Manga: Three Generations
Manga, literally translated as ‘pictures run riot’, is a form of sequential art that is basically made of a narrative sequence of images. The artistic origins of manga derive from two traditional literary practices, traditional Japanese narrative handscrolls dating from the twelfth century onwards, and printed books, especially the low cost illustrated novels (kibiyôshi) printed in the eighteenth and nineteenth century. Manga in the 20th century reflects many international currents. And today it is big business. The Japanese manga industry in one year during 2014 generated approximately 2.5 billion pounds. Manga in a variety of forms is increasingly becoming popular in Europe. New technologies will only help to facilitate manga’s popularity in Europe and America.
The British Museum has embarked on an ambition programme of collecting and curating manga with the aim of a major display in 2018. This autumn an Asahi Shimbun display titled Manga now, three generations was held and attracted over 92,000 visitors.
The display focused on three artists, Chiba Tetsuya (b. 1939) the grandmaster of manga world, Hoshino Yukinobu (b. 1954) the well-known Science Fiction specialist who created Professor Munakata’s British Museum Adventure and Nakamura Hikaru (b. 1984) who has recently taken the manga world by storm with her depictions of Jesus and Buddha living in contemporary Tokyo. The lecture I gave at the Decmeber Third Thursday Lecture series examined the creation of this exhibition which I curated with my fellow colleagues at the Museum, and these three artists to reveal a slice of what is happening with manga now in Japan.
The Asahi Shimbun Display Manga now: three generations, explored manga’s diverse appeal through specially commissioned pieces by the three aforementioned contemporary manga artists. To celebrate the display, the exhibition’s three curators had each interviewed one of the featured manga artists.
In the first interview, Head of Japanese collections Tim Clark interviewed Chiba Tetsuya – the leading master of manga in Japan. Born in Tokyo in 1939, Chiba Tetsuya has been creating best-selling works for over 50 years. He specialises in sports manga, in which an individual overcomes obstacles, experiences failure and finds eventual redemption. Chiba Tetsuya has a particular passion for golf and is known for his series Stay Fine (Ashita tenki ni naare), which tells the story of the Japanese golfer Mukai Taiyō’s journey from humble origins to the Open Championship at St Andrews. For this British Museum display, Chiba Tetsuya created a one-off scene of this young Japanese golfer crouching to contemplate a difficult putt on the green of Fair Isle Lighthouse Keepers golf course – one of the most remote courses in the world.
Chiba explained that his working practice is making repeated visits to understand his subject and create his characters. He describes his manga as always having ‘a human storyline intertwined with a particular sport.’ To develop his series Stay Fine, for example, he travelled to and played at the St Andrew’s Old Course. ‘Based on my personal experience, the Old Course played a pivotal role in Stay Fine.’
Interestingly, he was not the sporty type in his youths. ‘To be honest when I was young I did not have much to do with sports. But at one point I became unwell in my 20s for two years, from working too many long hours on manga, and I ended up staying at home. Then an editor asked me to try to write a baseball manga, which then I knew little about. He took me outside and we started throwing a ball around for a few hours. That evening I slept well for the first time in years and have not looked back since.’
The second manga artist is a specialist in science fiction and mystery manga, Hoshino Yukinobu. He has recently created a new series Rainman, first published in Big Comic in June 2015. The display features a portrait of Rainman’s protagonist Taki Amamiya, who, through an accident of birth can unintentionally see the dead.
One of Hoshino Yukinobu’s most enduring characters is the crime-fighting anthropologist Professor Munakata, who appeared in his own British Museum adventure in 2011. He is also working on this new series Rainman. The new series is a slight departure from his more well-known narratives: ‘I have been creating manga with themes ranging from science and space to Japanese history. What I had been interested in even long before then provides the basis of Rainman. That is to say the issue of human consciousness, the soul, life and death. No one can ignore these issues. It appears to me that the scientific and spiritual worlds are getting very close through quantum physics today. I am hoping to get these two worlds to connect in Rainman.
The final of the three interviews is on the up-and-coming manga artist Nakamura Hikaru. Her series Saint Onisanfollows the adventures of Jesus and Buddha as two young men on their gap year in Japan and has already garnered a cult following.
Combining metaphysical dilemmas with playful humour, this manga sees the two divine beings confronted with the problems of everyday life in suburban Tokyo. Individual episodes see them negotiating the Tokyo Metro during rush hour and exploring how Christmas is celebrated in Japan. The camera shy Nakamura Hikaru talks in the interview about her inspiration for the series, the effect digital technology she has had to adopt in accommodating her tight deadline schedules and domestic life as a mother.
The exhibition included a number of related events, which brought 100,000 people through the Asahi Shimbun Display room including many new audiences. The record number of visitors to the room demonstrated the shifting attitudes at national and institutional levels regarding manga and a positive reception for the proposal for a more comprehensive exhibition in 2018 at the British Museum.
Nicole Coolidge Rousmaniere
Research Director, Sainsbury Institute