Mar 7, 2008

Western vs. Japanese Comics

People sometimes ask me why I'm not a fan of manga. Let me say why.

Compare this scene from Sandman:

To this manga adaptation of the same scene:

Note the subtlety in both Death and Dream's reactions to each other in the first version, and the pathos in Dream's face when he realizes he's done wrong. Also note Death's face when she says, "Desire was right." It is the perfect expression, given that Death is trying to console Dream and at the same time show him that he is, indeed, in the wrong. It's the expression you make when you try to tell your brother that you love him, but he was wrong. Also observe Dream's reaction: he's taken aback, then conveys it with a very confused "What?" Death then follows it up with a very cool, collected telling-to, followed by Dream's very pensive and repentant reaction.

In the second version, I can forgive Dream's angry expression when he says "None of you stood up for me." Where it fails is when Death says "Desire was right." The expression is not one of the very subtle "I love you, but you're wrong," variety, it's just one of basic anger. Dream's reaction to that, instead of confusion, comes off as fear, and then Death just yells at him. And he flinches.

That's the primary reason I can't get into manga. It's not that it's a completely different set of symbols, which it practically is, akin to learning another language, but it's that there's practically no subtlety in the medium whatsoever. Everything has to be BOMBASTIC, and it, to me, misses the nuances of human expression. I have never complained about manga's ability to draw good backgrounds, or its ability to statically demonstrate movement. These are two things that I think western comics could really benefit from. But the lack of subtlety and nuance in the way they draw faces is what REALLY turns me off.

I don't think manga is innately incapable of subtle expressions - I have, for example, no problem with the Street Fighter 2 animated movie, which doesn't go into too much bombast - it's just that the products seem so set on not showing subtlety. And until such time that the medium embraces diversity in that aspect, I'll be staying away from it for the most part.

I didn't like the mid-90s movement in Western Comics where every hot artist was practically aping manga style, because of this particular reason, and I wouldn't like it now if it happened again.

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