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Ponkotsu Yamada .com

Writing about Japanese comics

A comic expression of eyes not reflecting light

Eyes not reflecting light and our interpretation of them

In Japanese comics, most of characters' eyes are reflecting light, which we call "highlight" in Japanese. For instance:
("YOTSUBATO!" vol.2 p116)
We often see,however, a comic representation of eyes which don't reflect light.

For example:
("Ushio to Tora" vol.11 p143)
("Cynthia the Mission" vol.7 p66)
("G.S.Mikami Operation for Paradise" vol.11 p122)
We accept them and interpret as some kind of meanings without any explanation.

How do we interpret them?

In many case, we could regard characters who have eyes not reflecting light as "being out of their mind". I chose the three examples according to this interpretation. In the first, this character is manipulated by a monster. Second, she is losing her will by drugs. Third, he is a fake to which a monster is transformed, that is, his words are not explaining his "real" thought.

From these, we can make derivative interpretation.
("Eye-shield 21" vol.27 p179)
("Monkey-turn" vol.16 p221)
In the former example, she is dumbfounded by hearing shocking news. In the latter, he, a player of speedboat race, is depicted as enormously strong player.

Let me explain the latter example in detail. In this scene, he says slight appreciation to two young players after he won the championship, in which he had shown the amazing power. Two young men lost and were overpowered by his attitude toward the race. Light of his eyes are removed so that we can synchronize with two men who are feeling his overwhelming atmosphere.

Here, eyes not reflecting light mean that two men, who are facing the champion, cannot understand his thought, and also signify a psychological distance between the champ and them.

Accordingly, I can summarize them as "A person who has eyes not reflecting light and others are not on the same communicative level". No matter which is high or low, the person and others cannot communicate well each other.

Then, why do we interpret the eyes like this? No one has such eyes in the real world.

Why can we "see" with eyes?

First, let's think of eyes from biological point.

Eyes are acceptor of light. It means that we can "see" if eyes accept light. Though you have well sight, you cannot see in absolute darkness.

In other words, your eyes are necessarily reflecting light whenever you can "see". A person without depiction of eyes not reflecting light, thus, is not be able to "see".

This is only theoretical matter, of course. If a person really has such eyes, their surfaces must be uneven like frosted glass. When I was a schoolboy, a soccer ball hit my right eye, and a doctor examined me, "the ball made small wounds like traces swept by a broom on your eye." I don't know how the wounds weakened my sight, and how many wounds are there on my eye. This means, however, that wounds of this degree don't change looks of eyes. Now I don't have well sight, but it is a normal level. The wounds wouldn't harm my sight probably.

Objects come into view, but are not recognized

Next I shift the matter from the biological topic to comic expression.

In the examples mentioned above, the characters' eyes don't normally reflect light despite their well sight. Such eyes, I think, symbolically represent that the characters cannot "see" although objects come into their view. A person faces me directly, but I can't feel I am recognized by him/her. This is what such eyes represent.

I've happened to hear that there are persons who speak to others without looking at them. Fortunately, I have never met such a rude ones in real life, but often find in comics. If we really meet them, we might think, "I can't make communication with him/her".

A sign of incompleteness to communicate is represented by an attitude not "seeing" me. He/she speaks to me, but I feel I'm not recognized as a destination of words at all. The attitude make me feel I'm out of recognition.

According to "turn-taking system" in sociology, conversation goes well by throwing one's last word to others or being taken on by them. Voluntary taking on the last word occurs from not only speaker's intonation but also an exchange of glances.

In a one-to-one conversation, by a glance at a person you are talking with, you can notify him/her that your conversational turn has just finished. In more than three, by throwing your last word to someone and a glance at him/her, next conversation starts. Like this, glances play a very important role when we are making conversation.

Hence, a person who sees others but doesn't recognize them causes incompleteness of general communication evidently, so representation of the eyes not reflecting light symbolizes that bad situation.

In the examples, the picture of "Monkey-turn" would most clearly show this interpretation. Though the champion is facing two young men, they cannot feel that he is recognizing themselves. This incompleteness of communication symbolically shows a gap between the champ and two mens. That is to say, the young players cannot understand champ's thought because of large differences of their power.


O.K., let's compare two examples, one is reflecting light and the other is not.
("HUNTER×HUNTER" vol.26 p80)
("Hunter×Hunter" vol.26 p81)

Gon and Killua assault Neferpitoh in this scene. Gon's eyes are reflecting light in the former picture, still not in the latter. What had caused this change is Neferpitoh's incomprehensible words for Gon. Gon, who was burning with his anger, is confused by the words in the latter.

We, as readers, can understand Neferpitoh's words because there have been representation much enough to understand them. On the other hand, for Gon who is a person concerned in the comic world, Neferpitoh's words are out of understanding.

Killua cooler than Gon managed to guess what Neferpitoh really means, but angry Gon cannot.

Here, Gon is the most incapable of guessing each other's thought of the three. In other words, he is the most distant from a base of communication. Therefore, it is Gon who has eyes not reflecting light.


I don't know who started this representation, but this must be a great technique. As we say "The eye is the window of the mind", representation of eyes is also important in comics.

original article in Japanese:漫画表現の中の、光を反射しない眼について - ポンコツ山田.com

A rule of conversation in one panel, thinking from "YOTSUBATO!"

 In most of recent Japanese comics, character's voice(and non-verbal voice such as inward thought) is written in a balloon. There are some rules, and one of them is "to finish conversation done in one panel within one round trip". That is to say, assuming that there are two persons(A and B), A shouldn't speak again basically in the same panel in which A first spoke and B first replied.
 It may be hard to understand with only language, for example;
("YOTSUBATO!" vol.7 p36)
 In the right panel, the girl replies after utterance of the man, and in the left panel, the man says after laughing of the girl. The sequence of their communication has two round trips, and it is separated into each conversation in two panels so as not to be written in one panel. This is the concrete example.
 This rule exists for not to break down the multilayered structure of time in one panel.
 To begin with, what is the multilayered structure of time ?
 When you say something, time same as your having said it passes, of course. In regard to the quoted example of the right, when the man says "Yoshi ja-a itterasshai, kiwotsuketene", time same as his having said it passes(maybe about two seconds), and when the girl says "Wakappaaa !!", time same as her having said it passes(maybe about a second). That is, time including their utterances, three seconds at least, passes in this panel.
 In addition, each speaking characters is depicted at the moment they are just speaking, and they are not influenced by behavior done after their utterances.
("YOTSUBATO!" vol.10 p208)
 In this panel, they speak by rotation from right to left(Ena→Yotsuba→Miura). Looks of first speaker, Ena, is depicted at the moment she speaks so, and not influenced by later utterances which Yotsuba and Miura make. Though a few seconds must pass between Ena's utterance and Miura's, Ena keeps her face steady without Yotsuba and Miura's influence. On the other hand, Miura makes her face after listening Ena and Yotsuba's utterances.
 From this, I can think that a panel cuts off not only an overall view of one point on time axis but an arbitrary expression of each objects between arbitrary two points on time axis, and pushes those expressions into itself. It is a forcible way, in a sense. In the above panel, Ena is depicted with her own time, Yotsuba and Miura are in the same way. They are not depicted with the identical time.
 There is differnt time on each characters in one panel. It is the meanig of the multilayered structure of time. Though a picture is an instantaneous expression, once it is placed in a panel of a comic having utterances, complex phases of time occur in it.
 Well, if a author draws a character twice in one panel without any explanation, we may think "Oh, he/she is a Japanese Ninja". It has to be avoided to draw the character whenever he/she makes any utterances. In other words, though a character says more than two time in one panel, he/she must be depicted just once. So, because charcters stop their time when they primarily say something, they must say second utterance with looks they makes at first utterance, notwithstanding passage of time.
 Situation has changed, but looks haven't changed. This is the breaking down of the multilayered structure of time.
 The multilayered structure of time causes unnatural situation that utterance and looks are in discord. To avoid it, we adopt the rule which is "to finish conversation done in one panel within one round trip".
 But everything has the exception.
 To answer the demand for drawing the exception, there is other rule which make us feel no unnatural even though we read conversation done in one panel more than one round trip.
 However, it's not so difficult. Formaer rule contributes to avoid "unnatural situation that utterance and looks are in discord", so you should depict the situation seen natural even though conversation more than one round trip is made.
 First, don't make a situation that looks at second utterance differ from these at first.
("YOTSUBATO!" vol.9 p99)
 In this panel, we don't feel unnatural. Still To-chan, the man who is to the right most, speaks even three times. Because his looks made at first utterance are valid as second and third utterance. His a little bit stern looks with suspicion contain no wrongness which utterance he says, first, "Koitsu-wa-aho-nanoka", second, "Ikura-sun'no?" or third, "Aho-ka".
("YOTSUBATO!" vol.10 p138)
 Also in this example, Asagi, the long-haired woman, and Yotsuba, the girl who tied up hair, speak twice, the former in the right panel and the latter in the left one. Their looks are suitable for either first utterance or second. In the left panel, I can even say it is funny because of Yotsuba's content looks.
 Like this, you can avoid unnatural situation by contriving a conversational context which doesn't need change of Character's looks,or which unchange of Character's looks brings about some meanings.
 But if you want to make conversation which differs from that, which contain the context changing character's looks in one panel, adopt this rule.
 Second, you don't depict character's looks from beginning.
("YOTSUBATO!" vol.9 p64)
 To-chan first explains calmly, but at the second utterance, he speaks loudly listening to Yotsuba's words. Looks at first utterance should be depicted calmly, and the second angrily. But by being depicted from behind, that is, by not depicting looks from beginning, two different looks coexist without problems.
 Of course, there are many exceptions. Conversation more than two around trips in one panel is often depicted without these rules. So we should grasp it not as rule but hint.
 well, considering rules behind works is interesting, isn't it?

original article in Japanese:『よつばと!』から考える一コマ内の会話のルールの話 - ポンコツ山田.com

"YOTSUBATO !" Yotsuba smiling at readers as if she looked at through "fourth wall"

よつばと! 12 (電撃コミックス)

よつばと! 12 (電撃コミックス)

 In vol.12, a story about camp which is mentioned briefly in vol.11 is drawn. I was impressed by rather the toast of adults after children's sleep than frolicsome children, and I thought it meant my aging. However that may be, I was specially affected the final panel of the camp story, and which is also the final one of vol.12.

よつばと! 12巻 p222/YOTSUBATO! vol.12 p222)
 Because Yotsuba smiles and speaks to us as if she stared at us through "fourth wall", I felt so bracing and doubted whether "YOTSUBATO !" concluded by this story. How amazing this expression is.
 Then, I thought why I felt like this from this panel, in other words, why I felt as if Yotsuba had stared at us who were behind "fourth wall". From vol.1 till this story , certeinly, although there are several (though not so many) panels in which Yotsuba turns her face toward the front, that is to say, toward reader's side, I have never felt like that. This panel made me feel so for the first time. Why ?
 It is her aloneness that we must consider. She doesn't communicate with other people in adjacent two panels.

よつばと! 12巻 p222/"YOTSUBATO!" vol.12 p222)
 This is the final page of final story in vol.12. As you see, no one but Yotsuba is there, and she also doesn't speak to others on a final panel of p221. This aloneness gives us an illusion of her staring through "fourth wall" though she, an character of comics, stares at only objects in the same comic world, I think.
 For example, there is a scene in which Yotsuba turns her face toward the front in vol.12.

よつばと! 12巻 p27/"YOTSUBATO!" vol.12 p27)
 In the upper panel, though Yotsuba looks toward the front(not directly the front, but it is the same as the final panel of vol.12), I don't think she stares at us. Because Yotsuba talks with Torako in panels before and after this panel. Readers understand unconsciously that Yotsuba looks toward there since she is communicating with Torako who is a character in the comic. So we comprehend automatically that Yotsuba's eyes toward readers are merely identical with ones toward objects in the comic by chance.
 But in the final panel, Yotsuba hasn't communicated with others for several panels. So it is not clear who is looked at by Yotsuba in the panel. Yotsuba looking at readers keeping the unclearness, we get a start, "Is she staring at me ?"
 In addition, in order to express her happy smile, she isn't drown her pupils, and this expression prevents us from precise recognizing  who Yotsuba is staring at. Eyes without pupils give readers the illusion of her staring through "fourth wall" much more. Of course it is only an illusion, but it is an illusion that makes us immerse ourselves in the comic world.
 I can depict this feeling as an illusion that I, as a reader, am suddenly dragged in the comic world by Yotsuba who smiles at me without having communicated with others. In other words, I was changed my position of the third person into of the third position.
 When we read "YOTSUBATO!", we are always placed in the position of the third person, and it means we aren't placed in the position of the first(Yotsuba's or other comic caharacters') position. In "YOTSUBATO!", there are so much composition. Much of them trace Yotsuba's eyes which look upon from the bottom, or other's eyes which look down Yotsuba, but there are themselves in the composition(or in the panel). So we are forced not to be identical with them but to see the comic world in the ways similar to the comic characters. We are inevitably the third person. We must see the world by the eyes very similar to, thus differnt from theirs.
 To tell the truth, there is a very very little composition that our eyes are identical with Yotsuba's.

(よつばと! 9巻 p53/"YOTSUBATO!" vol.9 p53)
 This is a very rare example. We are perfectly identical with Yotsuba's eyes looking toward a teddy bear. In addition, Yotsuba looking through a finder of a camera(vol.11 "Yotsuba and camera"),Yotsuba looking upon ceiling of the tent(
vol.12 "Yotsuba and camp the latter part"), and so on.
 But in the final panel of vol.12, Yotsuba is drown as if she smile at readers, and then, we are placed in not the third person but the second person, looking toward Yotsuba directly. Prbably this is the first expression since "YOTSUBATO!" was drown. This is why I was attracted so much.
 Though we have only seen this fortunata world from outside, we can face Yotsuba in the same world when we read this panel. That' very very exciting experience!


original article in Japanese:



 Hello, this blog about Japanese comics is written by Ponkotsu-Yamada.
 I originally write this blog' s articles in Japanese in the blog ;ポンコツ山田.com
and transrate them into English for my practice of English. And, of course, I hope you'll enjoy these articles and be interested in Japanese comics.
 Have a good time !

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