Mangastream vs. Shonen Jump Alpha

Fans React, Rage After Scanlation Site Pulls 7 Shonen Jump Titles

Shonen Jump Alpha February 6, 2012
Shonen Jump Alpha February 6, 2012. NARUTO © 1999 by Masashi Kishimoto/SHUEISHA Inc.

When the first all-digital issue of Shonen Jump Alpha hit the interwebs in late January 2012, manga readers in North America got a taste of what they've been begging for, for years: the latest chapters of six very popular Shonen Jump manga series, only two weeks after they hit the newsstands in Japan. Now fans can get their fix of Naruto, Bleach, One Piece, Bakuman, Nura: Rise of the Yokai Clan and Toriko for less than $1 an issue (or $26/year for 48 weekly issues), and read it online on their computer, or on their iPad, iPhone or iPod touch.

Sounds good, right? Well, it is pretty good. Compared to what was available online (legally) even a year ago, Shonen Jump Alpha is a quantum leap forward in online manga publishing - but it's admittedly not perfect. Because while Shonen Jump Alpha largely delivers on what VIZ promised when they announced this initiative back in October 2011, this weekly manga magazine doesn't quite provide everything that fans really want: they want their manga fast, free (or at least cheap), and available to them anytime to fans who live in any country, anywhere in the world.

  • Shonen Jump Alpha is fast - A two week lapse is a huge improvement over the months, sometimes years lag between US and Japan releases that fans used to deal with as recently as a year or two ago. But that's not fast enough for fans who want to read it the same day as it's available in Japan.

  • Shonen Jump Alpha is inexpensive - At $1 an issue or $26.99/48 issues, subscribing to Shonen Jump Alpha costs about the same as 12 issues of the print edition of the magazine. But inexpensive is not cheap enough for fans who want it for free.

  • Shonen Jump Alpha is available to all fans… as long as you live in North America - At launch, Shonen Jump Alpha is only available to readers in the United States and Canada. This is great for fans in North America, but not so great for fans in Central or South America, Europe, Australia or anywhere else English-speaking manga readers live in the world. That's not to say that Shonen Jump Alpha will never be available to readers world wide. There are reasons why it's not available worldwide now, and reasons to believe that this situation may change eventually. But I'll get into that later.

    Shonen Jump Alpha is far from perfect. There are things big and small that VIZ could do to make it a better reading experience for fans (which I'll get into when I post my review later this week). Sure, they had their share of hiccups at launch, but they've largely resolved most of 'em. Most folks at VIZ will concede that these first issues of SJA demonstrate progress and not absolute perfection. (You can check it out for yourself with this free preview of Shonen Jump Alpha at VIZManga.com)

    I think VIZ knew going into this that they wouldn't please everyone. You have to admit that the whole 'fast, free, and available everywhere' thing is a pretty tall order to fulfill, much less deliver only a few weeks since Shonen Jump Alpha's debut. Everyone knew that it would be impossible to make 100% of fans 100% happy from the get-go. To be fair, many fans are very pleased with the first few issues of Shonen Jump Alpha. But the unhappy contingent? Boy, are they unhappy, and they're not content to sulk in silence.

    MANGASTREAM CRIES A RIVER OVER PULLED SHONEN JUMP MANGA

    One of the main sources for the recent outburst of fan rage due to scanlation site Mangastream's announcement that they had pulled down their scans of several Shonen Jump manga series.

    They broke the news with this message on their site:​

    "Dear MangaStream supporter,
    It's with a heavy heart that I make the following announcement. MangaStream will no longer be releasing the following series:

    • Naruto
    • Bleach
    • One Piece
    • Hunter x Hunter
    • Katekyo Hitman Reborn
    • Claymore
    • D.Gray-man
    VIZ Media has demanded that we end our scanlation work for all of the above. This comes despite our best efforts to pursuade (sic) fans into supporting official distributors by being the only group to actively prevent an archive from forming on their website through the removal of chapters that are older than a couple weeks."

    Okay, some commentary here: Notice how Mangastream's note tries to paint them as the aggrieved, innocent party who were simply providing a much needed 'service' to readers?

    Before you feel too sorry for them, remember that Mangastream does not own, nor has ever owned, or has ever had the right or permission to publish these comics online.

    They, and other sites like them, have been flaunting their posting of unauthorized scanned and translated pages of Shonen Jump (and many other titles from many other publishers) for years.

    It's not like this news caught them by surprise. (See the announcement of the anti-piracy coalition Japanese Digital Comics Association back in June 2010, followed by OneManga's shut down in July 2010 and MangaFox's token attempt to take down VIZ titles in June 2010 (that they later reposted).

    Sure, MangaStream tried to make some concessions to VIZ by "removing chapters that are older than a couple of weeks." Clearly, this was an attempt to placate VIZ/Shueisha's legal team who eventually got tired of the games, and by the sound of Mangastream's letter, finally sent Mangastream a strongly-worded threat that they had to take seriously. Given all the anti-piracy developments brewing since June 2010, Mangastream was living on borrowed time and they darn well knew it. If they didn't, they were either naïve or stupid or both.

    Meanwhile, in case you weren't aware of this, VIZ Media is partially owned by Shueisha, the original Japanese publisher of Shonen Jump. VIZ is also the authorized North American licensor of these manga titles and they have been for many years. This means that some of the proceeds from licensing fees and sales of print and digital editions of these Shonen Jump titles go back to the original creators of these comics - something that Mangastream's scans never did.

    This bears repeating: Mangastream's scans NEVER paid a CENT to Masashi Kishimoto, Tite Kubo, Eiichiro Oda, or any other manga creator whose work is posted on their site.

    And for good measure, they probably didn't pay the fans who translated, scanned, cleaned up, and lettered the manga hosted on their site either.

    So who made money? Well, probably Mangastream and the various scanlation aggregator sites who make money off the Google Adwords / display advertising that's posted on their sites. I'll say it again. Not a SINGLE PENNY of this advertising revenue ever did or ever will go to the creators who drew the manga. Got it? Good.

    Despite that inconvenient truth, Mangastream's letter drips with bitterness:

    (VIZ has) succeeded in little more than invoking inconvenience to the community as their digital magazine missed the mark; it runs several issues behind and only features 3 of the above series. So long as their product continues to be slow, awkward and inferior to something a ragtag group of nobodies can churn out in a few hours - fans will continue to look to scanlation groups and aggregators for their weekly fix.

    See how insidious this reasoning is? They're basically saying, 'Hey fans - big bad VIZ is being sooo mean. They sic'ed their lawyers on us. We tried to fight the good fight, but alas, we cannot any longer. VIZ's product is inferior to ours, and it's sooo slow. VIZ is just a big, bad company full of greedy incompetents, while we are for you, the community of fans! We are the good guys! Fight the power!"

    Before you swallow that bit of swill, let me introduce another inconvenient truth: The reason why the 'ragtag group of nobodies' can 'churn out' the latest chapters of Shonen Jump manga in 'a few hours' is that they don't have to worry about tedious details like, oh… getting approvals from the original manga creators, editors or publishers in Japan?

    It's easy to be fast when you don't have to worry about things like that. It's also easy to be profitable when they're only paying for their Internet hosting costs, and not paying anything to the editors, the letterers/clean-up artists, translators, the publishers and most of all, the creators of the comics that they claim to love.

    "I think Mangastream's response shows the real reason they did what they did. They scanlated for pure ego, and nothing more."
    - Nick Raymond ( @CharredKnight)

    MANGASTREAM UNLEASHES FAN FURY ON VIZ MEDIA'S TWITTER, FACEBOOK PAGES

    Once Mangastream pulled their chapters of these Shonen Jump manga on their site, fan fury made itself apparent on VIZ Media's Shonen Jump Alpha page, their Facebook page and Twitter feed. Here are a few choice comments from the Shonen Jump Alpha comments page from the February 6, 2010 issue and the VIZ Media Facebook page.

    "id rather buy the original series all the way from japan rather than this low quality manga translations and scans! shame on you viz for stopping manga stream to continue theyre (sic) PROFESSIONAL work!"
    - maxdrive

    " What the crap is this? i paid 26 bucks for a 1 year membership only because Vis (sic) decided to be turds toward the fan-based scanlation sites, only to find out that the current issue is the one i read 3 weeks ago? and not only is it 3 weeks behind what the fan sites already did, the translations are crap and the site is nowhere near my definition of user friendly.... your company is putting out a shoddy product and (as a paying customer), I'm unhappy."
    - mathyu1010

    "Bullying other scanlation sights (sic) that offer a better product is dispicable (sic). Viz Media should be ashamed."
    - Brian Cotner

    Okay, let's address this perception that MangaStream's scans/translations of Shonen Jump manga were 'better' than the versions posted on Shonen Jump Alpha.

    I could try to explain but pictures speak louder than words. Take a look at what "Suzaku," fan posted in the Manga Helpers forum: Several side-by-side comparisons of Mangastream's scan/translation/graphic clean-up jobs on recent chapters of Naruto, Bleach and One Piece next to the Shonen Jump Alpha equivalent. Suzaku had some interesting observations about the differences in quality in both the graphics and the translations. (Spoiler: the SJA pages are crisper and cleaner, and read a little smoother). Don't believe me? Check this out for an illuminating comparison and see if you still think that the MangaStream product was superior, other than being 'free.'

    NOTE: If you're curious about the extent of fan fury out there, there are many, many more fan verbatims and commentary posted on Tsukento's Ramblings.

    Also worth checking out: One Piece Podcast hosted a discussion between Stephen Paul, translator for VIZ Media's One Piece, and "Molokidan," the translator who worked on Mangastream's version of One Piece.

    Worth a read: Brian Hanson, Anime News Networks' "Answer Man" addresses the Mangastream vs. VIZ controversy in his February 18 column.

    DELAYS, LEAKS, TRANSLATION GRIPES AND A FEW VOICES OF REASON

    Of course, there were also complaints not directly related to MangaStream's issues. These comments mostly fell in the "2 weeks delay? Whhhhy?" bucket or the "Your translations suck" bucket, with a smattering of more specific and constructive suggestions.

    "Why is your Manga two weeks behind? Do you really expect to think anyone is actually going to pay you money for a product two weeks old? When you go to a groceries store do you buy MILK two weeks old? I know this is not the FDA here and comparing a manga to a two week old carton of MILK, Well is just, Sour."
    - equa727

    Okay, here's another ugly secret about how scanlation sites have been handling Shonen Jump manga. Many sites, including Mangastream, relied upon 'leaked' scans of Shonen Jump series so they could post their chapters almost a full week before they even hit the newsstands in Japan. Even Tite Kubo expressed dismay when he'd get tweets from overseas fans who would ask him questions about chapters that weren't even released in Japan yet. So those of you who have been complaining that Shonen Jump Alpha content is three weeks behind the scan sites? This is the somewhat shady reason why this is so.

    That's not to say all fans were fussing and cussing. There were a few voices of reason amidst the din.

    "For all those who are complaining about the 2 week delay I have this to say when it was in print we were months behind Japan"
    - MW1993

    Yes! Let's get some perspective here, peeps. After years of incremental changes or false starts, a lot of publishers have been making significant moves toward publishing more manga online than ever before.

    In addition to VIZ Media's VIZManga.com site, Dark Horse, Yen Press, SuBLime Manga, JManga, and Kodansha all launched online manga stores for the web, iPad, iPhone/iPod Touch and/or Android platforms in the past year. Digital Manga launched iPad and Android storefronts, and released their first Digital Manga Guild-translated titles, offering fan translators/editors a legit opportunity to use their skills to translate manga and make some money for their efforts too. Gen Manga and ComicLoud offer indie manga compilations for digital download.

    We still have a ways to go until the legit options can match the sheer volume of what's available on unauthorized scan sites, but we're seeing a very rapid rate of evolution here. Who knows what the next 6 - 12 months will bring?

    Regarding the common complaint that VIZ's translations aren't as good as the scanlators, a fan offered this perspective:

    "Guys, stop going on about Viz's "poor translations". As one who reads Japanese, I find nothing wrong with them. Translation is not an exact science, and so just because different translations have different wording, it doesn't mean one of them has to be wrong. The manga stream (sic) release was definitely not devoid of errors, either."
    - ErikoKorie

    There were also a lot of constructive comments about VIZ needing to tweak their online manga reader so it'd be easier to skip ahead to read different series, and offering more options to zoom into pages. There were also lots of requests for additional series to be added to Shonen Jump Alpha, like Hunter X Hunter, GinTama, Reborn, Psyren, and Yu-Gi-Oh.

    There were lots of angry, petulant voices on VIZ Media's Facebook and Shonen Jump Alpha pages, but there were also many fans/subscribers who like what they see so far, and several who were able to voice their opinions and provide useful suggestions without throwing a hissy-fit.

    WHY ISN'T SHONEN JUMP ALPHA AVAILABLE OUTSIDE OF N. AMERICA?

    Licensing content for publishing in other counties is complicated. I'm not a lawyer and I have limited experience in the worlds of publishing and licensing, so I beg your indulgence as I try to offer a simplified explanation of the how's and why's of a not-so-simple situation.

    Once upon a time, Japanese publishers were able to grant licenses to translate and publish manga in different countries and languages to companies in different countries. Sometimes, a publisher was granted the English language publishing rights for all English-speaking countries. Other times, the rights to publish in English were divvied up according to territory. So it was possible that a company in Australia could get the right to publish One Piece in English there, while another company got the rights to publish it in English in Great Britain, while yet another company got the right to publish that same title in English in North America.

    If there were people in non-English speaking countries who wanted to read the English edition, well, they could just order and import whatever English edition was most convenient for them to buy. (Which, admittedly, was probably not that inexpensive or convenient).

    When manga was mostly only available in print, there wasn't much chance that the Australian edition would compete for shelf space with the North American edition because, well, these places were just too far apart from each other, and the logistics and economics of shipping books across the globe just didn't make sense.

    And then came the Internetz and digital publishing and things like licensing based on 'territories' got harder and harder to enforce. On the bright side, the increased availability of manga online introduced many fans to Japanese comics who might never get the opportunity to enjoy it.

    On the downside, print publishers in Japan and abroad seemed unable to reconcile their print-based, territory-defined licensing business model and the incoming tide of digital publishing.

    On top of that, licensors now had to negotiate for digital licensing rights on top of print publishing rights. This also opened up another can of worms: Would British publisher A's sales of a given title be negatively affected if North American publisher B made their English edition of the same title available for sale online? It's these kind of questions that have been giving publishers all over the world migraines as they negotiate for publishing licenses in this ever-shifting business landscape.

    THE TIMES, THEY ARE-A CHANGING: MANGA 'JUMPS' INTO THE FUTURE

    But things are changing – just look at what SuBLime Manga is doing: by partnering with Libre (Japan's top boys love manga publisher) and Animate (Japan's top anime/manga retail chain), VIZ Media is able to offer SuBLime yaoi titles in English and make them available to fans all over the world, not just North America.

    Also, look at what Yen Press is doing with their monthly digital manga magazine, Yen Plus. They're publishing Soul Eater Not!, the brand-spanking new sequel series to Soul Eater by Atsushi Ohkubo, and releasing the latest chapters online at the same time as it's released in Japan – and they're making it available to Yen Plus subscribers anywhere in the world.

    These developments and more that are sure to come in the months and years ahead should give manga fans worldwide a reason to hope that eventually, they will get a little more of what they want, when they want it.

    The digital publishing world is evolving day by day. Manga readers now have access to more legit online manga than they ever have before, and more titles are being added, for more devices/digital publishing platforms practically every week.

    It's not perfect, and it may never, ever be everything that manga readers want, but it's getting there – or at least there are a lot of folks who are trying to get it as close as possible to that ideal state. Maybe it's hard for fans who haven't been around to see how very little Japanese manga was available in English back in the day before the Internetz and the 'manga boom' of the early-to-mid 2000's to appreciate how far things have come and how quickly things are changing now. But trust me on this – things are changing, and they are changing fast.

    It boggles the mind that Japan, a nation that is known for its innovations in technology, has a publishing industry that seems to be in the midst of being dragged kicking and screaming into the digital future. Sure, the arrival of the iPad and Kindle and the demise of Borders are factors in these changes in the manga publishing business, but so are the fans, who have made their wishes known by word and deed. Fans (and yes, even the whiney ones) are the force that is driving a lot of the changes we're seeing today.

    I'm not saying shut up and just take what VIZ is giving to you – you, as fans, as consumers, and people who are paying your money to read Shonen Jump manga, are entitled to say what you think, what you want, and how you think things can be improved.

    Your comments, your support (or lack of support) speaks volumes to publishers and comics creators, and your insights are helping to shape what the industry will become in the future. But is it really so hard to appreciate how far things have come, and what VIZ / Shonen Jump / Shueisha and other US and Japanese publishers have done so far to try to meet you more than halfway? A little patience, a little appreciation, and a little perspective isn't too much to ask. Please try.

    ---------------

    Now I've had my say –- what do you think? Chime in with your comments on my blog, or on Twitter. I'm always interested in your thoughts, suggestions and maybe take a few lumps from you at @debaoki or at @aboutmanga.

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    Your Citation
    Aoki, Deb. "Mangastream vs. Shonen Jump Alpha." ThoughtCo, May. 27, 2016, thoughtco.com/mangastream-vs-shonen-jump-alpha-2282546. Aoki, Deb. (2016, May 27). Mangastream vs. Shonen Jump Alpha. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/mangastream-vs-shonen-jump-alpha-2282546 Aoki, Deb. "Mangastream vs. Shonen Jump Alpha." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/mangastream-vs-shonen-jump-alpha-2282546 (accessed November 24, 2017).