Type Five and Beyond: Tools to Teach Manga in the College Classroom

Type Five and Beyond: Tools to Teach Manga in the College Classroom

Jon Patrick Holt (Portland State University, USA)
Copyright: © 2023 |Pages: 18
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-6684-4313-2.ch003
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Great is the need now for structure in comics-studies pedagogy, especially for Japanese manga, given the growth of comics-studies and pop-culture programs at North American colleges. Although teaching manga can be supported using any number of English-based texts, instructors will want to explore target-culture resources, such as those by Natsume, Yomota, and other Japanologists. Texts specific to Japan can improve student comprehension and interpretation of manga. The author describes methods of teaching manga using comparative analysis resources from their Japanese culture classroom. Based on experiences there, they show the use the ideas of Japanese scholars for formal analysis in order to enhance discussions of the manga page, including topics of panels, onomatopoeia, and genre conventions. American comics heavily stress sequentiality, but manga use pages, panels, and words differently to emphasize mood. By preparing for the manga classroom differently, we can offer our students tools specific to expand discussions of Japanese culture.
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With Mizuki’s line, you cannot depend on him to give you anything clearly referential to reality. It is softly drawn with the same amount of momentum. He does not try to close the shape, but his characters have a kind of indeterminacy, like they are leaking out of their figure. Therefore, Mizuki’s line seems more preoccupied not with the self-consciousness of the characters. Instead, the line is absorbed in things we often cannot see that are in his background worlds and their scenery. In a nutshell, the difference between the two is that one [Tezuka] has an intention to draw the world as a concrete thing while the other [Mizuki] illustrates the world ambiguously. So, what they do is reflect a form (way) of existence and world as felt within each artist himself. (Natsume, 1992, pp. 224-225 [translated by Holt])

Their focus on the loose, blobby, or “leaking” forms of the appearances of their characters suggests how Japanese scholars can leverage the McCloudian-like notions of “iconicity” or “reality” in order to find the underpinnings of the worldviews of these artists. McCloud’s tools or “vocabulary” of comics, then, can be highly useful in drawing student attention to vacillations in visual registers on the page. If used even more ambitiously, discussions about such visual “vocabulary” can then lead to considerations of philosophical differences. Indeed, the huge difference alone in the styles of these two manga giants opens up the possibilities for an even more diverse array of worldviews and experiences that Japanese artists can exhibit through their line. McCloud’s “vocabulary,” even if it has aged a bit over time, can still be quite convenient for the educator in a manga classroom, especially because of the large number of approaches to character and world design there are in any given manga.

Another important contribution McCloud made to Comics Studies, which is also very useful for the manga educator or researcher, is his idea of the panel transition type that he calls “aspect to aspect.” McCloud (1993) defines this important (and advanced) transition type as an “an integral part of Japanese mainstream comics almost from the very beginning” but also that it is “a type rarely seen in the West” (pp. 78-79). In both Japanese editions of Understanding Comics (Mangagaku [or: Mangaology]), his “aspect-to-aspect” term is translated as kyokumen-kara-kyokumen-e (McCloud 2020, p. 80). “Kyokumen” can be defined in a number of ways: “position,” “phase,” “situation,” and “aspect,” but, as manga scholar Takahashi Akihiko writes, this is perhaps not the best way to capture McCloud’s meaning (2015, pp. 210-211), as he believes that McCloud intends them to be understood as “expressions of synecdoche” (teiyu no hyōgen). Other scholars have suggested that for other manga subgenres, such as gekiga (dramatic pictures/mature manga), McCloud’s “type five” transitions might be better understood in cinematic terms. Within a larger discussion of the applicability of McCloud’s “type-five” transition types, CJ Suzuki (2018) points out that, “While the appropriation of the cinematic technique in gekiga is different from the ones employed by Tezuka-inspired mainstream manga…gekiga artists [at least by the 1960s] dexterously manipulated backgrounds or visual images to underscore ambiance by stalling the progression of the narrative” (p. 268).

However, for the most part, across the four pages where McCloud (1993) discusses this type in relation to Japanese comics, and where he uses examples from Tezuka, Mizuki, and others, his point is that Japanese artists skillfully juxtapose characters, scenes, and story elements to “establish a mood or a sense of place, [where] time seems to stand still in these quiet, contemplative combinations” (p. 79). Manga readers then must work harder to find “closure” and make sense of such sequences, and thus, one could argue that the more “type five” sequences are present in the work, the more likely that manga demands adult powers of reasoning and imagination. The presence of “type five” sequences can suggest the power and greatness of a manga. Certainly, these mood-centric sequences are harder to read than the easier “type two” or “action-to-action” sequences where usually only the progression and outcome of a combat is depicted in typical Kirbyesque superhero-style. They are certainly more difficult than “type one” or “moment-to-moment” sequences where nothing much happens, although it is interesting to note that McCloud segues to type five from a Japanese example of “type one,” a quiet, repetitive scene from Tezuka’s Buddha (Volume 1 of the Vertical English edition; 2003, p. 185), suggesting that there may be a delicious link between type one and type five sequences in Japanese comics.

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