The Brilliant Framing and Paneling of Tezuka Osamu

So I’ve mentioned before that I’m an unabashed fan of Tezuka Osamu, the legendary “manga no kamisama” (god of manga). I’ve been going through his Hi no tori (Phoenix) for the first time in years, and I was struck by how innovative and expressive his paneling and framing is. Tezuka is credited with bringing cinematic techniques to manga. He used establishing shots, close ups, low angles, high angles, etc., whereas most of his predecessors tended to just draw a scene as if the reader were looking at a stage, static and from one angle. (I want to give due credit for this observation, but I can’t for the life of me figure out where I read it. Probably something by Fred Schodt.) Tezuka pioneered cinematic techniques that still look great today and indeed are still in use by manga artists.

But I want to look at a few examples where Tezuka really exploits paneling and framing, going beyond an imitation of cinema to demonstrate a mastery of his medium. This is not a comprehensive overview, by any means, just some things I noticed while reading Hi no tori.

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Emotional symbologies, realism and the next hardware generation

Recently I re-consumed Final Fantasy VII, released in 1997.One thing that threw me off at first was the gestures. The characters all use comically exaggerated gestures that always seem a little off: Cloud’s response to everything is shrugging, while shaking seems to denote almost anything from fear to laughter to anger. But I couldn’t recall being bothered by this during my first run-through fourteen years ago, and I realized that we used to have this whole symbolic gestural language for conveying emotion back in the ultra-low polygon count days. The gestures didn’t necessarily depict real-world body language, but had their own unique symbology that could be deciphered by consumers in order to understand character emotion. It’s impressive, actually; each of the characters has their own distinguishing gestures linked to their personalities, and the game is able to convey a fairly wide range of emotion even though the only facial movement available is blinking.

Violence in Tezuka Osamu’s Works (NSFW)

I’m a huge Tezuka Osamu fan, so you’ll probably see plenty of posts about him here (eventually).  One of the things I’ve always found interesting about his work is the way he handles violence.  In his more mature works he neither shies away from depicting violence (think of the classic PG-13 device of showing a gun against someone’s head but panning away before the gunshot), but nor does he pornographically glorify or fetishize violence like so many works do (think ridiculous fountains of blood, people clinging to life so their lurid suffering can be prolonged, etc.).  Tezuka displays violence, but depicts it as tragic, brutal and cruel.

I was reminded of this while rereading a volume of Hi no tori (Phoenix).  Hi no tori is a fictional history of Japan spanning from pre-history to the distant future.  Volume 8 covers the turmoil at the end of the 12th century.  Specifically, I’m looking at the scenes that depict Kiso Yoshinaka’s army plundering the capital. This is one of those events that doesn’t get much attention in textbook history, mostly because it’s kind of just a prelude to the big historical event; Minamoto no Yoshitsune leading Genji forces to defeat first Yoshinaka and then the entire Heike clan.  But one of Hi no tori‘s projects is revealing the human tragedy behind footnotes in history.

I want to examine three consecutive pages that portray this incident. The images below are depictions of violence and might be NSFW.

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