It may seem dubious to analyse a random spread from a manga, as the genre normally requires seeing an image within the context of the whole book. But with Yokoyama's work it seems appropriate, as he is specifically interested in "what happened before and after the moment" (Yokoyama, 2013), not in linear narratives involving distinct beginnings, climax points and endings. His works are often 'chains' with strong connections between the neighbouring images, but little to no cohesive storyline overall. This is also the case with 'Color Engineering' (2011): in terms of plot, it is only clear that a group of people is going somewhere, and what they do on their journey is naming what they see around them; other than that, little is happening. In the spread above, the people are seeing a board and a pipe, and their dialogue develops as follows:
- There is a board on top so that you can walk across.
- I bet you also walked across it?
- I saw this upstream. Another pipe.
- This is where the river enters the pipe.
Yokoyama plays a frustrating trick: he seems to be giving a full explanation of what is seen - first visually, then textually, - but this process of denomination only forces us to confront the ultimate impossibility of any understanding. Any hint of a narrative is abruptly interrupted: when one of the characters asks if there is life in the water, the other replies, "I thought so too, so I took some underwater photographs". As soon as the reader starts expecting some story about underwater life, the character bluntly says: "This is what it looked like underwater. There's nothing". Yokoyama suggests seeing time as a flow of disconnected, discrete present moments that only have a cause and effect, but no 'purpose', 'origin' or 'meaning', thus embracing the Buddhist vision of time as 'Existence-Time' (Dogen Zenji, 1240).
Thierry Groensteen might have called this type of abstract comics "infranarrative" (Groensteen, 2013, p.9), i.e., presenting a sequence of images not forming a "story". And yet Yokoyama's work seems to be quite different from, let's say, a strip "Papa" (2009) by Daniel Blancou (Fig.2) which Groensteen gives as an example of an infranarrative comic (Groensteen, 2013, p.18): if "Papa" invites the reader to make their own connections between panels, as if giving the reader a quiz to solve, Yokoyama's work deliberately rejects any possibilities of a "story" in a conventional sense.
Yokoyama seems to be questioning the very premises of sense-making: 'meaning' is no longer a result of some mental calculation performed by the reader. His "story" is not centered around the reader at all. Rather, it is focussed on movement, change and time as such, and just dryly documents these shifts. Henri Bergson noted that movement as such is an infinitely divisible set of transitions from one point to another (Bergson, 1896), and similarly, Yokoyama presents his narrative as an infinite movement in which only the neighboring points are recognisable, but not the whole route.
John Berger explains that linear perspective arranges the visible world around the viewer (Berger, 1972). Similarly, it could be argued that a linear narrative, with a 'character', a 'plot' arranges the text around the reader. In this sense, Yokoyama's work suggests a drastically different approach to arranging time and space: "A Japanese ancient artist draws a shrine all in parallel lines. Its perspective is different from the Western’s. It is not a human’s perspective. I didn’t like that human-ness" (Yokoyama, 2013). Having studied oil painting and Western art in the university, and having ventually rejected it ("This is not what Eastern people should do. We can’t win", (Yokoyama, 2013)), Yokoyama directly points at the connection of 'human-ness' with 'Western-ness', and at how the notion of a 'human' was constructed, - also through Western painting tradition.
This vision of space as 'human-like' or 'non-human-like', as well as Yokoyama's personal preference towards the latter, is also reflected in a juxtaposition of handdrawn images to a sudden photo, that startles with its utmost specificity, sheer 'realness' and also — ultimate mundaneity and even 'ugliness'. Only the viewer can notice the shift, as the dialogue between the characters continues without interruptions. This part of the narrative is addressed to the audience conscious of the juxtaposition between a highly 'realistic' photodocumentation of an object with its 'Western' vision of a fact, and a drawing dismissing linear perspective and lighting.
Even the characters are hardly 'humans' in Yokoyama's work. Ryan Holmberg, who analysed the audial space of Yokoyama's work, comments on the dryness of the language and typography used in speech bubbles — in contrast to his widely used expressive onomotopeia for the surroundings: "machines, nature, and inanimate objects dominate his aural universe; they are the only entities allowed to have expressive sonic characters, i.e. “voices”" (Holmberg, 2017)
Yokoyama's world is devoid of human presence that it deems to be boring and predictable. Is he, with his instantly recognisable style, present in his world himself though? If he is, in this world he definitely occupies the position of a prophet, or a Zen master who suggests a koan to his students — by pointing at a board and asking: 'I bet you also walked across it?'