In Cell by Cell, I look deeply into the panels of an issue, appreciating and analyzing the story and artistic composition.
Pages 17-18 Overview
This is the last part of the B-story of the issue. The 2-page scene splices together two dramatic moments: when the Makoto Maki tells his wife about the job, and the reflection in the car afterward. The merging of the two scenes is created in the familiar 8-panel dialogue page structure.
The scene is packed with emotion: Yumi’s anger at what she feels is Makoto’s betrayal of their success and Makoto’s feelings of regret and entrapment. Use of color and lighting and the juxtaposition of the two different but related moments amplify the emotional impact to lead into the issue’s climactic moments.
Cell 1 and 2 give an establishing shot of the city split over two panels but continuous in the imagery. It’s reminiscent of the classic futuristic dystopia in Blade Runner, another setting that has off-world colonization. The city appears overcrowded, with elevated streets and tall buildings densely packed. Screens shine white on the gray, evidencing the advanced technology and importance of mediated message, while the familiar pink and blue color palette tints the asphalt. Yellow is added to the long shots, picking up the yellow in Yumi’s jacket and Makoto’s skin tone. The yellow suggests a third category to the compliant/non-compliant dichotomy symbolized in the prevalent blue/red (pink) palette. This couple finds themselves uncomfortably jockeying to stay compliant, but ultimately they’re being marginalized to another space altogether.
The outside city is also given a halftone dot, perhaps to draw attention to the constructed nature of it. I don’t mean the physical brick and mortar but rather the manufactured, shared understanding of community, civilization, and society. The Fathers maintain the rules and values of their society, most evident in the dense population of the city.
Cell 3 begins the dialogue with Yumi not knowing what to say but holding her ears as though she simply cannot stand to hear what Makoto is saying to her. She sits in a subtle shadow, giving her a grayed-out quality, but not putting her in darkness. It makes her skin tone look sickly, like the whole conversation nauseates her.
Cell 4 changes the setting entirely. It’s unclear when this panel occurs in relation to the last one, but it seems to be afterward, giving us Makoto’s reflective processing of the discussion with Yumi. The exact temporal placement is less important than the emotional conflict about his relationships with wife and daughter that the car ride contains. Outside the car is the halftone city, but Makoto is separate from this, inside his car. His face expresses distress at his situation, and he faces right, indicating his movement towards fate and change. He is conflicted about building the arena, but he’s continuing toward that future and whatever it may bring.
Yumi starting in cell 5 faces slightly to the left, showing her desire to keep things status quo, to avoid the future this job will bring. She holds her eyes shut and her hands over her heart, expressing how closed off she is to the idea. “Makoto, I am begging you…do not do this.” His hand reaches out to her, indicating that we are in his point-of-view and suggesting that this is a memory he’s replaying while riding in the car. He wants to connect with her, hold her hand, confront this difficult situation together. Her body language refuses that connection. He (and she) will deal with this challenge alone.
In cell 6, back in the car, Makoto is engulfed in night’s darkness. In practical terms, his car is traveling under street lights, washing the interior in light one panel and throwing it into darkness the next. Symbolically, the change of light and dark on Makoto’s face emphasizes his internal conflict. He knows Yumi is right that the job brings with it the risk of losing the stability and success they’ve built. But he cannot refuse the opportunity to see Meiko. It may be the only one he ever has. (Sadly, he won’t even get that.) Light reflects off his glasses for a highly stylized effect. It both looks striking and suggests what he sees being important. The first-person point-of-view on Yumi in the flashback, the family picture in cells 15 and 16, and the possibility of seeing Meiko again, in-person.
Makoto attempts to explain how imperative it is he do this, but Yumi’s having none of it in cell 7. She puts her hands up as if to block or even push back the idea and shows her emotional upset through the strain on her face. She becomes more aggressive verbally in getting Makoto to back down from the job. I can’t imagine Josephson’s wife putting up a fight like this. This clarifies their relationship–far more egalitarian than society would approve of.
In cell 8, Makoto’s uncommon behavior has caused his driver to ask if he’s okay. He reassures the driver then asks to take the bridge. Perhaps this is a longer route to his destination, giving him more time to process. His face now points left, although his eyes point forward at the driver. If the bridge is a longer route, this is a moment of wanting to escape the decision he’s made. But the bridge is also a symbolic threshold to his future, and he continues to move forward in the plan.
Cells 1 and 2 are re-establishing shots of Makoto’s car traveling through the city, this time closer to the street, presumably on the bridge he told his driver to take.
In cell 3, the argument with Yumi continues. Now her hand is covering her mouth with a fist. The fist shows her anger, becoming explosive, needing to be controlled. She holds her upset close in. But it will spill out in yelling or crying, though not violence–that would be non-compliant to an extreme. That would be the kind of response that lands a person on the A.C.O. She calls Makoto weak and selfish. It’s a low dig, meant to shame him into backing away from the job.
Reflecting in the car in cell 4, Makoto is back in darkness. His distress and pain are intense.
Cells 5 and 6 present the climax of this scene. Yumi demands to know why Makoto has to take this job. Here we get the reveal–Meiko is his daughter. Makoto holds a family picture to the side. In the companion reflection panel, Makoto holds his head in his hands, overwhelmed by emotion, needing comfort but only being able to comfort himself.
Cell 7 gives an insert shot of the family portrait in Makoto’s hands. Yumi and Makoto are joined by two girls. Cell 8 closes in further, focusing on Makoto and the older girl, holding a violin, clearly Meiko. The happiness glows from their smiles. It is a time of innocence for both of them, before the rules of compliance pulled them apart. Makoto misses her, maybe even feels he needs to make amends.
He’ll never get the chance.