Well, yesterday, I got a box in the mail. It’s my first ever delivered Kickstarter reward, yay! So let’s see if I made a worthwhile investment or just blew a bunch of money on a piece of junk.
Warning: image-heavy post ahoy!
Fist of the North Star eOneBook
「北斗の拳」eOneBook (Hokuto no Ken eOneBook)
Buronson (story), HARA Tetsuo (art)
Progress Technologies, Inc.
Kickstarter Release Date: February 2018
Retail Release Date: TBD
This is Progress Technologies, Inc.’s first Kickstarter. I think I first heard about it on Anime News Network. I already wrote a lot about my thoughts on the prototype and the overall concept, so please check out my original article for more information.
Basically, the eOneBook is an eReader for one title only. In this case, it’s Fist of the North Star, also known as Hokuto no Ken. It includes the entire series and a bonus chapter and is based on the “Extreme Edition” (究極版, aka “Ultimate Edition”), a rerelease that reduces the manga from 27 volumes to 18 volumes and features some art touch-ups. Of course, this being a black-and-white eInk screen, there are no colored pages unlike the actual Extreme Edition. This is labeled the “Full Version” on the cover. The company’s aim was to replicate the feeling of reading a regular book instead of a digital copy.
The eOneBook has a button to switch between Japanese and English. This isn’t the first official English translation for Fist of the North Star (it’s been licensed twice before), but it is the first time the series has been translated in full.
This is no longer available to back (which they were offering a discount off of the retail price), but keep an eye on their Kickstarter page for when it’s going to be released through other venues. Mine was shipped from Tokyo Otaku Mode, so they may be selling it in the future. Several articles says the eOneBook is going to retail for $300 US, but this one says “about”. Current conversion rates would put the ￥37,800 suggested retail from the Kickstarter about $356, but I don’t know if the company is going to sell it to US companies at a below direct conversion rate (much like video games and consoles), if this was rounding and/or a misunderstanding, or if they’ve lowered their planned price.
First, I want to say I was pretty impressed with this Kickstarter. I have an article up about Digital Manga’s Kickstarter kerfluffle (which is available here), but Progress Technologies posted a lot of updates and replies to comments. They made some changes to the design compared to prototype shown on Kickstarter, but it pretty much kept on schedule. They said shipping starting in February, and mine (which was part of the first of two batches) is dated March 1st. The Kickstarter was just a flat-out preordering system with different discounts depending on how early you ordered, so who knows if any future eOneBooks will use Kickstarter or they’ll just be able to preordered directly and avoid Kickstarter fees. Progress Technologies threw in a couple of bonuses (like a credits page), but perhaps if they use Kickstarter in the future, have some stretch goals?
It may be hard to tell in the first picture, but it’s a slipcover like for many electronic devices, and then there’s a typical electronic-type box with insert handles you open to find the item. Lift up the top insert, and it’s cushioned between foam. (You can see a bit of the box and foam in the second image.) A short 6-page mini bilingual instruction manual is included, otherwise, you can look at the very back of the eOneBook if you forget how to operate it.
The title on the cover and the spine is foil, and it does look sharp. Adding a wrap-around was a nice touch to give it a manga-feel to it, as it’s very common for manga in Japan to get those neat little ads and catchphrases. You can remove it if you want, and you can remove the entire dust jacket as well. There was a tier where you could buy a slightly different dust jacket (a Kickstarter exclusive), but compared to the limited tier I got, it was almost $60 US more. You would think that all Kickstarter versions would get the Kickstarter jacket and the retail version the regular as a way to show off the fact you were a backer, but I like the busier cover versus the exclusive one.
Size-wize, the item is slightly bigger than an omnibus, but the “pages” are below the average physical U.S. manga size, which is larger than Japanese volumes. The screens might seem small if you’re used to reading on, say, an iPad, but the screen really is sharp. I used to have a Kindle eReader years ago, but now I do any digital reading on my iPad. But eInk screens have definite advantages over LCD/OLED. No glare, crisp black-and-white images, and quick loading. Unfortunately, color eInk haven’t caught on yet. Regardless, I love the fact you can easily see two page spreads in full detail. No shrinking like on a digital screen, and no stretching like with a physical book. Although it looks like a hardcover book, it isn’t. It’s a stiff paper, and you can kind of see how it doesn’t sit quite straight in one of the images above, a thing that happens with many softcover titles.
The Kickstarter estimated the weight about 530 grams (about 1 lb 2 oz), and it certainly has some heft to it. This is definitely made for either two-handed reading or to set on your lap/table and advance the pages. But I also have small hands and a weak right (dominate) hand, so perhaps other people won’t mind holding it in one hand and clicking forward with your left. There’s also a built-in “give” to it via a crease, so you don’t have to worry about keeping it all the way open like with most manga. If you don’t know, though, when you pick it up, you just assume it’s a deluxe hardcover volume, and I like that feeling.
The screens aren’t in the middle of the book (thickness-wise, not center of page-wise), so I don’t know if that has to do with countering the weight of the batteries or what. Just seems a little odd that one side is obviously wider than the other. My left hand thumb gets to feel all the book-like pages since it’s thicker, but my right thumb doesn’t. I wish there were more pages on the left to at least keep the same feeling in both hands. Again, the eOneBook does feel like a nice solid omnibus though, and the build quality feels and looks good.
As I mentioned, the eOneBook’s insides are a little different than what was originally planned. They added a next chapter and a previous volume buttons, which is really nice instead of having to loop all the way back around to get to an earlier volume. There’s no previous chapter button, so if you want to go to a recent chapter, you either need to keep hitting previous page or go to previous volume and then advance to next chapter until you get to the one you want. Obviously, all this isn’t as great as being able to select a particular volume or chapter like with touchscreen controls, but I guess with physical books you have to do a bit of work to find the page you want. It does look and feel like a real book, so it will look nice on a shelf. The buttons are underneath the “pages”, so it’s smooth on the bezel. You have to click it with some force (and will hear an audible sound), so it’s almost impossible to accidentally press a button. Definitely different from the light touch of a smartphone or tablet.
Opening the book, you can see immediately where you left off, but then it takes about 7 seconds to officially kick into gear. There’s a loading screen with the title, and then it brings up last page you read in about 7 seconds for you to continue on reading. I did some informal tests, and it takes about 1.7 to 2.4 seconds for the eOneBook to change pages or the translation. That’s for both pages by the way. Very quick and no ghosting or bleeding from what I’ve seen.
The eOneBook closes with a built-in magnet (and turns off automatically), so keep other magnets away. My tablet case tried to attach itself to it. Otherwise, the battery life is supposed to be excellent, so you can keep it open if you walk away for a brief time. I didn’t see anything about it “timing out” if you leave it open, so I wouldn’t try it. I know some people suggested using a rechargeable battery pack (i.e. charge with a cable). I can see the advantage over 4 AAAs, but this also means you’d have to spend money on a proprietary battery pack (or have an unremoveable battery) if the installed one were to die. AAAs can be bought anywhere. Mine came with some batteries, and the instructions recommend Eneloops, which I normally use anyway. The battery area is very awkward to get to, since the back isn’t made to be opened all the way like the middle, so it’s a good thing that battery life is supposed to be good. Also, the batteries were inside when I opened the package. Is that even allowed, especially in an international shipment?!
One of the most requested ideas for the Kickstarter was to add an SD card slot. As I mentioned in my TheOASG article, while the idea is good, how much would you charge to put an entire series on a manga-exclusive eReader? And if instead there were, say, manga cartridges, how much would it cost? I also worry a lot of people will just keep putting off buying new series and then the whole thing ends up going down. At least eOneBook looks nice, and I wouldn’t mind seeing several of these sharp covers on my shelf.
It really is awesome to go back and forth between languages. No furigana, so Fist of the North Star is not a great option for people with very little Japanese reading skill like me. Sound effects are untouched and untranslated, so this might be a negative for English readers. Although I haven’t read very much of Fist of the North Star yet, the translation seems good. There’s always a debate on series like this about whether it should be, say, “Hokuto Shinken” (what this translation uses) since it’s a name or whether to translate it in full. Abilities are romanized with a translation in small print underneath. The font seems a bit… casual? whimsical? for a bloody series like this though. I tried to include several samples so that you can see the lettering. Like in the close-up “poor kid” example, you can see how the Japanese text obscures part of Kenshiro’s hair, but with the English, it looks slightly cut off. It’s only noticeable if you look really closely though, and overall I’ve been impressed, especially for a series that came out originally in 1983. The translation doesn’t appear Engrish-y or stiff. That was a huge concern of mine. I don’t know who the translator is, but I’m glad they didn’t seem to just pick a cheap translator or find random staff members to keep the cost down.The attitude and swearing fits the post-apocalyptic world.
Ideally, yes, I would prefer a physical release for Fist of the North Star or any other manga. But it seems like the future of manga is digital. And compared to what digital manga can do, there are no color pages, and you have to carry around a separate device versus having it all on your phone or tablet. Price-wise, the eOneBook probably costs more per volume than most digital versions (or rather what most digital versions should), but it’s still within normal range for US releases, and you get a bilingual edition. I like being able to see the two-page spreads like in a real book, and I like having something physical to show for my purchase rather than something on a virtual bookshelf. All in all, eOneBook does a solid job of trying to bridge the digital-physical gap. I will be keeping an eye on future releases, and perhaps a few small tweaks can make eOneBooks even better. I hope Progress Technologies can get more publishers and creators to sign on.
A lot of people have been asking for Tezuka titles, but at least those have a solid chance of being picked up by somebody even if Digital Manga Publishing doesn’t release them. Classic manga is seeing a bit of a bump in English, but there are so many series that will probably never see the light of day. Wouldn’t stuff like Touch, Urusei Yatsura, and or even manga like Tokimeki Tonight be awesome to finally experience? I do wonder if it would be possible for someone to sublicense the translation, or if they could sublicense translations from the English publishers (or team up with them). For example, if Kodansha decides to never release Ace of the Diamond in print, perhaps the entire series as an eOneBook?