Sunday, October 16, 2016

Merely the Premise: The Trouble with Manga Short Stories, Part I

The premise
Teacher and student fall in love and... 
Co-workers develop a liking for each other and... 

Yakuza...
Short storytelling is a separate art from novel writing. Although lovers of novels will complain that the short story doesn't provide enough character development or plot details, a short story can convey or imply enough information to enthrall a reader. Short stories can also capture the essence of characters, leaving the reader to ponder possible developments. Sometimes what is left unsaid becomes more interesting than what is clearly delineated.

The problem, of course, is that something needs to be said. A short story that provides only a premise is rather like a dependent clause--
After the funeral . . .
What happened next!?

During my initial forays with manga short stories, I began to believe that it wasn't possible for anyone to write a decent manga short story. Text alone is hard enough. Text and pictures in 60 or so pages: what could that possibly accomplish?

After all, nearly all of the manga short story volumes I initially encountered were fairly awful. So awful, I formed the conclusion:
Bad literature = it's only a premise.

A gentle ending to a gentle arc
In The Year of Living Dangerously, Billy Kwan quips, "If it's in focus, it's pornography. If it's out of focus, it's art." I was arguing the opposite--at least writing-wise--"If it's out of focus with no clear narrative arc, just an excuse for titillating art, it's porn and a waste of time."

Except for all the exceptions of course . . .

I eventually did discover good manga short stories. Most of them supported my equation since they had arcs (however small)! In a Shoka Hidaka short story (from Restart), the protagonist is mourning the death of his best friend when he happens to meet his best friend's brother. They are unable to reach a true understanding until the protagonist sorts through his feelings (separate an unfulfilled love from a potential future love). Problem followed by epiphany: perfect arc, however gently delivered.

Other short stories involve greater tension: the first short story in Nights utilizes an action-packed arc in which an undercover Narcotics officer has to decide whether or not to arrest his informant/lover.

So it is possible to deliver a decent story in a small package. But what about the stories that are only a premise? Are they all bad?

To be continued . . .