Manga as a Medium

There are many young aspiring manga fans who create stories in their heads and dream of creating their own manga. However a majority of these dreamers lack the artistic ability to draw manga, so why do they cling to the intent of creating manga when they may be more suited to expressing their stories as a novel or short story? They have a disregard for what manga as a medium is about. Just as many manga adaptations of stories from other mediums such as movies or books fail to take advantage of the special characteristics of manga as a medium.

Although I refer to manga, it falls into the same category as comics, both are sequential art. Technically there is little difference between manga and comics. When I say 'manga', I am referring to sequential art that is written by a Japanese person, after all, 'manga' is a Japanese word.

The best example of manga that makes good use of it's medium is 'Muteki Kanban Musume' ("Invincible Poster Girl", released in English as "Noodle Fighter Miki"), or more specifically 'Chapter 8: At the End of the Chase'.

Photo of a page from Muteki Kanban Musume Chapter 8 – (c) Jun Sadogawa & ADV Manga

Muteki Kanban Musume centers around the humourous antics and activities of a girl who lives and works at a ramen restaurant with her mother. The art has an awkward and amateurish feel to it, giving the impression that the author wasn't much of an artist, but looking at the expression of the characters and the way it flows together, it would seem that the warped awkward style was intentional. What at first glance looks like imperfections in drawing actually serves to enhance the comedic effect of the series.

Back to manga as a medium, the main difference between manga and a text-based book is the inclusion of images. Although novels might have illustrations scattered between the paragraphs of text, these usually do not add much effect to the story. Novels rely on words to describe what is happening in the story, the artistry of a novel comes from the way the writer weaves the words together. However, with manga, it is a combination of the images and words that form the story, sometimes it is the sequence of images alone that tells the story.

Chapter 8 of Muteki Kanban Musume (At the End of the Chase) is an excellent example of using the possibilities of manga, it has very little written text, but from looking at the images, you can tell what the characters are thinking and feeling. The chapter beging with Miki happily watching tv showing an image of a sow feeding her piglets, then Miki smiles as she sees a mother feeding her son in the restaurant. The smiling faces give the feeling of tranquility, but then a crow snatches food from Miki. You turn the page and get confronted with an image of Miki's face showing exaggerated anger. The chapter then follows through with a sequence of images showing Miki chasing the crow throughout the neighbourhood, with her single-minded pursuit of the crow having humourously devastating effects on the people around her.

There is one scene where the crow flies up onto a person's balcony, and Miki knocks on the apartment door to reach the crow. Although a man answers the door, there is no text dialogue, but based on the images, you get the impression that the man would've said something to Miki. By not including any dialogue, it highlights how Miki is so focused on chasing the crow that she doesn't seem to hear anyone else. There are many scenes where Miki would appear make a sound or maybe say something, but dialogue and sound effects are not needed because the facial expressions, gestures and images work together to illustrate what is happening and the reader can use these images to create the scene in their mind.

As they say "a picture is worth a thousand words", it rings especially true when telling a story through sequential art. Now, I'm not saying that manga/comics/sequential art is or isn't superior to a written text. My point is that each medium presents different possibilities for expressing an idea or story.

Update: 13 May 2010

I found scans of the original Japanese version of Muteki Kanban Musume. Here is Chapter 8 – At the End of the Chase. Knowledge of Japanese not required to appreciate the story being presented in this chapter.