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Manga critic calls for Japanese comics to read from left to right

12 Comments
By Casey Baseel

Imagine you’re a comic book fan, browsing for something new to read. Intrigued by what you’ve heard about Japanese manga, you pick one up and open it to the first page. And wow, there’s a dead body in the first panel. What an intense opening. But wait, why is the corpse getting stabbed again, then suddenly standing up and running about? Is the character a zombie or something?

No, you’re just reading the panels out of sequence. Unlike the left-to-right flow of comic panels in the English world, manga are designed to be read from right to left, then top to bottom, starting on the right-hand page before continuing to the left.

Confused? Manga creator and critic Kentaro Takekuma says you shouldn’t have to be, and he has a plan to change all that.

Long ago, when manga first began being translated and sold in English-speaking countries, the standard practice was to change the original artwork to a mirror-image of itself, giving the visuals a left-to-right flow, and the stories an unusually large number of left-handed protagonists.

But as manga caught on around the world, a number of Japanese artists started to grumble about their drawings being retouched for overseas release. These complaints eventually reached the ears of overseas licensing companies, some of whom started releasing English versions of manga in their original layouts. Often times they included diagrams of how to read them.

Takekuma, whose credits include the Super Mario comics run in "Nintendo Power" in the 1990s, recently engaged in a lively Twitter debate with other industry members as he called for manga artists to arrange their panels in a left-to-right flow in order to attract more overseas readers.

Known for his outspoken apprehensions about the future of the manga industry, Takekuma feels the best way to boost overseas sales is not by focusing on preexisting hard-core fans, but instead by creating works that are appealing and accessible to ordinary readers who aren’t necessarily Japanophiles. To that end, he has been pushing for a shift to laying out panels for reading from left to right, even in their Japanese-language versions. Takekuma points out that English and Chinese, the two most-used languages on the planet, are commonly read from left to right.

Takekuma goes on to say that in recent years many talented students have been coming from abroad to study Japanese comic production techniques. Within the next ten years, Takekuma feels, their ability to couple the manga look and feel with local sensibilities will make it increasingly difficult for titles by Japanese creators to find readers abroad.

Of course, after decades and decades of right-to-left layouts, not everyone is onboard. Takekuma decries how many manga producers have become set in their ways, resting on their laurels while clinging to what he says is the false belief that manga is so superior to other forms of comics that new readers abroad will put in the time to remap their reading patterns. “I’d go so far as to say the industry is being insanely short-sighted,” he remarks.

On the other side of the debate is manga critic Go Ito, whose rebuttal is that there’s nothing wrong with simply laying out English versions of manga by using a mirror-image of the original artwork. Ito holds that the best way to promote manga abroad is by focusing on quality translations. As for being short-sighted, he says the label is more appropriate for Takekuma, as the right-to-left layout simplifies the process of producing renditions of manga in Arabic, which is read in that direction.

Also participating in the discussion were manga artists Kota Hiroano, whose title "Hellsing" scored a major hit with fans in the English-reading world, and Masami Yuki, of "Patlabor and Birdy the Mighty" fame. Yuki feels that Takekuma may have a point, but Hirano takes issue with Takekuma’s assertation that artists should be able to immediately break from years of ingrained artistic philosophy, saying that the left-to-right advocate is acting like a mad scientist from one of Yuki’s sci-fi manga.

As could be expected, this head-on collision of layout theories became deadlocked in the middle, with no concrete plans for change being arrived at. In the meantime, expect Takekuma to keep charging from left to right, just like Nintendo’s famous plumber whose comic he produced.

Source: N Lab

Read more stories from RocketNews24. -- Why do Foreigners Like Japanese Manga so Much? -- Japanese Artist Grows Gardens From Old Comic Books -- Shonen Jump’s 20 Best Sellers of All-Time

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12 Comments
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Please don't. Manga are not just comics...I read One Piece in English and I love it like it is

3 ( +3 / -0 )

Confused?

If people are that easily confused, maybe they should just stick to reading comics.

Woah, hang on a sec...

6 ( +6 / -0 )

Yeah, this seems like a pretty silly thing to get caught up on. Do people really have difficulty reading books from right to left?

0 ( +0 / -0 )

You have to be kidding. When my friends and I found out in high school that manga was "flipped" because people were too inflexible to read it right to left, we immediately griped about it. I was happy when they started printing it in the original format. How hard is it to read the other way? People aren't asking you to read in Japanese. It's also pretty easy to tell what the main cover is and avoid accidentally spoiling yourself. IMHO, the content of manga is superior than the major American franchises. These days, the big names are just brands to later be made into TV or movies and that's where their public worth ends. In Japan, they seem to still appreciate the format of manga and the potential for new and different stories.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Yeah,let's all start reading left to right. Let's drive on the right too, like most other places. Then let's drop Japanese and all speak English, change the yen to dollars, start using knives and forks instead of chopsticks and apply to become the 51st state of the USA. Jeez, man, show a bit of pride in your culture....

3 ( +5 / -2 )

Is it 1989?

-4 ( +0 / -4 )

@Shanatc I second your opinion. Perhaps the great beauty of "Japanese" manga is ironically individuality. Compared to American comics manga stands out not only for its expressive and dynamic (often unique) artistic style (compared to rather bland American comics IMHO) but also because every manga is written by an individual producing an original story rather than endless rehashes of Marvel or DC franchises and what-not. What's more these original works actually live past 6 issues to see their writer's vision end rather than ending early due to poor initial sales.

But annoying cultural imperialism aside (sorry) converting manga into a left-to-right format without just mirror imaging the whole thing is not entirely doable and is time consuming (I draw manga). Its typical black and white coloration and easy to read panel uniformity does means a person with enough time can simply edit most pages by simply moving panels. Splash pages are easier. But oddly shaped panels and across panel images are virtually impossible without physically touching up the image and half the beauty of a comic is in its visual messages so I would fall on the party of don't change the format please!

1 ( +1 / -0 )

I think it is a move to bring it inline with overseas books.

Using kindle I found it annoying to swipe Japanese books different from English, German, etc Books.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

I prefer what manga I read to read in the reverse direction from western publications - the Japanese magazines I read are the same, so I'm used to it. Like others have said, silly thing to have a hang up about.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

It's not that hard to get used to reading manga from right to left. One series I follow has a page inside the back cover saying, "Stop. You're going the wrong way." Simple. Helpful.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Maybe Japan should get on page with the rest or the world and not only change the direction of manga but the direction of driving. They should do the right thing and drive on the right!

-3 ( +0 / -3 )

it ain't broke so don't try to fix it. been reading manga for over a decade now and never once have i thought about it being the over way around, in fact i get annoyed when i pick something up to discover it's been flipped and mirrored.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

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