I just finished part 29 of Yowamushi Pedal, the bicycle manga. (I haven’t read part 1 to 28.) It’s the first thick, normal, mainstream manga that I read in Japanese, so it feels like an accomplishment. I never looked up words, because I read it mainly on the trains and while eating my tendons. But I think just reading without looking up words is as important as reading carefully and looking up every single word. Both ways are good ways to study. The first one gives you flow, the second one deep understanding. The doujinshis are perfect for the second method, because they are so slim. Likewise, it would spoil the fun in a thick manga since you would get bored reading a full volume at such a slow pace.
Anyway, my interest in manga and anime isn’t actually that genuine. Or at least it wasn’t in the beginning. I wanted to read manga because it’s a vital part of the Japanese culture, but a novel by Mishima or Murakami is more what I consider my culture. Or used to do at least. All the more fun when you actually take real pleasure in anime and manga.
For anime, this has been the case for some time now. I used to say that anime simply wasn’t my kind of art form, just like opera isn’t. But now I would say it is. In the last three years, I’ve watched more hours of anime than of feature films and tv series. Maybe anime make up for 60 percent of my screen time. In the beginning it was a strategy, I wanted to get to know this famous art form. But then it started to come naturally and then I started to love it. It was Ashita no Joe and Bakuman that really got me hooked. I discovered anime through Loveless, but even though I love the theme in that anime, the actual watching was a bit like enduring an opera.
I’ve watched some Japanese drama with real actors too. They’re all terrible. Actually, I’ve only watched two; the first episode of a bowling series and the first four episodes of Attention Please, about a flight attendant school. Oh, and an episode of a sushi drama as well, that was the worst one. It’s the acting/directing that sucks. It’s amazing to me that anime can be so well done – because it almost always is – whereas drama sucks so much. (This goes for the first feature film of Ashita no Joe too.) I mean, anime demands acting too, by voice actors. It’s amazing that the creators of an anime can get exactly the right facial expression where a real actor fails.
Anime is usually considered a superficial art form, at least from a Western perspective. It’s often pointed out that this is because we connect it to children’s television and Donald Duck. I wouldn’t go as far as to say that everyone watches anime in Japan no matter the ages (as the defense often goes), because most anime is actually made for young people (though teenagers rather than children), which goes for many tv series and other pop culture as well. But to claim it’s like cartoons for children or superficial is just ignorant.
I would argue that anime in a way is “higher” (if we’re using those labels) than movies and tv series with real actors. Anime is closer to a book, and books are usually considered to be a higher, or let’s say harder to consume art form. Isn’t watching people (real actors) the thing that demands the lowest resistance for a human being? Whereas anime distils that world to simple pictures, a process that is taken even further in manga (even fewer lines) and furthest in novels (the world distilled to kanji images). (I’ve discussed this process before in the post My epiphany with Yotsuba to!)
So the scale from lowbrow to highbrow culture should actually go like this:
drama → anime → manga → novels
Over to manga. Maybe I’m in the same process with manga now as I’ve been with anime for the last years, going from reading it “because one should”, via actually enjoying it, to finding it fantastic and brilliant. I had such a moment today, as I continued the roadbike race between Naruko and Midousuji that began at the end of volume 29. Is it only because I bike myself that I find it so fantastic? I hope not. This is what it looked like when Naruko had taken the lead and Midousuji suddenly felt his powers grow:
Looks almost avant garde, but keep in mind this is a mainstream manga and that it’s not SF. It’s just brilliant. I love how the drawing looks so rough despite all the strokes are in the right places to convey this extreme feeling to the reader. What a moment. I’ll remember these pages, and how they made me smile on the Chuuou train.
I’d like to add a couple of things about “Western manga”, but I’ll save that for another post. It’s just about to become “otsukaresama desu” at the coworking space where I’m sitting today, and apparently we will drink some beer together afterwards.