A History Of Manga

A history of manga from its origins in temples through comic books to film.

While for most western people manga is a word which is related almost exclusively to a style of film and children's anmation, the origin of japanese cartoon drawing was almost eight hundred years ago, and began in temples.

Around the beginning of the thirteenth century pictures began to be drawn on temple walls, depicting images of the afterlife and of animals. These pictures were crude and deliberately exagerrated representations, and bear a remarkable similarity to modern manga. This phenomenon continued over hundreds of years, branching out to include numerous other subjects, although the style remained the same.

Around the start of the 1600s these pictures were made attractions in themselves for the first time, they were not drawn on temple walls but on wood blocks. These were known as Edo, and the subject was less religious, often graphically erotic, although they branched out once again to include various other subjects, particularly buildings and satire. At around this time the word manga was first used to describe the artistic style. The pictures were by now generally composed in monochrome, with simple outlines and rudimentary blocks of colour which forewent shading. The subject took precedence over the method of representing it.

In 1702 Shumboko Ono, an early celebrity manga artist, made a book out of prints of these pictures with captions, although it was a collection of pictures rather than a progressive story. This method developed over the next hundred years, in books which combined stories with illustrations for every paragraph, allowing the art to be just as sequential as the narrative and the narrative to be more frenetic and pacy. The tradition of Toba-e, as these comics were called, grew over the next century, until they were the main form of literature for most of japanese society.

The development of cartoon film began in Europe and then the United States, but despite being taken up late it was more of a phenomenon in Japan, where after about 1940 over forty percent of the country's filmic output was in the form of manga films. In the Western world cartoons have always been seen as a child's phenomenon, but in Japan manga has always been the method of art for all of society's age groups.

Today the main exports of manga are either children's television or manga films for a more selective audience, but in Japan manga is still primarily used in the form of paper cartoons, and for purposes other than entertainment. A guide to economics has been printed in manga, and most magazines targeted at all age groups are framed in manga.

The difference between the styles of animation in the USA and Japan is primarily down to this audience difference. Japanese children's manga has many similarities with American disney animation, with simple colour schemes, minimal backgrounds and the characteristic enlargement of the heads of characters. The animation is also minimal, allowing the way the characters are drawn to be more important than the way they move.

However, manga films like the classic Akira, which are aimed at an older audience, have a very different style, using intricate backgrounds to set the story, and complex animation to give the illusion of reality while being able to manipulate characters and physics more easily than would be possible on real film, while retaining the empathy with characters. The most significant difference tends to be in the shading, while western animation uses two tones per surface and keeps the movement of colour consistent with the general stillness of the animation, manga animation tends to be shaded with three tones which contrast more with each other, and to allow this shading to fluctuate between frames, giving an illusion of constant movement and realistic unpredictability both in the light and the actions of the characters it illuminates.

Overall manga is becoming more and more prevalent in Western animation, both in children's animation and in animation for adults, which is becoming more of a presence in America and Britain every day.

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