul of the JManga service.

    A few comments/comments, however:
    – On buying points, you do *not* need a monthly subscription to purchase manga, or points for that matter. Due to popular user demand, we changed this feature earlier in the year, since we recognize that not everyone wants a premium membership (though you get extra bonus points if you do get a auto-renewing monthly membership).

    – On downloading, the Android App (and the iOS app, which is still being retooled, given the…somewhat tepid reception to the Android – fear not, we are trying to get a near flawless release out when it happens) actually downloads chapters as you read them, so you effectively have an offline backup. ^^

    On the rest, we’re looking into the problems and seeing if there’s anything we can do about the previews and such. Thank you for taking the time to bring this to our attention and let us know if you have other questions, comments, or concerns.

  3. Thanks for this; I’ve been thinking about trying to use this, but I heard about the fickleness, which turned me off. Hard copies for me!

    That said, *would* you do a review of Aoi Hana? I’m a recent college graduate, writing fiction, blogging commentary on anime/manga/2D when I get the impulse. I didn’t take well to the anime adaptation—and ended up ranting about it in one post, unfortunately. Breaking it down, I guess it’s because it expected me to do the work of understanding the character situations. From social context and modern viewpoints I mean, filling in blanks from stories and research about gender roles, et cetera. I found that frustrating, because I don’t know much about the context, and I didn’t feel I should have been expected to, when I only wanted a human story. But in the end I didn’t know why, *really* know why, the characters did what they did, I didn’t want to know why, I didn’t care.

    As a writer, that terrifies me. I *want* to understand my characters, *really* get them. I really do want to read about these issues. I was (and am) even willing to settle for the “usual” yuri tropes that we all know to be distortions of actual same-sex relationships, as long as it tries to be clear with its character trajectories as art. I better know what it is then, and I can struggle to separate the truths from the distortions.

    I’m willing to give the manga a try, if you so say; I really respect your blog, having 100% agreed with your assessment of NisiOisin’s work.

    As a side note: would you be willing to exchange blogroll links? I think your work serves as an awesome resource for a large pocket of reading that I’m not sure a whole read enough of; if one wants to understand manga, etc, isn’t it a good idea to get a solid understanding of contemporary lit narratives, too?

  4. I’ve been using the Android app. It’s not perfect, but it’s better than reading on iOS from what you’ve shown.

    The one thing I want to comment on is the cost of a single manga volume. JManga responded about points, but I also want to point out that Aoi Hana in Japan costs about 1000 yen, which, even with a magic 1:1 ratio in exchange is about $10. In reality, new volumes of Aoi Hana cost me far more, as the yen is heavily inflated right now and I either have to pay the shipping to the US, or shipping for me to go to Japan. If I find Aoi Hana in a book store here (I’m blessed with several within an hour or two from home) a volume is about $15.00 So $10 for one single volume is not the bad deal you make it out to be. ^_^ As JManga says, that’s not even true anymore, so at 499 points, where 1 point= 1 cent, it’s a fair price.

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