An exhibition highlighting parts of Japanese popular culture is not to be overlooked. Though going in I didn’t really know what to expect or how much there would be to see. Just knowing that all these pieces that have influenced not only each other but popular culture in Japan and abroad makes quite an impression. This is going on til mid June so we figured if you haven’t seen it yet maybe you will after this!
I like anime, manga, and video games so this exhibit seemed right up my alley. I usually go into exhibits like these with guarded expectations. You never know when the person who put together the exhibit is an expert on the subject or someone who is catering to demand in the market. I was also a little worried because all three subjects are interconnected but very different. With an exhibit like this I want to get something out of it. I want to either learn something new or gain some greater insight about something I already knew about.
As you enter you see original manga pages, tankubons, and a variety of other things behind half bubble cases as well as laying flat in displays throughout the room. In the center of the first room is also a structure that houses many, many volumes of manga that you can go inside as if immersing yourself in the works. The layout and presentation of these first two rooms give a modern, hip look to the exhibit. I was pleasantly surprised to see such a wide variety of manga, it sets a great tone. Many of the pieces here were much lesser known, but all contributed something or atleast showed the range that manga can claim. Each one displayed a unique style punctuated by the very geometric New Engineering and the simplistic and sketchy Mu: For Sale.
Pure Trance – Junko Mizuno
New Engineering – Yuichi Yokoyama
Afro Samurai – Takashi Okazaki
Sakuran – Moyoco Anno
Tekkon Kinkurito – Taiyo Matsumoto
Stop!! Hibari-kun! – Hisashi Eguchi
Five Star Stories – Mamoru Nagano
Mu: For Sale – Hitoshi Odajima
This was without a doubt the best section of the exhibit. It was the most fleshed out and best put together. There was an excellent range of manga from very high conceptual and experiential art manga to bubblegum pop manga. I would have liked to see some pre-80’s manga in the mix but it still has a good range. The genres were shonen, shojo, and seinen. Also Moyoco Anno has a strong josei feel with Sakuran despite it being from Evening. They even throw in a mecha manga. You have to give them points for that. You don’t have to show every niche of manga to show that manga has so many different things to offer. The panels picked gave you a good sense of what each was about and why they were picked for the exhibit. The side plaques for the manga were also very well done and added additional insight. I really wish that they had just expanded this section three times as large and made it the whole exhibit.
As you leave the bright manga section you pass through a hall and into the darkly painted video game room that consists of four televisions, one in each corner, and a tabletop game of Pac-Man and Galaga in the center. Along the walls are plaques to give you a little info and some of the original packaging along with game systems (SNES and Game Cube). This is of course the most interactive section since you can play all the games being talked about. Though beyond that it is a rather sparse and incredibly incomplete look. Certainly The Wind Waker in the Zelda series was unique and innovative but there have been many interesting achievements since yet that was the most modern game there. I am not even sure what theme was and having a few more titles would have helped establish one.
This is the beginning of the weaker parts of the exhibit. This seems thrown in because video games are more mainstream than anime and manga. They picked four very popular video games with no real rhyme or reason that I could see. There were so many better picks that could have been in the exhibit. They could have picked games that tied into the other two major sections. Atleast throw in an J-RPG like Final Fantasy or Dragon Quest, a fighting game like Street Fighter, and a non-hentai visual novel, or something from the Metal Gear series. They are very iconic to the concept of Japanese video games and would have tied in better with the rest of exhibit. Still Galaga and Pac-Man are fun to play. That is something.
As you continue on, you walk in to six floor-to-ceiling screens, one after the other, showing specific scenes from the anime highlighted in the section. Behind them are small viewing booths for each of the films’ clips. All of the pieces have their place but it didn’t strike me. With the manga section boasting some very off the beaten path titles, the anime section is a bit of a let down. While I think casual fans may have overlooked original Macross or The Place Promised in Our Early Days, it is doubtful anyone else has. Also found it strange that they featured only one television series, and considering their choice Macross: Do You Remember Love? would probably have been a better representation.
I have a feeling they really wanted to put in Do You Remember Love? but it is currently in licensing limbo so they had to go with what they could get. Or at least that is my tin foil hat conspiracy theory. I myself would have liked either to see a mixture of TV shows and movies or a greater selection of movies. I was a little surprised they was no Hayao Miyazaki on display considering their other choices. Everything in the anime section was going for the high art approach aspect I guess. Mind Game was at least somewhat obscure but it was nothing compared to the range and power that the manga section had.
At the end of the anime section a small corner is dedicated to music. Or rather it is dedicated to Yoko Kanno. It is hard to believe that the music section only included one composer. There is also a disturbing plaque declaiming all other achievements in music in anime before Kanno came on the scene. While the other section after manga were slightly disappointing, this one was just a bad and insulting choice.
It turns out that Yoko Kanno is the only anime composer worth talking about. All the other ones are hacks and failures. Seriously I love Yoko Kanno as much as the next person, but there are some other really good anime composers out there. It was also insulting to all the composers of the music for the movies they picked. We both agreed it would have been better for them to just remove the section rather than have such a limited offering. Also a Yoko Kanno anime playing, like Macross Plus, would have pulled the anime section together better than the Macross TV series.
It seemed like they wanted to do an exhibition for manga but decided to tack the rest on as a draw. The most thought went into the manga section not only seen by its choices of work but the way they were displayed and written about. That being said, I think the manga section is worth exploring for the price of $10. I learned quite a bit from it and even found some new titles and creators worth looking further into. And don’t forget to play some free Galaga before leaving!
That or they got someone who was a manga expert to do the manga section and then had them do the rest of the exhibit despite their limited knowledge of the rest. I would have tried to link all four section together had I been in charge. It would have been very easy to use manga as the anchor for the rest of the exhibit. I would have had all anime based on manga in the anime section, video games based on anime and manga, and music like image song albums and sound dramas along with the anime music. But I suppose it very easy to be an armchair exhibit creator. Despite my complaints it was a enjoyable exhibit for if nothing else the extremely well done manga section. Plus no matter what it is always nice to see more artistic exhibits about nerdy hobbies. I will always go support them. That is the only way you will see more of them.