Although I seem to have something of a strange on/off relationship with anime and manga, they can be surprisingly inspirational things if you’re an artist. This is even true when, like me, your own art style isn’t actually an anime/manga art style (and, yes, there are both advantages and disadvantages to not using this style).
So, how and why should you take inspiration from this type of art?
1) It’s like every genre “turned up to eleven”: Even if you’re not interested in some of the more well-known types of anime and manga, it’s important to remember that these terms only refer to the group of art styles used in Japanese-style comics (manga) and animation (anime).
Since these mediums have historically been taken much more seriously in Japan than they were in the UK or US, there are anime and manga in pretty much every genre you can imagine. Yes, even “serious” science fiction!
For example, the thing that made me return to anime (after re-watching “Akira” a week or two earlier) was when I read that the original “Ghost In The Shell” film was very similar to my favourite (live-action) film, “Blade Runner”.
After finding a cheap second-hand DVD of the director’s cut of “Ghost In The Shell”, I checked it out and was absolutely astonished by it. Although a few scenes lacked the gloomy atmosphere of “Blade Runner”, the actual film itself was like Blade Runner on steroids! Seriously, it’s one of the few films that I can easily see myself rewatching numerous times – both because of the sumptuous art and because of the complex, intelligent “Blade Runner”-like storyline. And it’s a cartoon!
As I’ve mentioned in previous articles, one of the cool things about comics and animation is the fact that, whilst the art can look fairly realistic, it isn’t limited by the constraints of real life. As such, it can be exaggerated in an imaginative way that you can’t do if you try to be too realistic.
Like how literally anything can happen in a novel because the only materials needed (to say, build a gigantic fictional world) are 26 letters – one of the cool things about art and comics is that, if you know how, you can draw literally anything with just a few art supplies.
Since comics and animation have, historically, been a much more respected medium (with a much more diverse range of genres) in Japan than they have been in the English-speaking parts of the world – anime and manga contain numerous inspirational examples of how to use the creative freedom inherent in traditional art to create things that would be difficult or impossible to create using film, photography etc…
So, if you need to remind yourself of how creative art can be at it’s best, then watch some anime or read some manga.
2) Realism and detail: Although I discussed this in the comments on another article last year, one of the things that can be very easy to miss when watching anime or reading manga is the fact that the art is often much more realistic and detailed than it might appear at first glance. If you ignore the stylised character designs and look at the backgrounds instead, you’ll quickly see what I mean.
When you watch as little as a trailer for a large-budget anime film or TV series like “Akira”, “Cowboy Bebop”, “Spirited Away”, “Ghost In The Shell” etc.. you’ll be bowled over by the sheer level of realism and detail in both the backgrounds and the animation itself. Likewise, although many manga comics are designed to be drawn quickly (more on that later), the backgrounds in them can often be astonishingly detailed line art drawings that almost look like they were traced from photographs.
If you find an anime film/TV series that you really love or a manga series that you really love, then it’s probably going to make you want to add more detail to your own art. After all, you’re going to want to make something that looks as cool as the thing you’ve just seen – albeit in your own art style.
For example, the day after I watched “Ghost In The Shell” (and started to watch some of the spin-off TV series, which I’d bought at the same time) I ended up producing what is probably my most detailed digitally-edited painting yet. Here’s a reduced-size preview:
3) Good art made quickly: Because manga comics are usually made fairly quickly, they contain lots of easily noticeable lessons about how to use artistic techniques and how to make good art quickly.
For example, if you’ve ever wanted to learn how to draw in black and white, then look closely traditonal manga comics.
Yes, many of them use pre-made dot pattern transfer sheets for the shading. But, if you ignore this, then manga comics are pretty much a “how to” guide when it comes to learning how to do things like balancing the amounts of black and white in a single image, how to only show the most essential details, how to give the impression of things like shiny surfaces etc…
Likewise, if you want to make comics of your own, then you can learn a lot of time-saving techniques from looking at manga. For example, to save time, dramatic scenes will sometimes use a solid black background. Not only does this draw attention to the characters and give the picture a “serious” look, it also meant that the artist doesn’t have to draw a complex background.
Here’s an example from one of my own (non-manga) comics of this technique in action. You can see it in the last panel:
So, yes, if you take a close look at manga comics, you can learn all sorts of new artistic techniques that will both make your art look cooler and allow you to make it more quickly.
Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂