Hiragana for stylometry?

The other day I’ve been made aware that some things I’ve said in an earlier blogpost, “Author dictionaries and lexical analysis for comics”, might be misleading. So let’s be clear: if you would like to find something out about the writing style of an author or text, it’s not the best idea to look at the frequently used nouns, kanji, or other units of high semantic content. Those are more useful for analysing the content, i.e. the topic(s), of texts. In stylometry, units with low semantic content, such as function words (the, a, it, etc.), are more attractive objects of study, as they can be used almost independently of the topic and often present writers with a choice of which word to use when. In other words, the same writer tends to use the same function words and may be identified by them. (In practice, though, a combination of different characteristics is used for analysis – see the Stylometry article at Wikipedia and the references there.)

In order to automatically separate function words from content words in a digital text, part-of-speech tagging software may be employed. For Japanese, there is e.g. Kuromoji. But isn’t there a simpler way? Can’t we make use of the kanji–kana distinction used in the aforementioned earlier blogpost? If we identified kanji as the semantically rich(er) units, wouldn’t it be sufficient to focus on the kana for stylometric analysis? Maybe, maybe not. The results would probably be poorer, due to two main reasons:

  1. Every content word (noun, verb, adjective), even if usually written in kanji, may also be written in kana. For instance, 分かる (to understand) is more frequently spelled in hiragana only, わかる. So when we gather kana from a text, we might end up with unwanted content words.
  2. In flection suffixes, hiragana are dependent on the preceding kanji, and thus ultimately on the content of the text. For instance, a text on musical performance might contain many instances of the verb 引く hiku (to play an instrument), so one can expect the hiragana か ka, ki, ku, ke and こ ko to occur more frequently than in other texts, as they are used for inflecting 引く.

That being said, why don’t we put this kana analysis method to the test anyway? Let’s take the example from Akira vol. 5, p. 16 again in which the scientists are talking (初めまして。スタンリー・シモンズ博士です etc.). We’ll focus on hiragana and ignore katakana, as they tend to be used for nouns too. Starting from those two panels, I manually counted these and the following hiragana until I reached 100. Here are the 5 most frequent hiragana in this set:

  • de: 8
  • i: 7
  • shi: 7
  • te: 7
  • no: 6

That means, if this was a sufficiently large sample, in any other piece of text by Ōtomo, or at least within Akira, roughly 8% of its hiragana should be de, 7% should be i, etc. So I randomly picked another scene from Akira (vol. 3, p. 125 ff) and looked at the first 100 hiragana there. The 5 most frequently used hiragana from the previous example are used less often here, with the exception of i:

de, su, u, ru, se, da

  • de: 3
  • i: 8
  • shi: 1
  • te: 2
  • no: 3

In these pages in vol. 3, we find mainly other hiragana such as tsu (9 times – including small tsu), ga (6 times), o (5 times) and su (5 times) to be the most frequently used. That, however, doesn’t tell us anything yet about the similarity of these two pieces of text (which I’m going to call “Akira 1″ and “Akira 2″ from here on). We need to add a third example, and for this purpose I’m going to use 100 hiragana from Miko Yasu’s Hakozume from the recently reviewed Morning magazine. If our method is successful, the differences between Hakozume and each of the two Akira scenes should be larger than those between Akira 1 and Akira 2. With frequency values for approximately 50 distinct hiragana we now have 3 × ~50 data points on which we could unleash the whole range of advanced statistical methods. But we’ll keep things simple by simply adding up the differences in frequencies: Hakozume contains only 6 instances of de, i.e. 2 less than Akira 1; Hakozume uses 3 times i as opposed to the 7 in Akira 1, i.e. 4 less; Hakozume contains 6 instances of shi less than Akira 1; etc. Here’s the table of frequencies of de, i, shi, te and no in Hakozume:

a, no, na, n, de, a, no, ga…

  • de: 6
  • i: 3
  • shi: 1
  • te: 6
  • no: 8

The combined difference between Hakozume and Akira 1 for these 5 hiragana would be 2+4+6+1+2 = 15. For all ~50 different hiragana, the sum is 96.

This looks like a large number, and indeed, when we calculate the difference between Akira 1 and Akira 2 in this way, the result is 82. This means, the two Akira chunks are more similar in their usage of hiragana than Hakozume and Akira 1.

However, we’re not done yet. We still need to compare Hakozume to Akira 2. The result of this comparison may come as a surprise: the sum of differences is also 82! So Akira 2 is as similar to Hakozume as it is to Akira 1. If our goal was to find out whether a given piece of text is taken from Akira or not, our method would fail if we used Akira 2 as our base text with which to compare all others.

ha, no, ki, ka, ra, ho, do, de, ki, wo…

Just to make sure, I took another 100 hiragana from a different random manga in the same issue of Morning, Rito Asami’s Ichikei no karasu. I’ll refer to Ichikei no karasu as Morning 2 from now on, and to Hakozume as Morning 1. The results of the comparisons are even ‘worse’: while the sum of differences between Morning 2 and Akira 2 is 98 – i.e. vastly different – the difference between Morning 2 and Akira 1 is only 74, i.e. very similar.

Frequency of all hiragana in each of the four 100-hiragana samples

In a way, the results do make sense though. We’re looking at dialogue, after all, and the way scientists (in Akira 1) speak is closer to that of lawyers (in Morning 2) than that of insurgent thugs (in Akira 2). And apparently, the conversation between the two policewomen (in Morning 1) is not quite unlike the latter.

As ever so often we could now blame the unsatisfactory results on the small sample size – if we had used chunks of 1000 hiragana instead of 100, surely our attribution attempts would have been more successful? We’ll never find out (unless we obtain a complete digital copy of Akira and extract the hiragana automatically). Another way to improve results would be to tweak the methodology: using data mining algorithms, more elaborate metrics such as co-occurrence of several hiragana could be employed. In actual stylometric research, hiragana seem to be used in yet another metric – the ratio of all hiragana to all other characters (kanji, katakana, rōmaji).

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It’s Wikipedia Asian Month again

Wikipedia Asian Month 2018 official logo

November is Wikipedia Asian Month. Each year, Wikipedians are invited to write new articles relating to any aspect of Asia. Depending on the number of articles you manage to create within this month, you are awarded bronze, silver and gold virtual badges (though that might be specific to the German Wikipedia), and anyone who creates at least 4 articles gets a postcard (by snail mail!) from a random Asian country.

If you’re reading this weblog, chances are you’re particularly knowledgeable about manga, so how about participating in Wikipedia Asian Month by checking if there’s any manga or mangaka not yet in the Wikipedia of your choice (but should be)? However, there are two caveats:

  1. Make sure that any articles you’re about to create meet the appropriate notability guidelines. There’s already too much stuff in Wikipedia that shouldn’t be in there, and if no one else cares about the topic of your article, it won’t get improved much by the Wikipedia community.
  2. I won’t say “Writing a Wikipedia article is easier than you think”, because probably the opposite is true: successfully creating an article takes a lot of effort, particularly because you need to properly cite published sources for everything you say.

Last year I took part in Wikipedia Asian Month for the first time and created articles on the German Wikipedia on a Japanese live-action film and its director, an anime voice actor, and an anime series. This year I’ll try to reach 4 articles again on the German Wikipedia, maybe with a stronger focus on manga this time.


Manga reviews, Halloween 2018 edition: Ajin, I Am a Hero, Uzumaki

Halloween means scary manga time at The 650-Cent Plague. As always, here are short reviews of two recent and one classic horror manga. Find the previous Halloween blogposts here: 2017, 2016, 2015.

Ajin – Demi-Human (亜人 / ajin, lit. “sub-human”)
Language: German (translated from Japanese)
Authors: Tsuina Miura (story), Gamon Sakurai (art)
Publisher: Egmont (originally Kōdansha)
Years: 2015- (original run 2012- )
Number of volumes: 12 so far
Volumes reviewed: 1
Pages per volume: 226
Price per volume: € 7.50
Website: https://www.egmont-manga.de/buch-buchreihe/ajin-demi-human/ (German publisher), https://www.mangaupdates.com/series.html?id=75929 (Baka-Updates)
ISBN: 978-3-7704-8605-2

When high school student Kei is hit by a truck one day, he discovers that he is an immortal ‘ajin’ – one of 47 such beings known to exist worldwide. Ajin are not considered human, and Kei fears he will be experimented on if he gets caught. Now he is on the run from both the government and bounty hunters.

Ajin suffers from the same mistake that many mystery manga series make: somehow the creators think the basic premise (in this case, Kei’s immortality) isn’t interesting enough, so gradually more and more supernatural phenoma are revealed (here: the ajin’s petrifying voice, demonic figures with razor-sharp claws, and who knows what else in the following volumes). In this and some other ways, Ajin is a poor man’s Death Note with its ‘howcatchem’ plot structure and its eccentric detective character.

On the plus side, the art is pretty cool, particularly the motorcycle chase scenes. If I had read this manga when I was 14, I would probably have loved it, even though (or maybe precisely because) the publisher’s age recommendation is 16+.

Scariest moment in vol. 1: there’s nothing really shocking here, but it’s quite a chilling scene when Kei realises that he can heal his injuries by killing himself – whenever he dies, he is alive and healthy again shortly afterwards. This is perhaps the most interesting thing about Ajin: how on the one hand his friends, family and everyone else around him turn away from him when they find out he is ‘not human’, and how on the other hand he slowly embraces his newfound power so that he is indeed in danger of losing his humanity.

Rating: ● ● ○ ○ ○

I Am a Hero (アイアムアヒーロー / ai amu a hīrō)
Language: German (translated from Japanese)
Author: Kengo Hanazawa
Publisher: Carlsen (originally Shōgakukan)
Years: 2012-2018 (original run 2009-2017)
Number of volumes: 22
Volumes reviewed: 1
Pages per volume: ~230
Price per volume: € 7.95
Website: https://www.carlsen.de/serie/i-am-a-hero/30897 (German publisher), https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/I_Am_a_Hero (Wikipedia)
ISBN: 978-3-551-79491-8

You might have already heard that this is a series about an average guy trying to survive a zombie apocalypse. This first volume, however, deals much more with protagonist Hideo himself than with flesh-eating undead. We get to know his daily routine, his lacklustre job as an assistant in a manga studio, his difficult relationship with his girlfriend Tekko, his futile attempts to get his own manga published, etc.

Hanazawa’s attention to detail is admirable. He uses a great many panels for the mundanest of Hideo’s activities, e.g. his lonely TV dinner after work. Each panel itself is meticulously drawn, sometimes obviously photoreferenced with reproduced lens distortions. Not only does this slow build-up make the eventual confrontation with the zombies more dramatic, it also allows Hanazawa early on to plant subtle hints about the coming zombie virus outbreak. But is he able keep up the suspenseful atmosphere over the course of 22 volumes? I don’t know yet, but at least vol. 1 is highly successful in this regard.

Another asset of I Am a Hero is its meta level. Hideo’s work at the manga studio, his dealings with magazine editors, co-workers and rival mangaka, and his ramblings about what makes a good manga all amount to a sometimes straightforward, sometimes satirical perspective on the manga industry.

Scariest moment in vol. 1: forget the zombies. Granted, the final scene in which a zombie crawls towards Hideo (and the picture surface) is impressive. But far more terrifying are Hideo’s hallucinations which are unrelated to the zombie apocalypse. This man simply has some severe mental issues. Thus when he is alone at home at night and starts seeing faces and arms outside his window and under his bed, it is so frightening because Hideo is such a realistic character. Some other reviews have descrived Hideo as “eccentric” or a “loser”, but he’s neither – he’s quite a normal person like you and me. So which is the scarier notion: getting attacked by fantasy creatures, which we know don’t exist in real life? Or losing your mind, which happens all the time to people in real life?

Rating: ● ● ● ● ○

Uzumaki – Spiral into Horror (うずまき / uzumaki, lit. “spiral” or “vortex”)
Language: German (translated from Japanese)
Author: Junji Itō
Publisher: Carlsen (originally Shōgakukan)
Years: 2013-2014 (original run 1998-1999)
Number of volumes: 3
Volumes reviewed: 1
Pages per volume: 201
Price per volume: € 7.95
Website: https://www.carlsen.de/serie/uzumaki/33037 (German publisher), https://www.mangaupdates.com/series.html?id=6086 (Baka-Updates)
ISBN: 978-3-551-79271-6

The classic horror manga for this year’s review comes from one of the master mangaka of horror, Junji Itō.

The town of Kurōzu is haunted by spirals. In the first chapter, the inhabitant Mr. Saito develops an obsession with all kinds of spirals, collects kimonos with spiral prints, seashells, pottery with spiral designs… but that isn’t enough for him, he wants to become a spiral, and in the end he dies after twisting his body in a spiral shape inside a barrel. In the second chapter, his widow develops a phobia against spirals. In the third chapter, a girl at the local high school is slowly swallowed up by a vortex growing on her forehead (perhaps the most famous image of this manga), etc. etc.

It’s impressive how many variations of the spiral theme Itō comes up with. The episodes are only loosely connected through the high school couple of Kirie (a classmate of the girl from chapter 3) and Shuichi (son of the Saitos), though apparently in later volumes (see e.g. Jason Thompson’s review), an overarching plot emerges. Thus the stories in this first volume have a kind of Tales From The Crypt feeling to them. Their ‘twist’ endings are never funny, but somehow still darkly humorous. A great deal of this gloomy atmosphere is conveyed through Itō’s fine linework with which he subtly varies his characters’ facial expressions.

Scariest moment in vol. 1: when Mrs. Saito, already in hospital due to her fear of spirals, realises she has spirals on her fingertips – her normal papillary ridges – and wants to get rid of them.

Rating: ● ● ● ○ ○


Artifacts from Japan, part 5: Morning #43, 2018

Two years ago I already introduced another original Japanese manga magazine here, Weekly Young Jump, but I don’t want to give the impression that all manga magazines in Japan are like that. So here’s a look at a magazine that is also filed under seinen (i.e. targeted towards young adult men), but much more mature.

Language: Japanese
Authors: various
Publisher: Kōdansha
Pages: 400
Price: ¥370 ($3.30 / €2.85)
Website: http://morning.moae.jp/ (Japanese)

Morning (or “Weekly Morning” according to Wikipedia, but the word “Morning” is not on the cover as far as I have seen) is not quite as widely read as Young Jump, but its circulation (well over 100,000 copies per issue) is still huge compared to Western comic magazines. In the past, Morning has run famous manga series such as Gon, Planetes, Space Brothers, and Vagabond.

The copy of the issue at hand (dated October 11, but actually published two weeks earlier) has the same dimensions as Young Jump and the same printing quality (or lack thereof), but already on the outside, the content is quite different: instead of an erotic photograph, there’s a cover image that actually refers to one of the manga inside – グラゼニ / Gurazeni by Yūji Moritaka and Keiji Adachi, a baseball series that seems to be relatively popular in Japan. Inside there is very little editorial content apart from a 4-page interview with Moritaka and film director Hitoshi Ōne.

Which brings us to the manga in this issue. There are roughly 20 chapters of 18 pages on average, and these are the more noteworthy ones apart from Gurazeni:

A particularly striking page from Toshiya Higashimoto's <em>Theseus no fune</em>.

A particularly striking page from Toshiya Higashimoto’s Theseus no fune.

As you can perhaps see from these short descriptions, most of the manga in Morning are set in the real world rather than some fantasy or science fiction setting. Considering Morning and Young Jump alone, the vast variety of manga within the seinen demographic becomes palpable – a variety hardly represented by the few of these titles that have been published in the West.


Paper “Japanese Art in the Contact Zone: Between Orientalism and ‘Japansplaining’” published


More than two years ago, I gave a conference paper titled “Japanese Art in the Contact Zone: Between Orientalism and ‘Japansplaining’”. The proceedings of this conference, Migrations in Visual Art, have now been published as an Open Access PDF at https://e-knjige.ff.uni-lj.si/znanstvena-zalozba/catalog/book/122 (doi: 10.4312/9789610601166, ISBN: 978-961-06-0116-6). There you’ll also find a table of contents with links to the PDFs of the individual papers. Again, this paper isn’t about comics, but I dare say it’s relevant to anyone interested in transnational manga reception. Here’s the abstract as published in the proceedings:

After WWII, Japan came to be economically and politically at eye level with its
former enemy nations. Therefore, one cannot say that the Western reception of
Japanese artworks takes place within an actual context of an asymmetrical power
relation. Yet, European and American audiences often approach Japanese art from
a position of perceived superiority. Overt and subtle traces of this attitude can be
detected in reviews and other texts on Japanese artworks ranging from the films of
Akira Kurosawa to the photographs of Nobuyoshi Araki.


The best manga of 2016? Review of My Love Story and 1F

The publication history of My Love Story (and to some extent also that of 1F, see below) demonstrates the difficulties of determining the best manga of the year through the aggregation of year-end best-of lists: in 2016, the first volumes of My Love Story came out in Germany, while in the US volumes 7-10 were published, and in Japan the series ended with the final three volumes, 11-13. Thus, even though My Love Story was being published in all three countries in 2016, in that year it attracted some media attention in Germany only, while in the US and Japan the hype had already died down. More and more it becomes clear in this series of blogposts that when we’re looking at the year 2016 in manga history (from a Western perspective), we’re actually dealing with more of a 5-7 year window. For today, let’s start at the beginning with the first volume of My Love Story.

My Love Story!! (俺物語!! / Ore monogatari) vol. 1
Language: German (translated from Japanese)
Authors: Kazune Kawahara (story), Aruko (art)
Publisher: Panini (originally Shūeisha)
Year: 2016 (originally 2011)
Number of volumes: 13
Pages: ~175
Price: € 7
Website: https://www.paninishop.de/serie/my-love-story-ore-monogatari (German)
ISBN: 978-3-95798-904-8

The story revolves around Takeo, a high school student who is not only unusually tall and strong, but also honest, kind, brave, and naive. When he meets Yamato, he thinks at first that she’s only interested in his good-looking friend, Sunakawa. But it turns out Yamato has fallen in love with Takeo, she becomes his first girlfriend, and so His Love Story begins.

A lot of people file this manga under shōjo, but if it is a shōjo manga, it’s an exceptional one due to its protagonist – as the title suggests, a male character is at the center of this story. I’d be hard pressed to name another shōjo manga in which a male protagonist dominates the story as much as Takeo (except perhaps for those that veer towards the boys’ love genre).

And what a character Takeo is. It’s refreshing to have a truly unique protagonist who defies all manga stereotypes. Just seeing Takeo’s face is a delight, as artist Aruko endlessly varies her style with new combinations of different kinds of outlines, hatching, and screentones when drawing him.

In the writer’s preface, an interesting anecdote is related regarding Takeo’s appearance: her magazine editor thought Takeo was ugly and put a slogan on the magazine cover to that effect, but the authors intended Takeo to look ‘manly’ and by all means attractive (though not quite as pretty as his ikemen friend Sunakawa). A misunderstanding that is almost medium specific – if the story was told not in comic form but as a live-action film, for instance, it would be easier for most people to assess the attractiveness of this character (and indeed, apparently there was a live-action adaptation of My Love Story in 2015).

If My Love Story has one flaw, it’s some instances of lazy storytelling when something unlikely happens to advance the story. In vol. 1 it’s a girder inexplicably falling on Yamato (will Takeo come to the rescue? Read it to find out!); in a later volume, a bird rips Yamato’s brooch off her shirt… There’s actually one more annoying flaw in the manga: the authors’ columns already give away that Yamato and Sunakawa are kind-hearted characters too, thus destroying any air of mystery that might have surrounded them. That being said, My Love Story is a remarkable comic and one of the best manga of 2016 (if you will).

Rating: ● ● ● ● ○

 

1F (いちえふ / Ichi efu) vol. 1
Language: German (translated from Japanese)
Author: Kazuto Tatsuta
Publisher: Carlsen (originally Kōdansha)
Year: 2016 (originally 2013)
Number of volumes: 3
Pages: ~185
Price: € 13
Website: https://www.carlsen.de/softcover/reaktor-1f-ein-bericht-aus-fukushima-1/74017 (German)
ISBN: 978-3-551-76107-1

1F (full German title: “Reaktor 1F – Ein Bericht aus Fukushima”; English spelling: Ichi-F) got a lot of press, but not in the context of 2016 year-end reviews – in the US, it was published only last year. As can be expected from a manga about the Fukushima nuclear disaster, people deemed it “moving” and “important”, but not explicitly good. Is 1F any good? Could it even be the best manga of 2016?

First of all, it’s worth restating what other reviewers already have noted: this isn’t a manga about the nuclear disaster per se. Don’t expect to see any giant waves or reactor explosions (though there are one or two flashback panels that show an explosion): this is the autobiographical story of Tatsuta coming to the Fukushima Daiichi power plant long after ‘3.11’ to work there as a ‘cleanup’ worker, i.e. to help in the tedious process of decommissioning the radioactively contaminated power plant.

There are two interesting aspects to Tatsuta’s story: one is the business side of the cleanup work, the shady companies at the bottom end of a subcontracting chain who exploit the mostly unskilled labourers coming from different parts of Japan (Tatsuta himself is from Tokyo, not from the Tōhoku area) for different reasons. The other, more fascinating aspect is the actual work in the highly radioactive power plant, even though Tatsuta’s job there consists of only janitorial tasks at first. The depictions of layers of protective gear, radiation measurement devices, meticulous security procedures all help to visualise the invisible, yet potentially lethal, threat of radioactivity.

Tatsuta’s art style lends itself well to this task of visualisation, as he relies mostly on clear outlines with little or no shading, and occasionally interrupts the comic narrative with diagrams such as floor plans. The flip side of the coin is that human figures aren’t as convincingly drawn; all the characters have a somewhat mischievous expression on their face.

Another flaw of 1F is that the story jumps back and forth in time, which is perhaps due to the haphazard creation history of this manga. It looks like the chronological order of events in the first volume would be: chapter 3, chapter 6, chapters  4-5, prologue, chapters 1-2. Still, overall 1F is a rare gem of an exciting non-fictional manga about science and technology.

Rating: ● ● ● ● ○


Article “Has Akira Always Been a Cyberpunk Comic?” published

Earlier this year I gave a talk at MSU Comics Forum, and now a journal article based on that talk has already been published:

Has Akira Always Been a Cyberpunk Comic?
Arts 7(3), https://doi.org/10.3390/arts7030032

Here’s the abstract again:

Between the late 1980s and early 1990s, interest in the cyberpunk genre peaked in the Western world, perhaps most evidently when Terminator 2: Judgment Day became the highest-grossing film of 1991. It has been argued that the translation of Katsuhiro Ōtomo’s manga Akira into several European languages at just that time (into English beginning in 1988, into French, Italian, and Spanish beginning in 1990, and into German beginning in 1991) was no coincidence. In hindsight, cyberpunk tropes are easily identified in Akira to the extent that it is nowadays widely regarded as a classic cyberpunk comic. But has this always been the case? When Akira was first published in America and Europe, did readers see it as part of a wave of cyberpunk fiction? Did they draw the connections to previous works of the cyberpunk genre across different media that today seem obvious? In this paper, magazine reviews of Akira in English and German from the time when it first came out in these languages will be analysed in order to gauge the past readers’ genre awareness. The attribution of the cyberpunk label to Akira competed with others such as the post-apocalyptic, or science fiction in general. Alternatively, Akira was sometimes regarded as an exceptional, novel work that transcended genre boundaries. In contrast, reviewers of the Akira anime adaptation, which was released at roughly the same time as the manga in the West (1989 in Germany and the United States), more readily drew comparisons to other cyberpunk films such as Blade Runner.

Read the article online for free at http://www.mdpi.com/2076-0752/7/3/32.

Fun fact: this is my 10th publication (not counting reviews, translations, and articles related to my library ‘day job’)! Find them all here: https://www.bibsonomy.org/cv/user/iglesia