Yesterday, Square Enix launched the English version of its new online manga service, Manga Up!. But within 24 hours of its release, users have voiced outrage over the app’s aggressive censorship bars and monetization practices.
First launched in Japan in 2017, Manga Up! features licensed manga under Square Enix, such as Goblin Slayer, Soul Eater, and Fullmetal Alchemist. However, users noticed that manga titles with more adult content like sex-positive series have censorship bars over its characters. This led users to upload screenshots from Manga Up!’s app and voice their outrage at its heavy-handed censorship.
Censorship isn’t unique to manga. In spicier manga that are hentai or doujinshi, intimate manga panels utilize censorship bars to cover up penises. Run-of-the-mill manga series handle censorship in creative ways by either drawing clouds over character’s naughty bits or inserting euphemisms. They can also go the nuclear route by having their series feature a boatload of fanservice like with Hiro Mashima’s Fairy Tail. Usually licensed manga don’t actually show the ins-and-outs of sex scenes. Manga with mature ratings that do depict sex scenes have a tendency to not get too detailed about what’s happening, save for Berserk. In bookstores, these manga are plastic wrapped so curious customers don’t see what’s contained inside its pages.
Each series on Manga Up! comes with a content warning. For example, Fullmetal Alchemist’s content warning informs readers that the series includes murder, self mutilation, religious themes, and discrimination. While bloody battle scenes and smoking don’t get the anime shadow effect treatment on the app, series like the sex-positive manga series My Dress-Up Darling have huge censor bars over anything that could be considered risqué–basically any cosplay Marin Kitagawa wears in the series.
According to Manga Up!’s official Twitter account, the app’s use of censorship is Square Enix’s way of appealing to mobile platform policies for a wide array of countries like Indonesia.
“In consideration of each mobile platform’s policies, some modifications were unavoidable to release the app to the whole world outside of Japan (this is not limited to only English-speaking countries.)” Manga Up’s statement read. “We are still in the early exploratory stages and will strive to improve while listening to your feedback.”
In lieu of Manga Up!’s current censorship status, the company concluded its statement by encouraging users to support manga artist’s work by reading uncensored manga available on other manga-reading platforms.
Censorship isn’t the only thing that’s put Manga Up! in the hot seat online. In contrast to the Shonen Jump app which charges users $1.99 a month with a daily reading limit of 100 chapters, Manga Up! has experience points and microtransactions, as if it were a video game.
On Manga Up!, users have an eight-chapter daily reading limit. By completing chapters, users gain experience points that they can use to read more manga chapters. These experience points are split up into three categories: Up points, XP, and Coin. If users wish to deep-dive into their favorite manga, they’ll either have to accumulate enough points to do so or purchase experience points coins from its shop, which has its own dedicated tab in the app. “Advance chapters”–i.e., the most recent chapters in a series–can only be read by using XP and Coin. By downloading the app, users get a first time additional 120 XP, which amounts to $.99 USD through Manga Up!’s in-app currency. To make matters worse, single chapters on Manga Up! are split into parts–basically incentivizing readers to purchase coins so they can complete an entire chapter.
Kotaku reached out to Square Enix for comment.
Manga Up! is having a rough launch for its web manga and app service. Square Enix’s horse blinder-esque commitment to lean into unpopular monetization tactics like integrating “story-focused NFTs” and Final Fantasy VII NFTs has also found a home with Manga Up! through its use of in-app currency. This is a shame because the major selling point for Manga Up! is its exclusive rights over Fullmetal Alchemist mangaka Hiromu Arakawa’s newest fantasy action series, Daemon of The Shadow Realm. Now that series has the weird gamer stink of predatory microtransactions associated with it.