I love the way you move, Butter!!!

Butter!!!, manga, dance, Haba Takahiro

“I guess the basic difference is that animation is sequential in time but not spatially juxtaposed as comics are. Each successive frame of a movie is projected on exactly the same space – the screen – while each frame of comics must occupy a different space.”

-Scott McCloud, “Understanding Comics”

Anime, and animation in general, has it easy sometimes, specifically in its ability to portray movement as opposed to a drawn medium like manga. This isn’t to say that manga is unable to show the reader how its subjects move; however, it has to work a bit more to be effective.

Butter!!! is a manga written by Tomoko Yamashita about dance, and therefore is required to show its readers movement without actually moving, much like Nodame Cantabile has to find a way to immerse readers in music without them hearing it or Drops of God must somehow represent taste without its audience tasting the wines in question. The latter two manga fall back on metaphor and the characters’ emotional state to communicate sound and taste respectively to their readers. While Butter!!! does express its characters’ feelings through their participation in ballroom dancing, it doesn’t rely on them to communicate their often frenzied and awkward actions to its audience. Instead, it shows the reader through juxtaposition and space.

Butter!!!, dance manga, ballroom dance, haba, natsu

In the scene above, Natsu Oginome has suddenly grabbed Haba Takahiro and pulled him abruptly into a dance. Neither of them are experienced, and the manga does an excellent job of showing how haphazard their movements are on the floor. The quick cut in the center panel – between the close up shots on the right and the larger dancing example on the left – shows Natsu planting her foot firmly down before she leaps, giving more weight to the energy that she then puts into dragging Haba along with her.

butter!!!, manga, dance, ballroom dance, haba takashiro, natsu oginome

The same weight to the dance is given in this scene above. Again, Butter!!! is placing panels of Natsu and Haba planting their feet before exerting energy into moving. What is especially effective about the scene above is how the two shots of their feet – the upper right panel followed by the bottom panel – frame the upper left panel of the dance itself. In both examples, Butter!!! gives a weightlessness to the movement of the dance by showing how much force is exerted on the ground prior to taking those steps. Throughout the entirety of Natsu and Haba’s dance, movement is shown by panels like this, demonstrating the sloppiness of their dance and immersing the reader in their mobility.

Butter!!!, dance, ballroom dance,

Butter!!! also has the ability to communicate a more fluid form of dance, as shown above. In this example, the pair dancing is composed of the two most experienced in the group. Their movements are far more precise, although they are likely moving as quickly as Natsu and Haba did. Butter!!! separates this scene into three distinct spaces which use the faces of the main couple and their position in relation to their in-universe audience to demonstrate a turn. The speed of the dance remains, while the wildness that Natsu and Haba displayed in the first example is completely absent. As your eyes move down this page, it seems as if the couple is moving, thanks to the purposeful positioning in each panel.

For me, this attention to detail in simulating movement through still panels makes Butter!!! far more effective at exemplifying dance than Nodame Cantabile is at immersing its reader in music, or Drops of God at communicating taste. Where the other two would continue to rely on metaphor if animated, Butter!!!‘s focus on dance would be literally translated through the act of animating it.

Animation is a series of pictures that, when put together in a sequence, appear as motion through time; however, manga must rely on the separation of its still frames to show elapsed time. More importantly, in addition to the passage of time, these same still drawings must also portray movement. It’s the restrictions that are placed on Butter!!! through the medium of manga that make it so successful and enjoyable to read.

2 comments

  1. Not to nitpick, but Nodame Cantabile does an excellent job of showcasing the music–at least in S1–ALONGSIDE its metaphors. I would hazard, however, that processing prowess in movement is something for which we are more readily wired as humans than say, understanding music on a more-than-emotional level.

    Not that this isn’t an excellent post examining how Butter!! manages to make movement a part of its pages. Now for extra-credit, compare it to say, Bleach, or One Piece.🙂

    1. Yes.

      My only push back to you would be that, as you hint at, movement is processed differently by the mind than music. In my opinion, when one hears music, they tend to assign an emotion to it, especially within the context of a television series, therefore metaphor is used to channel a specific emotion at that time. The dialogue is then written around supporting this. However, movement is all too often something that simply exists. People see movement, or see something in motion on their screen (as opposed to stills in a book) and may not give it any other thought beyond the function. Of course, having a manga that’s about dance, which is designed to communicate emotion through movement, helps to overcome this; however, as I mentioned in the comment above, the thing that strikes me the most is how a comic specifically can overcome the inability to actually move, as an animated version of the same story would.

      Additionally, I’m of the opinion that the Nodame drama conveys that particular story the best. If you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend it. ^ ^

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