--> Motion Lines - Japanese with Anime
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Saturday, March 28, 2020

Motion Lines

In manga and anime, "motion lines," dousen 動線, are lines used to show the motion of an object. They're particularly used in manga to make otherwise static panels appear dynamic.

Example of motion lines, ryuusen 流線, showing the trajectory of boxing punches.
Manga: Ashita no Joe あしたのジョー (Volume 1, Page 89)

Trajectory Lines

The basic type of motion lines are those used to show the trajectory of objects by depicting their afterimage.

Example of motion lines, ryuusen 流線, used in manga.
Manga: Naruto ナルト (Chapter 5, 油断大敵)
  • Context: Naruto ナルト fights Kakashi カカシ.
  • In the first panel, Kakashi quickly squats to evade Naruto's kick.
  • We know this because of the vertical lines were drawn over Kakashi.
  • Without them, Kakashi would be just sitting there for a while and then Naruto just kicks the air for some reason.

Turning Lines

One common, specific kind of trajectory line are those drawn like curves when something turns around. Usually, they're drawn when a character turns their head to look at something.

ちらちら
Manga: Gabriel DropOut, ガヴリールドロップアウト (Chapter 4)
  • Context: Kurumizawa Satanichia McDowell 胡桃沢=サタニキア=マクドウェル makes sure she's not being seen by anyone.
  • chira chira
    ちらちら
    *glancing around*

・・・・・・・・・つらいか・・・・・・
Manga: Fist of the North Star, Hokuto no Ken 北斗の拳 (Chapter 1, 心の叫びの巻)
  • Context: Kenshirou ケンシロウ asks a girl how is life.
  • .........tsurai ka......
    ・・・・・・・・・つらいか・・・・・・
    Is it tough?
  • *shakes head*
    • kubi wo yoko ni furu
      首を横に振る
      To shake [one's] head horizontally. (a gesture that means "no.")
    • kubi

      Neck. (can also mean head in some cases.)

An example of turning lines over the whole body:

おっぱい♬ おおお♬ おおっぱい
Manga: Yondemasu yo, Azazel-san. よんでますよ、アザゼルさん。 (Chapter 1, 悪魔を喚ぶ男)
  • Context: a perverted demon dances.
  • oppai♬ ooo♬ oppai
    おっぱい♬ おおお♬ おっぱい
    Boobs♬ boo... boobs.

Walking Smoke

Although rather dated, in some cases smoke or dust is drawn to symbolize a character's walking steps.

Example of smoke or dust coming out of a character steps, showing they're walking.
Manga: Ashita no Joe あしたのジョー (Volume 1, Page 109)

Speed Lines

The "speed lines," or supiido-sen スピード線, are lines drawn on the background to express a sense of speed. These are also called ryuusen 流線, "flow lines."

Besides the lines on the background, sometimes lines are drawn over a character, in some cases replacing their contour, in order to make them look like they're blurring from moving quickly.

速い
Manga: One Punch Man (Chapter 10)
  • hayai!
    速い!
    [He] is fast!

Explosion Lines

Motion lines drawn from a center point to all corners of a panel are used to depict a strong impact or other powerful force, like an explosion.

Example of effect lines drawn to depict the force of an explosion.
Manga: Zatch Bell!, Konjiki no Gash!! 金色のガッシュ!! (Chapter 5, 道具か人間か!?)

Note, however, that most of the time this sort of effect doesn't depict movement in manga, but focus or emphasis instead. These would be called "focus lines," shuuchuu-sen 集中線, instead.

Camera Lines

Some lines drawn on the background of panels represent not the movement of objects inside the panel, or the movement of the background, but the movement of the camera looking at the scene.

Naturally, there's no actual camera. It's a not a film. It's a panel. But the scenes drawn on those panels are being seen through the perspective of something, the perspective of the narrator, the narrative perspective. Let's just say that perspective is the camera.

To have a better idea of how the motion of the camera is represented in manga, an example:

うお!? !?なんじゃこりゃあ!! ぶ!!
Manga: Fullmetal Alchemist, Hagane no Renkinjutsushi 鋼の錬金術師 (Chapter 4, 車上の戦い)
  • Context: Edward Elric エドワード・エルリック uses alchemy to knot a gun.
  • uo!?
    うお!?
    Oof!?
    • In this panel, lines make the edges of the panel darker, so the center is brighter and looks like an explosion.
  • !? nanja korya!!
    !?なんじゃこりゃ!!
    What is this!? (emotive right-dislocation.)
    • In this panel, the character that was previously crouching slightly now stands up straight in surprise, so his head is higher than before.
    • Instead of drawing speed lines coming from his chin downwards, the author drew speed lines on the top of panel, indicating that the camera looked upwards to see his face.
  • bu!!
    ぶ!!
    *hurt noises*
    • In this panel, lines were drawn diagonally in the background, which means the camera either followed Edward's foot going to the bad guy's face, or it's following the bad guy flying away diagonally.

The second panel is layout-wise at the left to the first panel, so the eye of the reader goes left. However, in the scene, the object in the second panel is higher than in the first panel, so the camera goes up.

The lines drawn at the edges of the panels can depict the correct shift of the camera no matter how the panels are laid out in the page.

Stirring Lines

In some cases, lines that look like speed lines are drawn in situations where objects aren't really moving at all. Instead, they express force, excitement, tension, agitation, or other intense feelings of the character.

君はヒーローになれる
Manga: Boku no Hero Academia, 僕のヒーローアカデミア (Chapter 1, 緑谷出久︰オリジン)
  • Context: you can hear the screaming in these vertical lines.
  • kimi wa hiiro ni nareru
    君はヒーローになれる
    You can become a hero.

がんばれ がんばれ! がんばれ
Manga: Kimetsu no Yaiba 鬼滅の刃 (Chapter 50, 機能回復訓練・後編)
  • Context: Kamado Tanjirou 竈門炭治郎 attempts to make a gourd explode by blowing air into it.
    • The first panel has the so-called "focus lines."
    • The second and third panel have vertical lines depicting intense emotion.
  • ganbare, ganbare! ganbare
    がんばれ がんばれ! がんばれ
    [You can do it! Hang in there!] (etc.)
    • ganbare is the meireikei 命令形 of ganbaru 頑張る.
    • ganbaru
      頑張る
      To put effort. To work hard. To do one's best. To hang in there.

In anime, these are literally drawn moving, even though, again, nothing is moving.

An example of lines drawn running vertically to express the excitement of a character.
Anime: Mahoujin Guruguru 魔法陣グルグル (2017) (Episode 1)
  • Actual footage.

Note that vertical lines drawn dripping from the top the panel generally mean the character is feeling down instead. These would be called "dripping lines," tare-sen たれ線.

Wobbling Lines

The "trembling lines," furue-sen 震え線, or "wavering lines," yure-sen 揺れ線, are lines drawn around objects, rather than coming from inside of them, to depict that they're moving around slightly, but staying at the same place.

This includes wobbling, shaking , trembling, and so on.

Examples of motion lines depicting wobbling movement.
Manga: Initial D, 頭文字D (Chapter 5, リベンジ宣言!! 吠える13Bターボ)
  • In the first pair of panels, a hand turns left and right to let drip the water from the cup.
  • In the second pair, a hand manipulates an alarm clock.
  • In the third panel, a character's head wobbles as he washes his face.

These curved contours can also be used to depict an objecting enlarging or shrinking over time.

Shaking Lines

When an object is shaking erratically, the contour is drawn shaky, too. The shakier the contour, the shakier the object is shaking.

Agatsuma Zenitsu 我妻善逸, scared.
Anime: Kimetsu no Yaiba 鬼滅の刃 (Episode 11)
  • Context: Agatsuma Zenitsu 我妻善逸 trembles with fear.

It's worth noting that there are two types of shaking lines:
  1. The type that represents motion, movement. Objects shaking. This type is commonly drawn in manga, but not in anime, because the movement can simply be animated in anime.
  2. The type that represents emotion, feeling. Characters shaking in fear, shock, excitement. This type is commonly drawn EVEN IN ANIME, because it's a symbol for the character's mental state.

Stiff Lines

Usually, trembling lines are drawn as curves, because the object bends and turns around. When the lines are drawn as straight, segmented lines, it depicts some sort of stiff trembling.

This can happen when the object is incapable of bending, like it's made out of metal, for example.

Example of straight motion lines used to depict the stiff trembling of a lamp post.
Manga: Ashita no Joe あしたのジョー (Volume 1, Page 110)
  • The lamp post, made out of metal, stiffly trembles as the girl climbs it.

It also happens when characters stiffen up, when they become suddenly tense, or they're putting effort or force into keeping still.

ドキッ
Manga: Karakai Jouzu no Takagi-san からかい上手の高木さん (Chapter 1, 消しゴム)
  • Context: a boy stiffens up after a girl turns her head to look at him.
  • doki'
    ドキ
    *thump*

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