This might come as something of a shock to some of you. Ok, shock is probably an exaggeration, let’s say a surprise! Ready? I am a bit of a fan of Natsume’s Book of Friends! I know right? Who would’ve thought!
I bring this up because I was trying to explain to someone that I like the anime slightly more than the manga even though it is one of the most fateful adaptations I have ever seen. Honestly guys it’s pretty much panel by panel.
I have spoken before about the fine art of adaptation. A few times actually. But Natsume is a special case for me. Not only because the material happens to be near and dear to my heart but also because it took me a long time to figure out why I would like the anime more. To be clear, I really like the manga as well. I recommend it to you all!
I got a bit off track. So I was trying to figure out what it was about the anime that made me like it just a bit more. I did see the anime first so for a while I thought it might just be a matter of attachment to what was the original for me but that’s not usually my style. However, the fact that I saw the anime first sort of takes away a few variables. The voice acting, for instance, isn’t as big a factor anymore because I already knew how the characters sounded in the anime when I started the manga and those are the voices, inflections, and general personalities I hear in my head when I read the manga.
Same thing goes for the soundtrack, colours, and really most variables that are normally left up to the reader’s imagination to fill in. Those were established for me right from the start and made the experience of reading the manga almost identical to watching the anime. Even once I got passed everything that has been animated and into new territory with the manga, I can very clearly see the stories as episodes.
But there is one factor, as far as I can tell only one factor that drastically varies for me and it’s as much about who I am as a person as about the anime adaptation itself: pacing.
I am by nature not a very patient person. Throughout the years I have learned to be a bit better in that regard and I can wait without driving myself crazy when needed but I like to get a move on when I can. I eat very quickly…it’s not graceful… Me and Nyanko have a lot in common.
This means that for the most part when I read a volume of Natsume’s Book of Friends, I just find myself turning the pages and savouring the story as it comes. When I see a nice little introspective panel of a character in a sunset with no dialogue, I feel it. I get the resonance… and I move on. The intent is not lost on me, but it is dramatically different from sitting there and watching a character quietly contemplate a sunset for 15 seconds for example. I know it might not sound like it but 15 seconds can feel like a really long time and I’m just not a person who is ever going to stare at a single manga panel with no words for a full 15 seconds. In all likelihood, my mind will start to wander if I tried it and I’ll end up counting the seconds or something which will completely ruin the experience.
But if I’m watching an anime and that’s the scene, then I have to. What’s more, there’s something organic about the timing so I might not even notice. The stillness is an inherent part of the story that is being told to me. It has meaning in and of itself. And that meaning only comes through for me when it is out of my hands. When I am not the one actively controlling the length and impact of it.
Sometimes there are moments that need to linger. They are transformed by it. And that is something that I can never get from the manga. The lingering.
Like I said, this is in all likelihood as much due to my personal nature as to the nature of manga. If I was the type of person that meditates every morning and raves about how amazing it is for my mental health and focus or something like that, I bet I would be better at getting the proper stillness from manga. I am probably the worst type of person for it. But it’s also inherently different to have one panel that takes up more or less the same amount of room as each panel of a conversation that are meant to be a split second each. Sometimes mangaka try to illustrate the effect of stillness through a full-page splash but even then, it’s not always effective. Especially as the same technique is used for glamour pieces which are meant as character builders or for detailed action shots in shonen which actually serve the opposite effect of making the story feel quicker and more dynamic.
In my personal experience, the manga that has come the closest to illustrating stillness is Land of the Lustrous. I love that manga by the way… I would say that by combining large stretches without any dialogue or text, sometimes entire pages, with largely empty panels that show a small character in the middle of a featureless field, you get an odd sense of a static if endless expanse. It’s a story that lives on the horizon. But Land of the Lustrous is also a very peculiar story and I have found that not many people seem to appreciate the manga like I do. So I don’t think it’s a structure that could be recreated in other stories for the same effect.
At the end of the day, there are a lot of things that are unique and some might argue more enjoyable about the manga experience but the pacing is difficult to reproduce and for better or for worse can completely change the feel of a story. Yet one more reason to be amazed by the sheer black magic that is adapting stories to film!