Monday, September 04, 2006

Manga, anime, and movies

Many people I talk to seem to confuse manga with anime. I get comments like “You gotta show us some stills” or “How’s your anime going?” I realize these people are simply trying to make conversation, given that they’re not necessarily into this stuff, but still...

Manga is printed Japanese comics. Anime is Japanese animation that you see on TV or in the movie theaters. They both tell stories, but the business models are completely different, like the way a novelist usually has nothing directly to do with movie production.

Don’t get me wrong. I love anime too. My favorites include Galaxy Express 999, Space Cruiser Yamato, Gundam, and Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind.

But if you want to be the creative force behind a work, being a mangaka has certain benefits. To make manga, you don’t need tens of millions of dollars and the large staff that’s required to make anime or large scale movies. This works out better for me because I don’t have tens of millions of dollars, and, more importantly, it’s easier for me to keep control over my stories. The reality is that unless you own an entire production studio like Hayao Miyazaki, the anime industry is usually not where you can be very creative. Most anime studios just take popular manga and make animated versions of them. So making anime is often just a tedious process of having to make thousands of frames of animation just for one episode. For manga, all you need is a pen, ink, and some paper (these days you might use a computer with decent software, but more on that later).

Being a mangaka gives you a lot of artistic freedom, but the flipside is that it requires a lot of skills. In some sense, a mangaka has to perform all the roles in the credits of a movie. You have to come up with an original story concept, work it into episodes, and polish it with convincing dialog as if you’re the novelist or screen writer. But it doesn’t stop there, as any visuals will have to be hammered out on your own. What do the characters look like (casting)? What are they wearing (costume design)? The world needs to be modeled (sets and props), and when you’re drawing, how you expose the story (directing and editing) and how you visually convey the story (cinematography) are all up to you.

It’s a big challenge, but that’s part of what makes it fun. Someday, when I’m much further along my manga path, I’d like to try my hand at movies. Entertainment in the form of printed media is facing tough competition from many areas (the internet and video games, to name just a few), so adaptability will be key to anyone’s artistic survival.


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