Square Enix’s new Manga UP! app is absolute bollocks

Hey! You’re reading Rice Digital, so you probably like manga, right? Wouldn’t it be great if there was an official app where you could enjoy full simulpub releases of manga series from a specific publisher, enabling you to support the original creators and the official publishers and follow your favourite series without guilt or shame? That’s what Manga UP!, a new app from from Square Enix now available on the App Store and Google Play, offers.

It’s a good deal on paper. Get to access popular Square Enix series such as My Dress-Up Darling, Pandora Hearts, Fullmetal Alchemist, Soul Eater and more. You can even read a certain amount for free every day without having to purchase volumes or pay a subscription fee. Pretty good, right?

No. Absolutely, emphatically, definitely not. Manga UP! is one of the worst mobile apps I’ve ever had the misfortune to use, demonstrating not only everything wrong with mobile apps in general, but also a fundamental misunderstanding of the supposed target audience and the appeal of manga in the first place.

Manga UP!

For starters, Manga UP! is dishonest about how much you get to read for free every day. There’s a mobile game-style energy-esque resource known as “UP” incorporated into the app, which replenishes each day and which can be spent on unlocking new chapters. You get 120 “UP” per day, and it generally costs around 30 of these to unlock an individual “chapter” from a popular series in the app, meaning that you can probably get about 4 freebies per day.

Trouble is, the “chapters” in the app aren’t actually chapters of the manga at all; each chapter from the print version of the manga is split into three or four parts, so effectively your “free” daily allowance will enable you to just about read a single print chapter. It is worth noting, however, that the first (print) chapter of a manga is generally just free in the app, so you can at least get a vague feel for what it’s about before deciding to commit any of your in-app currency.

But then just to complicate matters, there are two other in-app currencies to deal with in Manga UP! — XP and Coins. The app doesn’t actually explain these at any point after starting it up for the first time, though it does give you an initial bit of XP, which can be spent on unlocking premium chapters, including “advance” releases that cannot be read using UP. Coins, meanwhile, can be purchased using real money — up to £71.99 at a time (“Best Value!!”) — and these also net you bonus XP, with greater bonuses, of course, being awarded for spending more at a time.

And, naturally, Manga UP!’s Coins and XP system is set up in such a way that you never have quite the right amount to end up with zero of either, meaning that you’ll always have an annoying bit left over in your account, encouraging you to purchase more just to clean up. The XP system in particular seems specifically designed to make this happen, though supposedly there are means of “earning” EXP throughout Manga UP!.

Manga UP!

This isn’t even the worst thing about Manga UP!, though: the fact that Square Enix has taken the liberty of protecting your delicate, sensitive eyes from anything even vaguely resembling a bit of cleavage or panty shot is. Yes, the manga in this app is heavily and unsubtly self-censored, featuring huge and ugly black bars covering over anything even the slightest bit provocative. And there’s seemingly no means of turning it off.

This is utterly stupid, considering that the app asks you up-front if you’re over 16 (perhaps it should be 18?) and also provides prominent but non-specific warnings about “mature content” on the series where it is relevant. It’s insulting to the audience to assume that someone would want to read a series like My Dress-Up Darling and not enjoy all the delightful fanservice along the way — and it’s doubly insulting that the edits have been handled in such a cack-handed, intrusive way.

There’s even one particularly notorious scene where a character’s crotch wearing jeans has been blocked out like this. It’s not showing anything — it’s just a pair of tight-fitting jeans. Elsewhere, a character’s knee is blacked out, leading some to speculate that it’s actually AI-powered self-censorship rather than someone going through editing everything by hand. Plausible, given the volume of material we’re talking about here.

Presumably the reason for the heavy-handed approach to self-censorship is to appease the great Apple and Google App Store lords, who often take exception to anything even a little bit sexualised, particularly if it’s anime in nature; numerous game developers over the years have found their apps rejected from both the App Store and Google Play if their icon displays too much cleavage, for example.

But combine the unnecessarily complicated in-app currency system with the ruthless self-censorship of the publisher’s own works, and you have an app that is absolute complete and utter bollocks for the discerning manga fan. Don’t support shit like this; if you want to go digital with your manga and still support the creators and publishers, just pick up a Kindle and buy the volumes you’re interested in. Or better yet, buy a bookcase and get collecting!

Obligatory note: “bloo bloo bloo piracy” shut up


UPDATE: Square Enix has commented on the self-censorship in the Manga UP! application, noting that the “modifications” were “unavoidable to release the app to the whole world outside of Japan” — clarifying that this means “not limited to only English-speaking countries”, suggesting they’ve taken a one size fits all approach to editing their content. They also note that they are “still in the early exploratory stages” and will “strive to improve while listening to your feedback”.

In the meantime, they note that “some of the content is available uncensored through other official streams, so please continue supporting the artists”. In other words, to paraphrase, “we built a terrible app and really messed this up, so you should probably go get your manga elsewhere”. As noted above, there are plenty of places where you can do just that without resorting to piracy.

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Pete Davison
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