February’s Final Denouement: The mysterious use of screentone in OEL.

February 1, 2010

Because of a random comment that occurred while looking at pages from King of RPG’s, I found myself taking a closer look at the use of screentone in manga the past couple of weeks. Essentially the comment was that something about the way OEL uses screen tone feels different from manga which it is supposed to be derived from. But what exactly was the difference, well, that required closer inspection, thus I type before you now.

Screentone use in manga I came to feel, or realize, was lending texture, pattern, the idea of color, or providing emphasis or deemphasis as it may be, and even creating mood. The characters themselves were often devoid of tone, except maybe a pattern on their clothing or perhaps their hair, with little shading.

And shading is where I started to feel the difference. Screentone in manga is used more flatly, whereas in OEL there is depth emerging. Characters in the foreground were not being given pattern with screentone, but instead were being shaded extensively with it in OEL. When screentone was showing up in the background of manga, it was more for pushing back the image in order to let the foreground characters pop. It was also lending a mood or feeling to the events occurring on the page. Contrastly in OEL, backgrounds were becoming less abstract with more of an emphasis on perspective. OEL is attempting to create a more multidimensional space using screentone as the central tool.

Randomly, I feel that digital screentone is still working the kinks out. This method is quite popular in OEL. I won’t say I can always tell when it is being used, but it can be easier to pinpoint. There is such a crispness to the lines when working completely on the computer that it becomes more obviously manufactured. There is a disconnect from the slight fuzziness that happens when scanning in a work of art.

Since all artists have their own styles and quirks there are always going to be exceptions and incidents here and there. But I think I have come to grasp some of the basic general uses of screentone in manga and OEL and the differences that can be seen. While I can’t say what has caused OEL to move in this direction, perhaps it is just a western emphasis on a more realistic aesthetic. The more I looked, the more I came to find OEL to have this emerging stylization even if only by accident.


  1. […] though, through the keen of eye of the Reverse Thief Narutaki, my suspicions have been confirmed, and I now fully understand why OEL screentones had been […]

  2. Huh. So “OEL manga” isn’t just blind mimickry; there’s actually distinctive style traits developing.

    Still wish it wouldn’t get called “manga.” The distinction is artificial anyway. The matter at hand is what makes good (and popular and profitable) comics.

    • @Shay Guy

      I agree, I hate the term OEL, it is purely a marketing ploy, but that’s what the kids are calling it these days!

  3. I’d really like to see the “OEL” style develop and become more refined over time, particularly in the use of screentones AS shading.

    After all, the concept of using screentones as shadows isn’t inherently bad, it’s just that it tends to get overused. Over time I think we’ll see people become more experienced in its use, while also understanding the concept of overuse and how to avoid it.

  4. Japanese is good at anime.

  5. I kind of think it comes with the notion that tone ‘replaces’ color instead of it being its own thing. also, I’ve seen in many oel , that ink work (or felling confident in just the inks) is a lot less refined so when we get to the pc with its infinite crtlZ we try to fill the canvas or make up for areas that are lacking.

    At lest thats how me and my friend feels. right now I’m not toning my pages and since then I’ve gotten better in where to spot my details. I know that when I do go back to tone, I wont have that weird dependency to ‘fill the page’.

    granted though, toning as shading is fine and its not like we’re working with expensive hand tone or very tight deadlines.

  6. […] is a tag-team blog, but we do go solo on occasion like Narutaki’s post about screentone use in OEL and Hisui’s thoughts on the popularity of childhood friends and incest in […]

  7. […] talked about some of the reasons why I think this happens, and Narutaki over at the Reverse Thieves pointed out the abuse of screentone in a lot of OEL titles. But I think there’s a more inherent cultural difference, one […]

  8. […] every chapter being it’s own arc.  I am curious how Narutaki would say this series fits into his theories on OEL manga. Overall it has the same slow but deliberate pace I remember. There is a sense in movement in […]

  9. […] fans, I feel like there is an obsession with “realism.” In OEL manga for instance, a great amount of attention is put on screentones for smooth shading and for perspective in building backgrounds. With fan artists, perhaps this […]

  10. […] 2011 I will admit I have little understanding of what is actually popular on this site other than Narutaki talking about graphic design and Narutaki talking about sex. This explains the fact that when we retired the Manga of the Month […]

  11. […] out ways to best utilize their monochrome palette, including strong usages of negative space and creative application of screentones. Yes, if they had the money to afford full color back then, none of this might have ever happened. […]

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