Some kishoutenketsu resources

I grew up reading manga but didn’t learn about kishoutenketsu, 起承転結, the narrative structure that governs most (all?) manga until several years ago. Since then, I’ve been fascinated with the structure (even spent a whole year studying it), analyzing manga for it while also experimenting with how to bring it to life in written form.

Below is a list of some of the resources I’ve found over the years with some notes on each, a sort of annotated bibliography I suppose. (Not sure how often I’ll update this though…)

*

still eating oranges | tumblr

A resource that many folks refer to at the beginning of their research on kishoutenketsu. I rather prefer the descriptions of the four “acts.” Though the notes on post-modern philosophy don’t quite resonate with me, their note on how Western structure typically involves a “face-off … in which one element must prevail over another” did.

Japan Intercultural Consulting

Expands on what makes kishoutenketsu hard for non-Japanese to understand (and perhaps even define, which I still have trouble doing) through the frame of business communication.

Twist in kishōtenketsu vs. twist in Western plots | Stack Exchange

I thought the main answer touched on an interesting difference in the function of the conclusion act – where in kishoutenketsu, “ketsu is the sum of all parts” whereas in typical Western narrative structures, “Act 4 is based almost completely on act 3.” This has resonated with me in that, to me, Western stories have a more “linear” feel, whereas kishoutenketsu-structured stories (be it manga or anime, etc.) have to me a more “piecing together” feel.

Kishōtenketsu for Beginners – An Introduction to Four Act Story Structure | Mythic Scribes

In most articles, “ten” is described as a “twist.” What I found interesting about this post was how they described “ten” as a “reveal.”

Super Mario 3D World’s 4 Step Level Design | youtube

I found Game Maker’s Toolkit analysis of kishoutenketsu as applied to video games a refreshing way to look at the structure. Here, “ten” is described as a part in the stage where “the concept is turned on its head in some way, to either challenge your mastery or to make you think about it from a fresh perspective.” This description of a “fresh perspective” is one that has resonated with me while reading manga (ex. in sports manga, switching perspectives to the opposing team).

Disarm | Pedro Reyes

To be honest, I’m not sure how I came across this artist or this particular project, but it was reading their example of Matsuo Bashô in the description of this piece that I realized the “additive” nature of the “ten” in kishoutenketsu.

SMAC! The Silent Manga Audition Community | youtube

Honestly a wonderful channel in general for learning about creating manga and writing in general. They expand on each of the 4 parts of kishoutenketsu, paying special attention to “ten” and “ketsu,” which they define as “twist” and “conclusion,” respectively.

There were two lines that made me pause. In #050:

The important point we’d like you to pay attention to is the importance of the twist panel. Because something “unexpected” happens, as a “twisted” extension of “the expected” from previous development, it works as a great anticipation builder rather than just some random shocker events.

To be honest, at first I thought this was a contradiction – all my research up til now had noted how “ten” seemed like something completely unrelated to “ki” and “sho”, and thus causes a shock for those expecting a more linear, Western structure.

It wasn’t until I heard this line in #051, describing the lead up to the twist, that things started to make more sense:

This “charging up” effect to make the release more exciting is called “tame” or creating “ma” in Japanese.

Ma is often defined as “empty space” (jisho.org translates it as “interval, space”), and is used in words such as “time” (時間). The thing about emptiness is that it is the absence of something – it is defined by the contrast between it (emptiness) and the things around it (not empty).

So perhaps what makes the twist so unexpected is its “ma” – the emptiness that it forces the reader to go through before getting to the other side, the conclusion brought by “ketsu,” the vantage point from where the full form of the story can be witnessed.

Inside the Story Issue 2 | wayback machine

I felt particular resonance with these lines contrasting Western structure with kishoutenketsu:

In one structure the reader’s enjoyment comes from the tension built during conflict and the release during triumph. In the other, enjoyment comes from the mystery of juxtaposition and the satisfaction of understanding the harmony of the whole.

Perhaps if Western structure is like a set of train tracks, could the “ten” in kishoutenketsu – through its change of perspective, twist of expectations, introduction of emptiness – function to dislodge the reader momentarily off of the train tracks, so as to experience not only the tracks but also its place in the countryside as well…?

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