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Author Topic: Agree/Disagree/Qualify: "All manga books are poorly written."  (Read 5514 times)

Offline KS

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Re: Agree/Disagree/Qualify: "All manga books are poorly written."
« Reply #15 on: February 19, 2014, 12:54:10 PM »
Basically it boils down to two things:

1).  Limited acceptance of what is appealing to the audience.
2).  Japanese writers have never been particularly good.

The first one has to do with the general cynicism that publishing companies have towards otaku, the primary target audience of manga and light novels, and the unwillingness to take risks because that doesn't sell.  The second one is more of my own personal interpretation of even "good" authors and storytellers.  There just haven't been that many, and this is doubly so amongst the manga community.  There are a few guys that were / are interesting, but I don't think even they have written any kind of real magnum opus.  They seem like they're trying to push envelopes by expanding upon already tried and true establishments, but they haven't really been given free reign to "go nuts" yet.

I imagine if we really want to find the best authors, we should probably look to the ones that AREN'T popular as hell.  Maybe amongst one of them we can find someone that is an unappreciated gem.

Wait a second are you saying that the manga community has historically had weaker authors than the Light Novel one or just overall in terms of worldwide literature?

Offline DrIdiot

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Re: Agree/Disagree/Qualify: "All manga books are poorly written."
« Reply #16 on: February 19, 2014, 01:04:29 PM »
2).  Japanese writers have never been particularly good.

I understand you're making a statement about personal preference, but I think that's a somewhat ethnocentric way to put it.  First, there's the issue of translation -- between Asian and European languages especially, it's very difficult to translate certain qualities of prose.  This difficulty is compounded with very basic cultural and aesthetic differences.  The import of having written a magnum opus is one of them; "going nuts" is another.  Modern Japanese writing is, by nature, a bit subdued, minimalistic in a sense, with on emphasis on smaller works (I'm a personal fan of Kawabata).  I know Murakami writes big books but he learned that from the West.  The hardest thing about comparative literature is shedding our own baggage.

There's also the issue of what is being translated.  Karl Ove Knausgaard said something like, there are hidden gems in every country, because what decides whether a book is translated isn't necessarily any innate quality of the work but whether there's a selling argument or hook to a foreign readership.  He then went off and listed a bunch of his favorite Norwegian and Swedish authors, most of whom, of course, no one in North America has ever heard of.  I read a book by a Taiwanese author that I really liked, but it's untranslated, and I can kind of see why -- there isn't a hook for Western audiences.  I think if you're really interested in finding "gems" you should be listening in on a lot of domestic channels.  This is, of course, hard to do if you can't read the language -- and then there's the issue of finding them.  Visiting used bookstores is also useful, but that's even harder, because then you have to live there.


As an aside, not really a response to any comment in particular, I think there's still a lingering and unnatural divide in people's perceptions of books and movies -- people perceive the former to be more "legitimate" or "high culture" than the other.  Increasingly, I think this is becoming untrue.  A Chinese writer (forgot his name, he's not well known) remarked once that he didn't think books mattered anymore, that movies would replace them (though I don't really agree).  I think Sontag also once said something about literature as being the most conservative and least avant-garde form of art, which is actually kind of paradoxical given that it has the least production cost.  Anyway, what I'm trying to get at is that if ignore this artificial divide for a moment and expand ourselves to Japanese film, we'll find plenty that are appreciated by Western standards, if that is the metric that we choose (it shouldn't be) -- check the Criterion collection and I think Japanese has some of the most.  Yes, writing is a different art in a practical sense than filmmaking, but it is really different in such an important way that we should narrow our questions?  I'd say no.

Going even further off topic, I think that in developing countries film has really taken over as the main narrative form, rather than writing.  I'll use an example I'm more familiar with, which is China and Taiwan.  Taiwan went through a golden age of directors which are internationally acclaimed (Edward Yang, Hou Hsiao Hsien) but never had anything like that for writers.  This is somewhat personal opinion, but I also think Chinese writers are not so well-received abroad (the international focus seems to be on writers which satire the government, which IMO is a little politically motivated and also more importantly is too narrow), while their directors have won some acclaim (Jia Zhangke is my favorite example).  Part of this is an issue of translation which is easier in film, but having read a few books I think it's not just that -- even from an internal standpoint it seems like there are just more films -- there might be something about film that's inherently compatible with Eastern cultures or languages or there might be some cultural baggage which they lack.

Offline Reckoner

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Re: Agree/Disagree/Qualify: "All manga books are poorly written."
« Reply #17 on: February 19, 2014, 02:06:59 PM »
Slight tangent but I believe the main reason written prose is seen as higher culture or legitimate is because no matter what film does, it cannot be as descriptive as a book. Books have so much more to absorb, from a pure storytelling perspective, than a regular old movie. It would be different perhaps if movies or TV shows actually were as lengthy as books. For example, even the Game of Thrones TV series with all its episodes does not adapt anywhere close to the same amount of content that actually exists in Song of Ice and Fire book series. Nor do I think it's possible to ever truly capture the greatness of these books 100% since there is so much detail that gets left out in the TV series.

Now there is a lot of other things that visual mediums have that books don't have, sound and imagery can very enriching, so I wouldn't necessarily see a good way to qualify which is the better medium. The only thing I see as being true as that books have a much deeper history behind them that's been built up, and other mediums of storytelling still have a long way to catch up.

One thing that might always keep visual mediums below books is ease of access. Not anyone can just go and direct a film, that takes a lot of money and connections to even get into that position. However, a book can be written by anyone (No, it's not necessarily good) so you just get more human minds contributing to literature in general. The pool size of humanity is larger, and the history is longer. This means a lot of bad books are written, certainly, but also more great books.

As for the notion of Japanese writers not necessarily being any good, are we just talking about manga/anime/ln here or in general? There are plenty of great Japanese writers if we're talking about books. If you're looking for great writing in light novels though, you're looking into the wrong place. Manga is by far the richer and more interesting part of the industry.

Offline The Big Guy

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Re: Agree/Disagree/Qualify: "All manga books are poorly written."
« Reply #18 on: February 19, 2014, 03:00:49 PM »
Quote
It would be different perhaps if movies or TV shows actually were as lengthy as books....visual mediums have that books don't have, sound and imagery can very enriching,

On a tangent off of your tangent, I wish that was the pitch for visual novels instead of the inane "choose your own adventure" schtick that is more commonly associated in the US with the cheesy "turn to page blah" children's books. Not that the medium needs the help with its slow but steady increase in popularity, but still. Speaking of comparisons...

Quote
I often like it too (as) pulp fiction and can't argue that I see a lot of poor writing tendencies in the format.

You know, the comparison to pulp fiction is an apt description of the whole light novel genre. It makes it seem less like its own unique level of crapiness and more in line with other pulpy genres that don't seek to churn out masterpieces. Like everything else, it has its place.


« Last Edit: February 19, 2014, 03:29:52 PM by The Big Guy »
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Offline DrIdiot

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Re: Agree/Disagree/Qualify: "All manga books are poorly written."
« Reply #19 on: February 19, 2014, 03:20:04 PM »
See, I disagree.  The thing about film is the viewer is left to his own to be attentive.  Reading is a more active process than viewing.  In terms of pure descriptive power, I think film has the edge -- instead of figuring out how to describe a room in a sufficiently prosaic way (hard to do) you can set it up like you imagine and take a shot.  Length might present a practical issue, but it's not particularly damning, because there are long films and short books and I would say this is a more practical issue than essential one.  You had also brought up Game of Thrones, which I understand (have not read) as an "immersive"-type narrative -- for these types, perhaps books, for which there is no practical page limit, are better suited.  But this is again specific to this genre and not a universal strike against film.  I don't think the difference is something like "more descriptive" but something like "subjective/objective."  Books allow for musings (in the style of Proust) and they have a voice which they cannot escape (though they try).  Films are more objective.

Also, as I mentioned earlier, the idea that books are easier to write seems to indicate that we should be seeing *more* avant-garde literature but in fact we are seeing less compared to film and other visual arts.  The reason I think is cultural baggage and conservative attitudes toward the novel.

I'll repeat, the difference in perception between books and film is cultural, not essential.  We read books in school, we watch movies at home (this is a killer -- no one forced you to watch Seven Samurai, but they made you read Moby Dick).  Books are older, movies are newer.  The first books were serious, the first movie was frivolous.  Books were the realm of scholars, movies the realm of businessmen.  But since these are merely cultural, and so over time they lose their import -- the New York Review of Books doesn't only review books anymore, and no serious book critic will be found to shun film.  It's just that public perception lags behind, which it always does.
« Last Edit: February 19, 2014, 03:31:40 PM by DrIdiot »

Offline Pebble

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Re: Agree/Disagree/Qualify: "All manga books are poorly written."
« Reply #20 on: February 20, 2014, 04:38:57 AM »
I don't think the difference is something like "more descriptive" but something like "subjective/objective."  Books allow for musings (in the style of Proust) and they have a voice which they cannot escape (though they try).  Films are more objective.
Uhh... this sounds like shaky ground to me. Novels often operate on a far more subconscious level than we make them out to. I don't think you can pull off Franz Kafka without some serious psychological meddling with the readers' heads. In that sense, there is a very solid objective dimension to books, even if it is only a socially constructed one.

Slight tangent but I believe the main reason written prose is seen as higher culture or legitimate is because no matter what film does, it cannot be as descriptive as a book. Books have so much more to absorb, from a pure storytelling perspective, than a regular old movie. It would be different perhaps if movies or TV shows actually were as lengthy as books.
True. Film has relatively severe practical limitations, and cannot adapt the internal monologues ubiquitous in books, which, by the way, is an incredible, and sometimes underappreciated asset that books have. Imagine the Notes from Underground without a monologue: it just wont work. Now imagine it with Dexter-esque monologues: it'll be obtrusive and blunt. That is a big, big weakness for most film, especially in plot-driven shows. In plot-driven novels, you can develop unobtrusively with these musings. In film, you end up with Gundam Characters.
However, we have yet to consider shows which rely on abstraction to 'bookify' themselves. An immediate example would be Monogatari, but I think Millennium Actress is the real example of a film which muses like a book, but is paced like a film.

For example, even the Game of Thrones TV series with all its episodes does not adapt anywhere close to the same amount of content that actually exists in Song of Ice and Fire book series. Nor do I think it's possible to ever truly capture the greatness of these books 100% since there is so much detail that gets left out in the TV series.
Yes and no. I've said this already, but the real art in writing a good immersive novel is not in adding more and more content with little regard for pacing, it is in selecting the content you throw out. This is a tendency that books have; they bloat the amount of content in themselves so much that the whole package becomes lumbering, unwieldy, and unimpressive for it's length. That's what I felt when I read what I read of A Game of Thrones, thatís what I'm feeling reading The Eye of the World right now, and that is sure as hell what I think about all of the Lord of the Rings. That's not what I thought after 60 pages of The Last Wish; I was too busy being amazed that a fantasy novel of all creatures had done so much in the number of pages that are normally the prologue of an average fantasy novel. Length is a double-edged sword as well; it opens up possibilities, but I think we've all put up with enough glacially paced, plodding narratives, both inside and outside books, to know that it opens up the possibility of failure even more.

Offline DrIdiot

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Re: Agree/Disagree/Qualify: "All manga books are poorly written."
« Reply #21 on: February 20, 2014, 11:08:19 AM »
Do films not operate on a subconscious level?  Don't get me wrong, I am not against books.  I read books.  I also watch movies.

Anyway, I think I'm not communicating this correctly.  When I say objective and subjective I mean in presentation.  The skilled craftsman can bend this tendency (and the subjective/objective dichotomy doesn't really exist anyway) but it's still a fact: the difference between the camera versus the voice.  They're inherently different but you can't attach values like "better" or "more cultured" to them.

For example, you're assigning a lot of value to the ability to have inner monologues, but I can't see why.  It's not an essential part of the narrative (your favorite films didn't need internal monologues, why?) -- you can do without it, and even in books, if it's not done well it can make the book sound like a tract and not a narrative.  I can say as well, that in books, visuals and audibles have to be translated and thus dulled through language, and so film allows for direct audio and visual experience.  Again -- not an essential part of the narrative.  My argument is just that books and movies should be viewed on the same plane, as two sides of the same coin, because they're both devices capable and in practice used to create great narratives.

==========

As an aside w.r.t. inner monologues -- even in books, excessive internal monologuing sometimes results in books being overwritten, specifically because writers think of it as a crutch.  I think a classic example would be Thomas Mann (I've read Doctor Faustus) -- the narrator is quick to provide his own interpretation of events for the reader.  It's still a great book, but in a way, handed to you on too shiny of a plate.  On the other hand, I really liked Karl Ove Knausgarrd's first two installments in his series where he just talks about anything and everything under the sun.  He's great at it, he's analytical but in a very personal way.

Also, more examples: Tatami Galaxy used amply the internal thoughts of the main character to great effect.  The internal monologuing of shounen characters tend to bore.  Boundaries can be bent, it just takes a creative director to do it.

Offline Pebble

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Re: Agree/Disagree/Qualify: "All manga books are poorly written."
« Reply #22 on: February 21, 2014, 03:37:46 AM »
Do films not operate on a subconscious level?
Yes, they do. My argument was that the things both books and films exploit for subconscious manipulation come from biases that are either (generally) cultural, and so, are objective things for the social frame of reference used. A book has a limited number of interpretations and a general direction the majority of them will take, even if it is presented in the vaguest way possible. The same is true of film. Clearly they both have some degree of objectivity.

Anyway, I think I'm not communicating this correctly.  When I say objective and subjective I mean in presentation.  The skilled craftsman can bend this tendency (and the subjective/objective dichotomy doesn't really exist anyway) but it's still a fact: the difference between the camera versus the voice.  They're inherently different...
True. A book simply puts forward less sense-data than a film does. It does, however, direct your inner eye towards a general direction, the same way minimalistic films(Angel's Egg especially comes to mind) direct your inner voice towards certain topics. I think I'm starting to see what you mean by this 'different sides of the same coin' thing.

...but you can't attach values like "better" or "more cultured" to them.
...I suppose I should have out forward a disclaimer on this from the start. I'm staunchly with you as far as the perceived superiority of books over other media is concerned.

For example, you're assigning a lot of value to the ability to have inner monologues, but I can't see why.  It's not an essential part of the narrative (your favorite films didn't need internal monologues, why?) -- you can do without it, and even in books, if it's not done well it can make the book sound like a tract and not a narrative.  I can say as well, that in books, visuals and audibles have to be translated and thus dulled through language, and so film allows for direct audio and visual experience.  Again -- not an essential part of the narrative.  My argument is just that books and movies should be viewed on the same plane, as two sides of the same coin, because they're both devices capable and in practice used to create great narratives.
It's certainly not an essential part of a narrative; I was just making a (somewhat tangential) point about how books have some advantages that films don't, just like films have some that books don't. With both, it takes a good deal of skill and cleverness to adapt one medium's methods to another medium. It's definitely a writing crutch, and is sometimes lazily used. The same is true of film's crutches, chief of which is music.

Also, more examples: Tatami Galaxy used amply the internal thoughts of the main character to great effect.  The internal monologuing of shounen characters tend to bore.  Boundaries can be bent, it just takes a creative director to do it.
Well, shit. You already said it. Stole all m'thunder...
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