Appreciating Japanese Manga

Monday, March 19, 2012

[This was one of my favorite trips last year. I am re-posting it on my new blog because I find it special, for some reason.]

The Japan Foundation, in cooperation with the Ayala Foundation, is presenting the exhibit, “Manga Realities: The Art of Japanese Comics Today” which runs from August 16 to October 2, 2011 at the Ayala Museum. I first heard about this from my Philosophy professor, who specializes in Zen Buddhism and Eastern Philosophy. The exhibit shows artworks from different manga artists, particularly Ninomiya Tomoko’s Nodame Cantabile, Harold Sakuishi’ BECK: Mongolian Chop Squad, Asano Inio’s Solanin, Anno Moyoco’s Sugar Sugar Rune, Igarashi Daisuke’s Children of the Sea; Kuramochi Fusako’s Five Minutes from the Station, Kyo Machiko’s Sennen Gaho, Matsumoto Taiyo’s No. 5, and Wakaki Tamiki’s The World God Only Knows.

The exhibit introduces manga as a “hybrid art form,” a combination of different forms of art and media throughout history, like the traditional Japanese painting style, maki-e, American films, and the Western format of the comic-strip. From what seemed to be a cheap form of entertainment for children, manga has developed into a cultural phenomenon. With the advancement of technology, it has become readily available to a larger audience, and it has become diverse in such a way that manga tackles genres that range from the typical romance, comedy, action, to a more serious issues like philosophy, religion, and social problems. In “Manga Realities,” one can see the wide range of Japanese manga, in terms of its nature, style, and charm, through the nine exhibits found.

All of the works stood out and really caught my attention; I enjoyed looking and appreciating them as art. In the ground floor of the museum, there is a display of raw sketches and colorful illustrations from the manga Nodame Cantabile and Beck. A piano, electric guitar, and drum set is on display, and if you ask permission from the management, you can actually play it (the piano, at least) yourself. Luckily, during the first time we visited, there were not a lot of people so Ivan played a couple of pieces for me -- it was a really sweet and special moment. ♥ Nodame Cantabile was serialized in a women's magazine, while Beck was for a boy's magazine, but they are similar in the way that they both have made a significant impact in the music industry in Japan. The mangakas Harold Sakuishi and Ninomiya Tomoko were both able to tell a story that expresses music, which is quite challenging because the medium is limited and they had to use visuals to express sounds. Sakuishi uses the “silent nature” of the manga to his benefit by encouraging the readers to imagine what the song would sound like, through “onomatopoeia” or the bold depiction of the performers. This way, the readers could somewhat relate to the characters in the manga because they could understand or 'hear' the music from the character's expressions and still actions. An article by Ibarra Mateo from GMA News describe the two works as a kind of “crossover”in media. The placing and way that these artworks were displayed is appropriate and engaging – Beck in a typical 'band' setting with the illustrations projected on a screen on the wall, while Nodame Cantabile sketches were displayed in a more classical way, framed and sealed in a glass box. 

Another segment that I particularly liked is the display of Kyo Machiko's Sennen Gaho (A Thousand Years Diary). The story revolves around random and ordinary moments in the life of a high school boy and girl. The illustrations show examples of “mitate,” where there are layers of meaning that can be derived from a single subject. An example would be a boy leaving his umbrella to hang on a wall, and the girl intentionally puts her umbrella beside the boy's, making the two ends touch. It can be interpreted as a seemingly innocent kiss. Machiko made use of scenes that are zoomed-in on the object, and wide-angled drawings to tell the story; the words she use are at minimum because the drawings are enough for the readers to understand. From this, one would is pushed to reflect upon the possible meanings or denotations from really, ordinary day-to-day instances, that there is more to life than what most people think. The world is not mechanical, and the small encounters can be meaningful if one is aware enough to appreciate it.

A Classroom Setting
In a contemporary Japanese room

Other interesting displays were: Kuromochi Fusako's Five Minutes from the Station, which talks about the encounters of people from different age groups and backgrounds (the focus is on their interactions and how these people have different ways of seeing things; this was displayed in a really huge illustration on the wall), Wakaki Tamiki’s The World God Only Knows (the display is in a cute and realistic classroom setting, with a small speaker on the desk as a teacher, and the wall on the left showing the different of characters in manga), and Asano Inio’s Solanin (this time, it was displayed in a typical contemporary Japanesee room, which was actually a scale model of the apartment of Meiko and Taneda in the manga).

All in all, all of the exhibitions were nice and interactive. Ivan and I had a lot of fun taking pictures and viewing the different galleries. We even visited the exhibit for the second time, a month later. I really liked how the curators and the organizers were able to show the diversity in Japanese manga, in a more live and three-dimensional way. The Sugar Sugar Rune display, for example, was colorful and the illustrations were kind of pop-up (like those from story books), and the Children of the Sea had a big net and real ocean sounds coming from speakers. This only shows how one can go beyond the medium, and that one is not limited to how the text/art manifests itself, but if you understand the context of the culture, the intentions of the author, and if you are unbiased, then you would really appreciate Japanese manga as it is, a creative/artistic depiction of life, culture, and reality (in fiction). ☺
It was a really happy museum visit with Ivan!

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