“The Capsule’s Pride (Bikes)”: Bwana remixes Akira soundtrack

Bwana, producer of electronic music from Toronto/Berlin, has released an EP titled The Capsule’s Pride (Bikes) (Comicgate reported last week) for which he had rearranged the Akira anime soundtrack into 9 EDM tracks. This EP is available for free both as audio stream and YouTube video playlist. The latter is more interesting in this context: each video consists of a sparsely animated black-and-white still image from Akira. The funny thing is, the images are taken from the manga, not from the anime.

still from Capsule's Pride (Bikes) by Bwana

It’s funny because not only music samples were taken from the anime, but also dialogue samples (from the English dub) that directly refer to the major plot difference between the comic and its adaptation: “there is your messiah…” (in both track 1 and 5). At first I thought, whoever made those videos didn’t know the material well. On the other hand, at least two of the videos fit the titles of the corresponding tracks: the video for the title track “Capsule’s Pride (Bikes)” shows Kaneda on his motorcycle (pictured) – his first one, the one he has when he is still leader of the “Capsule” gang – and the video for “K&K (Lovers in the Light)” shows Kei and Kaneda. Another nice touch is that the Canon decal in the former image has been inconspicuously replaced by one bearing Bwana’s name.

Article “The Task of Manga Translation: Akira in the West” published


My conference paper from 2014, which so far had been only published in German and in print, is now available online and in English:

de la Iglesia, Martin 2016, ‘The Task of Manga Translation: Akira in the West’. The Comics Grid: Journal of Comics Scholarship 6(1), http://dx.doi.org/10.16995/cg.59

There’s also a PDF version.

Translated editions of Katsuhiro Ōtomo’s manga Akira played an important role in the popularisation of manga in the Western world. Published in Japan between 1982 and 1990, editions in European languages followed as soon as the late 1980s. In the first US edition (Epic 1988–1995) the originally black and white manga was printed in colour and published in 38 issues, which were designed not unlike typical American comic books. The first German edition (Carlsen 1991–1996) marked the beginning of Carlsen’s manga publishing efforts. It was based on the English-language edition and also printed in colour, and combined two American issues in one.

This article analyses the materiality of these two translated editions with a focus on three main issues – the mirroring (or ‘flipping’) which changes the reading direction from right-to-left into left-to-right, the colouring of the originally black and white artwork, and the translation of different kinds of script (sound effects, speech bubble text, and inscriptions or labels) – before concluding with a brief examination of their critical reception.

Bartkira the animated trailer

(via Major Spoilers)

Remember Bartkira, the comic mashup of Akira and The Simpsons (mentioned briefly here one year ago)? Based on this idea, Kaitlin Sullivan, in collaboration with many other artists, has made an animated short film. This fan film adapts the animated Akira film rather than the comic, so we get to see some new scenes and characters not present in Bartkira the comic.

Conference paper “Akira im Westen” published

panel from Akira by Katsuhiro Ōtomo

Last year at a conference on “the translation and adaptation of comics” in Hildesheim, Germany, I gave a talk on the first English and German editions of Katsuhiro Ōtomo’s Akira . The conference proceedings have now been published as a book, albeit with most of the papers in German, including my own. I’m working on making an English-language, Open Access version of my talk available soon. Anyway, here’s the bibliographic data:

de la Iglesia, Martin. “Akira im Westen.” In Comics. Übersetzungen und Adaptionen, edited by Nathalie Mälzer, 355-373. Berlin: Frank & Timme, 2015.

The ISBN of the book is: 978-3-7329-0131-9

Social Network Analysis of co-occurring comic characters

Another thing I learned at my librarian job is that Social Network Analysis (SNA) methods seem to become increasingly popular in the Humanities. The basic idea of SNA is that you define a type of entity as nodes (actors), and some criterion for establishing edges (connections) between them. Once you have constructed such a network, you can analyse it by applying various mathematical operations. The difficult part is defining your nodes and particularly your edges in a way that is both feasible and meaningful.

Some Literature scholars have tackled this problem by using SNA for drama. Written plays are highly structured: speakers are indicated in fairly standardised ways, so that they can be used as nodes in a network. Edges between them can be formed by looking at which characters are on stage at the same time (i.e during the same scene), possibly indicating a dialogue or other interaction. Another benefit of using drama for SNA is that many older texts are available digitally. Crowdsourcing may be used to clean up this data, thus making it machine-readable for SNA purposes. The resulting graphs may provide insight into certain historic developments, e.g. the number of characters per play increasing over time (PDF, German).

In comics, such automatic processing is still a distant dream, but on a smaller scale, networks may be constructed manually. Identifying nodes is more problematic in comics, though, because unlike in drama, characters aren’t explicitly named each time they appear. They usually have to be identified by their looks, which isn’t always easy. Another problem is how to define the edges. A research group from Paderborn recently proposed (PDF, German) to establish an edge between two characters whenever they appear on a page together. In my opinion, a more suitable category than the page would be the panel, as there are sometimes narrative shifts between panels on the same page, so that the co-occurrence of characters on a page doesn’t necessarily imply interaction. Furthermore, some comics don’t have pages, but they all have panels.

To test the feasibility of this approach, I built a little character network based on co-occurrence within panels, once again using Akira. Here is a Gephi rendering of such a network from the first 16 pages of volume 3 (blue numbers indicate the number of panels on which both of the connected characters appear):

Character co-occurence network of Akira vol. 3, pp. 5-20I assigned the group of soldiers to one single node rather than one node per visible soldier, similar to a speaker designation for groups of people in a play. As we will see in the second example, these ‘crowd’ nodes may cause some headache. Anyway, the most striking thing about this network is that it consists of three unconnected clusters. In other words, the action takes place at three different places on these 16 pages: the military base, Miyako’s temple, and the streets of Neo Tokyo. (Actually there are two more locales – the site of the SOL laser beam impact and SOL in space – but no character interaction takes place there.) Keep that in mind as we look at the first 17* pages of the 4th volume:

character co-occurrence network of Akira, vol. 4, pp. 4-20

2 panels from p. 13 of Akira vol. 4 by Katsuhiro Ōtomo

Spot the Lieutenant.

At first glance, this graph is very different from the first: instead of three clusters, there is one small and one large cluster. However, this impression is misleading. Because I lumped all of Tetsuo’s henchmen together as “Great Tokyo Empire mob”, they act as a bridge between the actually unconnected scenes at the rescue helicopter on the one hand, and Lieutenant Yamada and his diving unit entering the city on the other. (Another problem here is that Yamada can’t be recognised until he takes off his diving suit – for simplicity’s sake I just assumed he is always among the group of divers depicted.)

Thus we can tentatively recognise a pattern in Ōtomo’s storytelling: rather than building his story around one central protagonist, he frequently jumps between parallel lines of action, with shifts taking place approximately every 2-8 pages.

*Why the different number of pages (16 and 17, respectively)? The reason is that I analysed both volumes until p. 20, but vol. 3 starts on p. 5, whereas vol. 4 starts on p. 4.

Author dictionaries and lexical analysis for comics

Every once in a while I learn something at my day job that I think would be applicable to comics research too. For instance, in literary studies, dictionaries are compiled that contain all the words (or only the nouns, similar to an encyclopedia) used by a particular author, or even only those used in one single literary text. Think of it as a sort of commentary in a critical edition which explains references to real-world entities, or obscure words that aren’t used anymore, only separate from the source text and organised alphabetically.

Applying this method to comics, we would, of course, ignore all the images and lose the information they convey. On the other hand, looking at the words alone might yield interesting results. For instance, by comparing the frequency of words used in a particular comic to the frequency with which they occur in written language in general, we could test common hypotheses such as “author X uses word Y a lot”.

For comics of more than a few pages length, it would be nice to automatically create a list of all the words in digital form (at least those in speech/thought bubbles and captions – sound effects and inscriptions/labels can be difficult to automatically recognise). Unless a script for the comic you’re interested in is already available, a straightforward (though not necessarily easy) way to get such a list would be to obtain digital images (e.g. scans) of the pages of the comic, then run Optical Character Recognition (OCR) software on them.

As an example, consider these two panels from Akira, in which a scientist is introduced to some colleagues:

two panels from Katsuhiro Otomo's AkiraThe OCR software www.onlineocr.net recognises the text in the five speech bubbles like this:

  1. 初めまして
  2. スタンリー・
  3. よろしく
  4. ジョノレジュ
  5. 初めまして

As far as I can see, only two mistakes (ノレ instead of ル and ですノ instead of です) were made. Instead of focusing on nouns (for which there probably are detecting algorithms for Japanese), it’s easier for now to just look at the kanji and filter out all hiragana and katakana characters. (While you can’t simply say that kanji represent nouns and kana represent other parts of speech, the idea here is that kanji tend to carry more semantic information than kana, which are often only used as flection suffixes.) That leaves us with the six kanji , 名, 前, 博, 士, and 初 again.

We can look up their frequency with which they occur in Japanese language in general, e.g. the frequency rank at WWWJDIC:

  • 前: 27
  • 初: 152
  • 名: 177
  • 士: 526
  • 博: 794

i.e. 前 is the most frequent of the five, 博 the least frequent. Compare these ranks to the frequency with which they occur in our slim sample of two panels:

  • : 33% of all kanji
  • 前, 名, 士, 博: 17% each

What we can see here, if anything, is that two kanji, 士 and 博, are significantly more often used by Katsuhiro Ōtomo than by the average Japanese author. This doesn’t come as a surprise, as the compound 博士 signifies the academic title ‘Dr.’, which is the appropriate form of address for the scientists in this scene, whereas the other kanji 前, 初 and 名 are linked to names and introductions in general, and thus more often used in standard Japanese.

However, even if the frequency of 士 and 博 remained above-average if we analysed all of Akira‘s over 2000 pages, that wouldn’t necessarily mean we had discovered a lexical characteristic of Ōtomo’s writing style. What it would tell us is that there is a subplot about scientists in Akira. Of course, topic analysis based on word frequency is nothing new. More interesting from a formal-lexical point of view would be if we discovered kanji used in different frequencies than we would expect with regard to the subject matter treated in Akira. In this situation it might be useful to look at synonyms: when Ōtomo had several options to express the same thing, why did he choose some words over others?

panel detail from Akira by Katsuhiro ŌtomoFor instance, on the same page as the example above, the relatively infrequent (rank 920) kanji 栄 is used as part of the word “honour” in the expression “I’m honoured to meet you”. Instead, Ōtomo could have used the phrase “nice to meet you” for a third time, using the kanji 初 again, but he didn’t. Suppose there was a significant number of further instances of 栄 in Akira, maybe that would be a formal-stylistic choice, rather than one merely implied by the content of the comic?

I’m aware that all this is very hypothetical, and that looking at just a few panels doesn’t show anything, but if I wanted to analyse a comic in this way, I would basically go on about it as described here, only with more scans. If you would like to learn more about this kind of analysis, I recommend Allen Riddell’s tutorial on “Feature selection: finding distinctive words”.

Akira Lego

Already in October/November last year, on the occasion of Designer Con in Pasadena, California, some people re-created comic book covers with Lego bricks and put pictures of them online, mostly on Flickr in the group Comic Bricks! and/or using the tag “comicbricks” (Nerdist and several other websites reported). Some of these pictures are fascinating in the way in which a three-dimensional object was extrapolated from a two-dimensional cover, e.g. the iconic “Demon in a Bottle” Iron Man cover.

The most interesting Lego cover from my perspective is, of course, the only one in that Flickr photo pool that is based on a manga cover: Akira #31. Its mere existence among otherwise American comics is remarkable. Then again, an issue from the old, coloured, 38-part Epic Comics edition was used, which was more like a US comic book than the later black-and-white collected volumes.

detail of Akira #31 photograph by Tommy Williamson

The creator of this Lego cover retained the abstract elements of the cover and interpreted them as a sort of window frame through which we see Kaneda and Kai riding the ‘caretaker’ robot. In contrast to the original cover, though, one leg of the robot extends through this frame in the front, while another robot leg can be seen extending to the right behind the frame (and also parts of the wall in the background to both sides), making for an imaginative compromise between 2-D and 3-D elements which, as far as I’ve seen, hasn’t been tried in any of the other Comic Bricks covers.