DeNA hits over 2 million downloads with free comic book app Mangabox

Written by: Mina on January 28, 2014 at 3:49 pm | In CULTURE, LIFESTYLE | No Comments

For as long as I can remember, comic books have been tightly wrapped in plastic covers, refusing to reveal their content to any passersby in a bookstore. It hasn’t been too long since convenience stores also started binding their comic magazines with plastic strings, presumably to prevent us from browsing contents. After all, a brand-new magazine can easily be turned into a worn-out collection of pictures (while still worth a read) in a matter of hours with countless fingerprints on its covers.

In short, publishers can no longer offer manga for free. But an IT giant, DeNA, was generous enough to provide us with an alternative to ripping plastic strings of comic magazines secretly just to sneak a peek at the latest episode of our favorite manga series.

Mangabox is a free app that offers a great number of comic book series on a weekly basis, available both in Japanese and English. As of January 7th, a month after its release, Mangabox has achieved 2 million downloads. While being a “weekly” magazine, its content is updated more regularly, with three to five episodes added each day.

mangabox_free_app

Working in collaboration with giant publishers such as Kodansha and Shogakukan, Mangabox has attracted a wider range of comic-book fans who might get interested to read spin-offs from Kindaichi Case Files or Attack on Titan, both of which have proven mega-hits in recent years.

There is no doubt that their TV commercial has been a big boost to the success of what could possibly be Japan’s first business model for digitized comic magazines, as the publishers plan to monetize its content on physical and/or digital shelves eventually.

In this commercial, two characters from the above manga series appear and promote the app in a rather twisted way. Apparently, they feel exploited because now they are being offered to the public for free; yet the real twist of the advertisement is the fact that neither of the characters contributes to the content – their spin-offs do.

As expected, there is a note that says the app is for mature readers only, more specifically those who are 17 years or older. The nature of content varies, yet the following can be seen frequently, as stated in the official description: fantasy violence, persistent and sadistic violence, hard language or dirty humor, realistic violence, obscenity and gambling. (It’s amazing how they differentiate violence, as if each can stand as its own content category!)

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Mieru Record with Otowa: a manga music box mechanical organ

Written by: William on December 10, 2013 at 5:11 pm | In CULTURE | No Comments

This is an awesome innovation on what many people would say is a dying medium. And the best thing about it is that it doesn’t resort to digital or technological gimmicks. It just takes two very analogue things and makes them even better.

Mieru Record is a combination of a music box and a manga comic strip. With the former you usually have a cylinder, but there are types which use a punched tape strips of paper for the music box to “read” as musical notation, like the book music read by mechanical organs.

Mieru Record, a project which explores ways to fuse sound and manga, added manga cells to the music box punched tape strip, creating a manga music box organ, the Mieru Record with Otowa.

mieru record with otowa manga music box

In other words, it is a book that you listen to — and music that you read.

The idea is that the sounds and music accompany the manga strip both in terms of the melody and also the speed. As you turn you control the speed of the soundtrack, which in turn controls the speed with which you read the manga images that are revealed.

See how it works in practice with this video. Note how you slow down to read the parts with dialogue and then speed up over the more visual cells.

I guess this is like the pianists who used to accompany a silent film back in the days before talkies.

Mieru Record is a project that started earlier this year and this Mieru Record with Otowa is still only a prototype, so don’t expect it to be on sale any time soon.

mieru record with otowa manga music box

It worked with seven manga artist to create the music box’s music roll paper, and the results were exhibited in a book store and gallery in Tokyo over the summer.

mieru record with otowa manga music box

With more sophisticated music roll strips and organs we reckon you could create all kinds of audio manga experiences.

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One Piece characters promote local specialties and regional tourist attractions

Written by: Mina on November 20, 2013 at 10:11 pm | In CULTURE | No Comments

Sometimes I just wonder.

Japan is such a small country (geographically speaking, at least), so why do they even have to divide themselves into forty-seven prefectures and compete against each other? Recently I wrote a post on the result of recent survey which basically defined Japan’s most and least attractive places. The battle of yuru-kyara mascots is another means through which we get to know the undiscovered parts of this string of islands. Maybe we are all subconsciously waiting for super heroes who could represent all that Japan has to offer and unite us all together.

And One Piece might just offer the gang of heroes to do it.

one piece 3 oku

Now that the manga series has sold over 300 million copies, One Piece has no doubt proven its worth to be the ultimate representative of all prefectures in Japan. In the 3-Oku [300 million] campaign, forty-seven characters from One Piece appear on ads in local newspapers to represent each prefecture in collaboration with various local specialties, events and tourist destinations across the nation.

one_piece_tokyo_skytree

Although almost all the featured items in these ads can be seen on the cover of major guidebooks, it’s a new approach that each prefecture is taking to show what they are proud of — whether it be the Tokyo Skytree (above), the hot springs of Gunma, Nebuta Festival of Aomori, Sasakamaboko (fish cake in the shape of a bamboo leaf) of Miyagi — or wara natto (natto wrapped in rice straw) for Ibaraki (below), recently announced the most unappealing prefecture in Japan.

one_piece_campaign_ibaraki

About two-thirds of the ads have been revealed on the website so far, and we have yet to see the remaining works.

In addition to newspaper ads, One Piece posters can be seen on the walls of seven major stations across the country (Sapporo, Sendai, Shibuya, Nagoya, Umeda, Hiroshima and Nishitetsu Fukuoka Tenjin) from November 4th to 26th at intervals of a week or so.

While I’m not the biggest fan of the manga, I do have to admit that One Piece is loved by so many that it has the power to surpass regionalism, which sometimes can get really ugly and messy.

jts_may2013

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Tokyo 2020? Forget it, ‘AKIRA’ got there first in 1988

Written by: William on September 9, 2013 at 10:56 am | In CULTURE, LIFESTYLE | 2 Comments

While the weekend was all about the announcement that Tokyo would host the Olympic Games in 2020 — the city’s second bid and ultimately its second time to host — some netizens and keen-eyed manga fans have been noting an interesting parallel to the situation today and one that was predicted in the Eighties.

Okay, so we were hardly jumping with joy over the prospects of the Olympics — and not least for the government’s hypocrisy (Abe flies off to South America and promises to clean up Fukushima — now finally taking responsibility for a disaster 2.5 years ago and only because it might affect Tokyo’s prospects?!).

This is the Reuters photo that everyone has been posting.

tokyo olympics 2020 abe reuters

But it’s happened so we need to move on. We’ll be interested to see how much the municipal government tries to “clean up” the city — there are rumors that the days of convenience store pornography magazines may be limited — or how much talent goes into the design side of things. And then there’s the whole opening ceremony to think about. Will mascots like Funayssi be making an appearance? Or just AKB48? With this kind of boondoggle, the actual sports runs a not-so close second.

Regardless, it has now come to people’s attention, belatedly, that the manga AKIRA was already ahead of the curve.

akira anime

In the Katsuhiro Otomo comic series (1982-1990) and the subsequent film in 1988 — the film which basically launched Japanese anime on the international circuit — the setting is Tokyo in 2019 on the verge of an Olympic Games.

Of course, the Tokyo in the film is very much not Abe’s Utsukushii Kuni Nippon (Japan, the Beautiful Country). It is a dystopia of motorcycle gangs and is suffering from the fallout of radiation from another war, leading to monstrous mutations (an ironic reference to the “glorious” 1964 Games when Hiroshima had been banished from the memory but was actually less than twenty years old). What has usually been seen as a very Eighties cyberpunk vision might not be too far from the truth.

akira anime tokyo olympics

With Fukushima still pumping out radiated water into the oceans and the authorities talking about building an ice wall (WTF?!) to contain the fiasco, AKIRA is starting to sound very prophetic — and the new Olympics’ optimistic slogan “Discover Tomorrow” might just be a very bittersweet ideal indeed…

jts_may2013

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A-bomb manga Barefoot Gen banned from school libraries in Matsue

Written by: Mina on August 22, 2013 at 10:11 am | In CULTURE | No Comments

Recently we learned that all public elementary schools and middle schools in Matsue, a city in Shimane prefecture, have been asked by the city’s board of education to put A-bomb manga series Hadashi no gen (Barefoot Gen) into the closed stacks of their libraries.

Hadashi no gen is a comic book series by the late Keiji Nakazawa, who as a survivor of the Hiroshima bombing reconstructed his own wartime experience in the life of a young boy named Gen Nakaoka. The series has been translated into multiple languages and is regarded by many as one of a rare historical resource told in its entirety by a civilian who witnessed and survived the atomic bombing and its aftermath.

banned_manga

It has been reported that the board of education in Matsue made a verbal request to the schools back in December last year, asking them to restrict student access to the manga in their respective libraries — to which all schools that owned the series responded obediently. Since then, the manga series has been removed from their libraries and can only be accessed by students with a teacher’s permission. The primary reason behind the decision was that the manga contains some images that would be too violent for young kids and thus could have a negative effect on them.

The board members recognize its historical and educational value, yet at the same time claim that kids should only read such graphic novels under certain conditions, which in this case require supervision by someone “educated” enough to guide young readers through each page. The sarcasm you might detect here is intentional because to me, given that violent images are the only thing that these adults do not want kids to see, the implication is very clear that whoever wished to take the manga away from kids obviously underestimated a child’s ability to learn from what could be the most horrific and chaotic time of Japanese history — and overestimated a teacher’s ability to explain the depiction of a firsthand experience of the atomic bombing and wartime atrocities.

barefoot gen manga banned

Already there has been a lot of speculation about what else could have been discussed behind the closed doors of the education board. One thing we do know is that back in August 2012 a petition was filed to the board by a resident in Kochi who requested that Hadashi-no-gen be removed from all school libraries in Matsue because it contains such message that: (1) insult the Emperor of Japan; (2) give incorrect an interpretation of Japan’s national anthem; (3) portray wartime atrocities of Japanese troops, which the resident claims never happened in reality. All things together, he claimed that the manga would teach an incorrect history of Japan and could possibly be detrimental to the development of patriotism in the upbringing of a child.

barefoot gen manga banned

The board turned down his petition, yet four months later, as we now know, de facto granted his wish by asking all schools to voluntarily remove the manga from their libraries, though ostensibly for a different reason. No one knows if the board’s decision was in any way affected by the petition, yet I believe that banning any historical resource in a public institution, whether it be fiction, nonfiction or anything in-between in its full or partial form will only encourage one-way learning where kids or even adults would simply accept whatever is presented in front of them as the only truth. It’s much more important for kids to have access to variety of sources so that they can see history as a collection of multiple narratives, and Barefoot Gen should not be excluded from their list.

In Hiroshima, there is actually currently a Hadashi no gen exhibition held at Hiroshima Peace Site, where visitors can see some original drawings of the manga.

manga_exhibition

The exhibition is in part to celebrate the fortieth anniversary of the manga since it was first published in Weekly Shonen Jump back in 1973, but I find it so ironic that in other parts of the country Hadashi no gen is considered too violent to be educational.

There has already been a call for signing a petition to the board to bring back the manga to school libraries. Matsue’s board of education has also received a number of phone calls and emails from all around the country in response to the news, most of which were against the banning. The board director has announced that they will reconsider the decision to see if such act was necessary in the first place.

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Shogakukan comic book artists transform building with graffiti manga

Written by: William on August 12, 2013 at 10:36 am | In LIFESTYLE | No Comments

Back in 2008, when the French embassy in Tokyo decided to demolish its premises and relocate, it invited in a whole bunch of French and Japanese artists to create site-specific temporary installations, artworks, concerts and more. The result, “No Man’s Land”, was one of the best bonanzas of art Tokyo has ever seen, so popular that they had to extend the event period.

Likewise, when the Tokyu Toyoko Line’s Shibuya Station, a rare example of a raised station in central Tokyo and much loved for its platforms semi-transparent to the world outside, chaotically moved underground, the original space has subsequently been utilized for pop-up retail and other events.

Tokyo likes to build and rebuild, and it is common for locals to display an apparent lack of sentimentality regarding buildings bordering on the sacrilegious for some, especially if you are from Europe.

shogakukan manga demolish building comic artists draw walls

Well, when manga publisher Shogakukan decided it was going to demolish its current building in September, it invited in a bunch of its manga artists to turn the blank walls into temporary comic book panels.

shogakukan manga demolish building comic artists draw walls

shogakukan manga demolish building comic artists draw walls

shogakukan manga demolish building comic artists draw walls

shogakukan manga demolish building comic artists draw walls

The results by Kazukiho Shimamoto, Naoki Urasawa and others were on the walls, windows, glass doors, columns… everywhere in the building was going to be demolished so everywhere could become a piece of graffiti manga!

shogakukan manga demolish building comic artists draw walls

shogakukan manga demolish building comic artists draw walls

Which artists’ work can you recognize?

shogakukan manga demolish building comic artists draw walls

Images via Togetter.

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J-World Tokyo, Shonen Jump theme park, now open in Ikebukuro

Written by: William on July 26, 2013 at 12:28 pm | In LIFESTYLE | No Comments

J-World Tokyo, the world’s first theme park dedicated to Shonen Jump manga, has opened in Ikebukuro, north Tokyo.

one piece naruto dragon ball j-world tokyo shonen jump theme park

Visitors can find the new amusement center in the Sunshine City World Import Mart building, where they get the chance to do combat with Frieze, go onboard a One Piece ship or try out their own Dragon Ball Kamehameha! Even if you’re not a fan of one of the franchises, there are so many different series in the Shonen Jump manga world that there is sure to be something (or someone) in the theme park that you like.

one piece naruto dragon ball j-world tokyo shonen jump theme park

Announced earlier in the year, J-World Tokyo opened on July 11th and has been packing in families over the summer vacation period. Ikebukuro may seem like an unlikely choice but actually it is a massive transport hub, with excellent connections to suburban areas in Saitama.

one piece naruto dragon ball j-world tokyo shonen jump theme park

You can ride a One Piece carousel ride with the Mugiwara pirate gang, or on the Mini Merry or the Shark Submerge III on the One Piece Soldier Dock Adventure Ride. Or you can test your skills as a Konoha Ninja in order to complete a labyrinth Naruto challenge. Many of the attractions use 3D technology and of course, all are interactive.

one piece naruto dragon ball j-world tokyo shonen jump theme park

There are also heaps of arcade games and limited edition products, foods and desserts to buy from the worlds of Naruto, One Piece and Dragon Ball et al.

one piece naruto dragon ball j-world tokyo shonen jump theme park

The various attractions are ticketed separately but cost around 800 yen each, plus there is an overall charge to enter the whole park. They are popular so you may be given a numbered ticket with which your turn to enter is fixed.

one piece naruto dragon ball j-world tokyo shonen jump theme park

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Shingeki no Kyojin (Attack on Titan): The biggest manga and anime of 2013

Written by: Mina on June 26, 2013 at 10:26 am | In CULTURE | No Comments

In 2013, Shingeki no Kyojin (Attack on Titan) became no longer just a popular comic book. It has evolved into a social phenomenon which will be remembered as one of the biggest hits of the decade. So far, the manga series by Hajime Isayama has sold over 20 million copies and the anime series has been broadcast on MBS since April.

shingeki_no_kyojin_manga

A smash hit in one industry basically means a big business opportunity for non-competitive others. Pizza Hut, for example, has recently launched a new campaign in collaboration with Shingeki no Kyojin.

The campaign is expected to attract millions of fans out there. If you become a Pizza Hut member and order pizza online, you get a chance to be chosen as one of the 32 lucky people to get Shingeki no Kyojin original merchandise: anime scripts and posters with the autographs of voice actors, author-autographed comic sets, and other character-printed goods. Yes, there is really no such thing as free lunch, but they are generous enough to offer some freebies as well.

You can also download two wallpapers, so in case you don’t want to bet for a one-in-a-million chance (unless, of course you simply want some pizza) there is still a way to get some Shingeki no Kyojin goodies.

shingeki_no_kyojin_pizzahut_wallpaper

In this version, the Titan is eating a slice of pizza… as opposed to a human.

shingeki_no_kyojin_original_wallpaper

While its story might seem a little complicated due to the number of characters portrayed and the different layers of background stories intertwined, given that a typical reader understands the basic structure of military forces, the plot itself is quite simple. The story is about a battle between humans and Titans — either kill your enemy or they kill (and eat) you.

Since killing is required for a victory on the human side, at first glance there seems to be no other way to win this battle — or in other words, the physical battle looks like the core element of the entertainment in Shingeki no Kyojin. However, there is another aspect: the survival of the fittest within human society as well. As mentioned earlier, understanding the hierarchy of the military depicted in the story reveals the double-layered theme.

The military force is divided into several units, yet only one of them is obliged to go outside the walls — which have served as their only protection against the Titans for a long time — and risk their lives in battles. The protagonist, Eren Jaeger, unlike many other recruits, chooses to enlist in this deadly unit and hopes to wipe out the enemies, even though he knows that he will get a much higher chance of survival in other units.

Shingeki no Kyojin has proved itself to be a great addition to the Japanese graphic literature since it was first published in 2009. Given its popularity, we can look forward to many more spin-offs and promo campaigns.

jts_may2013

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JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure Beams “ora ora” t-shirt for augmented reality manga fashion

Written by: William on March 14, 2013 at 6:36 pm | In PRODUCT INNOVATION | No Comments

JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure, Hirohiko Araki’s manga that started life in 1987, may not be as big as One Piece or have the otaku kudos of Neon Genesis Evangelion, but that hasn’t stopped it selling 70 million copies in Japan alone.

jojo's bizarre adventure jotaro kujo stardust crusaders beams t-shirt augmented reality ora ora

And like any self-respecting manga franchise, there is a spin-off anime series and already plenty of tie-up merchandise and goodies to get, including smartphone gloves perfect for tapping on your touch-screen in the winter.

This new product is a bit more exclusive, though, and hi-tech!

jojo's bizarre adventure jotaro kujo stardust crusaders beams t-shirt augmented reality ora ora

JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure has got together with Beams T, the snazzy line of t-shirts by Beams, to offer Ora Ora Stripy T-shirt, an augmented reality t-shirt that works with your phone to bring Jotaro Kujo out of your clothes and into your life.

jojo's bizarre adventure jotaro kujo stardust crusaders beams t-shirt augmented reality ora ora

Jotaro Kujo is the main character from Stardust Crusaders, the third part of JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure. He uses the “Star Platinum”, a co-called “Stand” which gives him magical powers. The t-shirt name “ora ora” derives from one of Kujo’s popular battle cries in the manga and anime.

Here is a ten-minute example of Kujo and his “ora ora ora” in action:

Orders are only being taken until 11:00 on Friday!

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