Considering the favorable reaction to our review of the Bandai manga website we decide to tackle VIZ’s Signature brand web site IKKI. When I sat down to start work on the review it was if the Gods themselves were trying to tell me this was the correct course of action because a bombshell news announcement made this review 1,000 times more relevant: a coalition of Japanese and American manga publishers joined together to take legal action against 30 scanlation sites. The interesting side debate that came up is what are the manga publishers doing to fill a void that would be created when these sites are shut down. With this question on everyone’s lips I think it the the prefect time to examine what VIZ is doing with IKKI.
When VIZ started the IKKI website it was an experiment to see what they could do to join in the digital revolution. Now it a growing community that is still improving itself, finding new solutions, and hopefully becoming a destination for readers. The Signature brand isn’t that broadly known for VIZ, but it has gotten plenty of critical praise, so with this site the leap into trying to attract more of the main manga crowd has begun.
The first question I always ask is how easy is it to find the site. If you search for “Sig IKKI” or “IKKI” it is the first item you get so it is simple to find if you know what you are looking for. There is nothing prominent on the VIZ front page shepherding you to the IKKI website but any page or drop down menu for navigating all the VIZ sites will have links to it. The site itself has a jet black background with a simple but busy design. Despite the amount of things on the front page I found the site easy to navigate and I had no trouble find any of the titles or information about them.
I don’t know how easy it is to find IKKI considering most people don’t know what that means and why would they be searching for it. If you Google “VIZ Manga” though it does appear on the first page but if you try anything like just plain “Manga,” “Read Manga,” or “Free Manga” you don’t even come close. I like the design of IKKI for the most part, it is simple yet compact but sometimes can be overwhelming in that sense. The drop downs make finding things directly off the main page a breeze and also lets you browse easily. The far right side bar (which I eliminated in the top image) with the blog and ad seems improperly placed. The blog is the only place on the main page announcing what is new as well as any news but it is completely missed.
All the titles on IKKI not only have a very seinen feel but an independent comics feel as well. They are all mature titles very different in comparison to a majority of what is being released in the U.S. Nothing is over the top in violence or sexuality but all the titles are squarely aimed at an older audience. The title they wisely seem to be promoting the most is House of Five Leaves especially with all the buzz it’s getting from the anime simulcast. Afterschool Charisma is a quirky tale that is a mixture of school comedy and suspense where all the students but one are clones of famous historical figures. Bokurano : Ours is from Mohiro Kito the author of Narutaru so it is naturally about teenagers who have to do horrible things to each other as they pilot giant robots. Tokyo Flow Chart and What’s the Answer? are both extremely experimental gag comics. I also did a more detailed review of the first book of Children of the Sea previously. There are some really innovative and provocative titles on the site. The titles here are surely the cure for the feeling that every manga you read seems to be based on a formula you have seen a dozen times before.
I have been reading things off and on over at the IKKI site for a while now. I became fully enamored with Kingyo Used Books and have since mentioned it a number of times. VIZ uses a Flash based manga viewer across its sites which has a good amount of versatility. The quality of the manga itself, not talking about its content, is very high allowing for rich art work to not deteriorate and you even have the option to zoom. You can set the viewer to show one page or a spread, very helpful allowing for your monitor size and resolution. You can also scroll through pages using your arrow keys, nice and quick. The “go to page” feature is also really sweet in case you are looking for a specific scene. But it isn’t without some problems. What sticks out most is that you can’t immediately go to the next chapter after you have finished one, instead you have to return to the series page. For convenience sake I hope this will be remedied in the near future. It also may be helpful to have a lower quality option for older computers. But overall I find the manga viewer is a treat!
IKKI is a clear sign that the manga industry is aware of some of its problems and is trying to do something to remedy them. It is not only a bold experiment in building an online readership but hopefully a good step towards creating a more mature manga audience. By releasing chapters free online but then removing them after a set amount of time to be collected into book form might be the best method. It lets the publishers offer their readers a legal method of sampling their titles while still encoring people to buy the physical books afterward. While it is important for the American manga publishers to knock out these scanlation aggregator sites it is equally vital to have something like IKKI to fill the gap. When Napster was shut down iTunes was there. Manga needs its iTunes if it is going to continue to prosper.
Everyone knows it is hard to keep up with every manga you want to read so a sampler is essential in order to make those decisions. Obviously one hopes that IKKI adds more titles, more quickly in the near future. I also hope they don’t overlook already released titles and hope they encourage checking out other series by including sample pages or a sample chapter. The most unfortunate thing about IKKI is that people don’t widely know about it. It is a place to get your manga fix while discovering the wealth of titles out there.