Welcome! After deciding to review Those Snow White Notes this season and Given’s movie release in the previous months, it was probably time for me to write on this topic.
My meeting with manga was much much later compared to meeting anime, purely out of availability. There were a lot of shows available on national TV ever since I was a little kid and I would glue myself to the TV, but with manga, I had to wait until I reached high school and had a better understanding of English. Because even then, licensed copies weren’t a thing here and I could only read through scanlations. Welcome to my tragic backstory.
This was all just to say that although I’ve watched quite a lot of series focused on music such as Sakamichi no Apollon, Beck, or Nodame Cantabile to name a few, my first (and now that I think, only) experience with reading a music-focused manga first and then seeing the adaptation was with Given. And my first time thinking about what it means to read a sound-centered story on paper. Along with Those Snow White Notes, I revisited what went through my head when I first started Given and wanted to throw my two cents out there.
Before I go into the series, I also noticed that I had never thought about this in the context of literature before. Maybe because manga has strong ties to animation, especially given that they are not only textual but also visual. There’s also a much higher probability of manga titles getting picked up than getting a novel or story adapted. Voice acting and animation style etc. are always things that a fandom looks forward to and this unintentionally urges me to imagine in more concrete ways. Just to give an example, when I read a novel I do imagine how the characters or the scenery may look or sound like but I don’t necessarily imagine a certain actress/actor or I don’t envision how it would adapt to a movie. I pay attention to different aspects, specifically the words themselves. However, when I’m reading manga/manhwa, I noticed that I associate certain voice actors with certain characters and read the lines in their voices without even consciously assigning them. All in all, there’s an apparent difference in how I consume these two different types of media.
Okay, so, Given. This was a series I started reading back in 2014, I think. My memory is kind of hazy. What I do know for sure is that it’s impossible not to fall in love with Kizu Natsuki’s beautiful art and I was no exception. For readers who aren’t familiar with the series; Given tells the story of Mafuyu, who is attached to his classic Gibson guitar and upon noticing another student in his year knows a lot about guitars he half-asks-half-pesters Uenoyama to teach him how to play. Uenoyama is so not happy about the turn of events. Until he hears Mafuyu sing, that is. This is also the exact moment I tilted my head and a big question mark popped up in the air.
The action lines to emphasize the impact are there, Uenoyama’s reaction is there, Mafuyu’s expression when he’s singing is there; I know this is a moving moment and an important one for the plot, but do I truly feel that way?
The prominent feeling in me was curiosity. How did Mafuyu sound? What was the melody like to have Uenoyama, the music geek, react like that? What kind of melody it was? Did it evoke sad feelings? Happy feelings? Longing? Or was he just stunned by how beautiful Mafuyu’s vocal tone was? Maybe Mafuyu hit a place in the depths of Uenoyama’s unconscious memories that the feeling is inexplicable, but is surely there and is strong. These are just a few of many possibilities, and sometimes even creators themselves have no clear-cut answers when it comes to certain aspects of their work. I was, later on, curious about whether Kizu Natsuki had a melody in mind and provided it for the composers/musicians, or it was chosen from the options that were created before.
Some of my questions would find answers if I had access to Given’s drama CDs, a very common type of media with BL where you can listen to voice actors voicing over the panels. I’m guessing this is to compensate for the lack of animated BL, considering a good portion of it is basically erotic material. But, better late than never! The scene I most anticipated when the anime started airing was the moment where Mafuyu was going to sing to Uenoyama on the stairs.
This brings us to the next important question: are musical manga doomed to lack due to their printed nature? I’m having a hard time giving it a solid yes or no type of answer because if there’s something my emo phase has taught me, that’s having expectations can bring disappointment as well as joy. That goes for musical descriptions in manga as well. When I’m reading, I have no idea about the sound and I take the reactions of other characters at face value, and then maybe associate the song with a piece that I enjoy or a song that pops into my head from the ‘vibe’ surrounding the performing character or the instruments they use. Of course, during the adaptation process the production crew are people of their own and have their personal taste in music, which can clash with mine.
In this regard, adaptation being ‘good’ or ‘bad’ is just a matter of preferences aligning. And in Given’s case, I didn’t like Mafuyu’s vocal tone and the melody piece didn’t evoke any feelings in me or didn’t sound good or exciting in any way. I unfortunately wasn’t fond of Fuyu no Hanashi, the first song he composed for the group either. And this is no one’s fault or the production have failed in delivering quality. There were lots of other aspects to enjoy in Given, so I didn’t dwell on not liking the songs in the anime too much. I did like what they played for Mafuyu in their first jam, though.
After having that clash in Given and now that I decided on writing this post, I felt like checking out Those Snow White Notes’ manga, since I knew it was licensed by Kodansha and you can read the first chapter for free on their website. The experience wouldn’t be the same with first-reading-then-watching, but I tried my luck with Setsu’s first performance in Tokyo. Here are some screenshots from it.
To be honest, there’s no way I’d expect a song like Jongara Bushi to come out from these panels. The strokes and sound effects look so bold that it looks more like Setsu’s rocking it out and less like he’s playing a song that mimics seasons. I even wondered if the story would draw me in enough to pick up the second volume because that first chapter didn’t feel that interesting even though I’ve watched the first episode and was quite hyped. I have no way of knowing these now, but one thing is for sure: with Those Snow White Notes, the sound and music overall had a very positive effect on my engagement with the series.
What’s the final verdict after all those paragraphs, you ask? Music in manga leaves a tad too much to the readers’ imagination, things that are rather central. Reading a fight scene on paper, for example, is fairly easy since fighting is movement itself. Of course, seeing it fully animated adds depth to it, but in the end, the reader doesn’t miss something crucial. However, with music, only seeing the effect of it sometimes fall short; especially if it’s as pivotal as it is in Those Snow White Notes.
Looking at the bright side, what you imagine or associate with is your taste only, and no one else’s. While you have no possibility of hearing something better, you don’t have the possibility of hearing worse either. And depending on your perspective, that might be a good thing, right?
I think this is about all that I had to say on this topic. We’ll be getting K-On! licensed here in the following months and I haven’t seen the anime itself. While I have no idea how ‘musical’ it is, I’ll be putting these thoughts to the test once again and maybe give Kono Oto Tomare! another chance as well. What about you? How was your experience with a music-centered manga series, if you’ve read any? Or how was your experience with an adaptation of a series you’ve read in this genre? I’d love to hear what you think! As always, thank you for reading, and see you tomorrow.
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2 Replies to “SOUND IN VACUUM — MUSIC AS A MANGA GENRE”
I’ve read music centered manga but it like completely flew over my head that they don’t have music. Maybe it’s cause I watch the anime first for most of these shows. I think the music in K-on gave me so much more than what I could have experienced and going over those songs in my head as I read the manga made me enjoy it a lot more I think. Same with given or other band shows too. Maybe I’ll try reading a music centered show that I didn’t watch the anime for to see how it feels. Nice post!
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I’ll definitely try reading first with K-On then to see how it goes!
And I agree, it really makes more difference to actually hear the music in music series than, let’s say, reading a shounen series, then seeing it in action. Thank you for your comment!