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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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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

History’s Strongest Disciple Kenichi

23 Mar

Sorry, such a late post today. I’ve been very busy for a couple of days, looking forward to some rest over the weekend. Today I’ll talk about another favorite manga, this one is History’s Strongest Disciple Kenichi. The manga has been going since 2002 and is in it’s 468th chapter.

The manga is about a weak little bullied boy. When starting high school he meets a beautiful girl and gets a bit of a crush. He finds out her home is a Dojo, he enters as a student to get closer to her, and to get stronger. But he does not know what he’s in for.

There are six martial arts masters of different schools residing at the dojo, they decide Kenichi, the boy, will be their new disciple. From here on out Kenichi goes through hellish training to power up and be stronger.

The manga later brings in an overarching theme of an evil martial arts organization that must be fought, Kenichi keeps fighting and getting stronger. This manga has great characters, and can be serious and also hilarious. It is a typical shonen formula of the hero getting stronger and stronger, but it’s very gradual and preserves Kenichi’s character.

It has good fighting scenes, and is well drawn. Though the fighting gets nowhere near realistic, but that’s fine with me. The manga is also quite ecchi though, so if anyone doesn’t go for that sort of thing, this is not for you. Otherwise any fighting/ecchi/basic shonen fans go for it!

Kenichi in front of the masters

New Manga

19 Mar

Whenever a person mentions a manga they like, or if I see one that looks interesting I will always immediately bookmark it in a “Manga to try” folder and save it for later. Well the list has grown to long, to almost 40 titles! I decided it’s time to weed some out, and find some good new manga.

I haven’t gotten too far in the weeding, only tried about 10 so far, and I even kept 5! at this rate I’m going to have too much new manga. Though some I will probably drop from reading more of them. But ah well, it should be fun to read. I thought I’d share a few words about the new ones I found. Well, though they are all most certainly old.

First one is Berserk, a powerful man fighting off demons in a harsh fantasy land. The art and such reminds me a bit of The Fist of the Northern Star, another manga I’ve only read some of. Berserk is pretty graphic, but I’m interested enough to try it out.

Next is called Flame of Recca, not sure if I like this one yet or not. It’ about this boy wanna be ninja in high school. He can somehow make sparks when he snaps, hence the flame part. He meets up with a girl in his school who has mysterious healing powers and decides she is fit to be a noble master. There is also some hinting at greater things at work.

Then one called Psyren. Seemingly random people are chosen and called to Psyren, there they fight in a harsh terrain for their life to escape, like a game. People who go there may never speak of it and have also developed psychic powers. You find out the harsh terrain is actually the future, and someone is trying to stop it with this game, or are they?

Samurai Deeper Kyo is about a man in historical Japan who is a feared Samurai, but at the same time a peace loving chemist. The man has a split personality. Usually he is a bumbling and kind, if maybe a bit dumb, chemist. But when his life is in danger, his other personality will come out, a ruthless killer who slaughters without mercy. He kills even innocents if they are in the way. I’ve found this pretty interesting and have read this one the most.

This last one I don’t know if I like or not yet. It’s called Toriko. In a land where food is the main obsession of all, hunting is the highest paying and most respected skill. Toriko is an ultimate hunter, but it’s a bit cheesy and I haven’t gotten too far. It might just be kinda fun to read just since it’s so ridiculous.

That’s it for now, after I try more new manga I’ll check back in.

 

Noblesse

13 Mar

Noblesse is a Manhwa (South Korean comic). This is one of my favorite comics, I have always found it interesting, and always look forward to the next chapter. The drawings are fairly simple compared to Manga, but the story and characters are good. It started in 2007 and is still going strong.

Noblesse is about vampires, and one in particular. The story starts with him waking up after an 820 year sleep into the modern world. His name is Cadis Etrama Di Raizel, but it is shortened to Rai. Rai disguises himself in clothes that he sees is most common. It turns out to be the uniform of a nearby high school.

Stumbling in there he finds that the principle is his faithful servant, Frankenstein, who has been awaiting his return. Rai decides to stay at the school and study to learn about humans and their advancements in the past 820 years. While there he makes some human friends.

Now the encompassing story is about a human organization which has something to do with Rai reawakening. The organization conducts human experiments to try and make ultimate fighting machines that can be on par with vampires. Rai and Frankenstein run counter investigation and met up with more allies along the way. Other vampires or defectors from the organization.

Rai is a man of little words, only speaking when necessary, but is of immense power. Later in the comic he hardly seems like a main character, but his friends all greatly respect him. The fighting is mostly done with his, “team” and Frankenstein. The fights are epic and interesting. The progression of the comic works well, revealing stronger and stronger enemies in a way that does not feel too artificial.

I recommend Noblesse to any Shonen and action fan who like fighting and cool moves etc. It is done so well I’m sure anyone would find interest in it though.

The current cast of Noblesse

Mahou Sensei Negima

11 Mar

Mahou Sensei Negima, Magical Teacher Negima, one of my favorite manga has come to an end. I just read the last chapter yesterday, I have to say it was a pretty good ending.

MSN(Mahou Sensei Negima) is a shonen manga that is now complete at 355 chapters. The series is drawn and written by Akamatsu Ken. Before MSN he wrote a manga called Love Hina which was one of the first complete manga I read and fell in love with.

MSN is about a young boy named Negi Springfield, who at the age of 10 who is a genius and a graduate of the magical academy in Wales. Magic is a secret from the rest of the world and is used behind the scenes to help people. Upon graduating he is given a post in a Japanese school to teach English. He arrives at the school, and of course there is confusion to him being a kid teacher.

Negi is smart and a hard worker though and gets… some control of the 31 girls in his class. The manga follows his adventures with his students in all sort of problems and hijinks, eventually leading up to a time when the whole world is in danger and it is up to them to save it. Needless to say more and more students get in on the magic secret.

The manga is magical fighting action; harem, as his students fall for him; and ecchi, as he sneezes and accidentally blows off his students clothes. I love the drawing style, and the writing is funny and meaningful. There are good characters and more come in later.

As for the ending, I liked it, except I was very unsatisfied by no romantic resolve for Negi. Love Hina was a harem manga too, and had a very strong romantic ending, I wish it had been more like that. Though the way he ended it was solid, but I think I would have appreciated it more if I knew more of the characters. I took a long break from it once and forgot who a lot of people were. I think I’m going to read it all over now.

Well I can’t wait to see Akamatsu Ken’s next work. Below is Negi’s class roster.

Negi's Class

 

The World God Only Knows

3 Mar

The World God Only Know(TWGOK) is one of my favorite mangas. Though it’s an anime now as well. It has great characters, a great story, is well drawn and exciting to read. The manga is about a high School boy, Keima Katsuragi. Keima is a master of dating women. There is no scenario he does not know, and no woman he has set his eyes on yet he could not ensnare into his web….virtual web. He is the master of dating sims, a god of capturing 2D girls. He has no need for the real world, or real girls.

Yet his identity is mistaken, much in the way you were probably fooled by my intro of him. Keima one day opens an email that asks if he is really the god of capturing women, and if he is up for an ultimate challenge. Of course he opens it, and suddenly a cute demon pops out in front of him named Elsie. Elsie explains to him some very confusing stuff. Evil souls have escaped from Hell, she and other demons were sent out to recover them. They need to use a human partner to help them. The souls hide away in human hearts, to force them out they must fill the humans heart with a strong emotion. The demons enlist Keima, the capturing god, to help.

Keima frantically explains he deals with 2D women only, but it’s too late, the contract has been made. If he rescinds he will lose his life. Keima resigns himself to the fact he is stuck like this, and the only way to be free is the capture all the spirits. He must apply his gaming knowledge to the real world, and make countless women fall in love with him to force the spirits out.

The rest of the manga is Keima working with Elsie to woo women into falling deeply in love with him to force the spirit out. Each arc is a new and different woman to capture. Luckily after he succeeds they lose their memories of the capture. Otherwise he would just be seen as some two-timing jerk. Keima is highly intelligent and analytic in everything he does. He is one of my favorite characters in any manga. He always knows what’s what and has a plan.

Elsie is able to tell which girls have spirits inside them, and she acts as support to the conquest. Helping to create the right atmosphere, or transporting him about. She does the actual capturing when the spirit is forced out too. Elsie is pretty dim, she’s a classic girly cute character that is clumsy and moe. Their dynamic works well together.

The Manga is in it’s 179th chapter, and seems to be nearing an end. As the conquests went on a few bigger stories and plots started to form. It’s getting very exciting. I recommend the manga to any romance fans, or comedy fans, or intellectual types. (If anyone wants anymore info or to discuss it in great detail I have a friend who is quite the expert).

Keima and Elsie are in the foreground, the background girls are various conquests.

Bakuman

26 Feb

Bakuman is a manga (though also an anime but I don’t watch it) by the same guys who did Death Note. I just discovered it fairly recently and caught up with it in great fervor. I find it incredibly interesting. The manga follows two young men near the end of High School who decided to band together to create manga. One will be the writer, the other the illustrator. Much like the makers of this manga.

The manga is about the manga industry, it’s very intriguing and will help a lot of people learn about the industry. The manga follows the two from drawing up concepts in their bedrooms during high school to becoming famous and top mangaka. Along the way they meet up with other mangaka, editors, and more to make friends and enemies. Or people in between.

Another driving aspect behind Bakuman is the illustrators love life. In high school he made a promise with a girl, he would become a famous mangaka, and when his manga become an anime she would be the voice of the heroine. She is a inspiring anime voice actress. After this, the two will be wed. It is their promise to be together after each has fulfilled their dream. Very romantic and pure. Not many main stream love stories are these days.

Currently, at chapter 168, things are coming to a head in the romance department. But I don’t want to give to much away, so go read it! I’m nervous about how things will turn out.

The manga, though much lighter, is very similar to Death Note. It’s intelligent, thought provoking, has good characters, is well drawn and just well made and executed. Anyone who prefers story above all else in entertainment will greatly enjoy it. Go read it!

Bakuman - The author on the left, the illustrator on the right

MangaFox

17 Feb

http://www.mangafox.com/ is a place to read manga online. And it is the main reason I love manga and anime today. About three years ago I saw a poster for Death Note. I thought, “hey, that’s that manga stuff, read some of that, looks cool.” Next thing I know I’m on MangaFox reading it.

I then got super addicted to manga and pretty much when I wasn’t doing homework I was reading. I explored many genres and kinds and tried a lot of manga.

Eventually I discovered the forums, and saw that people discussed the manga. I was never really interested in the beginning, but eventually I decided to give it a try. I lightly tried discussing some manga, and eventually found a spam thread where I could chat and have fun.

This thread since became my Internet home. There I discovered many friends from around the world with similar interests… or dissimilar interests making for some arguments.

It’s here I was introduced and started loving anime, and here my Internet and manga and anime horizons greatly expanded. And here I made many friends (maybe a few enemies). It can really be something to let go of all your inhibitions and truly be yourself.

(If anyone sees comments on this blog that seem overly familiar it is probably someone I know from MangaFox.)

There is one special friend I met. A girl. She lives 1,600 miles away, but we grew to know each other and are now very real boyfriend and girlfriend. She is the one who made this blog for me.

It is safe to say this website changed my life. I look forward to continuing my time there and making new friends. If you’re ever around look me up, my username is ym639ee6vq5.

Beelzebub

2 Feb

So I read the new chapter on the manga Beelzebub today,  chapter 142. It was good as always. Beelzebub is one of my favorite, relatively new, mangas. It centers around a bad-ass delinquent who doesn’t take crap from anybody. In a turn of events though he is now the care taker of hells spawn, i.e. the Devils youngest child. The demon baby attached himself to the strongest entity it could find to raise him, that would be Tatsumi Oga, our delinquent.

Things evolve to a point where it feels more like a run of the mill Shonen though, Oga must level up and get stronger to defeat the next emerging enemies. But I still think the manga is fresh and interesting. Not only is it hilarious; Oga and his friends are delinquents, they don’t really take that usual path of turning good, or really have a good heart inside. They are delinquents the whole time, through and through.

What happens is Demons start coming out from hell and making trouble. Oga and his delinquent buddies take it upon themselves to defeat them. Not really because they are good, but because the demons are the enemy. It reminds of this old cheesy movie I saw once. A small faction of Nazis infiltrate the US and as it turns into a gunfight the Mob and the FBI team up against them.

The Mob, they aren’t good people, crooks and killers, but even they agree with the feds that Nazis are bad news. In other words it concerns even delinquents when the world is in danger. Bad people don’t want someone badder coming in. So I think the author did a good job of preserving the less-than-heroic characters by pitting them against Demons. Meaning the characters aren’t your run of the mill family types, but still someone you can cheer for.