Skip Beat (Part Four) - Artwork

>> Monday, June 20, 2011

There is no way this post is going to do the artwork justice, for several reasons, not the least of which is that words just don't do art justice. If it did, I doubt I'd be such an otaku.

Despite my genetic lack of any artistic talent, I do appreciate artwork and, in my reviews, I'll criticize it. Not because any/all of these people can't draw circles around me - duh, they can - but because the artwork is intrinsic to the caliber of the manga. In some cases, like Vampire Knight and Bride of the Water God, the artwork is the draw with the story and what-all otherwise either nothing special or even a drawback. In other cases, relatively ineffective artwork detracts from a manga that might otherwise be more appealing. In some cases, it's a factor one why some manga or another just didn't work for me.

What I've discovered, as I've assayed many different mangakus' work and series, is that there are many styles and many of them are far more appealing that others from a prettiness standpoint. However, what really determines the best drawings isn't beauty but effectiveness. Which isn't to say there aren't beautiful drawings in most if not all of my "favorite" mangas - I can only think of one that might not have any "gorgeous" pictures - but that I find myself drawn to many of the "non-gorgeous" drawings as much or more for a number of reasons. Sometimes the artist excels at expressing emotion or motion (like Shinobi Life). Sometimes it's because they're hilarious. Sometimes something appeals to me without my being able to pin it down.

I like the artwork of Yoshiki Nakamura (author of Skip Beat! and Tokyo Crazy Paradise) for all these reasons and more. It's not perfect and sometimes the things that are wrong with it are irksome, but what she does, she does incredibly well.

First, the bad, or at least, what strikes me not so good. Nakamura main characters are somewhat out of proportion, with the exaggerated legs and necks I remember from sewing patterns as a child. This is pronounced even for regular-height individuals but becomes downright frightening with Tsuraga Ren.

At a whopping 6'5", he would already look freakishly tall next to most Japanese (actually, most people). Add in the wide shoulders and the undersized triangular face Nakamura gives her "handsome" male characters (that is occasionally less wide than the neck!) and the effect is more pronounced. Admittedly, some exaggeration can be excused with the biz and the fact that Ren's a model as well as an actor. Even so, the face thing, in particular, can become unappealing. And then there's this freakish thing with the eyes in profile (which is generally more pronounced with the female characters.

But, if the extremes are sometimes so over-the-top it's unattractive, it is the exception and not the rule. Her characters are, on the whole, gorgeous as befitting show biz personnel. And, as I mentioned in the main article, the clothing is beyond gorgeous from the outlandish visual kei outfits for Sho and Vie Ghoul to the fashionable ensembles worn by the redoubtable Ren. Financially strapped Kyoko and Moko also wear a number of delightful and flattering outfits, and their costumes are frequently fabulous. She also knows how to accessorize with charming details and rings and jewelry and keeps track of those details so that, for example, Sho has the same number of piercings in the first few chapters (3/1) but that changes later (Act 103) and is consistent then on (3/3).

My hat's off just to come up with so many beautiful clothes, usually perfectly suited to the people they're on - and that's not even including Lory's cosplay cavalcade. I've seen outrageous and fancy clothes in many other mangas, but never so many that were so universally attractive. And Nakamura knows how to draw her characters so they wear those pen and ink clothes with attitude and style. It feels like they're real people who really know who to dress and to show off their outfits. I'm not showing you lots of pictures because you can go to the character posts and see like a dozen. And that's not even scratching the surface.

And all of that pales in comparison to how well Nakamura expresses emotion. That is what makes her mangas absolutely engrossing, what sucks you in.
Now, don't get me wrong, Kyoko, in particular, has emotions that are over the top. I mean, how hilarious is a shock so extreme it turns a light on inside your mouth? But it works because Kyoko is so genuine and because everything she feels, from her extreme rage, sorrow and fear to the gentler emotions are perfectly reflected on her face. It's fascinating. Lory's the same. Ren only shows emotion around Kyoko, but that's appealing, too. Nakamura does the extremes as you see here, but subtle variations on the theme on everyone's face, in everyone's eyes like they really were windows into the soul.

And, aside from all that, over and above the emotional pulls, the charm, the beauty, the cleverness of her many characters, Nakamura is hilarious. And she uses the "super deformed" mode very much to her advantage (and finally gives her poor skinny-faced male characters some jaw).


  • Marilynne

    I love the manga style of drawing, but I find it hard to read the books. I think I need to re-train my eye so I can see and remember the pictures as I read.

    Interesting post.

  • Stephanie Barr

    It took a while to get used to it myself. I'd get confused on what went where and the like. And some of it struck me as just odd.

    Now, of course, I'm becoming an old hand at it, but there are downsides. Like one I read is a manwa whose works go L-R and it completely throws me. And regular on-line comics I have to remind myself not to read from R-L.

  • EllaEnigma

    oh yeah, sometimes i wouldn't know which way to start because mangas have been flipped or manwhas start from the opposite end. its especially difficult when I was reading a manga called case closed and some random chapters the way you would read it would just flip, which got pretty annoying, but now I'm pretty used to doing both sides and telling the difference into which is which ^^

  • EllaEnigma

    It took me quite a while to get used to the art style, its very odd and different to any other manga I've read, and at times quite annoying, the proportions change quite a lot and sometimes make me view the character a tad differently, although most of the scenes you put up didn't bother me so much, it was more the awkward look the characters body positions sometimes had, and although I do like the chibi ren, similarly with ryuji in tcp, sometimes it made it a little hard for me to imagine what the face behind the chibi face was and I couldn't really imagine it. Although its not like I would change the artist, every little fault and folly, no matter how irksome makes it what it is and I really love it.
    I also wanted to mention in the beginning I had a little problem with the mouth being to close to the nose and sometimes the nose being I tad big but now I dont even notice :P

  • Stephanie Barr

    Some of the things that bothered me, which I listed, were really bothering me in the beginning. Once I fell in love with the characters, they didn't bother me at all.

    On the whole, I love the artwork, but I had to get use to it.

  • Anonymous

    love the manga, but yes, the male charaters look quite scary sometimes...

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