I’ve had a bunch of stuff I’d like to write about on the back burner for a while now; Yozakura Quartet’s new OAD-bundled volume selling about 17,000 copies when the maximum cost of the OVA would have been covered by 9000, a return to the issue of sales boosts that manga get from anime, and the slow-but-ongoing attempt to accurately set odds for the sequel of any given anime series. All of those are important questions, and I’ll address them in due time.
But right now, manga giant Kodansha and popular legal stream platform crunchyroll rolled out a bombshell: Crunchyroll Manga. Current to Japan digital releases of 12 manga (headlined by Fairy Tail and Attack on Titan, ones I pegged months ago as potential headliners for a Kodansha USA service) that are fairly big in the U.S, for 5 bucks a month.* This isn’t as big of a deal as some of the other things I’ve observed, but it certainly has the potential to make a big impact. I don’t want to be premature, but the combination of the CR brand and the solid rollout slate (similar to how CR packaged big names in anime when they first decided to go legal) has me optimistic about the prospects of the service.
This is very much a first-response column, looking at the statistical profiles of the rollout and comparing it to Jmanga and Weekly Shonen Jump Alpha, two other big names in digital manga.** How does this compare with other digital rollouts?
Well, it’s way smarter than what Jmanga did, for one main reason. Jmanga went for quantity over quality, picking a bunch of no-name titles that couldn’t really headline a list. You can’t win the large-scale market over when your strongest titles are SoreMachi, Girlfriends, and Fujoshi Rumi. The Jmanga starting slate, with many of their initial 46 titles still lacking dedicated scan groups, stood a poor chance from the outset of getting people to buy in regardless of the level of attention it got. In contrast, CR Manga is keeping things small, with a launch slate of 12 series, each one with an existing fanbase. All of the CR Manga rollout titles have scanlations already, and in addition to your obvious Big Two, they’ve got 3 more B-plus-list titles with over 10,000 users on mal (Mysterious Girlfriend X, Kimi no Iru Machi, and Yamada-kun and the Seven Witches). Kodansha also has a few popular titles they haven’t added to the list yet, so there’s room to expand to the 50-manga roster CR seems to be aiming for.***
It’s not as star-studded as the WSJA rollout, though. That magazine was packing the biggest three in manga, plus Nurarihyon no Mago (14,311 on mal), Bakuman (44,390), and Toriko (9,326). When you’re in with Shueisha and those are the weaker half of your lineup, you can afford to charge far less for each issue (WSJA is 26$/year, and ANN reports that this will be 5$/month or 60$/year).
Still, considering they didn’t have a title capable of beating out the big three, but Kodansha and CR did bring their biggest available guns to the table from day 1, which is a very encouraging sign for the young service. I swore to myself after Jmanga folded and left its customers holding a bunch of digital nothing that I wouldn’t buy into another digital manga service. By all accounts, I’m buying into this venture day 1.
There’s plenty more I like about this move (CR being able to cross-advertise franchises that it holds both media for), as well as things to be wary of (how many manga are there can really be sustained at the premium CR price?). Expect to hear more about this as time goes by.
*At 60$ per year, that’s within 2$ of my initial 58$ per year estimate. I feel a tiny, tiny bit like Nate Silver on November 7, 2012. Predictions aren’t normally that great, but being right is a ton of fun. Also, it should be noted that I said such a platform was relatively unlikely in the same article, so it’s not like I was perfect with everything.
**Viz and DMP also offer digital manga, but those are tougher to get a handle on and evolved off of companies with very strong print fanbases to start off.
***Unless they sign with Shogakukan as well, in which case all bets are off. KamiNomi, Magi, and History’s Strongest Disciple Kenichi would be obvious names which would add some very significant star power to the service and raise the ceiling for how many titles it can carry.