[CJAS Home] [Newsletter Archive] CLAMP and Manga: A Rebuttal
by James Kao

      Last week, Lillian wrote an article criticizing CLAMP and their manga production style from several angles. Although she makes many valid points, I believe many of her arguments can be taken from a different point of view and be led to a different set of conclusions.

Manga and anime are related, but they are significantly different media with very different ways of enclosing concepts and ideas. Taking X as an example, the layout and presentation of the story are far beyond what could be expressed in an anime. In Exhibit A, Kotori (the little girl) sees, lying on the ground, a bird that has been run over by some motor vehicle. This sight brings back the traumatic memory of seeing her dead mother's dismembered body parts and internal organs splattered around a room, simplified in her memory and depicted by the mannequin-like dismembered female to her left. Actually, Kotori is much older now and is remembering the experience of seeing the bird and then remembering her mother. In just one visual image, the nested mental links related to her traumatic memory are expressed with the image of the bird and her mother, with images of the scene interlaced to show the relationship to the young boy (Kamui, the main character), and the entire page is centered around her younger self, drawn to indicate her emotional state.

      Laying out panes and carefully drawing their contents and measuring overlaps is an art-form exclusive to manga. You really can't split up a screen of anime and do pane composition in this manner. If any of you remember seeing JoJo's Bizarre Adventure last fall, recall how strange it seemed when in moments of group surprise, panes of each character's face flashed onto the screen with a crackling sound. It just doesn't work well for motion-media. The skill of positioning panes and making overlaps look good is not a simple matter. In Exhibit B, notice how the drawing of Kamui's leg in one pane overlaps into a neighboring pane, yet the scaling and positioning are just right so that even though his foot is less than a centimeter from his eyebrow, the composition doesn't look strange at all. In fact, you don't even notice how close his leg comes to his face unless you specifically look for it. I lent my copies of X to a friend once. When he gave them back to me, he made a comment that the layout was such that each page was a work of art of its own, with the panes flowing into each other in a very natural and artistic manner. Such individual detail is lost in an anime at 30 frames/sec. but is exceedingly important in manga.

      The story is also a different matter. Yes, the story is slow, but not artificially slow. The plot details are carefully crafted with visual clues and dialogue clues hidden through the story. Unlike many other stories (like Ranma ) that are interspersed with side-stories and sub-branch plots that diverge from the "main" storyline (which is also subjective, but I define a main storyline as those plot elements which are constant from episode to episode whose resolution will end the story conclusively), X's plot proceeds in a "straight line" with every scene adding to the conclusion of the story. Everything that happens bears toward the final resolution of the series, and every scene is important to the plot. Despite the slow progress of the plot, an outline of how events will progress and a considerable amount of specific information about the future plot has been revealed or implied. The story is hardly "dragged out" with the characters "meandering" aimlessly through "gratuitous" situations.

      Agreed, an animated X movie would be awesome, and I eagerly await its release in Japan this summer. The flowing panels and vivid drawing IS perfect for animation. However, that does not detract from the manga's ability to stand alone. The plot depth, hidden meanings, and visual metaphor present in every page of the manga will never be able to be completely duplicated in an anime. CLAMP possesses impressive artistic ability that encompasses both anime and manga, fields that are not mutually exclusive. Without the realm of manga to work in to establish visual themes and create settings with depth, their anime would have no bases to draw ideas from and would not be the works of art that they are. The anime is an interpretation of the manga, giving us a glimpse of the encompassing world behind it. Both must be analyzed and appreciated in their own right, and neither should be dismissed so easily.

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