This was supposed to be a post about practicing your Japanese by reading Yotsuba-to! (よつばと!), a popular manga which according to this post is ideal for Japanese learners, partly because of the furigana (small hiragana letters printed next to the kanji characters, thus revealing how the kanji should be read).
I managed to find the comic both raw (meaning in Japanese) and translated into English. I’m reading them on my computer and keep the window with the English version under the raw one. It’s perfect to have a key handy!
(And don’t worry, Yotsuba-to! publisher, I will probably buy the print versions eventually, just like I did with all volumes of Loveless after having discovered the manga through filesharing. Or some merchandise.)
However, something happened as I started to read. I suddenly found myself staring at the frames at the top of this post for a long time.
First I realised that they are slightly different; they added some details on the right frame, or took them away on the left one.
But that’s not the point.
The point is that this difference made me realise just what an art it is to reduce as much as possible from a picture without losing its expression. Yes, the art of reduction! The left frame is even more expressive than the right one – you can really see that little enthusiastic girl in front of you!
So this is how you should read manga. This is their allure. Manga readers don’t see cartoons – they see real characters, created with the help of lines that the manga readers’ brains know how to parse just in the same way as the novel reader’s brain knows how to parse words and sentences expressing the same thing. It’s really just the same! And the step to expressing something with a picture instead of with words is of course smaller in Japan, since kanji actually linger somewhere in between text and drawings. After all, kanji is nothing but very reduced pictures.
This made me think of Donald Richie’s Tractate on Japanese Aesthetics. Yotsuba-to! is a perfect example of the Japanese aversion to our Western mimesis, and of the Japanese “tendency to value symbolic representation over realistic delineation,” as Richie puts it. What an art!
This might be obvious to all of you, but I actually haven’t read that many manga, except Loveless. This was my epiphany, and I will always remember it. The moment when I fell through the paper and into the manga.