Every so often, I come across someone on Twitter who talks about how they love anime but don’t really mess with manga. To them, manga is inherently inferior to anime, or at the very east, doesn’t give them the full multimedia package that anime offers—animation, music, voices, etc. Of course, people are free to enjoy what they want however they want it, but a part of me can’t help but feel a little frustrated that manga, as a mode of creative expression, is not reaching them. They can appreciate the artistry of anime but not the artistry of manga.
“Artistry” is a very loose term and it can mean a million different things. Moreover, you’ll likely find people arguing that certain styles are better than others, and that certain creators are more imaginative and skilled than others. When I use the word “artistry” here, I’m thinking from a very broad sense, where it means how something is portrayed as opposed to what is being portrayed. Two titles could wind up portraying the same thing—a blond guy throwing a punch, for example—but the execution could create two very different experiences.
Years ago, I wrote a couple of blog articles: one on decompression in comics, and another on its opposite, compression. One of the big takeaways is how the page as a whole is typically used in manga, where the panels and visual elements are geared towards a very smooth and continuous experience that allows the eyes to quickly move from one panel to the next. There are many different avenues of manga artistry, but this is the one that sticks out to me most because it’s a form of creative direction where time and space seem to transition seamlessly. But even given the history of comics in Japan, this is something that had to develop over time, and there’s no one right way to make the pages “flow.” It’s not as fundamentally intuitive as treating a comic like a picture book playing out one panel at a time, and I have to wonder if maybe that extra step needed to engage with manga is a step too far. Without it, perhaps manga really does seem like a lesser version of anime. That engagement has to be learned on some level.
In a sense, the difference between anime and manga is a less pronounced version of the separation between film and books. Anime and film engage more senses, and they progress without the viewer needing to actively move them along. Manga and books are focused mostly on the visual (on a basic level), and the story does not continue unless the reader actively chooses to move it forward. While anime and manga are closely tied in the sense that they often draw from the same stylistic trends and adaptations from one to the other are incredibly common, this difference in how one engages the medium seems to be too large a disparity for some. If I could help it, I would want to take someone who only reads manga and help them appreciate anime, as well as vice versa. If that were possible, then I would do what I could to help people appreciate the artistry of these creative endeavors.