Art-chitecture: Taboo-Tattoo chapter one

These past 4 days, I’ve been searching unsuccessfully for new manga to read. I like action series with cute girls, so I looked for works in that vein, but time and again I was confronted by failures in illustrating action. Finally, I stumbled across Taboo-Tattoo by Shinjirou, an exciting new series that works to show exactly where all of the others failed.


I'll be using this fight from the first chapter as my sample.


The most important element of effective fight scenes is spacial coordination. Many artists only focus on fighting poses and don’t establish the arena itself. Because of this, it can be hard to tell where characters are standing or how their attacks are effecting one-another.

For the reader to understand that a character has lept into the air or been knocked to the ground, it’s necessary to establish a horizon line. We don’t necessarily need to see the ground beneath the character’s feet, but we need an implication of the ground to gauge their position. Too many times, I’ve seen shots of characters from below that give no sense of exactly how high up the character is.

In this scene, a number of wide-angle images are used to establish the size of the warehouse and distance between the characters. Both characters are shown together in just about every image so that we never lose track of where they are in relationship to one-another—this is vital in a fight scene! If a character is depicted alone, we assume that the other character has remained stationary. If this doesn’t turn to be the case, it can be horribly confusing!

As an example of how not to coordinate, here’s the first page of Yoneyama Shiwo‘s Bloody Cross, one of the manga that I passed up; it has a lot of problems.

Another important aspect of a fight scene is the sizing of panels. Big movements require big panels. On the Bloody Cross page, a demon is apparently taking off into the air in the second panel. The demon is a large and detailed creature, making it nearly impossible to distinguish his full frame in such a tiny panel. The lack of a horizon line makes it hard to tell that he’s even jumping (I was clued in by the “leap” sound effect.) Worst of all, the panel is only large enough to show him just getting off the ground, yet in the next panel, he’s already high up in the air. Everything seems to be working against a proper comprehension of the situation.

Meanwhile, in Taboo-Tattoo, the sizing arrangements are perfect. Cranking an arm back for a punch doesn’t need much space if the person about to be punched is remaining stationary, but something like a throw needs enough space to depict the positions of both characters in relationship to the environment.

Perhaps the best moment is when Seiji narrowly gets inside of Lizzie’s punch, and it’s depicted in a large panel. This is a simple move, but requires a lot of information to process, and the large size also gives it a proper sense of drama.

What I really love about Taboo-Tattoo’s fights are their fluidity. Shinjirou brings the fights to life by depicting every single movement of the characters. Each frame sets the stage for the next one—a character gets hit, and we see them knocked across the room while the opponent readies for the next attack, then that attack happens, but then maybe the other character blocks it—we see all the steps in-between the attacks rather than just the dramatic blows.

It’s possible to draw an excellent fight without worrying much about fluidity. For example, in Boichi‘s Sun-Ken Rock, the fights are more about big, dramatic poses that punctuate each move, and almost every image is likely to be an actual attack. These fights work, but aren’t the kind I prefer.

The Taboo-Tattoo style isn’t as immediately useful for characterization as the Sun-Ken Rock style is. In the latter, we can tell how much of a badass the character is just from a single image, and each move has a dramatic ‘weight’ to it that lets us interpret fights emotionally. Meanwhile, the fluid style works in a long-term sense. One attack from Lizzie doesn’t make her a badass, but watching as she unleashes attacks in rapid succession and continually overpowers Seiji lets her level of asskicking sink in.

Taboo-Tatto grabbed my attention with it’s lengthy first chapter and I hope to see a lot more of Lizzie in the fighting rink. I also hope that the length of this post makes up for its lateness. I think I’ll be on time this Wednesday, since a new chapter of my favorite manga just came out!

(Taboo-Tattoo images taken from Simple Scans scanslation, Sun-Ken Rock images from Random Scanslations, and Bloody Cross from Vagrant Scans).

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