Roving Thoughts archives


Story endings can be broad or narrow ones

I've written before about the different ways that story endings can be satisfying, where they can deliver either or both of narrative or emotional satisfaction; they can wrap up the plot or resolve the emotional conflicts a character had, or both. Today I want to talk about an additional dimension in story endings that plays into how satisfying people find them.

Story endings can be what I'll call broad or narrow. A broad ending is one that ties up as much as possible of the open issues in the story, while a narrow ending ignores many of them and only addresses a few. It's most common for this distinction to matter narratively, because the plot side is where it's most common to have a lot of outstanding issues; usually the emotional side of a story is already concentrated on only a few characters, so the story doesn't need to cover very much to give them emotionally satisfying resolutions. However, in some situations you can still have an emotionally narrow ending, because you just ignore issues with secondary characters or focus in on only a few characters in an ensemble cast.

(For example, I feel that Eureka Seven AO had an emotionally narrow ending. There were character conflicts and themes that were simply dropped on the floor in the ending, if they even existed, since the ending focused purely on Ao.)

One way to get an emotionally unsatisfying ending is to have it be emotionally narrow. The show may wrap up the central character's conflicts and themes, but it ignores all of the rest; we the audience then feel that these other characters have basically been dropped on the floor, reduced to unimportant spear carries when the show had previously implied that they were important.

You can obviously get a narratively unsatisfying ending by having it be narratively narrow. However, a narratively narrow ending doesn't have to be unsatisfying, at least to some of the audience, because not infrequently there are plot questions that are fine to not answer . The show has to stage its mysteries somewhat carefully in order to make it clear that not getting answers is a possibility, which includes not making the answer to them be important for understanding things. But done well this can avoid a common problem with mysteries.

(In practice we already accept that many things about the setting of a show will not be explained in any depth, even things that are reasonably central to the show's premise. For one example, many science fiction series involve a great deal of technology for things like faster than light travel or flying cars that's simply never explained. Ghost in the Shell doesn't explain the mechanics of cyborgs, ghosts, hacking things, or the various weapons; it's enough for the story that we get a vague idea of how they work and what their limitations are.)

Of course, what works may vary from person to person. For a personal example, in Shingu I'm fine with Muryou's mysteries not being answered but other people aren't necessarily so happy.

anime/EndingsBroadVsNarrow written at 18:15:38; Add Comment

Pacing in manga versus anime

Back in the summer season, I found A Centaur's Life uninspiring and wound up dropping it. As odd as it sounds, this fascinates me, because back in the day I read some of the manga and found it generally fascinating, beautiful, and engaging (including all of the material that I watched in the show). And it's not as if the show was badly produced or badly made; the presentation was simply relatively bland, flat, and unimaginatively straightforward. A Centaur's Life is not the first show where I've liked the manga but found a competently made show uninteresting, and over time I've developed some theories about why. One of them has to do with pacing in manga versus anime.

The obvious difference is that a manga's pacing is substantially under your control, while the pacing of anime is fixed on rails. When you're reading a manga, you can slow down to absorb and soak in a page or a panel, or reread an exchange of dialog to clarify it. Or, if the manga is slow and drawn out, you can speed up. If there's a long exchange of dialog with no important changes in the panels, you can go at your reading speed or skim the panels, and if there's little dialog you can whip through the panels themselves to absorb what's happening.

(Some of the time, low-dialog panels are actively designed for you to go through fast on the first read, to feel the rush of action or events.)

In anime you have none of this freedom. The show advances dialog and events exactly as fast as it's chosen to animate them, no faster and no slower. If there are fascinating things you're not naturally free to linger over them, because the show drags you away; those things are only there for so many frames and so many seconds. Crucially, if things are slow and getting boring, you can't move along any faster; you're locked to the pace of dialog and movement and change that the show has chosen, waiting as the show ticks away seconds in animation or slow pans or characters talking and talking.

(In some video environments you can freeze frame, frame by frame, skip around, and maybe even play things at faster than normal speeds, but it's not at all as natural as reading manga faster or slower and it's likely to have other effects, such as distorting the sound.)

A broader difference is that I've come to believe that much manga is naturally paced faster than anime is, where covering the same story content simply takes longer in anime form. At least for me, I can go through 16 or 32 pages of most manga in under half an hour; in animated form, the same content often takes at least an episode and perhaps more. There are exceptions, primarily for works that are heavy on action, but A Centaur's Life is mostly not one of those. Instead, like many manga, it's got a lot of talking in various settings, accompanied by situations that can be illustrated in a panel or a page or two.

In anime, you have two or three issues that take up (extra) time. First, people can only speak so fast, usually slower than you can read dialog in a manga (although there are exceptions, as anyone who's ever had to pause the video player to read all the subtitles knows). Second, you have to animate things actually happening; you can't imply it with action lines or panel to panel transitions the way that you can in a manga (for a discussion of how action is implied in manga but must be shown in anime, see Kumi Kaoru's analysis of the Nausicaa manga). On top of this, manga drawing can be very dense with implications and many things packed into a single panel or page, which works because readers can slow down to absorb them all; in anime you must draw out all of this long enough to insure that a decent portion of your audience will have seen and absorbed everything. Of course, given that dialog takes more time, this need to draw visual things out can be handy.

An interesting example of speed in manga versus anime comes up in The Ancient Magus' Bride. As covered by Emily in The flower language of The Ancient Magus' Bride, the first episode features in part a number of views of the flowers around Elias' home, as Chise arrives with Elias for the first time. All of this feels perfectly natural and well paced in the anime. In manga, the same events are covered in equally unrushed form in about two and a half pages, with far less detail. On the one hand, this smaller manga space makes it faster to go through (and two of the pages are are a double page splash spread). On the other hand, this means that the manga can't imply or show all of the flowers (and all of the meanings) that the anime can. Sometimes drawing something out at anime pace and filling the time the dialog requires can give you greater depth and interest.

(This is part of the 12 Days of Anime for 2017.)

anime/MangaVsAnimePacing written at 16:38:59; Add Comment

Link: Kumi Kaoru's fascinating analysis of Miyazaki's Nausicaa manga

"At First, I Wanted to be a Manga-ka": Analyzing the Nausicaa Manga by Kumi Kaoru part 1 and the continuation part 2 is a translation of Kaoru Kumi's fascinating visual and technical analysis of Hayao Miyazaki Nausicaa manga. Kaoru Kumi starts her analysis this way:

As soon as the serialization of Nausicaa began, manga lovers began to praise it highly. It seems like the two things you heard the most about it were “it’s quite cinematic” and “its style is dense and hard to read.” [...]

Putting that aside, what exactly does “cinematic” mean, anyway? [...]

She goes on to provide an explanation for what cinematic means in the context of a manga (drawing evidence from how films connect shots to other shots), give examples from other manga, and then analyze how Nausicaa itself does this. The result is a fascinating breakdown of how the manga works so well and genuinely feels cinematic, with a side discussion of how the same things would have to be presented in anime form in order to work well. In the process she mentions some fascinating details of manga, such as how the production process for commercial manga (with work split between the manga-ka themselves and assistants) influences how panels have to be composed, and how a fast or slow publication pace changes what sort of art can be in a manga.

This is just a taste and an inadequate summary. If this sort of thing is at all to your interest, read the whole thing. If I'm any guide, be prepared to set aside some time, because it completely absorbed me for the duration.

(Via Ogiue Maniax's 10th anniversary post, itself via Author.)

anime/NausicaaMangaAnalysis written at 16:32:15; Add Comment

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