Visual humor in modern japanese comics: a case study of fullmetal alchemist

Author: Li-Chi Lee Chen (Casimir The Great University)
Eryk Hajndrych, Shu-Chang Lin (Yuan Ze University)
Speaker: Li-Chi Lee Chen, Eryk Hajndrych, Shu-Chang Lin
Topic: General sociolinguistics
The (SCOPUS / ISI) SOAS GLOCAL CALA 2019 Colloquium Session


Japanese comics and animations are flourishing today not only in Japan, but also in most countries of the world, where they help shape the feelings and attitudes of children and young adults. Japanese picture books, on the other hand, demonstrate the distinctive techniques utilized in creating images, as well as in narration, as they combine both visual and verbal narratives. While all the three genres are designed for children and young adults in Japan who share particular attitudes, customs and culture, many of which are still unknown outside of Japan. Therefore, the aim of this colloquium is to facilitate the understanding of the various attributes of the Japanese language and society by looking at these three genres from both socio-pragmatic and cultural perspectives. In the following, each contributor’s findings are summarized:

Li-Chi Lee Chen and Eryk Hajndrych’s contribution illustrated and discussed how visual humor is used in a Japanese comic, Fullmetal Alchemist. They have observed that visual humor comes from four sources, including a character’s facial features, action movements and emotional states, as well as from kunyomi ‘the semantic reading of Chinese characters.’ To create humor, comics artists use many drawing skills. For example, they may use halftone effects, suppletion, eye-umlauts, mouthumlauts and micro panels to construct humorous facial features. To construct funny action movements, they may use reduplication, micro panels, amorphic panels and onomatopoeias. To demonstrate a character’s different emotional states in a humorous way, super-deformation, symbols (in carriers), super-deformed figures in carriers, episodization and onomatopoeias are used. Finally, Chen and Hajndrych have also pointed out the many Japanese elements used in this comic, despite the fact that the characters and plot are in a fictional world, having nothing to do with the Japanese society.

Shu-Chang Lin’s contribution illustrated and discussed how kamishibai ‘paper play,’ a form of Japanese theater and storytelling, can be used as a different medium for narrating a picture-book story. Based on the visual data (i.e., illustrations) from The Mermaid and the Red Candles by Mimei Ogawa, Lin’s study was focused on the verbal language used in storytelling, the context of the story and the encoded Japanese social culture. She first used page/spread as a unit to illustrate how a scene is constructed and also quantified the storyteller’s narration. She, then, analyzed the connection between pages/spreads, including the switching rate, the rhythm of pausing in each page/spread and the discourse markers used to connect each part of the story. Lin also discussed how thematic colors are used as a cultural symbol, as well as the implication revealed by the social hierarchy between the humans and the mermaids. Finally, Lin argued that as kamishibai ‘paper play’ can be regarded as an interactive form of narration, the storyteller should convey the meaning encoded in the illustrations and pay attention to the thematic colors in different pages/spreads. Furthermore, the storyteller should also apply the rhythm of switching pages/spreads when illustrating the metaphorical expressions in each scene, so as to familiarize the audience with the Japanese social culture.