manga bookshelf

3 Things Thursday: Arts in Manga

One of the things that seems to naturally go along with a career in the arts is a love/hate relationship with fictional portrayals of people engaging in such, and that definitely applies to my experience with arts-focused manga. Still, after a fevered late night open letter directed at the TV show Glee, I can’t help but have those exact portrayals on the brain.

Most artists are going to be more sensitive to the inaccuracies and overworked clichés in fiction written about their own field than any other, so I suppose I’m lucky that there hasn’t yet been a manga (imported here, at least) about singers and actors in musical theater (though there are some fairly funny scenes with Broadway hoofer Art in Reiko Shimizu’s Moon Child). When there is, I’ll surely cringe. But for now, I’ll enjoy these fine series, glossing over the bits that chafe and taking them as they are. As a side note, I find it interesting that its subjects are all students.

3 Performing & Visual Arts Epics:

1. Nodame Cantabile | Tomoko Ninomiya | Del Rey Manga | Classical Music – While I know at least one classical musician who despises this manga, as a former classical voice student, this series evokes memories of what I loved most about my college years, when I was surrounded by other students just as serious about music as I was. For me, coming from high school in the depressed midwest, this was actually pretty novel, and definitely inspiring in a whole lot of ways. What perhaps works so well for me here, is that my own personality as a young music student was pretty much equal parts ambitious Chiaki and free-spirited Nodame. My relentless drive was weirdly balanced by hippie-like clothing and a persistent absence of shoes, something that drove at least one of my studio teachers absolutely crazy. It was actually my experience with her that convinced me to avoid a career in opera. I really, really didn’t like wearing shoes.

2. Swan | Ariyoshi Kyoko | CMX | Ballet – Unbelievably, I’ve only read one volume of Swan, and one of my greatest fears at this point is that I’ll miss picking up the others, now that CMX is no more. Though I never was a real dancer despite years of classes (lack of physical discipline & wrong, wrong body type), I spent quite a bit of my youth obsessed with ballet, and spent no small amount of my “spare” cash buying tickets to ABT performances during my NYC years. For me, reading Swan is a natural extension of my teenaged fixation with The Children of Theatre Street and The Red Shoes, confirmed for me by Jason Thompson’s detailed writeup in his column at ANN. Will I find the rest of this series? (what was published of it, at least?) Let’s hope it’s not too late!

3. Honey and Clover | Chika Umino | Viz Media | Visual Art – I suppose it’s a little tragic that the type of art that provides me with the greatest mystery is also the inspiration for the series on this list that has (so far) taught me the least about its characters’ vocation. I expect its later volumes may focus more heavily on career, but as I’ve (shockingly) just begun the series, I’m so far mainly lured by its delicious soap-opera. Regardless of how it plays out, however, I suspect there is no manga on earth powerful enough to help me understand how visual artists do what they do–that is how magical it is for me. Even as a music student, I learned early on that I would never create true beauty with my hands, no matter how much I tried and practiced. My voice was the only thing I could ever make real music with… the only instrument I could ever command with my own will.

So, readers, gimme your arts-centric manga! I want to read more! MORE!

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  1. Now I’m trying to think if there are any manga I’ve read about a writer…

    • Moomintroll says:

      The Times Of Botchan (by Jiro Taniguchi and Natsuo Sekikawa) deals with novelists and poets in late 19th and early 20th Century Japan. Fanfare have put out four of ten volumes so far.

      There’s plenty of stuff about rock musicians too – in addition to those already mentioned, Solanin, Detroit Metal City and Ohikkoshi all spring to mind. And, of course, there’s a whole raft of stuff about manga artists (most of which, I would hope, don’t have quite so many inaccuracies as some of the stuff about other arts).

    • Ashita no Ousama (Tomorrow’s King) is about a playwright/director.

  2. Nodame also reminds me of my time at my uni’s music school. :)

    Hmm…. There’s an anime called Piano: Melody of a Young Girl’s Heart, but I found it dull. I believe Noizomi put it out.

    There’s a rather sweet yaoi from DMP called Intriguing Secrets, about a high school student in the art club who enjoys painting. I really liked it.

    Then there’s Yokan Premonition, another DMP yaoi, about rock singers.

    And, of course, Beck Mongolian Chop Squad, about a group of high schoolers who form a rock band.

    La Corda d’Oro, a rather sweet little reverse harem shoujo manga (and anime) from Viz Media, about high school classical musicians. And you could go ahead and throw DMP’s Alice the 101st in there, too.
    Hmm, that’s all I can think of right now.

    • I don’t really watch much anime, so probably that Noizomi title won’t be for me. I have read Intriguing Secrets… reviewed it for a column not too long ago. :)

      I’ve also read La Corda d’Oro (and watched the anime, since my husband is the one who got us into it—he prefers anime to manga). It is, indeed very sweet, though in terms of the study of the craft it’s definitely lacking, I’d say. People have complained about Nodame’s super-standard classical repertoire, but it’s got nothing on La Corda d’Oro. If I heard “Ave Maria” one more time I might have had to stab myself. ;)

      • Katherine Dacey says:

        Oh, La Corda d’Oro! I’ve yet to see a competition where a violinist played “Ave Maria” in lieu of, say, the Mendelssohn or the Tchaikovsky Violin Concertos. That could be very entertaining, though, if only to see the jury’s reaction. (Someone might even praise the musician for being “visionary.” Then again, maybe not.)

        A few other titles for your list:

        Forbidden Dance, an early work by the creator of Sand Chronicles. The title makes it sound like a manga about lambada — remember that brief, ill-advised craze? — but it is, in fact, about a ballerina who joins an all-male dance troupe in order to rekindle her passion for performing. It’s charming, though not very believable.

        Vs., a melodramatic series published by CMX. The story focuses on the relationship between a promising young violinst and his older (but hot!) female mentor. More sudsy than musical.

        Ludwig B., an unfinished biography of Beethoven by none other than Tezuka himself. I know no American publisher would touch it, but that doesn’t stop me from pestering Ed Chavez every time he asks fans for their licensing suggestions. I own both volumes of the Japanese edition, and it’s beautiful. I can’t tell you how closely it adheres to the facts of Beethoven’s life, though knowing Tezuka, I’d say “fictionalized biography” is probably a more accurate description.

        The Name of the Flower‘s lead male character is a writer who publishes a novel about his relationship with his younger female ward.

        • Oh, man, now I’m going to help you in your quest for Ludwig B.! WANT.

          Also, heh, in La Corda d’Oro (which I’ll repeat, really is very sweet!), she also plays Pachebel’s Canon. BY HERSELF. I genuinely enjoyed the story (hell, Paul and I watched the anime all the way through on Crunchyroll), and it had really good intentions in terms of music. I’d say it was saved by being very, very sincere. I’m helpless in the face of true earnestness, really. But, man.

          • Katherine Dacey says:

            Don’t forget the trumpet player who performed a German military march as his competition piece—how he managed the oom-pah part and the melody is one of the series’ greatest mysteries!

            Seriously, though, I think the manga based her musical selections off a Hooked on Classics CD, one that apparently didn’t include any Rachmaninoff or Paginini. The choices were hilariously WRONG.

        • Oh, and an additional note: “Ave Maria” is actually the main reason I’m not begging Glee to introduce a young classical singer into the mix. You just know that’s what they’d sing.

  3. Hmm, nit hard to think of things that are actually about art and doesn’t just have an artist for the main (for example, Kodocha, though she does do quite a bit of acting too, but the story is more about romance then acting)

    There’s always Glass Mask! I’ve seen a bit of the 2005 anime, it’s quite excellent. There’s acting for ya too!

    Hikaru no Go is mostly about Go, and after having seen some of those games, it sure plays out like an artform, yeesh! Stretching that even further, Firefighter Daigo is about the art of fighting fictional fires that often have rather over the top solutions, but alas! Firefighting is something that not everyone can do and is quite admirable at that.

    And of course, Not Love But Delicious Foods and Antique Bakery on the art of being a foodie and baking in general! Moyashimon may also qualify on the art of using microbes for the benefit of humanity (and alcohol). The magic of food!

    • Yeah, I’ve wished for a long time that someone would license Glass Mask, especially since it’s about stage acting rather than film or TV. Those are such different crafts… I admit I’m far more interested in stage acting. Alas, I’m not really a big anime watcher. :)

  4. Momo from Tramps Like Us is a dancer, and while he takes classes he’s not a student in the traditional sense.

    Soubi and Kio from Loveless are art students. The manga even talks about their paintings at some points and doesn’t treat it just as means to make them appear cool.

    Skip Beat gets serious about acting.

    There’s tons of shoujo about idols, singers and actors out there but most of them aren’t serious about the art so I don’t think they count.

    • Yeah, I’m definitely more interested in watching people studying seriously than anything else. I suppose that’s why the three I chose for this column were all about students. :)

      • While Kyoko in Skip Beat! isn’t a student, she definitely learns lessons about acting along the way. The story is far, far, far, FAR more about her honing her craft than the somewhat-similar-in-premise Honey Hunt.

  5. Thanks for the reminder that i STILL need to watch more episodes of Nodame Cantabile!

  6. Haveing just finished Honey and Clover I can say it dosent get too deep into “why” people paint but more begins to question what’s really importent in life and what’s more importent love or something you feel compeled to do. with out giveing too much away I have to say the ending is one of the best I have read in a while and Takemoto is the single most “adult” charcter in the entire sereis so while it probablly wont give much insight into the motivation behind painting (with the exception of Hagumi maybe.) Thre ingisht into human nature and growing up is in one word breath takeing okay I’ve gushed enoguh for one day (LOL)

  7. badzphoto says:

    Ice Forest by Chiho Saito – about Ice skating – the art is amazing similar to Swan.
    Orange-Chocolate by Nanpei Yamada – about Japanese traditional nichibu dancer – beautiful kimonos and poses, body switching (of 2 childhood friends a boy and a girl – of course :)) and kitsune
    Handsome na Kanojo by Wataru Yoshizumi – about acting/life of idols and actors.

  8. Hah, I see some scanlations mentioned so I don’t hesitate to recommend Ashita no Ousama about a girl diving headlong into theatre (student age) and ending up as a junior script writer. This SO needs to be licensed, it’s totally empowering for the heroine (and the men around are interesting). We get lots of craft and goings on on the stage, there’s even a comparison with traditional Japanese Noh theatre.

  9. GAH. You guys, you know I can’t take those scan recommendations! Maybe suggest them as license requests?

    • badzphoto says:

      I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to recommend scan. I meant it as suggestions for license requests. I should have been clearer.

    • Oh, I definitely recommend it as a license – just as I said in the original comment. It’s a real shame this shoujo/josei crossover hasn’t been licensed yet.

  10. Haru wo Daiteita (Embracing Love), though sadly still unavailable in English, has a strong focus on acting as a profession. Although the primary focus is on the romance (and of course sex!) between the two main characters, much of the story focuses on their work and the way that they push each other to grow as actors. We get to see auditions, scenes on the sets of various TV shows and movies, conflicts and friendships with other actors and directors, and the actors trying to find the right motivation to portray their characters convincingly. The main characters are both very passionate about their work, and that intertwines nicely with their passion for each other. They start off as professional rivals, and in a way they continue to be even after they become lovers because neither wants to be surpassed by the other, but they support and encourage each other at the same time.

    Hero Heel is another good yaoi title focusing on acting (and this one is available from June). The main character is an actor who’s disappointed when the only job he can get is a role in a Power Rangers type superhero show because he feels that it’s beneath him. However, the guy who plays the villain gets him to take the job seriously and take pride in his work. It does have a couple of incidents of noncon/dubcon, but it was portrayed as such and not in a romantic “rape is love” way, and overall I really loved the series.

    W Juliet is primarily a teenage romance, but Makoto’s desire to become an actor is a major part of the plot, since that’s why he’s masquerading as a girl at school. His dad is opposed to him becoming an actor, but promises that he’ll let Makoto become an actor if he can prove his skills by posing as a girl until graduation without being found out—a silly premise, but this is a really cute and funny title, and it gets bonus points from me for having a strong female lead in Ito. Makoto acts in school plays (in the female roles, of course), and eventually auditions for a professional acting troupe.

    As you can maybe tell, I really have a weakness for showbiz manga titles! Skip Beat and Penguin Revolution are two other great titles that deal with the world of acting, although in a mostly comedic and not particularly realistic manner.

    • Adding on to “Embracing Love” (as I’ve known the name to be), “Sound of My Voice” by the same author certainly goes into detail about voice-acting, a profession you would think there’d be more representation of. There’s one out-of-print volume in English and I would say it focuses more on the voice-acting and developing romance than the sex (which is probably prominent in future volumes).

      • Ah, I completely forgot about “Sound of My Voice” (Boku no Koe)! I never got the BeBeautiful release, but it’s being released chapter-by-chapter on Kindle, so I’ve been buying it that way. I really enjoy the behind-the-scenes look at the world of voice acting, and the contrast between the older pros and the younger actors who struggle with insecurities and sometimes make mistakes due to lack of experience.

        “Shout Out Loud!” (published by Blu) is another series about voice actors in the yaoi/BL industry, although I seem to recall that there’s more focus on the various personal relationships, including the (platonic) one between the main character and his son, than on their work. But there are still many scenes of the actors working in the studio, and I like how the main character Shino complains about he always plays the uke and would like to play the seme once in awhile! ^_^

  11. Late again as always.

    I was pleasantly surprised to see someone mention my favorite manga about the arts, since as it’s not about art on the surface at all, I figured I’d be the only crazy person to bring it up: Hikaru no Go.

    I’ve heard people say it’s a great representation of what competitive sports are about too, so I suppose really it’s just more about vocation and the drive to excel in general than about any one particular pursuit, but to me it’s a gorgeous representation of what it feels like to create. It’s all there- the frustration of doing something well enough to briefly glimpse the Hand of God, but never being able to actually get there or maybe even near there; the community and companionship in sharing other people’s attempts at the same distant goal; the drive to go out and try again and again and again; the beauty of even the brief glimpses; the simple happiness of doing it a million times in a row even when each particular iteration is nothing all that special; and mostly just the way you see it there all the time in all parts of life and how that makes life so much more meaningful and deep.

    Sigh. What a gorgeous series. it makes me happy just thinking about it, lol.

    • Laurie, you’ll be happy to hear we have a big Hikaru no Go event coming up in the blog for May 5th! It was my very first manga series ever, so with the final volume coming out in English that week, it seemed time for a celebration. :)


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