OEL Screentone Revelations!

Long before Tokyopop started pushing the concept of “Original English Language Manga,” or “OEL” for short, something about western attempts at creating “manga” really bothered me, and not for any philosophical reasons. Something always felt off about the artwork, and I just couldn’t pinpoint why. Initially, I thought that it might be because the artists had no idea how to  draw “manga characters,” but I realized that couldn’t be the case, because 100 people drawing big eyes and small mouths “incorrectly,” so to speak, should result in 100 different ways to look not-quite-right. No, the thing that bothered me was something more consistent across the idea of “OEL” before it was called OEL. It had to be a shared trait.

Then last year while looking at OEL, something hit me: for some reason I was being bothered by the screentones. Again however, I couldn’t quite put my finger on why. I just knew it was something having to do with screentones. In fact, the initial draft of this post is from May of 2009, where the only contents of it was the title of the post, which read “BAD SCREENTONES.”

Finally though, through the keen of eye of the Reverse Thief Narutaki, my suspicions have been confirmed, and I now fully understand why OEL screentones had been bothering me so. I really recommend you read the article, but for the sake of summary: According to Narutaki, in manga, screentone is generally used for patterns or to pull elements into the background of a panel with shading primarily done in ink, but in OEL screentone is more often used for shading and used to excess, which ends up flattening the image.

I feel so relieved!

But this information brought with it a new question: Why is it, if OEL is trying to be like manga (which we all know it is), that it does something that manga almost never does, i.e. use screentone to shade to excess? There are very few examples from manga that would fuel this mass assumption on the part of these artists, after all.

That lead to another revelation: maybe the source of this trend wasn’t “manga” at all, but something closely related. Anime!

Anime is where you will find manga-style characters with some degree of shading, even if it’s a single tone to show a simple fold in their clothing. I can only conclude that the reason OEL shading looks the way it does is because the artists were influenced by the shading methods seen in animation, and then applied these methods to manga where they are in actuality quite foreign despite the fact that anime and manga are so closely related.


This is no surprise to me, as anime and manga are often spoken of in the same breath. Heck, I’m no exception, and you will often see me choosing one word or the other when referring to both, as after a while it gets irritating to write “anime and manga” every time instead of just “anime.” Still, it is a very good reminder that as similar as anime and manga are, they also possess a number of unique differences beyond the fact that one is animated and the other is not.