Manga as High Art: Self-Defense for the Otaku|
Writen by Lola Granola
Posted on July 10, 2008 at 04:01:51 am
Manga as High Art: Self-Defense for the Otaku
Have you ever felt embarrassed because of the things you like and what
you do? Have you ever felt ashamed of your hobbies and interests
because they are not widely accepted in society? Been told that anime
and manga are trivial, childish, and a waste of time and money?
Jonathan Jake Tarbox, one of the editors for Viz Comics, seeks to
dispel discriminations that have plagued all anime
fans. His resume is expansive. He was once the senior editor of Raijin
Comics, and also worked for the National Football League of Japan.
Tarbox has worked on various manga, including Angel Sanctuary.
While the culture of anime and manga is on the rise, the respect for it
is absent. The otaku's world is labeled as "low" and immature. As a
manga editor Mr. Tarbox has faced criticisms and questions that have
challenged the authenticity of his career. In response, Tarbox says,
"What we do is valued and valid", referring to all anime fans. To
retaliate against the suppression of manga and anime as growing
acceptable cultural phenomena, he exposes how manga and anime function
as art and what they mean in modern contexts. Tarbox arms otakus with
knowledge and ways in which to defend themselves in hostile, anti-otaku
The big issue is the battle between what is considered “high art” and
“low art”. Tarbox points to the Mona Lisa by Leonardo da Vinci as an
example of what Western cultures see as high art. High art is
universally transcending. It is the pinnacle of creation, achievement,
and technique. High art is refined, imbued with noble sentiment.
Historically, intelligence, social standing, class, and taste, have all
influenced the reception of high art. One had to be educated to
understand it, and even if one did not understand the art they had to
In contrast, low art takes little materials to complete and lacks
technical detail. It doesn’t need education or intellect to understand
it. When explaining what low art was, Tarbox used Charlie Brown from
Charles Schultz’s Peanuts comic strip to illustrate as an example. What
critics of “low art” fail to realize, is the genius of how few lines are
used to express a character in such an effective way. The evolution of
art within the past century has challenged classifications. Now in modern
times, the distinction between low art and high art is discredited.
Art becomes open for interpretation based on
the observer. Take for example, Andy Warhol who reproduced images of
Campbell soup cans. What may have been viewed as low art hundreds of
years ago is now worth millions of dollars. Andy Warhol believed pop
culture was high art. Roy Lichtenstein, an American pop artist,
comics as his theme and subjects. Even academics have supported the
elimination of low art and high art as separate classes. No one can say
manga and anime are “low art”.
Comics are the very origin of modern culture. Sequential art has
existed for centuries. For the Mayan culture, sequential art was the
highest form of expression. The Bayeux Tapestry of the Norman conquest
of England details the events of the invasion in colorful
representation. Stain glass windows in renaissance churches and
cathedrals throughout Europe illustrated the life of Christ for a largely
illiterate population. These are some prominent examples as to why
sequential art was important and still valued today.
The argument that manga and anime lack detail and technical merit
only be taken at face value. As simplistic as manga characters are
drawn, artists are capable of drawing subjects and themes that require
more detail. The next time you read a manga, or watch an anime, pay
attention to the environmental details of the setting. After attending
this panel and watching Batman: Gotham Knight,
the cityscape of the animation really popped out of the screen. Manga
artists have the ability to render characters realistically
or subjectively. They also have the ability to make characters more
objective, or abstract. Anime and manga characters are more objective
because the simplicity of the character design allows the comic to
express something universal. “As if you’re able to identify yourself
with the character”, says Tarbox. Simple faces allows us to interpret
expressions and feelings.
There is a fundamental element in the human brain that recognizes heads
and faces. For example, if we were to look at an electrical outlet on a
wall, theoretically we are not suppose to see a face. However we can
identify two eyes and a mouth. Animals would not be able to see a human
face, they would only be able to see blocks of colors. Thus, there is a
part of the of the neurological brain that recognizes human
faces. The reason why heads of anime and manga characters are large and
simplistic, is so that audience can better identify with them. The
same follows why anime eyes are so large. The eyes are the window to
the soul. When we talk to people, we look at their eyes and read
emotions from them. Why do poker players wear hats? Because we can see
their eyes. As simple as characteristics are rendered, an explosion of
emotion and expression can be pulled from just a few lines.
Tarbox also talks about the compression of time in anime. We all are
familiar with how long fights took in series such as Dragon Ball Z. For
manga and anime, the emphasis is not on the ending, but rather the
journey. The decompression of time is an important element because for
Asian art, what happened along the way is crucial, or the “unpacking”
of an event. This can be a big difference from western ideals that
hunger for some sort of ending or conclusion.
As an individual who has worked in the NFL, Tarbox provided amazing
insights as to how an otaku can defend himself against criticisms.
Criticism #1: Otakus and their friends are nerds who have large gatherings at big events.
Response #1: Sports fans and their friends also have large gatherings at big events.
Criticism #2: Otakus are dorks who cosplay and dress up as their favorite characters.
Response #2: Sports fans also “cosplay” and dress up as their favorite characters.
Criticism #3: Otakus waste their money on events and merchandising.
Response #3: A super bowl ticket can cost up to $4,000 whereas a 4 day pass at AX costs $60.
Criticism #4: What is up with this culture of scantily clad woman?
How is the mainstream acceptable and the otaku’s world not? As Tarbox
stated, “What we do is valued and valid”. Mr. Tarbox’s presentation on
anime and manga as high art gives fans confidence in their interests and
hobbies. “To express a character in so few lines… isn’t that genius