This idea is taken from an article of The New Yorker, which I encourage everyone to read. Spoilers for various manga and anime ahead, though I have cropped images to keep them as minor/subtle as possible.
A lot of manga (and anime) are by design not meant to build up to a single sentence or moment that captures something fundamental about what the mangaka or director is trying to say. Take for instance, visual joyrides like Satoshi Kon’s Paprika or Masaaki Yuasa’s Mind Game or slice of life experiences like Yokohama Kaidashi Kikou and Aria, where the themes of the work are quite upfront and pervasive throughout. Blame is perhaps ill fit because there are almost no lines to speak of!
Some manga advertise themselves with a sentence. For Annarasumanara, it asks if “you believe in magic?” In Makoto Shinkai’s last great film, you ponder “the speed at which a cherry blossom falls.” Others end with a poignant and fitting line. When asked what he sees outside, the protagonist of Kiss Wood, his eyes still hidden behind dirty bandages, says “A garden. A really big one.”
Sentences such as these, ones whose gravity is intrinsically weighted by their perceived significance as the formal ending or the driving force of the story, are not the lines I am searching for. If they were, we could find them all day. As Onishi meets his end in Lux, he cries “If the only way to be granted life in this world is to surrender my body and soul to insanity, then I shall choose to meet my doom,” as a last resilient trumpet of resistance against the maddening world of Texhnolyze. “What are little boys made of? Frogs and snails, and puppy dogs’ tails. That’s what little boys are made of” is one fragment of Hourou Musuko‘s many questions on gender. Sentences such as these are bountiful anywhere.
Yet, every once in a while, there comes along a work where a point deeply profound and important finds itself embedded in the simplest and seemingly most insignificant of scenes, hidden beneath a grand and complex artifice, a provocative meaning, one that encapsulates perhaps the entirety of the work, just waiting to be discovered. Perhaps this too idealistic, too romantic, too lofty of an idea, but these are what I consider one-sentence manga.
A few examples come to mind. The first of which, Oyasumi Punpun, I would hardly call a one-sentence manga, but this particular line, so nonchalant in its presentation, yet so important within the context of the scene we find ourselves in, underscores the various complexities of Inio Asano’s most critically acclaimed manga.
I’m certain no reader remembers what Punpun, Shuntarou, and their friends called their porn by this point. Perhaps even the memory of that ephemeral childhood dream, gazing lucidly through lucid lenses at trillions of twinkling stars has been lost in the twisted abysmal waters of Punpun’s life. This short confession is followed by a much more substantive admission of Punpun’s loneliness, the realization that neither Shuntarou or Punpun would ever meet the other again, and the slight but ultimately fleeting sadness it brings to them both. Shuntarou himself admits that he has all but forgotten our protagonist’s name.
Yet, it is this off-handed comment that has lingered in my mind, because it’s very insignificance gives the last real glimpse of Punpun’s haunting attachment to the past, a seemingly asinine throwaway statement that belies the lingering, albeit decaying, influence of a deceased young girl. Neither of these characters have much to say to each other. In fact, one could reasonably argue that Punpun’s confession of loneliness is both half-truth and amicable formality. It is in seeing Punpun’s detailed remembrances of things past that we understand the genuine tears of his farewell. He is saddened by this parting, and that speaks both to his deep connections to his past, troubled or otherwise.
One must always be reluctant to call Oyasumi Punpun’s ending a happy one, as Asano’s rich and illustriously drawn realism is more a portrayal of human resilience in the face of overwhelming tragedy, where even an innocent quip about bygone days casts a dim shadow over an optimistic horizon. And that is what makes this scene emblematic of a one sentence manga.
The second example is a line from The Tatami Galaxy‘s final episode.
“There’s nothing as boring as a story about successful love.”
Perhaps it is fitting that an anime so packed with language can be expressed in such a short and concise literary truth. Unlike many anime, The Tatami Galaxy demonstrates a rather robust awareness of its audience, as its main character, Watashi, often explicates and defends himself, be it his failed college exploits or social awkwardness, unnecessarily to the viewer.
As a result, there is a subtle duality to Watashi’s words. True, our protagonist’s relationship with the stoic and sharp tongued Akashi seems largely unresolved to the benefit of the show. Yet the greater romance of the series was Watashi’s pursuit of that rose colored campus life, a love that is arguably just as important as the sweetness of a fated green summer day. One must not easily forget that for a story that so obviously places two fated lovers besides each other, it makes no illusion just what Watashi is far more obsessed with. Remember, in pursuit for his perfect two years, Watashi goes as far as choosing a lifeless doll over Akashi.
As Watashi comes to term with the infinite possibilities of his imperfect life and breaks free from his galaxy of tatami mats, we, the viewers, come to calmly accept, as Watashi does, that this story of his is incomplete, and it is better for it, as nothing would be more boring than to have Watashi’s dreams of a perfect life fulfilled. That is the aesthetic value of the series, and, through visual persuasion, we are convinced of it.
Our last example comes from Eden: It’s an Endless World. The main character Elijah Ballard and a young policewoman Miriam Arona are in bed together and discuss the events that have led to them coming together.
Authors often apologize for many things: killing off characters, taking stories in the wrong direction, not satisfying the majority audience with the right romantic couple. But these apologies are almost always public, and even fewer of them are as poignant and regretful as this. Here, Hiroki Endo comes as close to a somber, private, and genuine apology as I have ever seen in a manga to date.
The world of Eden is a battered and gritty world, a world where the slimmest glimpse of hope is brutally taken from beneath us. Disease, artificial or otherwise, is rampant, while racial, ethnic, and political violence disenfranchise the many in favor of the few. Even those who walk the path of justice find themselves making despicable decisions. Elijah, through which both the reader and author have come to witness atrocities that have wounded the heart many times too many, expresses Endo’s empathy to the audience.
It is here where the reader learns that Eden is not truly about gratuitous violence, not about the egregious effects of indulging in drugs, not about the capricious state of life, not about finding a means of achieving peace, and not even about the lives of lost children, crawling, walking, running through this endless desolate world, searching for a garden humanity has long been expelled from.
It is a mangaka’s apology, a subtle whimper, almost too soft to be perceived amid the flare of rockets and racketing of gunfire.
“There is death. There is suffering. I have indeed caused you much pain. However, two young souls have found each other tonight, and in a brief moment of solace, love, and compassion, they will find the strength to ride out this storm; they will find the end to this endless world.”