Let’s Get Visual: Of Sakura and the Sea

MICHELLE: Welcome to the November edition of Let’s Get Visual, a monthly column in which Manga Bookshelf’s MJ and I attempt to improve our understanding of manga art!

We don’t have any particular theme this month, but that hasn’t stopped us from assembling some interesting pages to talk about! MJ has chosen a two-page spread from the fourth volume of Children of the Sea, which is due out from VIZ next month. (Click on images to enlarge.)

Children of the Sea, Volume 4, Pages 328-329 (VIZ Media)

What is it you find noteworthy about these pages, MJ?

MJ: Well, there isn’t a *lot* I want to talk about here. Mostly I want to discuss panel size and how it affects the reader’s experience and understanding of this scene.

Certainly it goes without saying that a mangaka may use a full-page panel to give weight to a specific scene or piece of dialogue, but what I hadn’t considered before analyzing these pages is how much the panels leading up to a full-page panel can be used to influence the way a reader feels when he/she gets there.

In the first page I’ve provided here, mangaka Daisuke Igarashi chops everything into pieces. Our view of the characters who are speaking to each other in the scene is limited to a single eye; half of a face; legs; a brief, narrow profile; and finally a view from a doorway that shows us their entire bodies, but with a maddening lack of clarity. No matter where we look on that page, we are prevented from getting a clear view of either of them. Our efforts are obstructed at every panel, creating a sense of frustration that I, at least, felt keenly while reading that page.

As a result, when I finally reached the full panel page that came next, my first reaction was a sense of relief. This feeling eclipsed everything else, including my understanding of what was actually being said. And honestly, it affected my feelings about what was being said, which is significant particularly since the character doing the talking is generally unreliable. My strong sense of relief actually gave him more credibility than he would have had with me otherwise. I believed him, because he was the one who eased my frustration. That’s some pretty powerful storytelling.

MICHELLE: What surprises me in what you said is “either of them.” From the way the panels are constructed, to someone who has never read the series before it seemed like several people were actually present. Even so, I too experienced a profound sense of relief at escaping the claustrophobic first page into the open space of the second. That’s pretty appropriate for a scene talking about birth!

MJ: Well, and I did misspeak on one point, which is that actually only one of them is speaking. The other is being led along in confusion and frustration, just like the reader, right up until the moment that the full-page panel appears.

Iarashi’s artwork is stunning to look at throughout this series, but this was the first time I really paid attention to the way it was structured and how that alone might affect me as a reader.

MICHELLE: Yeah, I think this is a very clear example of how panel size makes a difference. Good choice!

MJ: So what have you got to share with us today?

MICHELLE: My selections come from the omnibus collecting volumes four and five of the josei series, Suppli, and are actually not consecutive pages. A little background information is required.

Suppli, Volume 4, Pages 151, 162, and 164-165 (TOKYOPOP)

Single again after her boyfriend, Ogiwara, takes a job in America, Minami Fujii is nursing a growing attraction for a pervy photographer named Sahara. When they’re on a group trip scouting locations for a commercial shoot, with sakura blooming all around and memories of Ogiwara intruding, Sahara catches Fujii when she stumbles. Though she knows he’s bad news, the shock of contact prompts the realization, “I don’t want to be careful.”

A few pages later, she ends up hurting her ankle and Sahara misses an important meeting to take her to the hospital. As he ruffles her hair and tells her not to worry about it, wispy trails of sakura begin to appear. It’s like a sort of visual shorthand mangaka Mari Okazaki is using to reveal Fujii’s emotional state. The sakura has come to represent her attraction for this man—a kind of mental static obliterating the reasons why she shouldn’t want him.

The feeling only grows when Sahara touches her leg to replace the bandages, and when Fujii realizes he must have carried her into her apartment, the sakura runs amok across the bottom half of the page, symbolizing how she’s being swept away into a possibly doomed relationship by feelings and associations that she can’t control. It’s quite effective!

MJ: As someone who hasn’t read these volumes of the series yet, I was particularly struck by the way everything you’re talking about is brought together in a single box of narration. “The memory of contact.” Perhaps I’m way off base, but I feel like that’s a verbalization of exactly what you’re talking about. It begins with the “shock of contact” as you mention, and is carried through by repeated physical contact—even just the ruffling of hair. And you’re right, it’s very effective! You can follow the thread of contact through the sakura blossoms.

MICHELLE: Okazaki has used symbolism in Suppli before, but this one is more subtle than most. When I read page 162 for the first time, I thought, “What are those frazzly little thingies?” It wasn’t until I got to pages 164-165 that I realized they were significant, and then had to flip back and find the point of the story with which they correlated. Then I went, “Ohhhhh!”

MJ: It’s one of those things that would just move along quietly in your subconscious if you weren’t actively thinking about it.

MICHELLE: Probably so, yes! Both of our examples today highlight the care and consideration mangaka put into their work—especially, it seems, those writing for older readers. In addition to being able to draw beautifully, they can also wring sympathy and (perhaps unfounded) allegiance out of readers by the simple way they structure their stories.

That’s it for this installment of Let’s Get Visual! Thanks for reading and please feel free to share your feedback and personal interpretations of these selections!

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  1. Suppli is, artistically, one of my favorite manga ever. The panels are beautifully constructed to gide you around the page, with lots of symbolism on the little elements that you find around. Her use of tones is precious, specially how she manages to give a 3D shadow to all characters (there are almost no un-toned people on each page). It might be a bit confusing to read for people that aren’t used to the codes used in manga. I wish this kind of visual storytelling would be more popular, cause it’s beautiful.

    • Thanks for the comment! I hadn’t noticed that about the shadows, but looking through this volume I see that you’re right. Even if it’s just a narrow line, most characters still get a little bit of screen-toned shading.

  2. Melinda, the page from Children of the Sea confuses me. It’s because I can’t help but read it as being slow paced and meditative. The extreme close-ups give a sense of weight to what’s being discussed. Like the author wants to focus on each word just as we are focusing on each body part. Yet, the speaker says they should race. And I don’t get a sense of them being in a hurry. I’d have to see more of the scene to see how this spread works in relation to what comes next.

  3. Okazaki actually uses the sakura motif/pattern earlier in the series when Minami is first out walking with Ogiwara. (third image in my post on the earlier volumes: http://madinkbeard.com/blog/archives/suppli-1-3-by-mari-okazaki ). So to me, this brings in a connection to her earlier relationship. New guys is replacement for old guy.

    • Oh, awesome! I mentioned above that “memories of Ogiwara intrude,” but didn’t recall that the sakura imagery was so similar.

      But yes, I think you’re right. Fujii is lonely and Sahara is there, a convenient option to fill the void left by Ogiwara’s abrupt departure.


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