(NOTE: This glossary appears in the paperback edition of Mangaman.)
Hi, there! If you’ve read Mangaman, odds are you were already interested in comic books, but maybe you’re unfamiliar with some of the conventions of manga. Well, we’re here to help!
First off: “Manga” is an old Japanese word that originally described a kind of art created with paints and etched wooden blocks. In modern times, it refers to any kind of Japanese comic book. It’s also often used as a shorthand to describe the art style most often associated with those comic books. (And BTW: it’s pronounced “MAHN-guh,” not “MANG-uh.”)
If you don’t know much about manga, some of the symbolism, images, and references in Mangaman might be confusing. Manga uses a lot of symbols as short cuts for portraying emotions. This little guide will help, but if you’ve had your interest piqued and want to know more, consult Understanding Manga and Anime by Robin Brenner (Libraries Unlimited, 2007).
Article 175 (page 86): This is part of the Criminal Code of Japan (since 1907) and forbids the sale or distribution of obscene materials. While nudity is common in Japanese comics (even in comics intended for teens), the naughty bits must be obscured. Ryoko’s, um, special area is pixilated because that’s one way a Japanese manga artist might choose to obey Article 175. (There are other ways, too, including whiting-out the offending body part(s) or drawing a substitute, such as a banana!)
“Battle-mode” (page 92): Think of this as almost the opposite of chibi (see below). Sometimes, when a manga character is gearing up for a fight, he or she will suddenly beef up, becoming bigger and stronger. There’s usually a pretty cool hair-style upgrade involved, too! You can see this in great action manga like Dragonball Z.
Bishonen: A Japanese word meaning “beautiful boy.” Usually refers to an extraordinarily beautiful, often feminine teen male. The kids at the Homegoing party are caught off-guard by how “pretty” Ryoko appears at first.
Black blood (page 110): Ryoko’s blood is black for a number of reasons, but mostly because almost all manga is published in black and white.
Blush Lines (as on page 39): Diagonal lines on the cheeks indicate embarrassment, especially with romantic feelings.
Chibi/Body becoming super-deformed (as on page 15): This is a humorous depiction of extreme surprise, excitement, etc.; in manga and anime, such body morphing is called chibi and is usually done for comedic effect. The word literally means “small person,” and the style of chibi art is often referred to as “super-deformed.”
Cultural festival (page 50): These sorts of festivals, in which students set up booths devoted to different world cultures for the benefit of their peers, are common in Japanese schools. And in Ryoko’s home “dimension.”
Decompression (page 78): Manga often allow moments in the story to unfold at a pace that — to a Western audience — might seem slow. But if the moment is intended to communicate emotion, a manga-ka (the term for a manga artist) will allow the moment to stretch as long as necessary. This is referred to as “decompression” because the normally “compressed” pacing of a comic is undone.
Ellipses (as on page 16): In Western comics, a speechless character simply says nothing. But in manga, the artist will often employ a word balloon with nothing but ellipses (…) to indicate silence, especially when a character is leaving something unsaid. The more ellipses, the more has been left unsaid.
Eyes (throughout): Ryoko’s eyes are often large, disproportionate to his face. A lot of the shojo manga (that is, manga for girls and teens) portrays characters with large eyes. Large eyes with sparkle effects show strong emotions, often romantic. Eyes drawn with tiny pupils and white space instead of irises indicate shock. Eyes drawn as hearts indicate infatuation or love, as when Ryoko first sees Marissa. (This effect is seen in Western art, too, especially in Loony Tunes cartoons!)
Flashbacks (as on page 100): The images that pop up in the panels over Ryoko’s head reflect his recollection of something that happened in the recent past.
Flowers (as on page 15): Flowers indicate romance in manga. When they explode all over the panel, someone is feeling highly romantic!
Kaiju (throughout): The Japanese word for “monsters.” Technically, it can refer to any monster, but the word is most often used to refer to the giant monsters of Japanese pop culture, such as Gojira (aka Godzilla), Mothra, the tentacled creatures shown throughout Mangaman, and the monsters on page 46. Monsters can be heroic, humorous, or villainous. The ones in Mangaman seem pretty darn villainous to us…
“Left to right” (page 26): All manga in Japan are published in the right-to-left format; most translated manga use the same format. Ryoko is not used to the Western left-to-right format, so he’s somewhat out of sync with the rest of school.
Little Nemo in Slumberland: An American weekly comic strip by Windsor McKay, begun in 1905, Little Nemo was the adventure of a small boy who lived a wild fantasy life in his dreams, then woke up in bed at the end of each episode. Little Nemo’s adventures often broke the panel borders of the comic and went beyond the bounds of the page, the first metafictional comic narrative. Mangaman pays homage to this classic as Ryoko and Marissa move between panels.
Mecha suits (as on page 101): Ryoko refers to using mecha suits; these are the way-cool giant fighting robots that stride throughout Japanese pop culture. Piloted by humans, they are tough and sometimes lock together to make even bigger mecha, as in Voltron. Check out awesome mecha in Neon Genesis Evangelion and the various Mobile Suit Gundam series.
Mouth (throughout): In manga (especially shojo manga), mouths tend to be small; a large open mouth with drool indicates a leering interest in the subject at hand (usually a pretty girl!).
Multiple limbs (as on page 15): This isn’t about having two arms — it’s when those two arms are shown over and over in the same panel. This usually happens in chibi mode and is usually done to show panic or extreme surprise. But notice that Ryoko uses his multiple limbs to dish out extra pain on page 94! (One of the advantages of being a manga character in a “realistic” comic book!)
Panel borders (as on page 84): Western comics most often have rigidly defined panel borders. Manga panel borders can be fluid, angled, or missing altogether, depending on the story’s needs. (This is the case in the West, too, but the technique is much more prevalent in manga.)
“Pervy Phantom” (as on page 28): This is a manga image that shows a character’s inner thoughts. Like the average teen boy, when Ryoko finds someone cute, he reacts. Unlike the average teen boy, he has a pervy phantom to embarrass him for it!
Pixilated body parts: In manga, this is done to avoid depicting specific body parts on a nude figure; see entry for Article 175.
Ryoko: In Japan, Ryoko is a girl’s name…but our hero has it anyway. Ryoko Ikeda is a famous manga artist whose major work, The Rose of Versailles, chronicled the adventures of Lady Oscar, a girl who was raised as a boy to become a personal guard to Marie Antoinette. Hmm… Perhaps the further adventures of Ryoko and Marissa will explain why his parents chose to name him Ryoko.
Sound effects (throughout): Most comic books use some sort of sound effects (“BOOM!”), but manga uses a lot of them, even for little things like when Ryoko stops suddenly on page 74. They tend to hang in the air or stick to Ryoko.
Sparkles (as on page 12): They’re not just for vampires any more! When drawn all around someone, sparkles indicates a highly attractive character. Ryoko’s initial appearance at the Homegoing party shows him as a bishonen. Some people call these “bishie sparkles.”
Speed lines (throughout): As in Western comics, these are drawn to indicate fast movement. In Mangaman, they are exclusive to Ryoko.
Storm clouds (as on page 53): These indicate emotional distress. When the clouds progress to lightning and rain, they indicate sadness.
Sweat (as on page 77): A single sweat drop indicates embarrassment, confusion, or shock; the larger the sweat drop, the greater the emotion being felt by the character. Multiple sweat drops indicate even greater levels of distress.
Tentacles (as on page 72): Jokuju, in Japanese. Tentacles are a a staple of manga and anime, and sometimes used as a sexual symbol in ecchi. (“Ecchi” literally means dirty or naughty, and refers to erotic or fetishistic manga. Ecchi is usually suggestive, as opposed to hentai, which is often pornographic. When Lexa worries about Marissa getting romantic with Ryoko, she’s clearly thinking about ecchi and hentai!)
Word balloons (throughout): Western comics have word balloons that tend to be wider than they are tall. But in manga, the balloons must be tall in order to accommodate the kanji (Japanese lettering) characters. As a result, Ryoko’s word balloons are a different shape from everyone else’s…and his typeface is different, too!