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04 April 2011 @ 11:08 pm
On Reading Manga  

A manga is an extremely consistent form of visual and written communication with it's own toolbox and conventions. It's a form of creative writing and if it is expertly told, using the two mediums – visual-image/verbal-text dichotomy – to great effect, and utilizing the strengths of each one the end result can be of a beautiful 'cinematic' nature. Usually pictures describe places, faces and scenes, while text sections will narrate thoughts, feelings and sequences of events.

Question: "Parts of your work sometime seems like a scene from a movie. Like when Hinamori goes after [Ichimaru] Gin right after Aizen's death."
Kubo: "That’s actually one of the scene’s that worked out as I wanted. It’s one where I was able to portray everything with the right techniques, so I’m happy to hear you say that."
Morita: "It’s one of those things that you can read on without really noticing. But after you go over it again, and think about the frame size on each page or the kind of effects he’s using, you realize how well it’s drawn out."

Tite Kubo is an author that has achieved not only a very stylish artwork but also a naturally very cinematographic visualization. Bleach is full of examples of this manga grammar. How readers interpret some scenes in a manga would be much easier/clearer if they'd try to understand the most basic premises of manga storytelling. Even though one can find obvious this techniques I'm gonna write about some of them because, as Morita said, the reader often tend to overlook them and I feel that very often Kubo's original intent is obscured, lost and/or misunderstood because of this.

1.Panel size.
Because size matters. Depending on it's size an author can remark the importance of a panel or make that same panel seem trivial. If the panel is larger, the reader's eye will linger longer on that drawing in particular. On the other hand, when the panel is smaller, the moment will feel shorter and the more quickly you will move on to other, more important panels. Therefore sometimes, when an author wants an scene to seem significant, he can use an entire page or even a two-page spread to command more attention and stress the meaning of an scene in the story.


There are times an author will leave out backgrounds entirely if he feels the need is for an emotionally heightened scene. But Kubo, ever the poet, explains this point much better than I ever could:

Kubo: "I think when I am drawing, I wasn't just clarifying the lines, but illustrating the 'air'. Therefore, no matter in drawing or writing, neither words nor lines, but singularly illustrating the 'air'. I always have this feeling of bringing the 'air' into the paper when drawing. How to phrase it, every panel should have a background. Backgrounds are drawn to remind the reader where is the characters situated. However, I feel that it was not that important. In this manner, at the very panel when a character is exceptionally distinctive, I don't feel like filling the background at all."


Other than realistic background we also have abstract backgrounds that can help to evoke a particular feeling in the reader. In this section it's included the classic 'shojo background' that Kubo and many other (shojo and shonen) manga authors often use to suggest the presence of romantic feelings between characters.


The lack of borders, like the concept of larger panels creating a longer sense of time and importance, tacks on a little more time. Instead of traveling from panel border to panel border, the absence of a panel puts no limits on where the viewer can look. It will make the eye travel across the ENTIRE page, giving the reader a sense of timelessness... like a moment lingering in the air. This is a wonderful technique for emotionally heightened moments and is often used in kissing scenes.


5.Camera angles.
Each rescue/battle panel is usually draw to it's extreme, using a low-level camera angle (called a worm's eye view) to make a bad guy or monster even more menacing or a high-level camera angle (called bird's eye view) to help establish where your characters are in relation to each other and their surroundings. Whenever a manga creator means to draw a protagonist victorious usually he uses a worm's eye view to make him seem stonger and overpowering.


5.The Zoom.
Zooms are a sequence of repeated panels which zoom in or out with each repetition. This method is used to emphasize the motion. Starting close and zooming out gives the reader a sense of the grandeur of the moment, while zooming in throughout the transitions intensifies their meaning. This kind of zooms are habitual in rescue scenes usually focusing in the rescued eyes. Kubo also sometimes use an low angle of framing (worm’s-eye view) to give the illusion that Ichigo is more impressive and imposing than he really is.


What we usually denominate Ichigo's tunnel vision and detractors say it's just coincidence or has no meaning behind it. Taking as example the second picture we can see Ishida and Chad seem smaller than Orihime and Renji, while Rukia is the core from/to which the picture converge. Well, if you have very basic drawing skills you'll know these kind of drawings are commonly know as one-point perspective. And as Rukia appears always as the vanishing point of them and these panels are from Ichigo's personal point of view, it means that Rukia is placed at the very center of Ichigo's visual field, directly facing the reader; and that Kubo purposely drew it so.


6.Speed lines.
Speed lines appear often in action sequences, the background will possess an overlay of neatly ruled lines to portray direction of movements. But the point in which we're going to focus on right now is that speed lines can also be applied to characters as a way to emphasize intensity of their emotions (fear, happiness, shock, etc). This technique is mostly used on frames shots closing up on the character (usually from the torso up). Readers get the sense that the camera is zooming in on the character's expression.


One thing that I wanted to clarify here is that these lines are not are not Ichigo's tunnel vision (how some people wanted to made them) but focus lines. These lines are usually drawn outward from a center point like bursts of light that focus on an aspect on the page. These lines are a mean to empathize a center of action (usually an attack) and/or when characters witness them. See a few examples below:

7.Written Communication.
Kubo usually plays with the relationship between image and text; combining them directly (lack of a container for thoughts) and making them interact interdependently with a kinetic purpose. Caption boxes are a storytelling tool for plot purposes, like telling us about a bit of character's back story, informing the current scene, explaining how a character feels about something, etc. Even though the latter can be communicated much more eloquently by the way the mangaka draws the character's facial expressions. Exploding thought balloons are used to see things in the character's head and show directly object's mental state in that moment. The most important panels are the largest, the most significant thoughts will give a sense of 'breathing space'. Panelling, pacing, layout and format also affects the way a story is read.


8.Animation effect & Transitions.
Sometimes the panel to panel transitions in manga are related by the passing of time. They are often mixed with zoom panels, also. These kind of panels are distinctive of emotional moments. Panels without textual components encourage readers to linger on the images. When combined with moment-to-moment transitions, then, text-free panels compel the reader to search for minor changes of great significance.


Kubo's Story

There were much more important points (establishing shots, dialog flow, facial expressions, etc) in manga composition, but I found them either too obvious or not too relevant to this essay so I didn't stop to explain them. A manga-ka must be like a director when he's drawing his story. And Kubo is, in particular, a very skillful cinematographer: he knows exactly what could make a shot look cool, horrible, scary, heroic, etc depending on the moment and what feelings he wants to convey to the reader.

Kubo: "There are bits in the manga where I draw scene that wouldn’t get the reader’s attention too much. I always put all my effort into my manga but how each audience read my manga are different. So it’s really important to make sure they would end up all having a similar idea of my story, but then again, it’s really up to them how they read the manga, but then there are scenes where I want the audience to be touched, so it’s really hard."

Now, with all this I'm not saying my personal interpretations of Bleach are canon, what I'm trying to say is that: this is Kubo's Story. All the points above described are merely generic storytelling tools used to achieve a manga creator's primary goal: CLARITY. There is an intent and a message Kubo is trying to convey to the readers and depending on how much clarity an author imparts to his work, and how much the public is willing to read and understand objectively the story that is how close a reader can get to the author’s intended message.

And with this I mean, that if for example, Ichigo is remembering his proud times as a shinigami and the panels featuring his memories have borders that are slightly slanted, are medium/small sized, they are shaded, etc, so that in every sense (panel size, frame composition, shading tone, etc) particularly the last memory breaks the flow of the narration to capture your attention. If you as a reader you try to ignore this obvious -and objective- fact that Kubo was emphasizing the importance of Rukia's memory over all the others, you'll be probably misinterpreting Kubo's message. If you read Trifle and you pay attention to the way Kubo delicately drew Ichigo's pained expression while looking at Rukia and how Kubo used transition and zooming in Orihime's eyes focusing in the weight of the scene. And if after reading that you try to explain away the meaning of the moment as a mere misunderstanding (as that one at the end of the SS arc with Ishida/Rukia; as a comic relief) then most likely you aren't understanding Kubo's intent. If you read the last scene of Bleach my Soul (big panel, without borders, and without any background of the two standing so close to each other they were almost touching. Kubo's masterly capture that moment, their sad and longing expressions, and to top it all a shojo background it's hardly surprising that readers until then shipping-neutral were saying things like 'Kiss her already!', 'There is something going on there.' 'It's gonna be IchiRuki', etc.

Being entirely objective we know Orihime likes Ichigo romantically but we know Ichigo doesn't see her as a love interest atm. And, on the other hand, we know that Ichigo and Rukia have an ambiguous relationship that is not completely friendship nor romance (at least three years ago, in Kubo's own words), but something that have many layers and undertones and that is changing constantly. But, is all this ambiguity between them aiming at romantic love?

Now let's stick to pure canon without interpreting anything. The fact remains Ichigo's memory of Rukia was the strongest/more important and that's canon. So, what if it's love? So, what if it's pride? Orihime herself once defined her feelings as one-way sympathy (she didn't label her feelings as 'love' until chapter 237). Feelings are feelings. And Ichigo is full of feelings for Rukia. There's no one that he feels more connected to in the whole world. No one. Hers are the words that echo from the bottom of his heart. Hers is the presence that always put him at ease or make him feel lonely without. She is the weird girl that once intruded in his life and changed his world forever.

I don't think Ichigo will ever say a cheesy line like 'I love you', really. I honestly don't even know if Ichigo understands what the word 'love' means right now. And I don't know what it means to Kubo. But if 'love' means Ichigo wants Rukia to be happy more than anything. If it means she is the best thing that has happened in his life. If it means he doesn't want to separate from her. If that's what 'love' truly means. Then, yeah. Ichigo Kurosaki is in love with Rukia Kuchiki. IN. LOVE.
Current Mood: calmcalm
Current Music: El Pescao - Buscando el Sol
_debbiechan__debbiechan_ on April 4th, 2011 09:15 pm (UTC)

Thanks so much for posting this here.

I want to tell people that this essay was originally a comment in the IchiRuki FC at BA--yes, the quality of comments is usually that high in that fanclub (IchiRuki isn't even my OTP but that FC is by far by favorite place for exchanging fan opinions and getting Bleach info on the net!) but this was such a well-organized piece I thought it would appeal to a broader fandom base and asked ariadna19 to repost here.
miss_ragdollmiss_ragdoll on April 4th, 2011 09:33 pm (UTC)
as debbiechan said, thanx for posting this here; I remeber reading this at the BA forum and loving it :33

this essay is awesome and worth reading, it could only be done by ichiruki's like us XDD ( I include myself but if I were to post I would lower the level -.-)

again awesome job ;) this kind of research for making an essay always amazes me ( ̄▽ ̄)~*
(Anonymous) on April 4th, 2011 09:33 pm (UTC)
Okay, so this is Nivek01, but LJ is being funky, so...
Definitely a good idea to repost this; it was a very put together essay, and even if you play it safe and cut off the entire bottom portion, this is still a very good introduction to basic manga drawing techniques. I enjoyed re-reading it, and am happy that you've brought it to blechness, debbie.

Plus, I'm a kid at heart, There's a lot of pictures to go along with short paragraphs? You've sold me.
_debbiechan__debbiechan_ on April 4th, 2011 10:09 pm (UTC)
Re: Okay, so this is Nivek01, but LJ is being funky, so...

LJ should be working for most of North America, lol, according to the Powers That Be. I can post comments now but have to go cook dinner soon.

And yes, happy to bring the essay to bleachness , haha, even w/the IchiRukiness. We don't pretend to be non-shippy around here. Blechness is the stuff posted on YouTube comment pages or the weird theories you get at places akin to the Fox News of Bleach Fandom. XD
Uh...Wolf? - nivek01 on April 4th, 2011 11:07 pm (UTC) (Expand)
Re: Uh...Wolf? - _debbiechan_ on April 4th, 2011 11:12 pm (UTC) (Expand)
Kim!spartydragon on April 4th, 2011 10:03 pm (UTC)
_debbiechan__debbiechan_ on April 4th, 2011 10:10 pm (UTC)

Nice! I'll get that for my son (he wants to be a comic artist... mom worries all the time, oy).
(no subject) - spartydragon on April 4th, 2011 10:33 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - _debbiechan_ on April 4th, 2011 10:42 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - spartydragon on April 5th, 2011 07:27 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - _debbiechan_ on April 5th, 2011 03:08 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - la_kalaka on April 5th, 2011 03:15 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - pony_rocks on April 5th, 2011 08:01 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - _debbiechan_ on April 5th, 2011 11:31 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - spartydragon on April 5th, 2011 08:54 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - pony_rocks on April 5th, 2011 08:57 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - spartydragon on April 6th, 2011 02:16 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - pony_rocks on April 6th, 2011 11:38 am (UTC) (Expand)
『ミカオル』 ☆: Ruroken: This is what love meansmikaoru on April 4th, 2011 11:13 pm (UTC)
Amazing reading! Thank you so much!

Extra kudos for including FMP and RuroKen <3
kurosaki_anne on April 5th, 2011 02:00 am (UTC)
This is a great essay! I have to say that you´re totally right. For Tite Kubo the way he writes is important to interpret the feelings that he wants us to feel, especially in the eyes, I think he´s signature technique would be the eyes of teh character, the way he always draw the eyes make you feel how the character does. For example, when ichigo finally arrives to fight aizen after having trained with tensa zangetsu, Gin just stares at his eyes and just with a look of them, he says that ichigo is already stronger.
Or the way ichigo looks directly at rukia´s eyes in the chapter fareweel swords or bleach my soul
it´s full with feelings!!! C´ mon aaa I was about killing my computer, that chapter really made me cry T.T, I mean waaaaah I want to cry T.T RUKIAAAAA COME BACK!!! I´M TIRED OF READING A LOT OF FANFICITONS OF COMING BACK....
The Main Gauche of Enlightenment: Scanty is grinning (trans sequence)velvetsword on April 5th, 2011 02:08 am (UTC)
This is a pretty good post. I like it.

Also, I'll just get this out of the way right now:

Image and video hosting by TinyPic
◦ a girl like me ◦: Bleach - Ichigo: 44 Chapters by levelsafteriwake on April 5th, 2011 02:20 am (UTC)
LOL...I love that!
(no subject) - spartydragon on April 5th, 2011 07:12 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - strawberries_85 on April 5th, 2011 09:14 am (UTC) (Expand)
◦ a girl like me ◦: Bleach - I & R: Symbols by bluishorbsafteriwake on April 5th, 2011 02:20 am (UTC)
Even though I'm not an IchiRuki shipper I quite enjoyed this essay. I'm going to look at all the manga I read differently, not just Bleach (suddenly a whole lot about Zombie Loan makes perfect sense...). Going to rec this on my anime/manga journal.
♀*La Muerte Chiquita*♀: Chadapprovesla_kalaka on April 5th, 2011 03:59 am (UTC)
Oooh those post are my favorite ones, I like the comic narrative, to convey through image and text it's not an easy thing to do, I0ve seen artists not reaching that cause their drawing in expressions or movement are not that good, or their narrative skills just stop in a good idea that never got at its full potential (that's frustrating D:) so I tend to look closer at the technique to learn and I do admire authors who are able to make you "feel" the anguish, the happiness, the emotions of the characters and the beauty or horror of the scene.

Perspective is love, and a good perspective with a great art in it is just amazing.

Well I got right most of the points you touched, for me are pretty clear :D so I'm glad I'm understanding manga better. The IchiRuki moment during the fullbring training it's easy to see when you are not forcing yourself to see other thing.

For me that last panel was like and explosion. In between all that mountain of memories in the darkness of his mind created for Ichigo's need to find the source of the power to awake his fullbring, Rukia's image was like an explosion which filled and illuminated everything in his mind.

And that's the interpretation of a normal RenRuki fan who acknowledge the author intentions. I can understand Kubo's intent perfectly but I can get closer at least.

Thanks for this and... my favorite techniques to use so far are perspective and transition/animation, since I like animation too.

(Anonymous) on April 5th, 2011 04:32 pm (UTC)
Just... SUPERB AWESOME! o(>w<)o
ichi_gaiden on April 5th, 2011 10:50 pm (UTC)
Thank You for this.

I learnt so much from reading this essay, and I know my reading of BLEACH is gonna be super-enhanced by this now.
(Anonymous) on April 6th, 2011 05:09 am (UTC)
Kay- i'll be the nit wit critic here so read with caution

First i want to express that this is a very nice essay ;) points out some important aspects of the visual language that a lot of designers and artists(e.g. screenplay artists, advertisers) work with. Its certainly one the best jobs i've seen, in compareing the visuals between bleach and other mangas. While getting its point across plainly :).

But i don't know why you didn't mention what the other manga images were from. this is an essay on how to read manga isn't it? the other series are just as good as bleach if not better (for different reasons of course).
that and that many of the other manga examples you've used in comparison to the rukia and ichigo scenes, feature characters that are canonically shown to have romantic interest in each other. Some series are very successful shonen themselves.

I mean I can recognize, Yu Yu Hakusho, Rourini Kenshin, Berserk,Chrno Crusade, vagabond, samurai deeper kyo, and Alive! the final evolution, (oh and deadmen wonderland- but not for romance ;). I mean its kinda easy to see that there's parallels to it in Bleach isn't it? what's the harm in putting that in the essay aswell?
...y wendy creció.ariadna19 on April 6th, 2011 12:51 pm (UTC)
No problem or harm. I usually write the name of the mangas that I use as examples, but I was in a hurry when I posted this in the FC. Anyway, here you have:

(Video Girl Ai, Berserk, Code Breaker, Flame of Recca, Project Arms, Detective Conan, Full Metal Panic! Sigma, Samurai Deeper Kyo, Chrno Crusade, Alive: the Final Evolution, Black Bird, The Sacred Blacksmith, Shinobi Life, Katekyo Hitman reborn, Mixim 11, Rurouni Kenshin, The Blade of the Immortal, Aoi Hana, Vagabond, Nabari no Ou, Bokura ga Ita)
(no subject) - (Anonymous) on April 19th, 2011 07:19 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - ariadna19 on April 6th, 2011 07:43 pm (UTC) (Expand)
oyasumi_hitsuji: Worth a shotoyasumi_hitsuji on April 6th, 2011 07:28 pm (UTC)
ohhhhh this is very good! very useful. likes~ it's always interesting to see how mangaka think while doing their work.

See you Space Cowboy.: >:Dchocobojockey16 on April 10th, 2011 09:55 pm (UTC)
Very cool, one of the most interesting essays I've read!
Alexa-chanalexaclyne on April 21st, 2011 09:42 am (UTC)
This is a really good and helpful essay. I can read mangas better and understand them even more. Thank you so much ♥