On Mitsuru Adachi’s ROUGH

by jh

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I’m not going to go on too much at length regarding Mitsuru Adachi’s Rough. I only really wanted to remark on a couple of things about it, which struck me as being significant enough that I should even make a point of laying out why I find them interesting.

Adachi is mostly known to me as The Baseball Manga Guy. I’m aware that he has many other works where has dabbled in other genres, sports, etc., but it would be hard to argue that his reputation isn’t based on his baseball works (primarily Touch, H2 and Cross Game). Before I continue, I should lay out my biases (where I’m coming from): I hate baseball, and find it an unbearably dull sport; and I’ve only read one actual manga of his work (I’ve seen the entirety of the Cross Game anime, and about a third of the Touch anime). So, please bear in my mind that my observations regarding Rough and Adachi are based on a pretty small sampling of his oeuvre.

First observation: the main characters in Rough have complex interior lives that are revealed not through soul-baring monologues, but through action. One of the strengths of Adachi’s work is that his characters are completely aware of themselves. Sure, they might not want to admit what they’re feeling (let alone verbalize it), but at every point they’re acutely aware of what they’re doing and why. Compare the protagonist of Rough to any similar work, and the level of self-knowledge is staggering. These characters aren’t confused or lost; they’re remarkably self-assured. But, more wonderful and more intriguing, is the way that Adachi lets us know completely what’s on their mind. There are numerous panels after panels where his characters witness something, or are in a situation that should warrant some kind of line of dialogue that will illuminate their thought process, but instead Adachi holds back. He gives us a panel full of only a side-long glance, or an almost blank reaction; but what Adachi trusts us to do as a reader is to fill in the blank, and notice that his characters’ brains are at full-throttle at all times. So even though there are no crazy love declarations, or angsty nonsense, when the romantic gestures do come out, they’re based on volume after volume of accrued body language, subtle visual information, and nuanced, elliptical storytelling. It’s a whole lot more complicated than just saying “I love you” – it approaches the sublime.

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Which leads into my second observation: Adachi’s confidence in his style, his approach. In reading Rough, I often marvelled at the simplicity, the clarity, of Adachi’s storytelling. He’ll often start chapters with a couple of pages of nothing but still life scenery (a panel of an empty baseball diamond, a classroom, the classroom clock). It isn’t simple scene-setting; it’s almost the manga equivalent of Ozu’s pillow shots. These panels allow us to get into a particular mode of consciousness, a more receptive wavelength, where the interactions of the characters can be understood not just on a plot level, but also perhaps on a wider, more emotional level. By easing us into the story by giving us these partial slices of it, I think Adachi allows us to connect the experiences of the characters to our own memories; the empty classroom (though I think by now a Japanese visual trademark by itself) recalls images from our own life, and allows us to emotionally connect on an instinctual level with what’s happening with the character. Adachi allows us to both see the story, and see how the story is just a representation of certain rhythms, philosophies, attitudes. And, just like Ozu, he seems to return to the same basic subjects and themes, reworking them, putting them in different combinations, sometimes starting out at the same place, only to end up something different.

But that last part is something that I’ll have to investigate further. It’s all research after all.

How To Find It

As far as I know, this series has never been licensed for North American release. It’s a shame.

Rough (1987 -1989)

12 Volumes

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