The use of artificial intelligence-based technologies in art, film, and other productions has been a hot topic this year. With writers and actors striking to seek protections against the use of AI in their work, along with fairer pay, it seems that even those who work in manga production aren’t safe from AI either.

MANGA Plus by Shueisha – a global manga reading app launched in 2019 that features the latest hits from Weekly Shonen Jump, Jump+, Jump SQ and other Shueisha manga magazines – has come under fire from freelancers in the N. American manga industry and even manga fans for their use of AI in one of their latest simulpubs (manga that is simultaneously published with their Japanese release).

Rugby Rumble by Daisuke Miyata
Rugby Rumble by Daisuke Miyata, available now on Manga Plus

Daisuke Miyata’s Rugby Rumble – a sports manga that recently started in Shonen Jump+ and simulpubbed on MANGA Plus – was discovered to have been lettered by localization company Orange Inc. by Maxybee of Shonen Flop Cast and brought to Twitter’s attention by @WinterVenom91:

Orange Inc. is a Tokyo-based company that claims to have “achieved a 90% cut in the process and cost of manga localization through AI”. While to a business, the prospect of automating something that takes a considerable amount of time to do, and to save some money too might be an attractive prospect, the end results leave something to be desired.

Rugby Rumble manga
Example of the lettering done by Orange Inc. on chapter 1 of Rugby Rumble

Lettering in comics generally involves placing text into balloons and adding sound effects and captions. With manga, it also involves the touch-up of pages to remove existing Japanese text, inserting the translated English text, and sometimes adding subtitles to Japansese sound effects. In some cases, this requires a lot of image editing and redrawing of major sections of a manga page to be able to accommodate English text or might require creating English versions of hand-drawn sound effect text. This type of production work, along with manga translation, is typically handled by freelancers, who would otherwise earn a regular salary and maybe benefits, if they were in-house staff or full-time employees.

Rugby Rumble on Manga Plus by Shueisha
Another example of Orange Inc’s lettering on Rugby Rumble chapter 1

Even without a background in lettering or graphic design, it’s easy to see that the ‘work’ done by Orange Inc. on Rugby Rumble just looks off.  The most obvious and egregious issue is that the font sizes used are too big for the word balloons. They’re sometimes so big, that they escapes the bounds of the bubble and sometimes run into the panel borders. Where the text overlaps with a panel border, the system opts to add a thin white border to the letters, so it won’t blend in with the artwork in the background (or in the case of the example above, the outline of the panel).

In a Twitter thread, Sara Linsley – a freelance manga letterer who has created a gold mine of resources for letterers such as fonts, tutorials, and much more – outlines some tips to keep lettering inside the box. Simple tips that even a beginner graphic designer would be able to implement, such as using smaller fonts, breaking words onto a new line, or using a different typeface entirely. The quality of lettering on Rugby Rumble, if done by a human, would be considered low-quality or amateurish. 

Some professional manga letterers voiced their thoughts on their craft being farmed out to AI:

Twitter screenshot from @LettererBrendo: At least I know I don't have to worry about AI taking over my job in any convincing way, but I'm kinda fucking appalled to see anyone trying to so openly, and deeming such trash quality okay. This, like any attempt at using AI to replace artists, should be seen as unacceptable.Twitter screenshot from @brandonbovia: The only problem with AI tools for lettering manga is that the people making them have absolutely zero taste when it comes to graphic design sensibilities. So it behooves me to not point out all the problems

Twitter screenshot from @salinsley: hopefully the message gets out that AI isn’t a plug and play solution and will always rely on underpaid laborers, while itself costing a ton of money to develop + maintain

But even the average manga fan can see that this doesn’t only look wrong, it just doesn’t look good at all, and began voicing their concerns to MANGA Plus:

Twitter screenshot from @BubooSenchan: Can you not use AI and pay ppl to do the lettering? Stop supporting AI companies. For God’s sake, you are a magazine that has many artists, working with ai is like a slap on the faces of all your artists and readers. Twitter screenshot from @jpooch21: The lettering is almost unbearable. Please just hire a human being to do it. Twitter screenshot from @CiaranEile: awful AI typesetting, take this down and pay a professional to do it properly, fans deserve better Twitter screenshot from @Bannanner27: Pay people to typeset. The AI looks horribleTwitter screenshot from @Linkmax14122: Honestly most fan scans look better than this

Earlier this week, it was discovered through the iOS app store that MANGA Plus would be adding two new in-app purchases for monthly subscription plans: a standard plan for $1.99 / month and a deluxe plan for $4.99 / month.

Manga Plus' new subscription fees
Two new in-app subscription plans from Manga Plus (screenshot from iOS App Store)

It’s not yet clear what benefits come with each plan, or if MANGA Plus will be sunsetting the ability to read manga for free, but the addition of subscription plans – along with the use of AI in manga lettering – has some fans concerned with the quality of releases on the app going forward.

What do you think about the use of AI in manga localization? As a manga fan, does this level of quality bother you, or is it something you don’t notice? Let us know down in the comments – we’d love to hear your thoughts!