Japanese comic writer and artist, Naoki Urasawa, is widely regarded as one of the most influential creators in Japanese comics alive today due to his various successful comics, prowess in visual storytelling, and stunning art. Pluto, his 2003 re-imagining of the iconic Osama Tezuka work, Mighty Atom (Astro Boy), displays his art at its finest. In the first chapter of Pluto, Urasawa demonstrates his understanding of light and perspective through two specific panels. These panels use light, shadow, and perspective to create effects distinct in each. Perhaps coincidentally, both effects are created through the shadow of a window.
The stronger of the two is the first panel. Noticing the use of shadow in this image and how it helps to signify what the reader is to understand from the image, I was curious what the effect would if the panel was removed from the context of sequential images and if the shadow was removed.
Standing alone and without shadow, two significant things have been lost. The first is the understanding that behind the camera exists a world that contains a window, projecting a shadow onto the subjects face, and the second is the almost nauseating sense of the camera’s height. We have discussed the use of the gutter and how our minds continue to assume a world to exist outside of the panel, even when it has no physical representation on the page. In removing the shadow it became clear that Urasawa took advantage of what can be understood to exist outside of the panel. We are never shown the window behind the camera or the sun behind the window, but we are shown the effects of these things that we have to accept do not exist.
This, almost violation, of the idea that what exists within a panel is what is shown also creates a sense of height. we immediately understand that we are looking down on a subject, and that behind us is a window. These two understandings together creates a sense of physical mid-air suspension for the camera, and thus the reader. This effect is amplified in the context of the page itself, when the following panel backs up from the subject and the panels after that ease the uncomfortable sensation of mid-air suspension.
The second panel uses similar techniques but to different effects, which were made clear after removing the shadow.
In this instance, one function of the shadow from the window is used to direct the eye to the subjects. The edges of each shadow from the window point towards the subjects and lock them into the center of the image. The other function of this shadow is to create a sense of depth. Our eyes see the window in the background and understand that it is behind the subjects, yet we also see the shadow on the ground. We relate these two back together and understand the depth of the room these two are in, in such a way that we can project ourselves into that room because of something so fundamentally natural it is immediately recognizable. We can see where the ground and floor meet, but much like strong characterization, having something that is understandable on an inherent level as a human resonates better with a reader than being given an assortment of lines we decipher as an image. Shadows are important for realistic lighting, but these images go beyond that and use them in ways that capture authentic human sensibilities.