Krystallina goes over the good, the meh, and the bad in her overview of eBookOne, which is looking to bring over Fist of The North Star

Going Digital...ishDigital or physical?

For all media, this is the new battle, and the anime/manga industry is no exception. But while most new anime get digital releases with many of them getting disk versions later, the manga situation is much more complicated. Manga takes up much more room than a Blu-ray/DVD collection, but prices are often the same in both formats.

As a physical fan, I keep holding out for the day I can put Chihayafuru, School Rumble, Crimson Prince, and many others on my shelves. Meanwhile, digital fans are probably upset they can’t get The Legend of Zelda or Fruits Basket on their tablets and cell phones.

But outside of releasing all manga in both formats, could there be another happy medium?

eOneBook

Well, a Japanese company, Progress Technologies, seems to think so. They’ve launched a Kickstarter for their newest product, an “eOneBook”.

Think of it as a reverse Kindle/Nook: instead of downloading books into an eReader (aka a mini-/faux-tablet), a book features a faux-tablet. Their first manga for this type of device is Fist of the North Star, one of the most popular Shonen Jump series of all time in Japan.

Fist of the North Star stars a martial artist who stands up to the strong and greedy who try to dominate and exploit others in this post-apocalyptic world. It has spawned two television series, numerous spin-offs, and a wide range of merchandise.

Its reception in the West hasn’t nearly been as explosive. Discotek has released the anime, Tecmo Koei has published a couple of video games, and a direct-to-video live action American remake was made in 1995. But the original manga has never been published in full, having been dropped twice by two different publishers. (For an interesting read on the series’ English publication, go here.)

Even without reading or watching Fist of the North Star, most anime/manga fans probably are somewhat familiar with it thanks to the countless number of parodies and homages found in other series. This version is based on the last Fist of the North Star manga release (dubbed the “Extreme Edition”) that includes the extra episode.

But back to the eOneBook. As the Kickstarter explains:

“Printed books are still more popular than eBooks though more than 10 years have passed since eBooks appeared. Everyone has different reasons for preference. Basically, we could say current eBooks are not able to impress readers who prefer printed books to eBooks. That’s why we have created eOneBook which evolved printed books into new form.”

eOneBookInstead of just reading manga on a regular eReader eInk screen, eOneBook features two screens surrounded by actual paper. Opening turns it on and closing turns the eOneBook off. The device requires 4 AAA batteries but doesn’t require Wi-Fi. Pages are “turned” by pressing forward/backward buttons, and Progress Technologies boasts that switching pages is seamless with no afterimages. Another button will switch the text between Japanese and English.

Size-wise, the full eOneBook is in the A5 size format, and the actual “pages” (screens) are 155 mm length x 113 mm width. For American readers, this may be a little hard to imagine, so here is the approximate size in real-book form (ignoring the width):

eOneBook Size Comparison
Approximate size of the screen and pages

American releases tend to be larger than Japanese manga, and I remember being surprised at how small this bunko (omnibus) release of Aries was. As a comparison, it is about an inch smaller than my other Japanese volumes. I compared it to the Japanese version of the second edition Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon manga, which is shorter than the Kodansha Comics USA counterpart.

eOneBook Size comparison
Another size comparison

This may seem small, but this is about the size of the current Kindle eReaders. If you’re already used to reading on these types of devices (or a typical cell phone), then the dimensions will seem fine to you.

Kindle size comparison
Boruto on a Kindle Fire HD (2012) versus physical copy

The Kickstarter has already reached its initial goal and has no stretch goals as of this writing. Outside of the “stay-in-touch” tier, the rewards are limited to different discounts of the eOneBook, separated further into rewards for the Japanese backers and American backers. The only exclusive is a Kickstarter cover in the less-discounted tiers. The crowdfunding campaign will run for 60 days.

Of course, for many people, the question is, “Why?” Why not release a Kindle/traditional eBook version of Fist of the North Star? Why is this needed in Japan if the series is available on Kindle format for ¥ 11,664? Why not create a dual-screen eReader to download additional manga series?

So, in my humble opinion, a quick rundown:

The Good:

Dual screens. Instead of either only seeing one-half of the spread or reducing each page to half of its normal size, dual-page spreads can be seen in full gory — I mean glory. (Just kidding, I mean gory.)

Bilingual. I’ll give a standing ovation to the person who thought of this idea. It’s not two separate versions but a two-in-one. Great for practicing the other language or just getting a sneak peek. Plus I imagine this cuts down on the problem of how many Japanese versus English eOneBooks to make.

Manufacturing pictures. The Kickstarter includes lots of images showing Progress Technologies actively working toward the final version and the different stress tests they’re doing.

The Meh:

Batteries. My first instinct was that a standard rechargeable format with a micro-USB port would be best. On the other hand, I traded my camera for one that runs on batteries since I can just quickly switch out a pack when I needed it the most instead of worrying about awkward rechargeable battery packs. I pretty much use rechargeable batteries anyway, and AAAs are typically cheaper than AAs.

Side translations. It’s a little hard to tell from the short previews, but it looks as if the SFX are untouched and do not include a translation. It’s a disappointment, but perhaps this isn’t the final version or a page of translation notes will be included? At least it isn’t retouched/redrawn, a practice I’m not a big fan of. But they also mention “assigning the best translator”, so this could just be a beta version?

Color pages. Of course, losing color pages is always a disappointment, but color e Ink screens in eReaders just aren’t taking off right now.

The Bad:

Tiers. As I said in my previous article, more tiers means people can find a level that suits them. This is basically a preorder platform where the earlier, the cheaper. No levels of a “hey, I backed this” certificate, selling other Progress Tecnhologies items, or Fist of the North Star merchandise. Plus, there’s only one level for Americans (two in Japanese) for a Kickstarter-exclusive bonus?

No stretch goals. Again, this is pretty much a glorified preorder system. Nothing about if backers raise X amount, this aspect will be upgraded, Y, this will be included, etc.? Reversible covers, higher ppi, Fist of the North Star manga print, something!

U.S./Japan only. Already, several Europeans have chimed in wanting to know about a release, and I’m sure people in other countries are interested as well. The developers did update saying more information about worldwide shipping will be coming later, but this should be established at the outset. Either open it up worldwide or say that rights are limited to these two countries.

Retail information. That is, lack of. How soon will it be available in stores? I’m assuming it will be since the Kickstarter mentions discounts off of retail price. But many of us have heard of stories where places like Amazon got their shipment in before the companies sent out rewards to the people who pledged. And there’s no information about whether people who put a pledge for the minimum can later upgrade with BackerKit.

Volume jumping. There’s a << button which I assume goes to the next volume, but I guess you have to go all the way around if you want to go backwards.

Hey, wait a second!

Of course, notice I left out the two big ones: the price and the one-series-only format. Let’s talk strictly from a price perspective. (Note: calculations do not include the shipping charge.)

Fist of the North Star eOneBookLet’s go off the planned retail price of ¥37,800, which is roughly $350. Fist of the North Star is 27 volumes originally, so that comes out to be roughly $13 a volume. At this price point, this puts it in line with several of Kodansha Comics’ digital versions of some of their oversized manga volumes (like Descending Stories and Kigurumi Guardians which I used to display the eOneBook size). Again, for me, that’s too much, especially since VIZ Media, the company that makes the English version of Shonen Jump, prices their digital versions below physical versions. Most Jump series cost $9.99 ($6.99 digital), and omnibus versions usually run slightly below this figure per original Japanese volume.

So how about the standard set, which has 1000 units available on Kickstarter? We’ll round this down to about $300 since I like nice round numbers. This goes to just over $11 a volume, still above VIZ Media’s typical manga pricing.

So what if we do a reverse comparison to VIZ Media’s typical offerings? At $7 a volume, Fist of the North Star would cost around $189 if you bought at digital MSRP. So that’s about $100, $150 difference, right? Readers lose their normal digital reading convenience and lose any chance of seeing color inserts. However, on the bright side, owners can easily sell their eOneBook to recuperate their losses if they ever decide they ever get bored or just need the cash. Plus, this Kickstarter guarantees the full publication of the series. VIZ Media hasn’t dropped many titles recently, but they’ve left many series incomplete over the course of their history. Plus others like Kaze Hikaru are on a snail’s pace and may someday be dropped. The eOneBook will ensure that all of Fist of the North Star is available to read in English. These two aspects help close the gap. Plus readers also get a free Japanese digital copy, something that is very hard to get normally.

Of course, why just skip the gap completely? Why not have a dual-screen manga device where people can later buy other manga to read? Or just have Fist of the North Star join the ranks of many other digital-only titles available for publication? Obviously, this is going to come down to personal preference. Physical books are still the norm, and you can’t really line up your Nook along your bookshelves.

Progress Technologies has already expressed interest in doing other eOneBooks for manga:

“With a huge success and supporters on Kickstarter, we will discuss and negotiate with major publishers who reserve the copyright of manga books in Japan. Your support will encourage us to make your favorite manga into eOneBook.”

Now, if Progress Technologies (or someone else) did decide to create a manga-centered eReader with bilingual capabilities, fans would demand to know what series would be available at launch and the near future. I imagine it would be hard to get a lot of companies to agree to provide both a range of both Japanese masters and English translations for a brand-new platform. Plus, device costs would increase because an “eMultiBook” would either need internal storage and/or a card reader, Wi-Fi capabilities, battery shipping label requirements, webstore costs, etc. If you charge per-volume, that means sales of later volumes will keep dropping, thus reducing the profit. Per-series, and this will mean a huge investment for a lot of folks. And, again, how much would everything cost? Should a bilingual copy cost the same as Japanese and English copies on their respective Kindle stores? More? How much would too much be for a device where you can only read manga versus all eBooks like a Kindle?

Final Comments

To the shock of many of you… yes, I did back this on Kickstarter. But I’m hoping that in the 50+ days left of the campaign, more information on the eOneBook is provided. It’s a little on the high side for my cheap self, but I don’t know if someone like VIZ Media can sublicense the translation for an eBook release. I do like the idea of having a line of eOneBooks on display on my shelf, but I hope some of my concerns are addressed. I also hope to see some stretch goals to encourage more people to jump in, probably adding some reward tiers for those who can’t lay out the $250+ for the item.

Do you like the idea of a hybrid physical-digital manga experience? Are you backing this Kickstarter? Why or why not? Do you see yourself ever buying something like the eOneBook or a hypothetical eMultiBook? What manga would you like to see released next in this type of format?