This article is in dedication to Irina. Thank you for your support!
[Going forward, I want to thank people in a more concrete way when they mention my blog or nominate it for things. I decided that a good way to do that was to make content I thought they specifically would enjoy. As such, this is an extra article to the standard 2 – 3 minimum per month.]
When we grow up, the majority of our time is spent in schools: institutions meant for education. They’re designed to give children a foundation of knowledge to stand on while also simultaneously teaching them how to behave in the world. It’s in schools that people learn to interact and communicate with their peers and mentors; developing bonds and the ability to empathize. That is the intended result. A result that doesn’t always come to pass.
For one reason or another, and sometimes even without one, children can be isolated from their peers and the world. Regardless of whether it’s self-isolation, ostracization, or somewhere in between, it happens. Isolation in of itself takes many forms. It isn’t merely the number of people around you that dictates whether you’re isolated or not. The experiences you’ve been through, your outlook on life; they can create a barrier that allows no entry. How do you connect with people who are perceptibly so unlike you?
“They haven’t gone through what I have. They don’t understand me.”
Or is it the opposite?
“I don’t understand them. I don’t understand the world.”
Perhaps you’ve experienced that yourself. Perhaps you continue to experience it. I believe everyone has at least once, even if only in a small way.
The manga I’ll be discussing today is called From Now On We Begin Ethics. For the most part, it’s an episodic manga with every chapter presenting a student who is struggling in some way. The common link is their teacher, Takayanagi, and his class on ethics.
I bring up this manga in particular because of how close to home it can hit. Each chapter feels as if someone’s life story is being poured out onto the page. I found myself in more than one chapter and saw friends in others. It didn’t make me feel vulnerable though. Honestly, it was a bit relieving. To not be understood, or worse yet to be misunderstood, is a tragic thing. In that same vein, the realization that someone does understand is akin to taking weight off your shoulders. I’m almost certain you’ll be able to find yourself in it too.
I don’t just mean that you’ll find a parallel to your own experiences (though you’ll do that too). Takayanagi’s words will find their way to you personally. You’ll feel as if he’s speaking to you.
There are quite a few themes littered around but two are generally prominent:
“Your feelings aren’t wrong.”
“Finding your own answer.”
The former is something every character and person in real life should hear. We are human. That isn’t an excuse to use when we make mistakes. It’s something we admit to ourselves so that we’re humble. We’ve all felt jealous of a person and what they have. At times, we’ve even come to hate people. That doesn’t make you a bad person. Those emotions define you as human. What you choose to do with your emotions defines you as you. Never forget why you feel a certain way.
The latter is similarly important. Our lives are filled with choices and we rarely have the luxury of time to decide which choice is correct. Only in hindsight can we see the full picture. Thus, we’re always left with regret; regret we shouldn’t have. We question our actions and how we live our life; desperately searching for the correct answer. Of course, there’s no one correct answer. This can leave us clinging to the answer another person has found for themselves. The only one who can ultimately decide who is correct is ourselves.
The themes I just discussed aren’t new or avant garde; neither are my explanations of them. Actually, they’re both pretty basic and I recognize that. What elevates it is the actual dialogue itself. Given that Takayanagi is teaching, he brings up several quotes from famous philosophers and explains the meaning of them. However, he also brings the hypothetical into reality, expounding on the psychological and sociological effects of living by an old adage.
What can we learn from it (in terms of writing)?
I’ve rewritten this several times and couldn’t come to a satisfying singular answer. Everything I concluded was purely based on emotion and I wasn’t sure I could even frame it subjectively so as to point out how you could benefit your writing. That’s when I remembered that not every literary device was entirely objective. There’s one device in particular that I always hesitate to bring up precisely because of that: tone.
Tone is a very difficult thing to purposefully implement as it usually comes off too strong. The question of how to implement it is even more difficult and quickly breaks down into a discussion about diction more than anything else. It’s easier to point to examples when instructing, though this can fall flat when the example isn’t understood. This is far from the fault of the learner and an inevitability of the fact that everyone processes information differently.
Nevertheless, I believe wholeheartedly that Shiori Amase, the mangaka, brilliantly uses tone to its fullest potential. While she likes to provide answers through Takayanagi, it never comes across as an absolute. Following the theme of “finding your own answer,” never does the manga make you think that you’re wrong. Rather, it encourages different ways of thinking that may conjunct or diverge with your own.
To capture tone as wonderfully as she does, you need to remind yourself what your manga is about. What’s the core theme and not just this arc’s theme? In the end, From Now On We Begin Ethics isn’t a guide to your life. It isn’t something you learn how to act from, it’s something you learn how to think from; hence ethics. If you do this as Shiroi does, it’ll reflect subtly in your writing. If you don’t feel like the tone you’re trying to capture is represented enough, have some people read through it blind first. Then, if you don’t get the comments you want, you can be more hands-on and purposeful with tone’s implementation.
For those who plan to read it, and I highly recommend you do, be advised that it contains mature content. Bullying, drug abuse, suicide attempts, nonconsensual sex, mental illness, and domestic abuse are part of the currently released stories. The manga is not completed as of the date published. Read with care. Also, please remember what I said before. Takayanagi’s actions aren’t always in line with what you should do. This manga is about ethics first and foremost, not medical care.