15 June 2004

Understanding Manga

Or my thoughts about it, anyway. As you may know, if you've been following along, I just read Scott McCloud's Understanding Comics. And you may remember be blathering about manga and why I didn't read much of it in the past (that post is here if you want it). Well, I was reading McCloud's book, and he was discussing the different kinds of between-panel transitions in comics. The most common transitions in western comics are "action-to-action" (sequences showing the progression of actions), followed by "subject-to-subject" (switching between subjects in a single scene or action), and "scene-to-scene" (shanges in time or place). In eastern comics, though, transitions between subjects in a scene/action are nearly as important as action sequences. What is more interesting, though, and what really caught my attention, is the presence of "moment-to-moment" transitions (those that show small changes in a single subject), and the relatively strong presence of "aspect-to-aspect" transitions (those that show different aspects of a single place, idea or mood, ignoring time alltogether). Yeah, pretty technical, but sometimes technical is good. Anyway, McCloud says of these aspect-to-aspect transitions:
Most often used to establish a mood or a sense of place, time often seems to stand still in these quiet, contemplative combinations . . . . Rather than acting as a bridge between separate moments, the reader here must assemble a single moment using scattered fragments.

Now what was that I said about more (or less) bang for your buck (ick, I really dislike that particular cliché)? McCloud speculates that one reason for this difference is that eastern comics (or Japanese comics, anyway) tend to be first published in huge anthologies, and then collected in multi-volume sets (InuYasha is up to 17 volumes, each nearly 200 pages--at least, the comic shop had 17; there could be more).
As such, dozens of panels can be devoted to portraying slow cinematic movement or to setting a mood.

But, he says, there seems to be something more fundamental than just length. Whereas western culture is very goal-oriented, in our literature as in anything else, in the east there is "a rich tradition of cyclical and labyrinthine works of art," comics included. I like that: cyclical and labyrinthine. Beautiful words for a beautiful idea.

Anyway, I don't know if I like manga more now because I'm older and things don't seem so urgent anymore, or if it's just that I've grown more contemplative (though I've always been rather laid back and contemplative; maybe I should've given manga another chance back then. Or maybe it was the quality or subject matter of the work published at the time?) Anyway, I no longer think of those mood-setting aspect-to-aspect transitions as nothing happening. Instead, they're a chance to deepen the moment. Like anything else, though, deepening the moment should not be overdone. Does this make sense? I am fumbling my way through things I don't understand very well yet. Yet. I plan to dig much, much deeper into this.

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