Let’s Get Visual: Mono no Aware

MICHELLE: It’s the last Saturday of the month, and that means it’s time for another Let’s Get Visual column! Joining me as always is MJ, from Manga Bookshelf. This month, we’ve chosen images that convey the feeling of mono no aware, which Wikipedia defines as, “the awareness of impermanence, or the transience of things, and a gentle sadness (or wistfulness) at their passing.”

If I’m interpreting that definition correctly, there appears to be a subtle difference between mono no aware and outright nostalgia, where the former is more of-the-moment (Honey and Clover springs to mind here) while the latter would be something like the retrospective narration in Ai Yazawa’s NANA.

What’s your take on it, MJ?

MJ: I actually feel rather unclear myself, so I’m hoping that between you and our generous readers I’ll gain a better understanding via this column. Though I’ve read the Wikipedia entry, along with several other web pages that attempt to explain the concept, I’m not entirely sure I understand the true essence of mono no aware. I’ll do my best, of course, to take a stab at it!

MICHELLE: As will I! And if we do get it wrong, generous readers, please go easy on us!

What images have you chosen to talk about? (Click images to enlarge.)

Blue, Pages 224-end (Fanfare/Ponent Mon)

MJ: Well, since we do focus on visuals here, I chose a series of panels from the end of Kiriko Nananan’s bittersweet yuri romance, Blue, published in English by Fanfare/Ponent Mon. To a great extent, I think the entire manga exemplifies mono no aware, at least as I understand it at this time, as its primary romance seems obviously transient from the beginning. There’s never a sense that its protagonists, Kirishima and Endo, have a long-term future together, so the tone is wistful throughout. Every detail, down to the artist’s stark drawing style, suggests a gentle melancholy, even in the characters’ happiest moments.

As you can see, the story’s final pages are nearly text-free. After exchanging restrained parting words, Kirishima rides off to Tokyo in a train, leaving Endo on the platform, smiling sadly. As the train pulls away, Kirishima turns and leans against the door, finally letting her tears fall, unseen by Endo.

Not only do these panels express the sadness of an (apparently) inevitable parting, but they deliberately display this in the simplest, most beautiful way possible. Nananan’s barely toned artwork accents the slightest movement, giving enormous weight to a single teardrop—even to a single fold in Kirishima’s clothing. This sadness is elegant in every way, down to the strands of black hair tumbling over Kirishima’s fingers in the books’ final frame. It’s gorgeous, truly, and so simply bittersweet.

Though, as I’ve said, I’m not entirely sure I fully understand mono no aware, these panels perfectly illustrates what I think it might be. I hope someone will tell me if I’m wrong or right.

MICHELLE: I think you’ve got it right, because we can tell that Kirishima realizes that this is the last time she is going to see Endo. She still loves her, but their time together is over. It’s a very sad scene, but it’s also a beautiful scene, and because this heartbreaking moment is depicted with such care and such clarity, I think it qualifies as mono no aware.

MJ: I’m relieved to know that you think so!

So what have you chosen to share with us tonight?

Shugo Chara!, Volume 10, Pages 148-149 (Kodansha Comics)

MICHELLE: I’ve chosen a two-page spread from the tenth volume of Peach-Pit’s magical girl series, Shugo Chara!. The series has followed its protagonist, Amu Hinamori, since she was in the fourth grade, and now her final days of sixth grade are drawing nigh. She and her friends are responsible for planning the graduation ceremony and Amu has gone to check out the state of the auditorium.

When she gets there, Amu is stunned by the sight of a room full of empty chairs. It’s silent and still, and its emptiness is only emphasized by the barrel ceiling. The sight reminds her of the many things that have happened at school and with her new friends, times when this room was full of life, but there’s more to it than that. There is still one more occasion where they will all be together—graduation. Things are not quite over for them, this room will once more be peopled by those whom Amu cares about, but still, the knowledge that change is imminent makes Amu wistful somewhat in advance.

Maybe the difference between mono no aware and nostalgia can be summed up as “these days will never come again” versus “those were the days.”

MJ: What a perfect choice for illustrating that point! You’re absolutely right, the wistfulness here is for the present much more than it is for the past. She’s living in the very moment she mourns, struck by the warmth of the present and its imminent loss all at once. What a lovely example, Michelle!

MICHELLE: Thanks! This image was the inspiration for this column, actually. I’ve certainly read other series that employ mono no aware—I loved that aspect of Honey and Clover before I even knew that it had a specific name—but I was struck by how this one spread conveyed the same idea almost completely wordlessly. “Living in the very moment she mourns” is a beautiful way to put it.

MJ: So I suppose it’s up to our readers now to let us know how well we’ve done in our attempt to interpret mono no aware?

MICHELLE: Indeed! And if anyone has images they’d like to share, please feel free! Also, please come back and join us next month for a special Wild Adapter-themed edition of Let’s Get Visual to coincide with the Manga Moveable Feast being hosted at Manga Bookshelf the week of June 19th through 25th!

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  1. […] for manga artwork illustrating the concept of mono no aware for this month’s installment of Let’s Get Visual. To that end, I take a look at several pages from Kiriko Nananan’s Blue while Michelle ponders a […]

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