'In Defence of Manga'
By Simeon Filipov
Manga is a novel that uses the comic-strip format, also known as a graphic novel. The genre has rapidly developed and increased in popularity this century, as it is a much more visually inviting medium to consume for a lot of people.
Now, with that boring intro out of the way, ALLOW ME TO ENTICE YOU INTO THE WONDEROUS, YET BLAZINGLY HORRIFYING WORLD OF MANGA!!!
The stereotypical comic book
Now to get some misconceptions quickly out of the way. Manga and graphic novels have nothing in common with the stereotypical image of a 1930s American comic book, aside from drawn art within their pages. If you are a loyal fan of comic books, the likes of 1940s superman, this is still geared towards you.
Arguably, there are two important differences between older comic books, and more recent manga or graphic novels: firstly, comic books were geared towards children. Secondly, they were geared towards children so they could sell them toys and merchandise relating to the comic. The artform was designed to be a marketing device. Manga, on the other hand, is considered to be at a much higher level, intellectually and culturally. In Japan, many people pursue professional careers as ‘Mangaka’, manga authors, and grow to be respected amongst the population, as, say, J.R.R Tolkien is in England.
Of course, with manga, you will find works that you’d rather have never seen, scaring you away from the entirety of graphic novels, but I would argue that this applies to all art forms.
Now, in my ever-so noble pursuit of convincing you, the reader, to turn to the GLORY of this art form, I must debate some of the commonly launched arguments against manga, in favour of the not-so new novel form.
Novels are better at developing your imagination.
WRONG! Well, there is some truth to it, but we’ll sweep that under the rug for now. More importantly manga and graphic novels can also help your imagination develop, by introducing you to new visual concepts that at first would seem completely bizarre to our fragile, human psyche. That ontology aside, c’mon, look at the image above for but a second and admire that art… Isn’t it astounding? The detail… The world building… Things that would take a standard novel five pages to dissect… You think this is a painting? NO. IT’S FROM A MANGA! Specifically, ‘Made in Abyss’.
Furthermore, if you’re more of a ‘sciency’ homo sapiens, I offer you the hypothesis that we cannot visualise something we have not seen. In other words, say you were somehow born and raised on a spaceship, and had never seen an animal. You’d have a very hard time visualising it properly with fur and whatnot, even with the most detailed of verbose descriptions. Now, I hear you saying, “how in the name of oblivion would that ever-?” But I’ll just cut you off and let you speak to Professor Adam Zeman about it, the person who developed this theory based on his studies of aphantasia, or the inability to visualise.
Now, as I mentioned previously, not-so new novels also have their merits, so I must keep to my promise. I’ll just refer to those as ‘word novels’ for convenience, “but that’s-!” “THANK YOU.” As I was saying, ‘word novels’ can help you develop the skillset that allows mangaka to draw their stunning imagery in the first place, as they help you to visualise, without any concrete ocular stimuli. But, then the mangaka help you develop the tools with which to be able to visualise on your own in the first place. Here, I’ll draw it for you:
Hmmm. This does beg the question, “Which came first? The novel or the-”
Anyway! Case in point is these formats go hand-in-hand and both are good in different ways. Whatever. NOW ON TO THE FUN PART!
Difference in Philosophy
It is important to note that manga developed independently from comic books in the West. It has a Japanese origin and is still largely derived from that culture. I have a hypothesis as to why this is. Japanese culture, if we look at their history, has always been highly artistic, both in the drawing arts and theatrically.
Additionally, their writing system, itself highly visual, is in many ways much more efficient than Latin, or Cyrillic. Utilising tightly compacted kanji symbols such as 冬, meaning winter, allows the Japanese to fit much more information into a smaller space. We can see evidence of this by looking at a ‘Yu-gi-oh!’ card. ‘Yu-gi-oh!’, which roughly translates as ‘king of games’, is a card game that’s popular both in Japan and in the West, so we can see this comparison of text space right here:
Now what was that tangent trying to say? Manga relays the same information a ‘word novel’ would, but much more quickly, and this development is influenced by the culture’s language, ideals and ways of being. As an example, I was able to get through 40 volumes of the popular manga ‘Berserk’, in a month. I didn’t even dedicate that much time to it. (I absolutely love ‘Berserk’, by the way. It’s really good – you should read it.) In our busy world, manga is a much more efficient medium for conveying stories, while providing many of the pleasures you’d receive from ‘word novels’.
It wouldn’t hurt to at least try eh? Eh?
I am running out of time here, but please note that I was able to finish my prep for next lesson because I read manga and can get through the books much more quickly, giving me time to do my work! Okay – that may or may not have been a lie…
If people are told to give ‘word novels’ a try, manga should receive the same treatment.
Now! Have fun, socialise, spread the word of manga across the cosmos!