Back in 1999, I spent two months using grant money to study Japanese comics, or manga, in Tokyo, Japan under the tutelage of their resident Scott McCloud, manga innovator and expert (and grandson of their most acclaimed novelist, Natsume Soseki) Fusanosuke Natsume. Natsume Sensei not only arranged interviews and assistantships for me with Japan’s most famous creators, he also found a host home for me owned by the delightful and indescribable museum curator Motoi Masaki, owner of a manga collection so large it occupied the entire ground floor of his home and utilized rolling stacks like those in large library basements! Couple this with a ridiculously cheap plane ticket courtesy of a Japanese travel agent friend of my former enemies in the Yale Japanese department (it cost me more to get from Maine to Boston that Boston to Narita), and you’re left with a comic fanatic with what amounted to $100 a day of grant money to spend on manga. And boy did I! The world of Japanese comics was my oyster and every manga store there is fully-stocked with classic works and the latest collections. I used American Frederick Schodt’s two excellent books of manga criticism as starting points, filled in essential works recommended by all those I met, but mostly spent my time thumbing through works based on attractive spines (I could never read enough kanji to even make out the names) and following my own idiosyncratic tastes.

All of that is to apologize to any of my Japanese mentors and friends for selecting this as my first example of manga art. It is not their fault! They did introduce me to the greats and under-appreciated: Shigeru Mizuki, Yoshiharu Tsuge, the hilarious Yasuji Tanioka, the disgusting Maruo Suehiro, Sanpei Shirato, Yumiko O-shima, and everyone who ever drew for the unbelievably unknown Yagyo magazine in the seventies. I will do my best to show brilliant examples of all their work before our time here is through. Given the astounding talent of all the artists I just listed, how could I even think of introducing their culture’s dominance of the medium with an artist I am sure is considered a dime-a-dozen hack in his native land like Ryouji Minagawa?

Well, uh…I like him. He is obviously ripping off hundreds of other Shonen Jump contributors, who in turn have ripped off what Akira Toriyama did on just one of his books so thoroughly it has come to be viewed in the West as manga-style (when in fact, that owes more to anime). You can even watch him ganking from American movies like The Matrix and its ilk later in this book. Innovative, he is not. It is a bit like when Natsume Sensei began his discussion of the state of American comics in World Comics’ Culture with Tony Daniel. Uggghhh. I’m sure I gave him some Miller and Mignola! Does anyone in America find Tony Daniel to be a fitting sample of anything we do well? Isn’t that the precise moment when everyone stopped buying Spawn? “I mean, I stuck it out for Moore and Gaiman doing what they do but here, some total inanity (TWICE!) by Frank Miller, David Sim showing us his total insanity that was soon to be par for his course, and the creator completely forgetting the hourglass/time limit that was crucial to the book’s whole concept, but I am not eating mouthfuls of Tony Daniel and pretending that crappy tiny ink lines make it McFarlane!”

Well, Ryouji Minagawa is probably lucky if any intelligent Japanese creators think of him even that highly. He is your run-of-the-mill action comics for teenage boys creator, but those guys all do one thing extremely well: action. If you’re going to rob the hydrocephalic eyes, minuscule noses and ubiquitous speedlines, and least look at what Minagawa does here and make it effective:

Shonen Sunday  © Ryouji Minagawa Kyouichi Nanatsuki

art: Ryouji Minagawa book: ARMS publisher: Shonen Sunday © Ryouji Minagawa Kyouichi NanatsukiShonen Sunday  © Ryouji Minagawa Kyouichi Nanatsuki

art: Ryouji Minagawa book: ARMS publisher: Shonen Sunday © Ryouji Minagawa Kyouichi Nanatsuki

Simple yet bombastic. Full-bleed (to the edges of the page) double-page spread for intense action. Draw the action just after the impact to give the illusion of movement from the effects of the blow. Speedlines that blur the appropriate parts of the body in the appropriate arcs and directions to make the whole read as a whirlwind of fury. Page turn gives a quick pause. First panel next page finishes the action perfectly. One needed the contrast to feel the full thrust of the earlier page. This panel is small and contained so the former felt even bigger. This one is silent and reserved with a clean, crisp line so the former felt even louder and more chaotic. This ends as the character does, in perfect balance. There are no blurs at all now. The arc of the villain’s fall is brilliantly shown by the line of blood from his mouth. As one flips back and forth between the spread and the final, one can watch the locomotion freeze in time with a snap! It suggests to me the snap of a gi during a vigorously performed kata — intense force brought to a screeching halt.

The contrast is everything. The Hollywood editing mentality has seeped into our American cores so malignantly that even when we go out of our way to ripoff other cultures, we only go halfway there. So many American manga are experts at those speedline heavy full page spreads. Those are as laborious and plodding as their DC style blur-less counterparts without the quiet contrast to finish them. Twenty-two pages of motion-blurred fight scene is so overwhelming to be dull if the audience never gets to pause to breathe heavily or admire a beautiful kick.