What is Manga? To us in London it may be a refined graphic style; to those in Japan it is a key part of the culture, a style of cartooning developed in the 19th century which combines art, action and adventure in a world which may be of today, or of the future or of some other fantasy world. Apparently, the market for Manga books is immense, worldwide running into several $billions.
The traditional style is graphic black and white and, even though colour has now been introduced, it still fits within that framework.
It’s Manga month in London with two exhibitions opening, one at the British Museum and one here at Japan House in Kensington displaying the art of the internationally famous Manga artist URASAWA Naoki with the energetic animated illustrations of several of his stories, some of which have been made into films, including YAWARAI, MONSTER AND 20th Century Boys.
The exhibition, which starts with window displays leading to a small pavilion upstairs and then moving to the larger gallery space downstairs, demonstrates that Manga is not just cartoon art, but it links into, and reflects, the culture of the country, which is why so many people identify with it. Manga may be a fantasy world, but it is a world that people can identify with – and perhaps wish to escape from. It’s Disney with a spiritual edge, which Disney’s early cartoons used to have, and which perhaps we need to find again in the confusing and conflicting world of the 21st century.
Perhaps Manga will save us from the future?