Mirror Images

Looking at the picture of the manga-filled bookshelf that Dr. Lieblang featured in his lecture slides, I laughed a quiet and somewhat embarrassed laugh, for my bookshelf at home was very similar in appearance. Sandwiched between a battered copy of Katherine Stockett’s The Help and Margret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake sits volumes 54 to 72 of Masashi Kishimoto’s ninja manga Naruto. Okay, so I know Naruto is not the most intellectually rigorous read, but one thing that I find worth mentioning is that–unlike the Arts One copy of volume one of Tezuka’s Buddha, which is read left to right–English renditions of Naruto are read from the right to the left. For the most part (or, at least, what the editor in my copies of Naruto claims), the original formatting of the book is preserved in attempt to display each of the images in the way that the author had intended them to be viewed. For, when translating a manga from its traditional right to left form into the American left to right format, the publishers invert the image and the panels so that they appear as though one was looking at the picture in a mirror. As a result, a character who has a shirt that reads “MAY” in the original Japanese version will appear in the English copy wearing a shirt that says “YAM”.

In Buddha, one place where this is particularly noticeable is on pages 162-173, where Chapra is first trained by General Budai’s soldiers to use a sword. Throughout the scene, one notices that both Chapra and the solider he fights are left handed, as they brandish their sword in their left hand. This might seem kind of strange, considering that the majority of people on Earth are right handed, yet Chapra and the solider are not exceptions. On page 162, excluding three soldiers, all of the warriors are holding their weapon in their left hand. This was not because Tezuka decided to draw more right handed people than left handed people, but because all these characters originally were right handed; when the manga was “flipped” into the left to right reading format, all the images were inverted and the right handed characters became left handed (you might have also noticed this when Dr. Lieblang included the original image of page 53 in his lecture slides, as the image in the text and the image on the slide were mirror images of one another). Thus, with this in mind, I am wondering how you think inverting the panels and images could possibly effect the way in which the images convey meaning and elicit a response in the reader (beyond the simple analysis of the right handed, left handed switch that I described above).

7 thoughts on “Mirror Images”

  1. I noticed this too! I actually think it would have benefitted us to choose a translation that didn’t mirror the images – just to keep the integrity and authenticity of the original comics. I, in fact, think that reading a version of the comic that was from right to left would have brought a more interesting reading experience as Arts One students. I find the inversion to be an act of Americanization that was pretty unnecessary.

    1. Hmmm…yes, Helen, I don’t think that the comic needed to be inverted either. I know that it is a bit difficult to figure out how to read the manga in its original right to left formatting, at first; but, it doesn’t take long to adjust to the right to left reading style. I, too, think it would have been nice to read the manga in its original form. Seeing as we are getting credit for history, we might as well put in more opportunities to learn a little bit about cultures that we are, perhaps, unfamiliar with. Plus, I think that even something simple–such as the fact that most people in Buddha appear to be left-handed–can alter the way in which one perceives the manga itself. For instance, one might write a whole paper on the significance of left-handed dominance in Buddha. However, I am particularly interested in how this mirror imaging might alter the way in which readers of the English version might view the tiger scene on page 67. As discussed in lecture, the panel’s shape and size contribute largely to the audience’s emotional response to this particular event. But, does knowing that the panels are inverted change the way one feels about this scene? Does it have no affect at all?

      1. In addition to the one you mentioned, Cara, I wanted to take note of the panels on page 150 as well – the way the stairs lead into one another to make it look like they’re part of the same staircase. How is that impacted by whether the peak builds to the left or the right, and which way the king and the soldiers are each facing? And does that interact with the type as well, given that English is read from left to right horizontally, but the Japanese text is read from right to left vertically?
        I was fortunate enough to get my hands on the Japanese edition, and saw that this inversion impacted the content as well. In the top panel of page 193, where Chapra is trying not to use his swollen hand, the English text reads:
        “Chapra!! You aren’t using your shield enough! Have you forgotten your lessons?!”
        Whereas the Japanese text translates to:
        “Chapra!! Why aren’t you fighting with your right hand? Since when did you become a leftie?!”
        So I do agree with Helen – I thought this was a somewhat detrimental attempt at Westernization.

        1. Yes Elliott, I agree with Helen as well. I think that your point about the staircase on page 150 is also equally applicable in this case. Due to the shifting position of the camera in each of the panels, I became kind of muddled by the time I made it to the bottom of the page and, in my temporary confusion (and partially due to habit), I started reading the speech bubbles from right-to-left and ended up being even more confused…. But, just in general, I honestly cannot say how the direction of the king or the staircase impacts the meaning of the story, since, I do not have the original manga to compare it to. I tried looking reflecting the page in a mirror (as Dr. Hendricks suggested below). But, like she said, it only gives one a rough idea of what it would be like….

          I also like your point about how, in Japanese, words are read up and down rather than horizontally. I’ve seen Japanese versions of English manga that I know and the orientation of the words (and even the shape of the words themselves) can change the whole picture. Sometimes, the English words under pronounce a certain affect that comes with the shape of the Japanese words themselves. Also, sometimes, I notice that the English words get in the way of the picture because they go horizontally across the page rather than vertically, which can be problematic….

  2. Good points here. A small internet search suggests that the only English editions of this particular book (or maybe this is the only one available) are left-to-right. So that may be the problem. If we consider doing a different manga for next year, I’ll ask if we can find one that is right-to-left, for the reasons you’re mentioning here!

    It’s hard to answer whether having the images inverted changes things without having an original to compare to. I guess I could put the book in front of a mirror and get the basic idea, though!

    I also wonder if the issue could be even deeper in the sense that for people who are used to reading right-to-left, having something on the right might “feel” differently than for people who are used to reading left-to-right. So, on p. 65 for example, having Tatta on the left and the tiger on the right when Tatta is possessing the tiger might feel differently for me as an English reader than if I had the original and Tatta is on the right instead. Do we tend to read images from left to right as well as words? Does having Tatta on the right side of a panel feel more natural to those who read right-to-left, and having him on the left feel more natural to those who read left-to-right? I have no idea…just speculating at this point. I did notice that Tatta is on the left (in our inverted version) when he possesses the horse and the snake as well, later in the book.

    And I’m not suggesting that this is a reason for why we should read the “mirrored” version; it’s just a thought I had when considering your question.

    1. Oh, that’s good. I am glad to hear that Arts One will consider reading a right-to-left formatted manga. 🙂

      Well, I think that the original right-to-left reading style actually suits the manga more, once you get used to it. After all, the manga was drawn with the intention of being viewed from the right-to-left reading style. Thus, as Elliott mentioned above, some aspects of the story might have to be changed to ensure that the left-to-right English version is consistent with what you see on the page. For, we cannot have someone ask Chapra why he isn’t fighting using his right hand when he has always used his left in the English one….Saying this, however, I know that even the manga that have their original right-to-left form preserved aren’t exactly the same as the Japanese versions. For obvious reasons, there is the translation from Japanese to English, which not only results in slight alterations in what the characters say, but also the shape and “feel” of the words themselves. After all, Japanese characters are very different in from English letters, even if one uses the same font. Some manga have also had scenes omitted from them when they were translated into English due to certain content being disagreeable with the Western audience/authority figures. For instance, I know that manga artist Toshihiro Ono is infamous for drawing really sexualized women in his Pokemon manga, despite the fact that it is meant to be for children. In the Westernized versions of the manga, the chest sizes of the girls are somewhat scaled back and their clothes become a little less revealing. In fact, some scenes were cut out of the Anglicized version of the manga altogether (If you look up his name on google images and try to find a Japanese version of his manga, it is evident why this is the case…). Yet, this also brings up the question in that article that you sent us concerning the debate on whether manga displays child pornography and whether it should or should not be regulated….And I don’t think I am in a position to give an answer to that question.

      There is also something about comics in general where I tend to get the feeling that the page on the right side is physically closer to me than the one on the left–even though both pages are really about the same distance away. I don’t know if anyone else feels the same way (perhaps it is just an odd quirk that I have), but in the original Japanese manga, the first page that you turn to is always the one on the right. So maybe this has some kind of influence on how one perceives the images in the manga? But, like you, I can only speculate at this point because I don’t have the Japanese original of Buddha either. Perhaps, Elliott will bring the original to seminar tomorrow. 🙂

      1. Cara, I’m glad we were able to have some discussion in seminar about this!
        Another point about the sexualization, and tying in to what Helen had wanted to discuss about appropriation of an originally Indian story through a Japanese context – we never got to talk about all the nudity. If the story were adapted by a Western artist, would it be portrayed with what we would call “such gratuitousness”? Was that nudity really the way it was for the characters, given their caste, or could it have been presented a little bit differently for a different audience?
        And I think the point about differences in perception between right-to-left and left-to-right that Christina is mentioning is one definitely worth looking into. If they tried to do a statistical study about the prevalence of which side main characters are depicted on, like the one they did about moment-to-moment, aspect-to-aspect, and such, I wonder what they would come up with? The only point I can think of culturally with regards to this question is that of conformity – when you’re eating at a round table, it’s best to hold your chopsticks with your right hand so you don’t butt elbows with the majority of other chopstick-wielders at the table. We can see from this, possibly with the scene where the soldier calls Chapra out for using his left hand, and also with the reading direction of manga and other Eastern literature, that there might be a bias towards the right – or, it might not really be relevant at all.
        While looking at another manga for the authenticity of the translation might be a good idea, I think Tezuka’s position in the comics, animation, and manga canon definitely warrants his being read by us. But it depends what the focus would be. If the chosen manga is also meant to be representative of other manga, or of Japanese culture as a whole, more so than analyzing the comics genre, then maybe something else could do a good job as well 😉

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