Manga, home and neighbourhood
The role of the setting in Mitsuru Adachi’s Work
Text by Antony Teixeira
There are artists whose work you recognise without actually knowing them – a distinct style, a stroke that speaks to you. For many, the manga artist Mitsuru Adachi stirs up hazy memories. Yes, I recognise this style. I’ve probably read this when I was little. It would be difficult to challenge this statement coming from a layperson. With over thirty manga to his credit since 1970 and a dozen of anime adaptations, Mitsuru Adachi certainly embodies a visual style that can be dubbed ‘old school’. And yet, this artist remains popular today, without having had to develop his strokes any further. Detractors reproach him for rehashing the same themes, characters and love affairs in most of his works. However, others may see in his work an ingenious method, like a large theatre company performing different plays with the author also being the director.
Mitsuru Adachi is above all technically masterly – an artist with a firm grasp of his medium and skilfully manipulating its codes. Early on, he knew how to make the most of the chapter serialisation imposed by the Japanese publishing system, which obliges authors to break up their scripts to be published in weekly magazines. Many manga artists (or animation series directors) naturally use these breaks to create cliff-hangers, leaving readers (or viewers) anxious not to miss the next instalment. Intense, incomplete action is resolved in the first pages the following week. Mitsuru Adachi rarely resorts to this method, preferring instead to set the rhythm of his script in a less frustrating way. To avoid losing his readers in between instalments, he uses the first pages to lay out the spatial and temporal settings before picking up the storyline. A high school covered in snow, a building at night… This is how the mangaka presents the cities and neighbourhoods that his characters inhabit. Between the reassuring façades of a bustling household and the imposing walls of a stadium, where the destinies of his protagonists play out, the author also brings into play realistic architecture to better prepare his readers for the events to come. The locations become actors in their own right. They are at once recurring and detached from the plot. Without words, they establish the framework for the characters’ evolution, like the member of the theatre company who strikes a stick three times, announcing the beginning of a performance.