Let’s Get Visual: Speechless

MICHELLE: Welcome to the third installment of Let’s Get Visual, a monthly column with Manga Bookshelf‘s MJ in which we flex our artistic muscles!

Although it’s not our intent to have specific themes for each column, we do like responding to requests! Last month, as suggested by a reader, we devoted our column to action scenes. This month, inspired by a comment from Livejournal user Salimbol, we’ve picked scenes that excel in nonverbal communication. I will say right up front that my choice is very, very simple, but it was a scene that left a lasting impression nonetheless. (Click on images to enlarge.)

Kimi ni Todoke: From Me to You, Volume 3, Pages 81-82 (VIZ Media)

MJ: So, what do you particularly like about these pages?

MICHELLE: Maybe it’s the simplicity I like best, actually. I don’t even need to give any context about the manga for anyone to be able to tell the following:

1. Boy sees Girl #1.
2. Girl #1 is oblivious.
3. Boy watches her with a look of warm affection.
4. Girl #2 watches Boy watching Girl #1 and does not like what she sees.

It’s so simple, I wonder if its meant to emphasize the purity and clarity of the feelings the characters share and from which this would-be rival is destined to be forever excluded.

MJ: Well, I think it’s an important moment for Girl #2. She’s watching a boy she likes watch another girl with such unguarded affection. He’s doesn’t even seem to realize or care that she’s still there watching him, he’s so wrapped up in the pure joy of watching the other girl. It’s significant, I think, that the final panels turn the focus back on Girl #2 and what she’s feeling, because this scene really is a revelation for her. I’d almost feel sorry for her if I hadn’t read the book. 😀

MICHELLE: Yeah, me too! I love, also, that the boy radiates almost a sense of peace as he looks upon Girl #1. Even watching her do little things like water plants or practice her kicking skills on a rock brings him joy. It’s scenes like these that make Kimi ni Todoke such a warm and cozy read, I think.

MJ: You’re absolutely right. Also, the artist is so skillful here, I think she could have even left out the final, dreamy image of Girl #1 in the boy’s mind’s eye, and we still would have seen it in our own heads, it’s so clear what he’s thinking of. It’s easy to dismiss the craft in a comic that’s primarily known for being warm and sweet, but that would be such a mistake here. This whole sequence is just really well done.

MICHELLE: And the memory of it stayed with me. It’s been five months since I read this volume, but it was the first thing I thought of when the topic of nonverbal communication was suggested.

The second thing I thought of is what you ended up choosing, interestingly enough!

MJ: Shall I introduce that, then?

MICHELLE: Go for it!

Antique Bakery, Volume 4, Pages 116-120 (Digital Manga Publishing)

MJ: Okay, well, the scene is from Fumi Yoshinaga’s Antique Bakery. One of the traits I associate most with her as an artist is her use of silent panels, and this is the one that first came to my mind when you mentioned Salimbol’s request. It’s a scene between the story’s two main characters that is revisited multiple times throughout the manga. It’s really the beginning of their history together, despite the fact that it’s quite far in the past from when the main action of the story is set. This is one of its final appearances in the series, late in the fourth volume.

To help illustrate how effective I think the visual storytelling is in this scene, I’ve actually provided scans from the Japanese version of the series. Even without being able to read the small amount of dialogue here, and despite how important the first bit of dialogue is to the history of these characters, I think the emotional trajectory of the scene is crystal clear.

Boy #1 says something emphatic to Boy #2. Boy #2 is visibly upset, and though he attempts to maintain his composure, he eventually breaks down and flees the scene. Boy #1 ponders what he’s done, finally succumbing to deep regret .

What Yoshinaga captures so well is subtlety of emotion and the agony of time. The progression of the characters’ expressions during this sequence are almost painfully slow, placing the reader in the same sort of stopped-time state each of the boys is experiencing—that sense of being frozen in one time and place that only happens in moments of deeply negative emotion. Nobody gets off easy, especially Boy #1, who is stuck living with the consequences of his actions long after Boy #2 has escaped from the moment. The art is so simple, but the effect is chilling.

MICHELLE: I positively adore the phrase “the agony of time.” Yoshinaga uses repeated sequences of panels quite a lot, and while this one is painful, I can recall others that cycle through surprise, thoughtfulness, and then smiling acceptance. It’s a technique that’s very versatile!

Here, I find myself struck by the third and fourth pages particularly, particularly as regards where Boy #1 is placed on the page. The third page emphasizes how very alone he now is, after driving off his companion, and the fourth places him very low on the page. I wonder if this last reflects his opinion of himself, after he has treated his classmate so shabbily.

MJ: I wondered that as well! And yes, the empty space that’s left in the wake of Boy #2’s departure is significant in terms of how we experience the scene and the state of mind Boy #1 has been left in. Though our sympathy, of course, goes out naturally to Boy #2, it’s hard not to be moved by Boy #1’s obvious regret. As a reader, I want to somehow reach into the page and compel him to go after Boy #2, which adds a bit of frustration to the mix as well.

MICHELLE: Yes, this definitely emphasizes how stuck he is, both physically and mentally. And will continue to be, even after he moves from this spot, as the story makes clear that Boy #2 has moved on from this moment but Boy #1 has never been able to quite forgive himself for it.

MJ: It’s really quite brilliant, the way she tells the stories of these two men, isn’t it?

MICHELLE: It really is. I suspect “Yoshinaga” is actually just a synonym for “brilliant.”

MJ: I really don’t know what to say after that. 🙂

MICHELLE: Maybe we should take our cue from these artists and know when to remain silent!

That’s it for this month’s Let’s Get Visual. Thank you for joining us and, as always, please feel free to share your personal opinions on these pages in the comments!

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  1. Danielle Leigh says

    Oh man…I want to re-read ALL my Yoshinaga (which I believe is everything she ever published in English) after reading this brilliant deconstruction of her use of repeated panels.

    (Also, hella exciting for me is the fact I understood the Japanese panel. They are two very, very SIMPLE sentences but still. This is progress).

    • Huzzah for progress! I can read the second one but I only know, like, ten kanji, so the first is a mystery. 🙂

      And thanks!

    • (That’s very exciting indeed! Congrats!)

      And thank you so much for coming by & saying such nice things to us.

  2. Two beautiful examples. I love both mangakas’ work and I’m very exited that even more Yoshinaga is coming over.

  3. Yoshinaga is, of course, a master of editing and pacing, plus tiny shifts in expressions. I hadn’t thought of that exact scene, but I had thought of her immediately.

    Two others I’d put right up there are Kiyohiko Azuma (his great flair being for expressions and comic timing) and Kaoru Mori (see Emma…the embraces! *fans self*).

  4. It reads that “hochi”- whatever a hochi is, and the other kanji means drag my japanese is getting rusty, hey does anyone know what that guy was saying at the start of the manga.

    • I looked up the corresponding scene in DMP’s translation and they have it as, “Hurry up and die, you homo!”

    • Yeah…no. It says “Hayaku shine! Kono homo!” (And Michelle’s translation is correct.) Not sure where you’re getting anything “ho” or “chi”. And none of the kanji mean drag (the first means fast/hurry, the second means die).

  5. judi(togainunochi) says

    This was a wonderful piece. I like it so much because I can see these kind of emotions, when I watch friends, relatives, etc in real life. To see it translated to a page is amazing.
    I found a lot of non-verbal communication in Takehiko Inoue’s Real, which conveyed the characters abilities or inabilites to deal with their situations.

  6. seriously, no wonder i didnt recognice that other kanji lol

  7. Melinda,

    Sorry to disagree about Kimi ni Todoke . The panel in th upper left hand corner of the second page is necessary for me. Prior to that I see him being gently amused at a girl being playful in an unguarded moment. Without that panel, I would read the scene as him seeing her as a momentary distraction. That panel shows me the depth of his affection. I love how the mangaka shows the brokenheartedness of the second girl with a single panel of just her eye. That is so subtle and powerful. That second page is just a tidal wave of unspoken emotions.

    What amazes me in the Antique Bakery pages is the use of vertical space. In the first panel, the hurtful words are in the center hanging above them and as large as each of them. Then we get lots of close ups shots showing how the words descend and sink in. Then page 118, that great loneliness as half the page is empty. Then page 119, the emptiness above him. The silence that presses down on him forcing his own words to sink in. Then the final reaction shot of regret. Very thought engaging.

    I find the Kimi art to be more emotional and the Antique art to be more cerebral. What are your thoughts on that?

    • Ooooh, I love the idea that all that white space is silence pressing down on him. Nice.

      Regarding the Kimi ni Todoke page, looking at it again I think it’s also showing us how he sees the girl in his mind’s eye as opposed to the slightly clumsy, but totally endearing, reality.

    • Don’t apologize for disagreeing! I wish more people would come in here and disagree! 🙂 I do want to clarify my statement, though, just because I’m not sure I was clear. For me, the *panel* is absolutely necessary. What I didn’t think was necessary was the girl’s literal presence in it. When I look at the boy’s face, the softness of his expression, the flush of his cheek, the way he’s leaning against his hand… I know who he’s seeing there, and how he feels about her. It’s so clear to me, the actual drawing of her almost feels redundant.

      That said, there’s a decent chance that my interpretation of his expression is influenced by the fact that I have read the story, so if you haven’t, your perspective may be more pure.

      In answer to your question about the two scenes, I think the way I’d describe the difference between them is a difference in point of view. In the Kimi ni Todoke scene, we’re viewing everything from the perspective of Girl #2, and even though we see her visually in the scene (in other words, we’re not literally viewing through her eyes), the POV is pretty tight and very emotionally charged because of that.

      In the Antique Bakery scene, on the other hand, though I’d venture to say that the emotions of the characters are running just as high (and probably higher, when you consider the content), but we’re privy to a much less intimate view of them. Yoshinaga brings us in as outside observers. So while we’re watching an incredibly emotional scene, we’ve been invited as a jury rather than as participants. Though this detached POV doesn’t sweep us into the private world of either character, it *does* offer us the opportunity to observe both in a more calculated way. On page 119, for instance, it’s this distance from the character that allows us to observe something so small as the brief closing of his eyes in the third panel. If we were experiencing his emotional journey more directly, we’d never be shown a detail so small, because we’d never be able to comprehend it.

      Your observations on the use of vertical space are wonderful here. I think you’ve expressed exactly what I’m seeing. Thank you so much for putting that into words!

      • Melinda,

        Thanks for explaining the difference. I haven’t read either manga and so don’t know the story going into this pages. I think you’re dead on.

        As for my art analysis. I just keep asking why. Why is there white space above the character? Why the use of close ups? I figure for the good comic/manga artist it all serves a purpose and I keep searching until I find it.

        I like this column because you’ve been picking stuff I haven’t read so I’m forced to deal with the art of the pages as presented. I don’t have any of the story to inform my interpretation. It’s a good exercise of my visual muscles. Thanks.

  8. Wow, you did take up my suggestions, and turned in a fantastic post to boot. I feel so vindicated! Kudos, ladies 🙂
    The KNT scan is a very good example of the sort of thing that shoujo does so well, with its delicate washes of patterns (my brain is having a bad day, and I can’t remember what they’re called. This, after seven years of reading manga!) reflecting the characters’ emotional state. And that last shot of girl #2 in the bottom left-hand corner, where you can see only half her face and the other half is sort of “dissolved” into nothingness, is another technique I’ve seen used a lot in shoujo especially. It’s quite fascinating how that sort of linework is used to convey a character sinking into a cold anger or depression (or sometimes just a deep state of reflectiveness). At any rate, it’s quiet and intense, as opposed to the soft, wistful happiness on the boy’s face.
    Fumi Yoshinaga – the woman’s a god! I love how the pure/harsh black and white, with no greys, reinforce the intensity and harshness of the scene.


  1. […] again, it’s time for Let’s Get Visual, a monthly art-focused exercise with Michelle Smith, hosted at her blog, Soliloquy in […]

  2. […] an example, Michelle and I once examined a scene for Let’s Get Visual, using scans from the Japanese original to demonstrate how clearly the artwork tells the story, […]

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