Why Manga is the Greatest Form of Story Telling

16 Oct

Manga (mahng-guh) specifically means a Japanese graphic novel. The style has grown out of Japan into other Asian countries and around the world; they are called: Manhua, Manhwa, La Nouvelle Manga, or even Amerimanga, or Original English Language Manga (OEL Manga).

I believe there is a misconception in the term “manga,” a term that I will be using for the rest of the essay despite there being other kinds. Manga is not an art style, it is not a story telling style, not a genre, and now it is not necessarily Japanese. “Manga” is no more descriptive than “comic,” the traditional American word for the same concept.

Both comics and manga are now being scientifically classified and picked over and the official term for them is “sequential art.” Sequential Art is defined as a series of images that convey a story or a sequence of events. We will continue to call manga and comics manga and comics though, as sequential art is new and such a mouthful. It is much more pleasing to say, “oh hey man! Check out this great new manga!” As opposed to, “oh hey man! Check out this great new Sequential Art!”

Back to manga and why it is the greatest form of story telling. It surpasses television, movies, and can surpass books. In this essay I will take each aspect of manga and deconstruct its preconceptions and misconceptions; then build it back up again in the way that manga should be viewed and understood.

“Manga is a genre.” This is the biggest misconception about manga. People think that manga is either for children, or is too adult. This is like saying books are a genre, but I believe The Cat in the Hat and 50 Shades of Gray are both books. Manga only describes the sequential art nature of the stories; though also because of this comes the misconception that they are for children. In the United States people see drawn or animated and dismiss it as childish, for kids. Manga has children’s genres, it also has adult genres, and genres for everything under the sun. Just like movies, books, and TV.

Because manga is illustrated and relatively easy to manufacture it is diverse. Its diversity is what lends itself to the flip side of this misconception; that it is too adult. Manga has no actors or special effects so it’s easy to do things with characters that cannot be done in movies or TV. Manga is also visual, so things like violence and nudity can be expressed more vividly than with the written word.

Manga has an ease of entering any genre in the extreme, because of this it was embraced by Americans who wanted darker and more twisted tales. In the early days of Americans getting to know manga this extreme kind was most alluring because we did not have anything very similar. Sure we have comedy and romance, but twisting and gory tragic tales were not worth the time of major producers in any entertainment field because it was not accessible to the mainstream. Most attempts at these are what we call B movies. Now the people who wanted to could indulge in high quality tragedies that weren’t cheesy or poorly made. This seems to be the official stance on the subject. I looked up the word “manga” in three separate online dictionaries. The definition included “adult themed” Japanese comic books, when this is certainly not the case.

So at first glance manga looks like it’s for children. It’s illustrated, cartoons, kiddy. At second glance manga is for adults, it’s lewd, it’s gory, and it’s a-moral. On a third look you will see manga is just a story telling device, and it covers every genre. There is even non-fiction manga; manga that depicts a time in history and tells it like a story.

However manga does get the reputation for being more science fiction, fantasy, or horror themed, and rightly so. As I said earlier with an illustrated work there are no limits. Because of this the manga experience lends itself to more fantastic plots. We all know how a serious alien movie or horror flick can be instantly turned comedy by terrible acting or seeing the strings holding up the UFO. I know several science fiction TV shows that have a perfectly good concept but are executed so ridiculously they are laughable.

In manga you can draw outer space, you can draw alien races, massive explosions, flying body parts, mutations, and more with ease.  You can draw anything you want and make it look good. In the movies all you need to make a good romance are a few good actors and one setting. A good fantasy takes so much more. This is why the simple manga, ones revolving every day people or less epic plots, like romance and non-fiction, are overshadowed by the big long series involving magic and robots.

The diversity of manga plot is part of what makes it the greatest form of story telling. I have cried at sweet and touching romances and been blown away by the sheer epicness of the final battle in a fantasy. Of course movies, TV, and books can do every genre as well, but I believe it is not as accessible as in manga. Manga will nearly always be well drawn. If it is not it will not be likely to be published. So in manga it relies solely on the story. Now not every manga story is good, but that means it will not suffer the same fate of movies with a great story ruined by poor actors or bad special effects.

“Manga is an art Style.” This is another big misconception. The style of the manga is dependent on the artist. Yes, manga is all mostly black and white, and use speech bubbles, and can be structured the same, and may have similar trends between them. Saying manga is an art style is like saying painting is an art style. Just because Picasso and Van Gogh both used canvas and paint, would you say their art is the same style? At most I could be convinced they are as similar as say, two different impressionist artists. For an example I will use “The Big Three” this refers to the three most popular current action genre manga that are running today. This includes One Piece by Eiichiro Oda, Bleach by Tite Kubo, and Naruto by Masashi Kishimoto. Below are links to a page from each.

One Piece

Bleach

Naruto

In analyzing these pages we can see that the styles are quite different, even if not apparent at first glance. If a whole chapter or volume is read the differences become even more distinct. We see style deviating not only artistically in the environment and characters, but in the direction of the manga. Like direction in a movie; How often are close ups used? When do they tilt the angle for tension? How do they plan panel size and layout? Each of these is distinct to each manga.

Let’s look at this page in One Piece, The paneling is fairly uniform, the shots are either close up or far away, the bubbles and font show expression and bleed into the empty space between panels. One Piece is also known for it’s original character designs; faces and bodies of many different proportions are the norm. In the last panel we see a few people riding the half-man/half crocodile creature. That man is supposed to be a normal person who got crocodile legs as a transplant. Yet his head is as big as the two people riding him. We also see expressive symbols coming off the characters in many forms. There are also detailed and well-drawn backgrounds in many of the panels.

On Bleach the paneling is mostly quite large and angled with extremely close up or upper body shots. The speech bubbles are very sharp to show yelling, but do not bleed into the empty space. The character design is also different; Bleach has much more realistic features and proportions. It’s usually the outfits that are so different in Bleach, and can often disguise or amplify a characters body type. The mouths are realistically opened, and their skin is shaded and drawn to show skin cracks and wrinkles. There are also no expressive tidbits around these characters. Here, and usually in Bleach, there is a distinct lack of background and setting in the fight.

Finally in Naruto we see a very uniform paneling with the speech bubbles confined to their barriers. The characters are proportionally similar, though have smaller mouths and noses than in Bleach. The eyes in Naruto are also different; they have a swirling and cat-eye look that is not seen in Bleach or One Piece. There is a background, but it’s simple. The hair in Naruto is also more outrageous than the other two.

So we see in a thorough analysis that manga offers many different art styles. If this is not enough to convince you, and you still think all manga is is this, I have a few other quick examples to show the difference in manga art:

Choku!!

Nobelesse

Hayate the Combat Butler

Great Teacher Onizuka

I love books, I do, but it’s hard to beat visuals for imagery in a story. This is why movies and TV are so popular and more accessible than books. They involve less imagination and thought process to construct a scene.

Some may argue not using your imagination is a bad thing, but seeing something can be very powerful, and an image can convey many different states and preserve them for observation. As the saying goes, “a picture is worth a thousand words.”

Particularly visuals are important for action, and I don’t mean the entertainment term for action but the dictionary one, “the fact or process of doing something.” Characters movements, facial expressions, and fighting can be difficult to convey in words. I know in books that I can often times forget the setting while I’m absorbed in the dialogue; while setting is very important.

For example in a book the bad guy may have someone tied in a chair, interrogating him. In the book this is set up then they talk and dialogue takes over. Unless you are reminded the fact one is tied down and one is not may escape you.

In text the difference between dialogue and action is great. An author can always add descriptions but since text is so linear the presence of it in your mind can never be simultaneous. You read things like, “picked up his torture devices as he asked questions,” or “he nervously tugged at his bonds as he answered.” Yet these happen after a line, so your mind must overlay what you just read into the action. It can subtract from the experience, when in a manga imagery can be used to simultaneously convey words and action. Even if you are focused on and reading the words your vision picks up on the panel that contains the text.

Or manga can just use action. Words could not be spoken if you see the interrogator finger a nasty looking device then see a drip of sweat going down the captives face. Without words these images don’t need to be interpreted and can convey an atmosphere and emotion with a single glance.

There is power in a static image. Slowing time to a stop so you can absorb a single moment. This is why slow motion is used in particularly dramatic moments in movies so viewers can take in what just happened. From the closeness and blush of two lovers faces to the sword slice coming a hairsbreadth away from cutting someone’s neck; these scenes in stasis can be more powerful than a thousand things happening at once in a movie. In this sense manga is better than film.

Manga has an automatic rewind and pause, all controlled by your brain. As a reader you can stare at a single panel or page to absorb what’s happened, or reread sections at will, you can speed up or slow down. In film this is harder to do, and it takes away from the experience of watching. Some might say it takes away from the experience of reading, but our minds can do it so flawlessly it does not matter. I’m sure if you could be as seamless while watching TV people would do it just as often.

You have to pause, rewind, try to find the exactly spot, interrupt the sound, not accidentally shut it off, and are probably among other people so it is hard. When reading it is simply a movement of the eyes to relive a particular dramatic over and over before you move on.

So, manga takes the best aspects of watching TV/movies and reading and puts them into one medium. We have the easily accessible dialogue and text of books, with the limitless potential to do any genre well; combined with the visual power of film without the inherent limitations of the medium like acting, special affects, and the downside of a constant stimulation of the senses.

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Lately

1 May

Well, as you all know I’ve been terrible keeping up with posting. Now I have been busy with school work, learning UDK and practicing creating levels, but I’ve been very busy with video games as well. Though I have posted about all of them here.

First I was very involved with Half-Life 2. I got it new for the 360 and it is by far my favorite FPS I have played, and I don’t like FPSs all that much. It had a lot more depth and puzzle to it than a war shooter.

Then I got caught up in replaying Portal, since it was right there on The Orange Box. After that I just had to replay Portal 2, always good fun. From then on whenever I was doing my homework I would listen to the ending credits songs of both games over and over. Both are good music, hilarious, and fun to listen to.

After that I was wondering what to do next when I picked up Pikmin to replay. I did it in about a day, then like with Portal and Portal 2 I just had to play Pikmin 2. That one took me a few days, but was even better than I remember.

Now the Pikmin games are RTS, and that really got me in the mood for more of that. I had StarCraft II but had only played like a third of it when I drifted away from it. I picked it back up with vigor and finished it pretty soon. It is a ton of fun, however it got me in the mood for WarCraft III. I set SC2 aside and picked WC3 back up.

Now I spent a lot of time on WC3, I had only completely beaten it once, and had not beat The Frozen Throne. I finally got through TFT for the first time, I barely remembered any of it. It was finally over, but I still wanted RTS, so I have picked SC2 back up and am working on honing my skills and getting the achievements.

Needless to say I have hardly watched any anime at all in like a month; and barely have kept up with my manga. Actually I think I have only watched one episode or something, an anime a friend recommended called Hyouka. He thought I might like it since I’m a mystery fan. I don’t know after one episode. The characters seem a bit cliche. We’ll see.

Well, now it’s back to SC2 with Murder, She Wrote. The achievement collecting is going well.

Leverage

30 Apr

Sorry I have been so busy, I will try to keep up on my blog again. Thank you to any readers I have.

Today I tried a new TV show at the recommendation of a friend. The show is called Leverage. It began in 2008 and is still on air. The show follows an ex insurance investigator who has put together a team of thieves and baddies in a sort of Robin Hood-esque capacity.

The investigator is mad at his old employer for not paying out insurance to save his sons life. Yet he is an honest man who won’t break the law. In the first episode a man come to him to ask him to steal back something of his that was stolen. He decides to take on the job. A lot happen (spoilers) and he and his crew get away with millions.

The main guy decides he likes this work, as do the others. They form a group to help people who are taken advantage of. The characters are funny and interesting. The main guy is the planner and coordinator, team leader. His group of bad guys who do good things include a computers expert, a combat expert, a cat burglar, and a con woman.

I’ve only watched five episodes so far, but it’s pretty good. I suggest the show to anyone who likes shows like Burn Notice, or White Collar.

Leverage

Pikmin

13 Apr

Sorry I’ve been gone for so long! Had a nice Easter, though it was only a weekend. This last week I actually had a vacation from school, so I’ve been taking it easy, played a lot of video games and watched a lot of TV. Sometimes at the same time.

On Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday I played Pikmin over again, both games. I love them still as much as the first time I played them. The games are amazing, so I decided to talk about them here.Pikmin and Pikmin 2 are GameCube games released in 2001 and 2004 respectively.

In Pikmin you are a bit strange looking humanoid creature, named Olimar, who is traveling through space. Your rocket ship is suddenly hit by an asteroid and you enter a death spiral toward a near planet. Pieces of your ship fly off as you enter the atmosphere and you crash land on this unknown planet.

Olimar survived and analyzes his situation in despair. There are 30 pieces from his ship missing, he must get them back if he hopes to make it off the planet. To make matters worse the atmosphere contains the poisonous gas, oxygen, in large quantities. His life support will only last for 30 days.

Olimar’s situation is not looking good, but as he explores a strange ship suddenly pops up in front of him and releases a seed. A plant sprouts and Olimar goes to pluck it. Lo and behold! It is not a plant, but a strange little red creature. Olimar decided to name them Pikmin, since they look like the Pikpik brand carrots from his own planet. Olimar discovers he can control this Pikmin, and if he collects material from around the world a Pikmin will bring to his ship and sprout more pikmin.

Soon you have 10 Pikmin, and nearby is an obstacle they can move with their combined strength. Beyond this is the ships engine! With this Olimar will be able to fly in the atmosphere to search other areas of the world. He needs at least 30 Pikmin to carry it though, you spend your time growing your Pikmin and soon have a fine army to carry your engine back.

After you get your engine the first day ends, and Olimar takes off for the night to avoid the nocturnal beasts of the planet. The Pikmin ship rises and follows him. Over the next 29 days Olimar must use his Pikmin army to collect his ship parts from many different areas and also fight many different enemies with his little army.

Now Olimar also finds blue Pikmin and yellow ones to go along with his red. Each color has their own attributes to help in the game. The red ones are fireproof, the blue can go in water, and the yellow can be thrown higher and carry bombs. As Olimar the player must navigate the strange world (which actually seems to be some strange future earth) and solve puzzles and defeat enemies using all the Pikmins attributes to obtain his ship parts. Also you can only have 100 Pikmin with you at once.

In Pikmin 2 you return to the planet after you find your company has gone bankrupt and treasure lies on the surface of the planet. There are quite a few differences in Pikmin 2. First of all you control two people, so you can split your tasks and work as a team. You switch between them to monitor projects you have set your Pikmin to. Also there are two new kinds of Pikmin; purple, which are extremely heavy and can carry the same as 10 Pikmin; and white, who are resistant to poison, and poison themselves. They can also dig up buried treasure. Also bombs are gone and yellow are resistant to electricity.

Both games are amazing, and Pikmin 2 is much more expansive and has more strategy. The game is really an RTS. There are big boss battles, and lots of strategy for reaching what you want. Here is a pretty cool music video on it I just found. I recommend Pikmin to anyone who loves strategy. These games are some of the few I would call perfect.

Easter

5 Apr

I missed another day again!

Well I’ve been extremely busy with schoolwork lately, and for a few days this Easter my family will be going out of state, so I won’t post for a little while. See you all soon!

Murder, She Wrote

3 Apr

Murder, She Wrote, is an old TV show. It ran from 1984 to 1996, that’s right, 12 seasons. It was a prime time mystery show starring Angela Lansbury. Since the show is very long and has very stand alone episodes I often use it to fill in when I want an english show to have on in the background.

Angela Lansbury stars as a widowed mystery writer named Jessica Fletcher. To top it all off she lives in Maine! My home state. Jessica always ends up around murder where ever she is and helps to solve it.She’s a bit like a younger Miss Marple.

The show is a bit too formulated though. The settings and characters wildly change, but the culprit is usually revealed by a, “how would you know *this thing* was *like this* if you weren’t there?” or some other slip of the tongue.

Of course it’s also seems she’s a bit cursed as murder seems to follow her where ever she goes. One woman coincidentally falling into 200+ murder investigations can be a bit much. However it’s still enjoyable to see the kindly woman solving murder, I recommend it to any mystery fans.

Portal 2

2 Apr

Since I beat Portal again recently I picked up Portal 2 and beat it in a few hours as well.

Portal 2 is great fun, definitely polished up from the first. There is a lot more story which makes the game even better and tie things up from the first. They also have added mechanics which make it a lot more dynamic.

Repulsion gel makes you bounce, propulsion gel makes you go fast, and a white gel creates portal surfaces. There are also light bridges, spring boards, and light beams you can float in. They add great depth to the puzzles.

This time around Portal 2 didn’t take me too long, but the first time I got pretty stumped a few times. The levels are longer and more complex.

Portal 2 also has a co-op mode, this is a ton of fun to play with friends. People can put their heads together and work their way through puzzles.

I recommend the Portal games to any puzzle lovers.

Portal 2

Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood

30 Mar

I have been watching the Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood anime for a long time now with my family. We all enjoy it, but we keep letting it fall to the wayside. This weekend we are determined to try and finish it, we only have 10 episodes left.

Brotherhood, as I’m told, is a reanimation of the anime following the exact story of the manga. I’m always for preserving the original story, so I’m glad this came around. I have never watched the first animation.

This anime/manga has been around for a while, so I’m sure most people have heard of it. The story is set in a magical land where alchemy is used to manipulate the elements. To do so you must draw the proper diagrams. However there is one boy who can do alchemy without circles, he is known as the Fullmetal Alchemist.

He gained this ability when attempting to bring his mother back to life, a forbidden alchemy, and messed up big time. He lost his arm and leg. However his brother lost his whole body and now his soul is bound only to a piece of armor.

The story follows their adventures, but soon you see there are much bigger things at work. A great nemesis appears, and a world ending threat is identified. The two boys must work with their friends and allies to save everyone.

This are really coming to a head and there are still 10 episodes left, I can’t wait to finish them this weekend.

Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood

Avatar: The Last Airbender

29 Mar

Sorry everyone! Since I had this Blog I haven’t missed today, but I was so busy yesterday watching Avatar it totally slipped my mind. And even today’s is late.

Well I categorize this under anime, but it is actually an anime inspired Nickelodeon series.  Avatar has been out for a while, it was a show with three seasons that aired from 2005 to 2008. I just finished it yesterday on Netflix watch instant after 3 days of watching.

The premise of the show is about a mythical land split into four nations. These nations all have some citizens who are called “benders” and they can “bend” the 4 elements. Air Benders control air, Earth Benders control rock, Water Benders control water, and Fire Benders with fire. Then in each generation there is a special person born who is able to bend all four elements, this person is called the Avatar, and it is their job to keep balance in the world.

Currently the Fire Nation has launched an attack on the rest of the world to claim it as their own, the war was raged for 100 years, but the Avatar has not been seen. Two teens of the Water Tribe living in the South Pole find a young air bender, and his flying bison, encased in ice, he is the Avatar, who has been dormant for 100 years.

These three then set off on a journey to teach the Avatar the other elements and to defeat the Fire Lord. They meet many other friends and enemies along the way.

I wasn’t sure about the show at first, I thought it might be too kiddy, but halfway through the first season it really picks up and gets into a great flow and good story. I only had a few complaints with the show, first of all it had no killing. Now I’m not a violence person, or like gore, or blood, or anything like that; but this is a war setting. They talk often of people have been killed in the past, or people who might not make it in a mission and shows plenty of large scale battles where people had to have died. Yet it is never really shown or talked about, it takes away a lot of realism and seriousness in my opinion.

The second complaint I resolved with myself. I was confused because Earth Benders need to have rock to control, Air Benders need Air, Water Benders need water, but Fire Benders can just create bursts of flame from nothing. I think now though that Fire Benders just draw heat from the air or something and make it into fire. It works for me.

My biggest complaint however is the romantic conclusion. The main pair that ended up together I totally disagree with, and is the one thing that keeps me from calling it one of my favorite shows. It really really bothered me.

One thing I did really like though were the fighting scenes. They weren’t just well animated or just looked cool, they were actually very intelligent and detailed in choreography. The uses of the bending was diverse and well used. Fighters always used their environments and small details to their advantage. To me this is the best kind of fighting, it is intelligent and shows care. It is different than just some regular shonen thing where they keep revealing special moves.

I suppose I would recommend it to any anime fans, but the romance is still really bothering me.

The Avatar in front and the two who found him

Skip Beat

27 Mar

Much to my girlfriends happiness I started reading Skip Beat. It took me a few chapters to get into it, but it’s really getting going. Skip Beat is a manga about a girl who runs away to Tokyo to help her selfish angsty guy friend to become a big star.

She gets multiple jobs for rent money for them both, and supports him 100%. The guy eventually does make it pretty big, and he’s a pretty famous star. However, as the girl decides to bring him some surprise snacks one day she over hears that he was only using her. He used her and her hard work to support him while he worked on being famous.

Outraged the girl declares she will have her revenge, she will ruin all he has built. From now on she will try to make it into the entertainment world, and take him down! I’m very excited to see this happen, it’s quite a different set-up from normal romance mangas.

The romance part of it seems to be coming from another big star, the number one actually. The agency the girl decides to join represents him. This relationship is much for the usual shoujo type, a sort of love hate thing going on.

I look forward to reading more, and finding out what she does for her revenge. I’m only 23 chapters in. I recommend it to any shoujo fans. Though I understand it’s well liked already.

the blond is the one she's getting revenge on