What’s art got to do with it?

What’s art got to do with it?

Everything, apparently. Something that really bothers me about some anime and manga fans is how often people will dismiss a great series because they didn’t care for its artwork. I feel like this especially happens with shojo, since it tends to be less action-oriented and thus more character-centric (and thus has a reputation for being ‘pretty). Older shojo series in particular tend to be negatively affected by people who refuse to touch anything with ‘ugly’ artwork. Take Boys Over Flowers, for example. The series is a classic, but I’ve seen people say that they dropped the series not because of its plot or characters, but because of its less-than-stylish artwork. Had they stuck with the series they would have realized how much the artwork improves, to the point that most of the characters are quite pretty. Same goes for Itazura na Kiss – although the series started in 1990, the character designs are very much stuck in the 80s, and thus some people have chosen not to give this charming series a chance. Even more contemporary manga like Skip Beat! suffer from this – I once encountered a girl on a forum who although she liked the story chose to drop the series 100 chapters in because she couldn’t stand the art. The only time I’ve ever held a manga’s artwork against it was Honey and Clover, but it still didn’t stop me from at least trying the series out (which I really liked once I did). Now, this isn’t to say that I don’t see why people care about the aesthetics of the manga they read – I’m sure there are lots of people who better appreciate the series they love if they also have great art, especially those readers who create art themselves.  It’s just that I’m not the type of person who would ever choose art over plot – because when I read a manga, I’m looking for an engaging plot and unique characters more than pretty pictures.

An early picture of Boys Over Flowers:

Here’s a picture of Boys Over Flowers from near the end of its run:

This works both ways, though. One of the most popular shojo right now (both in America and in Japan) is Vampire Knight. I’ve read the first seven volumes of the manga, but I found Yuki to be a pretty passive heroine, the series wasn’t engrossing enough for me to overlook the slow pace, and none of the characters’ personalities really appealed to me. But it sure has pretty boys. Because Vampire Knight isn’t exactly the best manga, I truly believe it wouldn’t be as popular as it is now if it weren’t for it’s good-looking artwork. Same goes for almost any Arina Tanemura manga. Now, to be fair, there are some people who are completely turned off by Arina Tanemura’s saucer-eyes and sugar-overloaded character designs. However, everytime I’ve heard people sing praises for the author, when they explain why they like her, their number one answer (and sometimes their only answer)  is that they like her artwork. I don’t know how good or bad Arina Tanemura is as a storyteller because I’ve never read any of her series, but I have to ask: would she be as popular if her pages weren’t filled with her signature long-haired damsels and frilly dresses? It’s hard to tell.

A huge part of Vampire Knight’s appeal is its attractive character designs. That, and the whole Twilight thing

17 thoughts on “What’s art got to do with it?

  1. Artwork is a big thing for me but it does not overshadow a strong plot with memorable characters. There are some shows that I have stopped watching because though the artwork and animation was flawless, there was no substance. If it can’t keep my interest mentally, I am not impressed with the artwork outside of maybe using it for wallpaper.

    1. Usually the art of an anime or a manga is not that important to me – I remember when I tried out Chobits I loved it’s color pictures from the manga but I couldn’t get into the story since I’m not a huge fan of fan service-heavy series. I still love looking at Chobits’ art even though I gave up on that series.

      1. It was the same with me regarding Chobits. The fan-service completely destroyed what I thought was a show with good potential. I watch shows from the 80s and many will think the artwork was imperfect but I enjoyed the content.

  2. Okay….I def. see what you were saying! Like in Chocomimi, the artwork sucks for like, the first 2 or 3 books, but gets better as time goes on.

    1. I think this is true for a lot of series, actually – the longer a manga artist works on a series, the more their art is likely to evolve. While this is a good thing for a lot of manga, I’m actually not too fond of where Hana-Kimi‘s art ended up – I always preferred the art style in the middle of that series.

  3. I agree with you. It took me a while to get used to the artwork style in Boys Over Flowers. I didn’t like it so much, but I did like the story being told. Like you, I stuck with it (at least the volumes I currently own) and have noticed the huge improvement in the artwork. It’s like a metamorphosis for the mangaka which is lovely to see as you progress in the story.

    I got into Vampire Knight in the beginning, but now I’m starting to get less interested in it based on how the story is going these days. I haven’t bought a volume in a while but I may just collect and read them all just to see how it ends. The pacing is too slow and I feel as if Matsuri Hino is dragging out the story deliberately to keep the series going. The only thing worth admiring so far in that series is the artwork.

    Would I reject a series based on artwork? I don’t think so. If the plot sounds good then I’ll read it. Honey and Clover is a good example of artwork that isn’t too appealing but the story does touch your heart as you said in a previous post.

    1. Yeah, sometimes I’ll read or watch something and will continue it even if I’m not crazy about it just because I’m so far into it (this happened with Hana-Kimi, although I definitely don’t dislike that series). I can handle slow pacing, but Vampire Knight just doesn’t have interesting enough characters to justify me continuing it, so I stopped reading it when Shojo Beat ended.

  4. I would say artwork in anime or manga is fairly important, after all, they are visual mediums of entertainment. A manga without art is just a novel; an anime without animation is just a slideshow. I really don’t like the typical shoujo style of artwork, but that’s just my opinion, and I’m sure there are people who like that style.
    But although I value good art, I try not to let my prejudice for a certain style affect my opinion of the complete package too much.

    1. I value good art too – I love when a series has great character designs and a unique sense of style to it. But I’ve found that many, many series I love just don’t have exemplary art, and I’m okay with that. And the people who dismiss series just because they don’t care for their artstyles are probably missing a lot of great stuff. But I guess you could argue that there are people for whom art is the most important factor in their enjoyment of a series.

  5. I can sort of understand people who prefer art since it took me a long time to get over the first cover of Basara (now my favourite manga of all time) and actually try it. Although it wasn’t the art that kept me way per se, but rather how boring the cover of the first volume looked. So I can understand people being reluctant to try a series with art they don’t like. In fact, it took me awhile to grow to like all sorts of art styles and now I appreciate all kinds of art. But I do agree, I wish people would look deeper than just the art since some of my all time favourite manga have art that people would consider atrocious at first (Please Save My Earth, Basara). And now that I think about it, perhaps it was the art that prevented these two from really taking off in America/the west since almost everyone I have talked to who actually read them loved them (and both are super popular in Japan) but both also have really really rough and ugly looking art in the first few volumes. Which makes me really sad if this is the case.😦 I don’t understand people dropping stuff they are enjoying because of the art though. That’s kind of weird to me as it’s the story that makes it all worthwhile and art is just a nice bonus.

    Also, I’m no artist but I do draw a lot as a hobby and drawing gives me more appreciation for different art styles and just how hard it is to draw so I’m a lot more forgiving and open to different art because of it. So I don’t think being an artist makes you a art snob in all cases. xD

    1. I think the older artstyles of both Basara and Please Save My Earth may have contributed to them not being as successful in the U.S, but I think there were probably other factors, such as the fact that both series are long (20+) volumes and some people are resistant to get into longer manga. Also, they don’t have prominent anime adaptations like Fruits Basket and Ouran do, which would have helped attract a larger audience.

      That’s very true; my friends who are artists while they’re more aware of the artwork of a series, they are also more open to unique artstyles and are less likely to look for pretty (yet generic) art like, say, Vampire Knight.

      1. That’s true. You raise a valid point. I do see a lot more anime lovers from North America, or individuals who happen to watch the anime adaptation first and then read the manga. I got into manga through anime as well, although nowadays I much prefer the comic medium to animation (not that I hate animation). Which also reminds me that the anime adaptations of Basara and PSME were pretty bad. Basara got cut off 1/3 of the way because it wasn’t popular (and I can see why, the anime lacks something that makes the manga special) and PSME had a two episode OVA that tried to cover the whole story but basically glossed over the most important aspects of it because of that. So if anyone did watch these adaptations, I wouldn’t be surprised if they deterred them from seeking out the manga. D:

        I just hope there grows a steady fanbase for manga that doesn’t rely on anime adaptations because then a lot of stuff would be glossed over as a result.😦

  6. For some reason, I don’t really have any problems with the artwork in the first few volumes of HYD. It wasn’t really that bad. Not only am I speaking a person from the 90’s, but rather the plot is too engaging that I don’t mind it much ^^ I also find Tsukasa’s hair and reactions to be so funny and unique that it makes me laugh everytime I see them xD The author also commented that his hair was based on the singer Prince? I find that dude quite attractive. lol.

    I think the only art I cannot stand was the manhwa, “Girl in Heels.” I took interest of that manhwa cause I thought it would be similar to BOF. But dang, what a big mistake it was cause the brutality was too much that I don’t find it enjoyable D: Still, the eyelashes here are scarier than the early artwork of BOF. But well, I’m going out off topic here. Ahem.

    Also, I find it funny cause obviously, the HYD characters were born on 70s-80s and at the start of the series, Tsukushi was 16 and the F4 were 17, I think. For their clothes to transition from the old-fashioned ones to the newest trends in only a year is like magic! xD It’s like a year in this manga = a decade or more human years.

    1. It’s funny to see the fashions change in a long-running manga. The clothing in the earliest volumes of Boys Over Flowers were very much stuck in the late 80s/early 90s. Same with Marmalade Boy. I’ve always thought the fashion in Itazura na Kiss hasn’t aged too much, especially considering it came out in 1990. Surprisingly, the only art that bothers me is Arina Tanemura, who often gets praised for her art. I think it’s because I find most of the pages in her manga to be unnecessarily full. The fact that I don’t care for her stories doesn’t help much, either.

  7. As a man, I’ve read plenty of shoujo (especially since I recently because invested in manga to the point where I go on mangahere, click a random manga, and read it at will, regardless of topic).

    I still get very annoyed by the art style of shoujo, though there are a few out there that are good.

    Still. the art has way too much shit going on with sparkles and flowers and patterns and text bubbles in 20488t53 different ways (yes, that number has a “t” in it). Text boxes should come in 2 ways:

    (1) Round
    (2) Comprised of 4 right angles

    1. Thanks for commenting! I actually can understand why people feel that shojo artwork is too busy – especially Arina Tanemura, who has a quintessential artstyle that people think of when they think of ‘shojo art.’ That being said, with the exception of Tanemura, flowers and bubbles have never bothered me. Maybe it’s because I started reading manga through shojo manga, so that artstyle has become the ‘norm’ to me. Someone who started out with shonen manga might have a harder time adjusting to the art and layout of shojo manga – but it’s something I barely notice at all.

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