There’s a new way of watching television. It’s the one that doesn’t involve television at all. TiVos and smart boxes have changed some viewing habits, while online downloading has completely turned them on their head. People have stopped trusting broadcasters and started making their own choices about what’s going to be on the box on a weekday.
This has created a new phenomenon – binge viewing. Particularly with foreign shows that come to us after they’ve already aired, it’s becoming that much easier to just keep going. Who cares about waiting a week? Let’s just load up the next episode and watch ten in a row. Anime like Gantz have started to play to such a crowd, and only really make sense if viewed in mega-sittings.
You may be asking, what does this have to do with manga? Thanks to the “manga boom”, similar issues now affect Japanese comics. The original readers of Ranma ½ took a decade to get through the story, at a chapter a week. Now, with Viz’s 13-year translation reaching its end, it’s possible to lock yourself in your room and read the entire thing in one sitting. I’m not saying that’s big or clever, but who knows, maybe you feel like doing it for a bet.
The point is that foreign manga fans often experience their stories at a different rate to that of the original Japanese readers. Often, this is a bonus, with themes and subplots in graphic novels becoming more obvious over longer page-counts. But in some cases, it can backfire. Just as in the TV world, serials that relied on action or combat can now suffer from the new format. Instead of waiting all week for a dramatic denouement, readers can tire of reading yet another fight scene that delays an over-arcing plot. Translation is not the only alteration that affects our understanding of manga. The size of the book in your hand can also be a factor.
(This article first appeared NEO 26, 2006)