Pacing in manga versus anime

December 17, 2017

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.)

Written on 17 December 2017.
« Link: Kumi Kaoru's fascinating analysis of Miyazaki's Nausicaa manga
Story endings can be broad or narrow ones »

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Last modified: Sun Dec 17 16:38:59 2017
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