Have you ever thought of something so different when you see a landscape drawn in manga?
Say for example, you saw this river from this page in Cross Game.
Would you honestly think of what happened next just by seeing this river?
Last December, I attended an academic conference and crossed a presentation of a Japanese scholar who discussed the living landscapes in manga. I’m no literature major nor am I an art critic so I apologize for not using the exact term she used in her lecture. As a manga reader though, I understood what she meant of meaningful landscapes and how these landscapes come alive in Japanese manga.
According to her, these landscapes are more than just metaphors. While those trained in Western comics would ignore the scenery as simple “eye rests” or metaphors, the Japanese think these landscapes are alive and filled with meaning and agency. She claims that it takes a deep immersion in Japanese culture to “see” these landscapes come “alive.” I raised a question whether this reality was due to Shintoism (as this is how we are taught about the Japanese and their knack for nature, right?) However, the scholar said that it’s closer to animism than Shintoism as this was something larger than Shintoism. Not all Japanese believe in Shinto rituals but almost all Japanese believe that nature is alive. And while some people would anthromorphize landscapes (countries even), there are mangaka who simply draw things as is and let the picture speak for themselves. She then showed an image of the Koushien stadium from an Adachi Mitsuru manga and somehow I knew where she was getting at.
Adachi Mitsuru is a master in what this scholar considered living landscapes. In Cross Game, he dedicates panels with nothing but sceneries. An empty sky. An open lot. A grassy riverbank. A sunset. A flowing river.
Static as they may appear, these panels are actually moving, taking the readers towards a visible space, an atmosphere that moves not only around the characters but also around us. It’s as if by showing these landscapes Adachi hopes that we are drawn towards a real space, a sky that can tell us that it’ll be a great day, or a busy street that speaks of its rigid and difficult day.
And it’s a strange experience, isn’t it? I’ve heard friends get bored with this style, telling me how lazy Adachi can get as a story teller since he relied so much on putting empty clouds behind dialogues and countless silent backdrops. However, to me, when I see images like those perimeter fences, I know that I can hear the wind gush through the steel links, as if inviting the soft sound of a child’s bat as he gets ready to swing for the next pitch. Like the landscape, we are watching Aoba, Kou, and Wakaba grow. We listen to their dreams come alive in that living space.
These living landscapes are one of the things I love about Adachi Mitsuru. Having read a good number of his works since Touch, I’ve come to understand the purpose of these landscapes and why he insists on making them a part of his story.
Hence, by the time I read Cross Game, seeing this same river in the first volume broke my heart and left me in tears. If you guys have read past the first volume, then I’m quite sure you know what I’m talking about. If you haven’t, then I invite you to start reading Cross Game and try to understand how these landscapes come to life.