An Introduction to Gekiga, 6970 A.D.

Certainly, that is its basic focus. Using panels from Muyōnosuke as illustrations, and some frames from its television adaptation, “An Introduction” describes the different ways in which Saitō’s work, as representative of contemporary gekiga, uses and builds from the formal and narrative devices of cinema. Subjects taken up are fairly basic: the central importance of the story and the mechanics of constructing narrative, the dramatic and affective aspects of different visual perspectives and paneling techniques, and the importance of flashback and anticipatory segments. At the end of the piece, the comparison between comics and cinema becomes one-to-one, with illustrations of how drawing and paneling techniques replicate camera work and lens effects: zooming, panning, high-speed photography, telescopic magnification, and distortions from fisheye and wide-angle lenses. Showing what manga can learn from the movies was not a new thing. It appears as a minor theme in Tezuka Osamu’s various tutorials from the 50s and early 60s, and is handled with considerable thoroughness in Ishinomori Shōtarō’s best-selling “how-to” book for schoolchildren, An Introduction to Manga, first released in 1965 and reprinted many times thence. What is interesting about “An Introduction to Gekiga” is not so much its overview of “cinematic techniques,” but rather how it argues from this basis that gekiga represents a new way of showing and seeing that places at the vanguard of visual technologies and human perception.

Ōtomo Shōji and Saitō Takao, “An Introduction to Gekiga,” Shōnen Magazine (January 1, 1970): “A Picture is Worth Ten Thousand Words.”

From the title page, one would never make this conclusion. It presents a scene from the old world, of men manually drawing with brushes and pen on paper. With the second page, however, the perspective begins to change. Titled “A Picture is Worth Ten Thousand Words,” this two-page spread is oftentimes referred to as a “manifesto.” It opens with an elevated bird’s-eye view of the grounds of a Shintō shrine, ringed by armed samurai and civilian onlookers. Dead and disarmed swordsmen litter the middle, as Muyōnosuke saunters off to the left. It’s a watercolor version of the kind of scene that appears commonly in Muyōnosuke. The caption top right says, “Here is a picture that describes a given situation. If this were to be represented in words, it would certainly take up much more space. Moreover, given the limits of time, much would have to be left unexplained.” Perhaps just a hackneyed definition of image versus text, but note that the emphasis is not on the richness of images but their economy, in which informational density is a virtue specifically because we live in a world of contracting space and time. The perspective is less aesthetics than communication theory.

This comes out more explicitly in the paragraphs below.

Standing between text and image, ‘gekiga’ is a new information medium. It originated as one branch of multi-panel manga, growing while absorbing only the strong points of surrounding media like kamishibai, cinema, theatre, and radio dramas, and has gained such gigantic power as to change Japanese publishing and image culture [eizō bunka].

Then the picture-is-worth-a-thousand-words thesis of the spread is put in astronautical perspective.

Just one of the photographs of the activities on the moon’s surface brought back by the Apollo 11 provides us with more information than the millions and billions of words written about the moon over the past thousands of years of human history.

What’s more, the amount of time it takes to understand a single picture or photograph is incomparably faster than that required for words with the same amount of information.

It’s not just a matter of density and speed, however. Gekiga is potentially universal.

Furthermore, pictures and photographs can be completely understood even by people who cannot read.

As that generation baptized [senrei] by image culture increases in number (led by people born in the first decade after the war), the culture of words alone is sure to decline quickly. The end of the age of typographic culture is afoot.

Who knew that gekiga could sport a McLuhan cap?

Shōnen Magazine (January 1, 1970).

With evident mirth, the editors of Magazine indulged in this fantasy of speaking in a universal language. In early 1970, a series of covers show non-Japanese reading Magazine in various places across the globe. They are all obviously posed. On the cover of the January 1st issue, in which “An Introduction” appears, a group of mainly white youth spends its afternoon sitting on the steps of a classical-type building in what looks like Italy poring over copies of Magazine. Another issue shows a man on a camel in North Africa reading a copy, and another with two black kids running through the African bush with sacks over their shoulders and Magazine in their hands. It’s too bad here that the January 1st issue was not the one put in the time capsule, because then you’d have a neat chain of analogies: an introduction to the universal narrative art of gekiga on the inside, an image of foreigners reading that universal art on the cover, and then in 6970 A.D. that universal art received and immediately understood by post-linguistic humans. Could it be that this was the thinking behind “An Introduction to Gekiga” and that some event kept that issue from inclusion? As things are, we can at least keep the first two links connecting “An Introduction” to its issue’s cover, and thus gekiga to a multilingual world. After all, the copy of “An Introduction” goes as far as to put gekiga in the same orbit as photographs of earth from the moon.