Saturday, 6 February 2010

The Future is Wild... and it is Manga!

My plans to write posts less frequently are thwarted (I've always wanted to use that word) by being spoilt for choice. Greenworld should be good for two posts, Avatar is nice, particularly the odd choices the designers made when it came to locomotion, some bandes dessinées deserve attention, etc.

I decided to continue with the Japanese theme a bit. I guess that readers who really like speculative biology will have come into contact with 'The Future is Wild' (TFIW); after all, there was a television series, there are books, there is theme park in France and there are websites. In fact, a commenter on the blog once expressed irritation with an overdose of 'The Future is Wild'. I sympathise with that, as I have felt the same from time to time. After a certain point you know the images and the animals, and repeated exposure to the same images or clips no longer excites the viewer. Apparently a new TV series is in the making as well as a cinema version, so there should be lots of new images.

This post is about the 'old' TFIW animals. In Japan they have turned it into a manga, or comic book, published by Futabasha. In several European countries, France foremost, comic books are regarded as an art form: the neuvième art (ninth art). Like films, their styles differ appreciably between countries, which adds to their enjoyment: 'bandes dessinées', 'comics' and manga are not the same at all. My knowledge of mangas is rather poor; it seems that almost anything can be turned into a manga, and TFIW was no exception.

Click to enlarge; copyright Takaaki Ogawa

This is its front cover. As you can see it mentions Dougal Dixon, John Adams and Takaaki Ogawa, who I gather is the artist, i.e., the mangaka. I picked up a copy through Ebay, but if you want to you can easily order it through Amazon in Japan, which has English pages. You may well wonder how you turn a documentary about animals into a manga. Easy: just add a story. That is what this book does. In fact, quite a few wildlife documentaries do exactly the same. There are about 250 pages, containing 8 stories as well as a glossary, and introduction and some other bits and ends. There is some anthropomorphism, in which animals' emotions are shown on their faces in a way recognisable to humans (by the way, the image language the Japanese use seems to differ a bit from European usage, but not so much that the message is lost -I think!-). But adding anthropomorphism is again not too dissimilar from what happens in some nature documentaries (the best do not). The various TFIW stories have different themes. I have picked out images from two stories.

One story deals with an individual adult toraton (I will assume you know your TFIW, and if not, the internet will provide). A young toraton disturbs a swampus, which bites it on the neck, and the startled youngster swings its head out of the way and accidentally pokes out one of the adult's eyes. That is the setting for the following page.

Click to enlarge; copyright Takaaki Ogawa

Mind you, manga are typically printed on somewhat grayish paper and aren't that big, meaning that the contrast of these scans is much better than what you see on the printed page. The images are quite large, so you can have a good look (but downloading might take time!). You can work out the story for yourselves: the young animal dies, and the adult has lost an eye (it later dies as well). Did I mention that you should learn to read right frames before left frames, in the reverse order you are used to? I might be wrong about the story line, not being able to read the text in Japanese. If I am, I hope that any Japanese readers will correct me. The reason to choose this picture was not primarily the sad story of one toraton's death; instead, there is an interesting scene in the foreground of the last frame. Here is a detail:

Click to enlarge; copyright Takaaki Ogawa

Stomatopods, my favourite! Mantis shrimps, and on land too! Were they in the TFIW documentary? I think not, otherwise I would probably have remembered. After all, they were the inspiration for Furahan hexapod predators, exhibiting centaurism. These mantis shrimps seem to be devouring a frog together, and as far as I know current mantis shrimps are firecely territorial. So these are social terrestrial mantis shrimps; impressive. I wonder what would hapen if squid and mantis shrimp somehow would make it onto dry land. Personally, I doubt terrestrial squid would have stood much of a chance: the squid have to develop a feasible mode of walking, and the mantis shrimp have that already. I wonder whether the mangaka added the stomatopods for his own amusement?

The remaining images are of the squibbon / megasquid story. I discussed the megasquid before, and decided that I did not think walking on tentacles was at all likely, and certainly not for something as large as a megasquid. For squibbons the story might be a bit different, but still they seem unlikely. But never mind that now.

Click to enlarge; copyright Takaaki Ogawa

This page I like for its graphical qualities. I can only guess that the story alludes to the squibbons possible intelligence; are they pondering the age of Earth or the size of the Universe?

Click to enlarge; copyright Takaaki Ogawa

Thirteen pages later there is this lone squibbon. being social animals, a lone squibbon is probably a sad squibbon.

Click to enlarge; copyright Takaaki Ogawa

The next page seems to show a happy ending: other squibbons offer bioluminescent thingies (fungi?).

Looking at TFIW in this way may take some getting used to, but I rather like it. Computer generated images still tend to look a bit stiff or awkward, and as long as they do so, I prefer drawings or paintings. Paintings are often much livelier and they also appeal to the imagination more than CGI renderings. This manga is lively, and, provided you increase the contrast, the graphic qualities of some pages and panels is good. I found that it does not matter that much that I cannot understand Japanese. I am obviously missing some information, but I certainly cannot complain about a lack of a sense of wonder: there is quite a bit of that.


Anonymous said...

Apparently there is not only a Japanese manga based on The Future Is Wild, but an amusement park as well (In Japan)! From what I've heard, the park was released after the documentary, but shut down soon after due to lack of popularity.

There is another Japanese speculative biology site I saw somewhere around the internet. It takes place a couple of million years from now, when the world is in the grip of a new ice age. Some of the creatures are a bit...unusual and unlikely to evolve (browsing flamingo, for example), but there were some other nice ideas present, like a species of hawk which has turned its alula into a sickle claw, and its wing finger into a hoof-like digit which helps stabilize it while it runs (not like full quadrupediality, more to help with steering and whatnot). But I cannot remember the website for the life of me.

Regarding stomatopods, are you aware that there is a speculative biology novel over here called Fragment that deals specifically with an island full of terrestrial stomatopods. The characterization was a bit poor, the plot was a bit dull, and the author had no grasp of how ecology and energy flow in ecosystems work, but it still had some good ideas.

I have read that there actually is a degree of socialization in stomatopods. Stomatopods are said to be able to recognize individuals, and so their reactions to other stomatopods vary from "kill on sight" to "tolerate, but be wary", sort of like what we see in other social and semi-social species like chimpanzees and some birds. The aggressiveness of stomatopods seems to be mostly due to their preferred habitat being so restricted (they prefer holes and crevices in coral), and so they are always on the lookout for someone trying to steal their home.

After seeing this website, the biomechanics presented in Avatar severely disappointed me. Despite almost ever animal on the planet having a hexapedal body plan, there was only one example of centaurism (in an animal that didn't even appear in the film), and all of the gaits of the animals were just quadrupedal gaits with the second pair of legs running in tandem with the first pair. There was no tripedal gaits, even in the big herbivores where such a gait could be expected to help support the body. It really enforced the fact that these were just Earth animals painted blue with an extra pair of legs stapled on.

Anonymous said...

What kind of disappointed me about The Future is Wild was the severe lack of diversity shown, especially in species-rich habitats like the forests of 200 MYF. I can understand that they could only show a few species for the documentary, a la Walking With Dinosaurs, but all of these adaptations of the program (this manga, the Discovery Kids cartoon) just shows the same thirty or so animals over and over again. Those stomatopods in the comic are the first creatures I've seen added to the TFIW-verse since the documentary aired. And since the program seems to feature an inordinate amount of time on the French rainforests of 200 MYF, it seems kind of off that its just the same five organisms (squibbon, megasquid, forest flish, the lichentrees, and the slime mold) over and over again, in an environment that normally has a huge diversity of animals. Where are the hawk-flish, the chevrotain or mouse deer-like squid, or the ocelot-like squids?

Sigmund Nastrazzurro said...

Hi Anonymous,

(Are you one of the anonymouses who posted before?).

In my slow ponderous way I was working up to an structured case criticising Pandoran hexpods, and there you go and steal the limelight...

But you are quite right: why did the Avatar designers, with unlimited funds, have to chose the silliest of all ways to move with six legs?

I will still write that post, but will have to bolster my reasoning with solid arguments (if I can formulate them convincingly, that is). I am not telling you what these arguments are, or else I'll have nothing left to post.

puyamaster said...

I have this book.
It is interesting, but can be seen in an unnatural part and too anthropomorphic animals.

Pavel I. Volkov said...

Got it!
Here it is a link to Japanese site dedicated to past, present, and FUTURE inhabitants of Earth!
5 MY in the future:
50 MY in the future:
100 MY in the future:
200 MY in the future:
Creatures are very funny...

Sigmund Nastrazzurro said...

'Anonymous', is the website Pavel found the one you meant as well? It is quite something!

OK, some of the animals are fanciful and unlikely rather than serious, but I like that combination a lot better than serious and unlikely.

And that latter combination will be discussed here. Shortly.

Meanwhile, I wish I spoke Japanese. And I am starting to wonder what I am missing by not even being able to read Chinese either...

Anonymous said...

Yeah, that's the one. Only saw the 5 MYF one though.

j. w. bjerk said...

i look forward to discussing Avatar. Certainly flawed, but better creature design than most movies

Anonymous said...

So cool! Scientists are talking about a global ocean in 200 million years time. The ocean is so massive that from space some views would show the earth as pure blue orb of ocean. Check out at: and