A Never-Before-Seen Manga Exhibition

The exhibition "Manga Realities - Exploring the Art of Japanese Comics Today" was organized by the Japan Foundation and Art Tower Mito to be shown overseas. Prior to the tour, it was unveiled at the Contemporary Art Gallery of Art Tower Mito in Ibaraki Prefecture from August 14 to September 26, 2010. Mizuki Takahashi, curator of the museum's Contemporary Art Center, and Hideki Toyoshima of gm projects, who worked on spatial design, put together a show which allowed the visitors to experience the depth and potential of manga expression, without the use of original drawings and explanatory panels, but instead through interactive installations created to capture the unique world of each work. The following is an interview between Takahashi and Toyoshima as well as Soichiro Suzuki, a manga editor at the publishing house Shogakukan.
(Moderator: Yasuko Furuichi of the Japan Foundation's Visual Arts Section, Arts and Culture Department)


Creating an unprecedented manga exhibition

──Please give us your impressions of the exhibition based on your respective roles. Mr. Suzuki, as a seasoned manga editor at Shogakukan, you helped us in negotiating the participation of Solanin by Inio Asano, Children of the Sea by Daisuke Igarashi and No. 5 by Taiyo Matsumoto and in planning the displays. How do you feel after seeing the exhibit?

SUZUKI: I may not have too much to contribute, since I joined the preparation midway. But I feel that it has turned out to be a very exciting show. Manga is a medium that is meant to be read. It is not easy to adapt into an exhibition, where visitors experience the works in a real-life setting. When I first met Ms. Takahashi, she said, "The best way to convey the magic of manga is to line up comic books and have the visitors read them." I was relieved to know that she understood the difficulties, and appreciated that she was still determined to take on the great challenge of putting together an exhibition.

In the past I have worked on planning a number of exhibitions. Basically, most of them focused on displaying original drawings. They were an enjoyable experience for general readers, who rarely have the chance to see a manga artist's drawings or studio. But I wasn't sure if the unique world of a certain manga work could be fully represented through the original drawings alone. Something was missing.

When I heard about the success of Inoue Takehiko: The Last Manga Exhibition and that it consisted of brand new drawings and exhibits that used the entire space, my honest reaction was, "they beat me." Since then, I had always been thinking about a project that would surpass that exhibition. So it was exciting to be asked to join this project that focused on installations.

──Ms. Takahashi, you worked on the project as a curator. What are your thoughts?

201011-02.jpgTAKAHASHI: Mr. Suzuki offered his advice on a number of occasions during the preparation. On the second or third time we met, he said that if he had known about the project from the start, he would definitely have said it would be difficult and even impossible. I kept chewing over his words on every step of the way.

As he says, a manga exhibition is hard to put together. I have also seen other manga exhibitions, so I understand what Mr. Suzuki means when he says something is missing. Manga covers a wide spectrum of expressions. For instance, there have been shows focusing on alternative manga like those serialized in Garo (a magazine published from 1964 to 2002 by Seirindo that turned out many talented manga artists such as Shigeru Mizuki), or seeking to theorize manga by showcasing it next to contemporary art. But they were not quite effective in conveying the straightforward charms of manga. Manga is appealing in many ways that cannot be grasped in terms of art. For one thing, it's entertainment. So in this exhibition, I wanted to capture the elation we feel when we read manga.

──Mr. Toyoshima, you were responsible for spatial design, or turning 2D works into 3D representations, while incorporating the views and wishes of the curator and editors. How do you feel about the exhibition?

TOYOSHIMA: I considered my role in this exhibition to be that of a coordinator. Basically, I took the key part of each work and expanded it to fit the space. But this doesn't mean I simply translated 2D into 3D. I always kept in mind that this is an exhibition of manga. I work mostly in the world of art, where there is a formula for taking an expression other than art and extracting the artistic element inside it for staging in an artistic context. But I didn't want to adapt manga into art the way you would adapt it into film or anime. This time I wanted to preserve the medium's original form while presenting its new possibilities.

201011-03.jpgPersonally, I think manga is an untamed form of expression. All too often, you see an art or history museum approaching works of manga as if they were stuffed animals. Instead of getting visitors to just look at a neat row of zoological specimens, I wanted to get their minds to jump into the wild element of manga. So this project was a big challenge for me. I also learned how busy manga artists are. But when I actually talked with them, many had really specific ideas. I realized that the deeper you get involved with them, the more exciting the exhibits turn out to be.

SUZUKI: I agree. The conventional treating of manga as art might have created the feeling that something is missing. By framing original drawings or hanging them on the wall as panels, you're trying to turn them into paintings. Perhaps this exhibition presents manga more like contemporary art. The spaces themselves are installations where the visitors can experience the works.

TOYOSHIMA: Speaking of art, Takehiko Inoue's exhibition was a solo show, whereas this project is a joint exhibition that doesn't conclude with just one work. So I thought the visitors should be served a course meal, where fine dishes are presented at appropriate places. It would be off balance if one main dish after another kept coming and the visitors quickly became full. Perhaps this rule can also be applied to editing manga magazines.

TAKAHASHI: Just as some manga lovers feel art is hard to approach, some art lovers hardly read manga. But I think manga and art are similar in the way they allow people to experience unknown worlds and different cultures. For example, I felt like learning more about the French Revolution after reading "The Rose of Versailles," and listening to classical music after reading "The Window of Orpheus." Likewise, we become interested in science and society through art. In this sense, manga and art fulfill the same function. Instead of making a distinction between sophistication and entertainment, you have more fun if you enjoy both. With this exhibition, I wanted to build a bridge between art and manga. When the show travels overseas, I hope it will be enjoyed not only by manga lovers but also by those who like art.

An exhibition where manga returns to manga

TAKAHASHI: Another big challenge was producing the manga guidebook. I am looking forward to seeing the people's reaction. Actually, I had once dreamed of becoming a manga editor, but I am glad I didn't become one. It was really hard work to produce just one book.

Exhibition guidebook in manga explaining the features of each work. Manga created by Tomohiko Tanida

TOYOSHIMA: I suggested producing a manga guidebook because this is an exhibition of manga, not art. I thought it would be ideal to return to manga in the end. The visitors would proceed while reading the guidebook. A situation where everyone is standing and reading never happens at art exhibitions. I felt it would so befit a manga exhibition.

TAKAHASHI: Many visitors sat down at the desks set up in the classroom for The World God Only Knows exhibit. And that was really fun because everyone looked as if they were studying hard.

SUZUKI: I was surprised to see the style of lending books to the visitors. It was new to me. When I heard that the guidebook would be published in manga, I expected it to be for sale. But actually it was available for people to read for free.

TAKAHASHI: Yes, we are big-hearted. But actually, a lot of visitors have bought the book at the museum shop. I think we did okay if people actually wanted to buy a book they had already read for free.


TAKAHASHI: Personally, it meant a lot to me to see how hard it is to produce manga, although I was able to experience just a small part of the effort it takes to make a magazine or book. I was amazed at the publishing environment of Japan that enables manga - a product of extremely sophisticated teamwork - to be bought for only a few hundred yen. Not only when I saw the artists creating manga, but also when I saw the editors supporting them and the engineers working at the print shop did I realize manga is a composite art form.

Visitors reading the manga guidebook in the installation for The World God Only Knows

Manga expressions and critiques since 2000

──The nine manga works chosen for the exhibition emerged after 2000. Do you feel any consistency unique to the era from these works?

TAKAHASHI: Umm... Perhaps the fact that I sense no consistency is unique to the 21st century. The number of works has exploded, but none in itself has achieved the status of "manga on a national scale" that creates a knockout social phenomenon or is read by everybody in the classroom. Instead, genres are becoming even more segmentalized to meet the diversifying needs of manga fans.

Also, it should be noted that with the advance of information technology after 2000 and the rise of digital media such as the iPad and Kindle, distribution channels other than paper media are beginning to take root. I feel that manga is adapting to and growing in different directions, like ameba. There may be short-lived trends in manga for the "otaku" (enthusiasts with an obsessive interest in anime and manga) which strongly focus on the characters, but it is difficult to identify traits common to this time period.

SUZUKI: As Ms. Takahashi points out, manga readers are becoming increasingly segmentalized. We in the publishing industry call this "fragmentation" or "octopus-pot syndrome (narrow outlook)." And it poses a challenge to those of us on the creating side. When I first met you, Ms. Takahashi, I remember you stressing "manga expression after the year 2000." But to tell you the truth, the idea of new manga since 2000 didn't ring a bell.

TAKAHASHI: I admit, manga in its entirety is becoming really hard to grasp. If I had to cite one characteristic of manga created after 2000, I would have to say that the barrier between girls' and boys' manga has disappeared in terms of expression. Although we didn't feature boys' love (*1) manga in this show, we mentioned it briefly in the catalog which we will publish in the near future.

──Could this mean that youth culture since 2000 has become so diversified to the extent it is elusive? In a related talk yesterday, critics Tamaki Saito and Go Ito wondered whether it is possible to theorize the overlapping elements between art and manga. I understand you usually put together contemporary art exhibitions, Ms. Takahashi. What do you think about this?

TAKAHASHI: Hearing Mr. Ito's lecture, I came to think that in theory, iconology, or the study of interpreting images, which I studied in art history, and today's manga criticism employ very similar methods. Except manga might incorporate the element of film critique, or that of sociology in terms of reflecting on the lifestyles of youths in Japan. This means that we are given diverse perspectives through manga.

201011-06.jpgBooks written by French critics frequently refer to art when discussing manga. This is hard to do in Japan. At one point, a movement emerged that linked picture scrolls like the Choju-giga animal caricatures (*2) and manga. But then the mood swung back when critics warned against the patriotic ideology of stressing that Japan was the birthplace of manga, and it stalled. Problems like these may be keeping people from discussing art and manga--both media that use pictures - in the same light.

SUZUKI: We often hear that a culture will not grow unless it is established into a genre and receives criticism. In this sense, I don't think manga criticism has yet been established. The recent rise of young critics and their drawing attention is a favorable trend, but we have yet to see a charismatic critic whose praise will affect sales. As it stands, those of us producing manga and critics have little to do with each other. As a measure of the genre's maturity, I'd like to see more active studies and criticism.

TAKAHASHI: Each week, vast amounts of manga are published. But there is a time lag until critiques appear a month or six months later. Still, by reading those written by Junzo Ishiko of old, and by Osamu Hashimoto, Yoshihiro Yonezawa, Fusanosuke Natsume and Go Ito, we learn about old manga we have not read or overlooked. With such an enormous number of manga titles beyond our grasp, it is very important to rediscover fine works through the reviews of critics.

We could simply regard manga as mass-produced, quickly consumed products. But in today's infinitely growing market, where foreign artists are drawing in Japanese manga-style and artists are presenting their works online instead of through publishers, the job of critics is to discover and introduce fine works that are worth discussing. I think criticism should exist for the sake of manga culture.

Globalization of manga

──This exhibition was organized to introduce manga, which is inseparable from modern Japanese culture, as well as the environment surrounding it, to overseas audiences. It is confirmed for the Artsonje Center in South Korea in December, and afterward scheduled to travel to Australia and the Philippines. Seven of the nine works featured in the show have already been published in the Korean language. Many are also published in English, but since they are translated for publication in North America, they are not available for instance in Australia. Japanese manga books are said to be popular internationally, so it would be interesting to see how this exhibition is received overseas. Mr. Suzuki, how is a Japanese manga assessed abroad?

201011-07.jpgSUZUKI: There's no doubt Japanese manga now enjoys wider recognition than in the past. Titles are sold at bookstores in any country, and we receive an increasing number of requests to publish translated versions. This exhibition does not cover globally major works such as One Piece and Naruto, but works by edgy artists such as Daisuke Igarashi and Taiyo Matsumoto have already been translated into English. Still, this does not mean that we can be optimistic and say Japanese manga holds supremacy in the world or that its future is bright. For instance, sales of manga magazines are falling in Japan partly due to the recession. Consequently, experimental and ambitious works have fewer chances to be published, making it difficult for new manga to emerge. On the one hand, Japanese manga is recognized worldwide and making good business. while it is stagnating in its home country. It's complicated. As an editor, I feel a sense of crisis. Nevertheless, the bottom line is always the same -creating entertaining manga.

──Ms. Takahashi and Mr. Toyoshima, what are the things you look forward to in the exhibition's tour to Korea?

TOYOSHIMA: For the exhibition in Japan, I started out by making use of the unique structure of the Contemporary Art Gallery. In each room, I wanted to capture the world of the respective works. That is the course meal I mentioned earlier.

But in Korea, I may not be able to offer the same course as in Mito. The tour could turn out to be like a one-pot dish where the content and taste change every time. The first was easy because it was the starting point. Hereon, I'm faced with the challenge of creating exhibits at each venue that retain the independence of the individual works and yet offer to visitors the overall experience of "the present state of manga expression."

TAKAHASHI: Actually, I am looking forward to seeing how the show will be received in Korea. It isn't that I am hoping for any particular type of response. But as I put together the exhibition, I am quite interested in how people in different countries will view and react to the exhibits.

Tour of the exhibition

No. 5 by Taiyo Matsumoto (Shogakukan 2000-2005)
Characters in the manga are depicted on eight huge panels encircling the visitors. Original drawings are placed flat on tables and covered with acrylic glass. Letters in the manga's speech bubbles are affixed one by one on the glass.


TAKAHASHI: For this section, the gallery's staff assembled dry transfer letters and rubbed them onto the glass to reproduce the speech bubbles. It is interesting because you can see the process of manga production, where you have the original drawings first and then add the letters onto them. This exhibit offers the element of experiencing manga publishing, which starts when the editor receives the original drawings from the manga artist, then the designers and DTP engineers join forces to create a book.

The World God Only Knows by Tamiki Wakaki (Shogakukan 2008-)
A major feature of this work is its metaphysical perspective of the otaku culture since 2000. The story is almost impossible to understand without some background knowledge. The exhibit is set up as a classroom for visitors to study the basics.


TOYOSHIMA: Now, this exhibit was difficult.

TAKAHASHI: It was, yes. The school classroom setting seemed to have a strong appeal to people who play "gal games" (*3) on a regular basis. Hidekazu Yoshida, the music critic and director of the museum, though, dropped by the other day and asked, "What is this?" Everything in the installation was completely new to him. So I explained to him about gal games and dating simulation games.

SUZUKI: You mean THE Hidekazu Yoshida came here? By the way, do the manga books displayed on the shelves mean something? I see titles like Urusei Yatsura.

TAKAHASHI: The manga artist, Mr. Wakaki, is a great fan of Rumiko Takahashi and was especially influenced by Urusei Yatsura. We explain in the lecture, or the narration aired in class, that the titles should be used as reference when reading Mr. Wakaki's works.

Children of the Sea by Daisuke Igarashi (Shogakukan 2006-)
Works by Daisuke Igarashi often focus on the relationship between nature and man. The exhibit inspired by marine life and the ocean takes advantage of the space's high ceiling to create an impression of looking up at the water's surface from the bottom of the sea.


TOYOSHIMA: One condition for Children of the Sea was to show the original drawings, so the point was how to present them. Since this room has the highest ceiling in the gallery, I likened the room to the sea. I displayed the original drawings on the seabed, and printed creatures of the sea symbolic of the manga on the surrounding cloth that looks like waves.

SUZUKI: I like the way the installation directly captures the world of the manga.

TAKAHASHI: It was the artist's idea to play whale songs in the background.

TOYOSHIMA: Mr. Igarashi gave us many other ideas, too.

TAKAHASHI: We wanted to print the pictures clearly on the cloth, but ran into problems with the moire (*4) effect. It emerged whenever we reduced or enlarged the original drawings.

SUZUKI: Moire became a big problem with digitalization. It's inevitable, since it's caused by the relationship between density of dots on the halftone screen and digital resolution. There are some countermeasures, but you can't erase it completely.

TAKAHASHI: I didn't know it was so common. It bothered us, too. At one point we'd developed a phobia for moire.

Sugar Sugar Rune by Moyoco Anno (Kodansha 2003-2007)
The decorative space reminiscent of popular fashion and cosmetics brands like Vivian Westwood and Anna Sui fits the manga that not only pays homage to works of the 1980s that focused on little witches but also incorporates an abundance of modern motifs.


TAKAHASHI: Ms. Anno extended full cooperation for this exhibit. She checked the overall balance of the space and drew all the detailed motifs herself. She even produced new sketches for the wallpaper.

TOYOSHIMA: I visited her at home and discussed the exhibit in detail.

TAKAHASHI: Manga with a sparkly-eyed girls from a while ago targeting young women are said to be influenced by the all-female Takarazuka Revue. The presentation does look like a theatrical backdrop.

SUZUKI: I like the three-dimensional effect. It is similar to the rococo style decor, but the planets and stars are clearly Moyoco Anno.

TAKAHASHI: Another thing about this show was that the staff from other departments of Art Tower Mito helped out on many occasions. Usually they are busy with their own projects and leave us art people to take care of art. But for this exhibition, many people from the theater and music departments offered to help, saying, "I love manga by Taiyo Matsumoto," and, "I am a big fan of Moyoco Anno." I realized anew that manga has the power to capture people's hearts.

BECK by Harold Sakuishi (Kodansha 1999-2008)
The installation captures the atmosphere of a live house that appears often in the work. Like the original that never relies on music, it depicts the work only through animated manga frames and lighting effects. Also on display are pictures on the front of each episode that pay homage to dust jackets of renowned albums.


TAKAHASHI: BECK was recently adapted into a live-action movie. Although it is a music manga, we chose not to use sound. I heard the lead character's song is not played in the movie either.

SUZUKI: You mean the viewers don't get to hear his singing voice?

TAKAHASHI: I guess they didn't want to ruin the image for readers of the manga book. The editor even told us not to play any actual sound in this exhibit. Come to think of it, there is no sound in manga. Apparently they took great pains to overcome this restriction and depict the feel of live concerts throughout the story.

It seems at one point they thought of compiling a whole book around live performance scenes. In the end they killed the idea, since it wouldn't sell on paper media, but they suggested it might work as an exhibit.

SUZUKI: It was hard to animate the written onomatopoeia in this exhibit.

TAKAHASHI: Only through the advance of video technology did we manage. computer controls even let us replicate the complex stage lighting.

Nodame Cantabile by Tomoko Ninomiya (Kodansha 2001-2010)
A Yamaha grand piano sits in the middle of a room with European-style decor. Masterpieces of classical music are played automatically every 30 minutes. Live performances by a pianist on weekends proved popular.


TAKAHASHI: Mr. Toyoshima came up with the idea of playing real piano music, and we asked Yamaha for support. This is the same model as the piano actually used in the drama version of Nodame Cantabile.

TOYOSHIMA: A pianist dressed as Mozart performs on the weekends. I heard it's quite popular.

TAKAHASHI: Being able to hear live music seems to appeal to people. Also, quite a few visitors said they want to buy the framed pictures printed on canvas. Not many visitors of art exhibitions say, "I want to buy that work." This could reflect the mindset of manga fans.

SUZUKI: You've displayed original storyboards in the case.

TAKAHASHI: For this exhibit, whether to show original drawings was an issue from the beginning. Personally, I think fans would be disappointed if they came to an exhibition and there were no original drawings at all. By seeing something you normally never see, you feel closer to the manga artist.

Perhaps original drawings aren't necessary for Nodame Cantabile, since the concept of the exhibit is clear. Just this simple concert room for chamber music may be sufficient. But I think we need to offer visitors some sort of connection.

Solanin by Inio Asano (Shogakukan 2005-2006)
Dialogues from the work line both sides of a long corridor. At the far end is a young man's room reminiscent of the single-room apartment occupied by the lead character. The interior conveys the band member's love for music, complete with photos taken by the manga artist for reference.


TAKAHASHI: Mr. Asano's installation was also difficult, since there were no original drawings as was the case with The World God Only Knows. Mr. Toyoshima came up with the idea of creating a small room. And I knew this was it.

201011-g07-2.jpgAlso, when I met Mr. Asano, he said, "My manga often uses dialogues in white on a black background." So we picked them out one by one and connected them. Together, they look like one long poem. When I see visitors around the same age as the lead character of Solanin absorbed in reading it, I wonder what's going through their mind.

──Many fans flocked to the talk show.

TAKAHASHI: I hear some asked questions like, "I recently ended a relationship. What should I do?"

──Mr. Asano's reply was quite good. He said things like, "It will work out sooner or later. You'll be okay."

SUZUKI: Where did you find the props for the room?

TAKAHASHI: I brought in some props myself, and others I found in storage at Art Tower Mito. I chose CDs and DVDs that would seem natural to Solanin fans. Reading some past interviews of Mr. Asano, I could tell that he likes music. That helped me in choosing the items.

Sennen Gaho by Machiko Kyo (Ohta Publishing Company 2008-)
Originally published online and having gained popularity through word of mouth, this manga captures the youthful feel of adolescence. The many layers of curtains, which leave a strong impression in the manga, in the installation evoke the image of a school classroom and nurse's office.


TAKAHASHI: Ms. Kyo has visited Mito Art Tower five times already.

SUZUKI: Is that so?

TAKAHASHI: A number of pictures on the wall are enlargements of sketches she drew especially for this exhibition. I'm glad that she liked the installation.

──The curtains are really beautiful.

TOYOSHIMA: When I suggested using the curtain in the book, at first she said no. I came up with some other ideas, but she said they didn't feel quite right. So I took a second shot with the idea of the curtains, and she said she will come over and take a look.

TAKAHASHI: Ms. Kyo was very careful about portraying the image of her work.

Five Minutes from the Station by Fusako Kuramochi (Shueisha 2007-)
The manga depicts the span of a few days in a certain town from the perspective of different characters. The frames are placed one by one in a labyrinth-like space along with key items such as a bow and arrow, target, and balloon. The world of the story unfolds with depth and rhythm.


TAKAHASHI: For this exhibit, I gathered about 10 staff members to cut out each frame. Mr. Toyoshima decided which frame should be pasted on which corner.

SUZUKI: I absolutely love this exhibit. It was a revelation to see manga presented in such a way. With online publication on cell phones, one frame at a time appears on screen. Many artists don't like this, but if they saw a presentation like this installation, they'd know that even one frame at a time can be quite effective.

TAKAHASHI: Working on this exhibit, I was surprised anew at how much information is packed into a single manga work. When we normally read manga, we can skip some parts and still follow the story. But when each frame is separated, we are reminded of the depth of manga expression.

Go Ito says, "The look in the character's eyes is very important in manga." For instance, a character would be looking intently at something in one frame, and what she or he is looking at would be revealed in the next frame. If it is a landscape it leads the readers to presume what the character is thinking. He explains, "The gaze has the function of drawing people to read on." When he saw Ms. Kuramochi's installation after the talk, he lamented over not seeing it beforehand. The exhibit seems to be quite effective even from a scholarly perspective.

TOYOSHIMA: Actually, there is one place where I changed the direction of the gaze. There are two frames where a man and a woman are facing each other. Originally, they were placed back to back. I switched sides so their gazes meet.

SUZUKI: The number of frames is incredible. Up to which volume did you use?

TOYOSHIMA: Up to the third volume. But I left out some parts. If we used all frames, we would have covered the walls entirely. I had to make visual impact a priority.

*1 Boys' love
A genre that focuses on relationships between teenaged boys. Often abbreviated BL, the theme appears not only in manga but also in novels, anime and video games. While some works deal with pure love akin to literary work, others are risqué to the point of being almost X-rated. The genre is evolving most in terms of modes of expression.

*2 Choju-giga
The national treasure Choju-jinbutsu-giga (Animal-person Caricatures) is a set of four picture scrolls belonging to Kozan-ji temple in Kyoto. Anthropomorphic rabbits, frogs and other animals depict the situation in human society from the end of the Heian Period (794-1185) to the early Kamakura Period (1185-1333). It is considered to be Japan's oldest manga.

*3 Gal games
A genre of video games focusing on beautiful girl characters in anime- and manga-style. Although games with pretty leading characters have existed prior to the 1990s, Princess Maker (Gainax) released in 1991 is the origin of today's gal games. Other leading gal games are Dokyusei (Classmates) released by ELF, and Tokimeki Memorial (Heartbeat Memorial) and Loveplus by Konami.

*4 Moire
A rippled pattern that emerges visually when regular patterns such as stripes and waves are superimposed on each other. Today, with digital expression entering the mainstream, the phenomena may occur due to the gap between pixel and frequency.

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