Sunday, November 27, 2005

Manga Takes Over the Universe

We used to play a game called "Illuminati," an absolutely hysterical and viciously backstabbing game (it even has rules for cheating) that pokes fun at all the conspiracy theories floating about. The basic premise of the game is that there are secret societies that are controlling the world by controlling other organizations as their puppets (some of which have their own puppets, as well). You can get some very interesting results, such as discovering that the Boy Scouts secretly control the Porn Magazines who in turn control the Evil Geniuses for a Better Tomorrow (who are equipped with their Orbital Mind Control Lasers). You have to play it to appreciate it, but trust me, it's a lot of fun.

In reality, manga controls the universe.

Our friend (who is staying with us this weekend, see last night's post) and I used to follow several comic book series, so we made our traditional trek to the comic book shop as we do every time she visits. All of the comic book series I used to read have long ended, so I'm not currently reading any of them. When we walked into the store, I was amazed that fully two-thirds of the store was devoted to manga and anime. And it's not just in the shops, look at Saturday morning cartoons. Even the non-Japanese cartoons are now being drawn in a "manga-ish" style. The transformation is complete: All animation now involves characters with big eyes and small mouths.*

Now that in and of itself is not really a problem, as far as I'm concerned. What bugs me is that manga has -- in my heretical opinion -- some of the single worst artwork I've seen anywhere. I understand the conventions are different. For exmaple, it's more iconic: Lines streaming out from a character's head indicate anger or rage, motion is indicated by blurring the surroundings instead of blurring the characters, etc. That doesn't change the fact that the characters don't really look like people even when they're drawn well. What bothers me even more, though, is that in the same book there will be panels where they've obviously taken a lot of time to drawn the characters and some panels where it looks like a art school drop-out drew them. I don't understand the inconsistency, though there's probably a reason for that, too.

One way or the other, it doesn't really matter what my tastes in the artwork might be. Manga has taken over in a big, big way, so there's no point in fighting a battle that was decided long ago while I wasn't paying attention. The stories, at least, are often quite good, and as a writer that's my big interest. I will say one thing for them: I hate that traditional American comics are so short. You can't tell a story in 18 pages (or whatever), so you end up having to wait months just to see even one event resolve itself. It's really hard to remember what's going on in the story after all that time. Manga, to its credit, has much longer books, so you can tell complete tale within its pages. Maybe that's the secret of its popularity, and that's a good thing from a writer's point of view.

In the end, I waved the white flag and bought a manga comic that had an interesting premise. Viva la revolution!

*There's even a roleplaying game called BESM, which stands for -- you guessed it -- "big eyes, small mouth."

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