Helen: As of writing this piece, only the beta web version of Azuki is available, not the iOS or Android apps, although you can open a mobile browser and log in to read that way as well (in much the same way you might read some Weekly Shonen Jump titles that are too explicit to be included in the app on your tablet’s browser). For reading on the web (both on a laptop and on my iPad) the only real issue I ran into was the lack of a full-screen option built into the app (unlike the WSJ web browser reader or the chapter sampler on Kodansha’s website) but I was easily able to mitigate that by simply changing my Chrome browser window to full screen. Once in full screen mode, I found the default zoom for both the spread and vertical viewings to be just right but you can also zoom in quite a bit on the spread and single page viewing options as well.
Easily the most impressive technical aspect of the service is how you can read titles as either a single page at a time, a two page spread at the time, or in a vertical scroll format, a la Manga+ or many scanlation sites. Reading in either the single page or vertical scroll format doesn’t mess up two page splash images however, those have been coded so that they will appear as a spread no matter which format you use. The site also remembers whichever format you use the next time you open it up, even if you’re looking at a different series, I even found that it also remembered I was last using the vertical scroll when I signed into the site on my iPad after previously browsing on my laptop. According to this interview, there will be the option to comment on individual chapters in the future (again, much like some scanlation sites) but this feature wasn’t present in the beta.
Regarding the library of titles currently on the app, which are mostly Kodansha titles to start (due to the Azuki staff’s previous close work relationships with Kodansha), it’s a real mixture between titles that seem to have their entire backlog online, only the first volume’s worth of chapters online, or just the latest simulpub chapters. At this point it’s unclear if these gaps will be filled in on all series or not; it would be nice if there was some indication however since, as I understand it, Azuki isn’t meant to be a “taste tester” for various publishers but a full-fledged sub-licensee of digital manga streaming rights in and of itself and it would benefit them to have as large and complete a library as possible. That said, there is still a good number of titles on the service to start with and more than enough to keep me satiated for the near future.
Justin: Azuki has the potential to be a big deal for official digital reading for manga fans, but not surprisingly, it still has some kinks to work out. The good news is the one current issue I have can be solved in the future: understanding what series has a full catalog or what doesn’t, how long a series is going to be up, and a general schedule somewhere on the site. It’s mostly jarring to check out the simulpub section and see EDENS ZERO has the first 23 chapters, but then goes from 87 to 148, and a similar situation with Space Brothers (Chapters 1-187 then go from 359 to 374), but then go and discover every chapter of UQ Holder is available to read.
In Azuki’s about section it notes it’s going to give fans “a fresh new way to access the latest chapters legally and in high quality, across all of their devices.” So from that standpoint, if it can have more than the Kodansha simulpubs then that’ll be fine, but is the catalog just going to be pick and choose what goes up? It has the first five chapters of Tokyo Revengers, but it has 74 chapters of Princess Jellyfish — it’s little jarring to not add the rest of it since there’s at least 10 or 11 chapters left. All in all, it’s not gonna be easy, but I do hope some schedule clarification can be implemented for the titles.
All of that said, there’s a lot of series on Azuki that you can either read all at once (as mentioned UQ Holder, but there’s 429 chapters of Fairy Tail that can be read. 429!) or essentially sample, so you can also discover something you might not have considered buying digitally or physically by signing up for Azuki. Having the service be available on Web, iOS, and Android makes it pretty attractive to try even if you’re not a premium member (I checked the service out on the web). And actually reading the titles was pretty slick, though, while it’s a minor thing, I do like having the option to click full-screen in the reader, which Azuki’s doesn’t have.
Overall, there’s a lot to like about Azuki that, if you’re interested in following official services, you definitely should try. The remaining questions for the service will be in its consistency — how much manga can they add and how much of it will be available, who will partner up with them (and this also includes Japanese publishers), and being able to clarify how long the manga on the service will be up. If it can be consistent, then this certainly will be a viable service that manga fans should definitely be using a lot.