Have I ever told you how much I hate manga? Because it’s a lot. Same goes for its more active cousin, anime.
No, that’s unfair. Actually, there’s some superb anime out there. Grave of the Fireflies is one of the most affecting anti-war statements ever committed to film. Akira remains a classic of animation. Many of Studio Ghibli’s fine products should be viewed by Disney with a notepad in hand because that’s how you do family-friendly fantasy.
No, what I hate is all these annoying Western teenagers who think that it’s the greatest, nay the only style of cartoon out there. I once heard one, in all seriousness, suggest that the illustrations in an English children’s book written in the 1950s were “anime-style.” They get most upset if you point out that anime and manga were heavily influenced by American cartoons (hence the fact that all the characters look surprisingly Western for Japanese folk).
And don’t even get me started on all these wannabe-artists who claim to draw in the “anime style.” Pictures drawn by such people tend to have a forced look about them. I’m talking dead-looking eyes and stilted, lifeless “action” poses. Word to the wise: if you can’t draw full stop, you can’t draw manga. If I’m asked to admire one more weeaboo’s crappy drawing with its eyes on two different levels and Photoshop filters like they wuz going out of style, I’m going to kill the nearest person to me. These artists either can’t take criticism or remain oblivious to it. Spend a few minutes around Deviantart to see the sort of artwork I’m talking about or, better still, slam your hand in a desk drawer for a more fun experience.
HOWEVER, the British Museum had not let me down. The Museum has a rotating exhibition by its front entrance called “Objects in Focus.” This is an agreeable way to spend part of a lunch hour if you’re in Bloomsbury. Objects in Focus is a room in which an unusual object will be placed on display. Past examples have included a Sami magic drum and a shrine to Iranian wrestler Takhti. The display will explain what the object is, its history and its cultural context. It’s a bite-size display that won’t ruin your appetite.
This was one of those. Admittedly they did feel the need to put posters advertising it outside, unlike most of their Objects in Context, but still.
The manga in question is called Professor Munakata’s British Museum Adventure by Yukinobu Hoshino, and the display consisted of a number of pages from this work, which I understand is soon to be published. Professor Munakata is my kinda hero. He’s an intellectual sort, rather withdrawn and a little bit sad, who goes around solving mysteries in ancient history. This, so says the exhibition, is a rare instance of his leaving Japan.
If you take a look at the panels above, though, you’ll see that manga itself, done properly, is superb. Contrary to the beliefs of Deviantart’s residents, manga is not simply “comics for people who can’t draw.” The panels of Professor Munakata himself there express a massive amount about the character. The detail that Hoshino puts into the artefacts he draws is impressive, and never looks out of place next to the manga-styled characters.
The exhibition gives you a little background to the comic, its creator and manga as a whole, and I feel that I learnt a little something about the symbolism of an artform that, if I’m honest, I often tend to dismiss. I blame Deviantart.