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  • How Characters Stand Out
  • Miyamoto Hirohito (bio)
    Translated by Thomas Lamarre (bio)

The Importance of Characters for Manga

Among the various elements used in the composition of manga, it is well known that characters have particular significance. If we consult an American encyclopedia compiled at a time when manga first began to flourish in newspaper serialization, we find under the heading of comics that the comic strip (a type of manga using a series of panels to tell a story) generally has a continuing cast of characters.1

Here "continuing cast" refers to the same characters playing the same roles across a number of episodes. In Sazae-san, for instance, each day's episode basically comes to its conclusion in four panels, but the next day, and the day after, the character Sazae-san continues to appear as the elder daughter of the Isono family. Providing an overall name for the series of independent episodes, the title of the work supports the sense of a continuing cast. Put another way, if the first episode and the thousandth episode of Sazae-san appear to be part of the same work, it is because the same character takes the stage.2 While each and every episode comes to an end, a particular character reappears in each. For the reader, such a work brings primarily characters to [End Page 84] mind, rather than individual episodes. This state of affairs is of the utmost importance when considering characters in manga, anime, and games today.

The man who laid the foundations for making character "stand out" in story manga, himself a popular manga writer, is Koike Kazuo. He established a seminar for training manga artists called Gekiga Sonjuku, which launched artists like Takahashi Rumiko. Koike's story methods became widespread from the 1970s but were only compiled in book form in 1985, as Koike Kazuo no shijō Gekiga Sonjuku (Koike Kazuo's story comic course books). Let me quote some short passages:

Throughout these lectures, I teach that "comics = character." Indeed that's the only thing I teach. It's not only the basis of comics, it's all there is to comics. If you don't grasp the importance of character, it doesn't matter how strong the story you create, or how wonderful the ideas you put into it, or how skillfully you write dialogue; something will be lacking, and it won't be an interesting work. . . .

To state it somewhat extremely, when one hears the title of a comic, the only thing that comes to mind is the character's image and name. . . .

This matter of the character being active and moving in a lively manner within the work, I call "making the character stand out." Making the character stand out is a very difficult operation. Within a limited number of pages, you must accurately express the character's view of life, way of life, manner of speaking, worldview, etc.3

As a point of departure for Koike's manner of thinking about comics, Tezuka Osamu first comes to mind. Let me cite from Natsume Fusanosuke's Tezuka Osamu no bōken (The adventures of Tezuka Osamu, 1998):

Even though this young man of eighteen says that he's drawing it all for children, he is in fact drawing what he wants. He's drawing exactly what he wants to see drawn, what he longs for. That's what definitively sets Tezuka apart from the established manga artists of the early postwar period. That's why even those who had never tried doing children's manga began to line up to do them. For one thing, it was now possible to make manga with very complex narratives. Narrative here was a matter of establishing interior psychological actions premised upon a modern consciousness of self, which allowed for the formation of drama. Through a sophisticated use of line and panels, he produced an expression of people's inner psychology, and story as psychological drama.4 [End Page 85]

What Makes Characters "Stand Out"?

In almost all instances, characters that may be said to "stand out" in manga today come equipped with the following six elements:

  1. 1. Individuality. The character possesses characteristics distinguishing it...


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pp. 84-91
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