Witches, cats, death and ghosts: The Japanese Girls' Comics manga art heading from Kyoto to Britain

By Culture24 Reporter | 03 December 2015

The first major UK exhibition of shojo (girls') manga is opening in Southport in January. From cheeky cats to violence, here's what to look out for

A colourful image of a Japanese manga cartoon character
© Keiko Takemiya
Japan’s shojo manga culture dates back to the post-war years but only evolved into its broad-ranging and hugely-popular current form as a result of the innovative work of a small group of artists during the 1970s.

Next year's exhibition, in association with the Kyoto International Manga Museum, will feature the work of three leading figures - Akiko Hatsu, Keiko Takemiya and Yukiko Kai - as well as a further 17 artists.

The elaborate replica (Genga’ (Dash) prints have been developed jointly by Kyoto Seika University’s International Manga Research Centre and artist Takemiya. These prints are copies of original artworks faithfully reproduced with the aim of conserving the original manga artwork, which is easily damaged and worn.

What is a Genga’(Dash)?

A colourful image of a Japanese manga cartoon character
© Akiko Hatsu
A Genga’(Dash) is an elaborate reproduction of an original manga drawing through the use of computerised fine colour adjustment and printing. It reproduces subtle differences in line shades and colour gradation with such precision that the reproduction is almost indistinguishable from the original, even when the two are placed next to one another.

Manga has been becoming more popular both within Japan and abroad and the number of manga exhibitions is growing. It is not unusual these days for original artworks to be exhibited but there is always concern among artists that these original manuscripts, which are delicate by nature and not created for display, may suffer damage or loss.

A colourful image of a Japanese manga cartoon character
© Akiko Hatsu
Even short exhibitions can result in colour fading, so Genga (‘Dash’) exhibitions act as an effective measure for preservation. Dash are resistant to both light and water, allowing for exhibitions in venues and for time periods that would otherwise be impossible.

The artist may rest assured that they can even be lent overseas safely without fear of the originals becoming lost in transit. The aim is the “archival without alteration of the information held by the original pictures” – it is this point which differentiates a Genga’(Dash) from other reproductions.

A colourful image of a Japanese manga cartoon character
© Akiko Hatsu
Other reproduction techniques clean up dirt and damage and correct the colour and luminosity of the original artwork, but Genga’(Dash) reproduce the exact state of the work, including fine details such as dirt, damage, irregularities in the brushwork and nuances in the blank paper.

These marks left on the artwork allow us to catch a glimpse behind the scenes of the artists’ work and show us the background of the times, and as such the documents can be thought of as precious imprints from a moment in time.

The principles of Genga’(Dash) are that the data must be drawn from the original artwork and fine colour adjustments are made by direct comparison against the original.

Yukiko Kai

A colourful image of a Japanese manga cartoon character
© Yukiko Kai
Kai moved to Tokyo at the age of 19 and began her career while working as a manga assistant, starting out with Anasutashia no Suteki na Otonari (Anastasia’s Wonderful Neighbor) in Viva Princess, followed by short works in the same and other magazines, such as the manga Shiki Shiriizu (Four Seasons Series) and Fenera.

From science fiction, fantasy and foreign romances to works themed around Noh plays, her diverse literary style resulted in high hopes early on in her career. Kai, however, passed away at the young age of 26 due to stomach cancer.

Her five-year career was a short one, but her imaginative outlook on the world and beautiful pictures linger in the hearts of her readers even today. Her younger sister is the manga artist Hatsu Akiko.

A colourful image of a Japanese manga cartoon character
© Yukiko Kai
Anastasia’s Wonderful Neighbour  is a series of stand-alone stories published in 1976. The lead character is five-year-old Anastasia, who meets the witch Ashera and the scarecrow-like Oruba Keromu when they move in next door and begins to have strange and wonderful adventures with them.

When Ashera clicks her fingers, a mountain of sweets falls from heaven, and a cheeky cat floats up into the air. The series is a comic fantasy that moves forward at a good pace – the work in the exhibition includes images of a world dreamed up by children, including roses as far as the eye can see, and a tree on which cakes grow.

Fantasy was an important theme to Kai, who also worked on the science fiction fantasy comic “Fenera”, in which the two dimensions of the fairy world and the human world are mixed together.

Serialized between 1977 and 1980, Terra e is set in the future at a time when the earth is on the brink of destruction. On a colonized planet, where every single aspect of life is computer-controlled, 14-year old Jomy Marquis Shin is undergoing his adulthood examination when he realizes that he is a Mu – a new type of human with superpowers – and is marked out for persecution.

Jomy meets Soldier Blue, the leader of the Mu, and others, and decides to head for earth. But he becomes involved in the war between humans and the Mu.

This science fiction series was published at roughly the same time as the homosexual shonen manga, Poem of Wind and Tree, and further expanded the range of shojo manga.

Fuji no Hana (An Immortal Flower); Hyaku no Kigi no Hanabana (Flowers of the Hundred Trees)

A colourful image of a Japanese manga cartoon character
© Yukiko Kai
Kai’s work includes, alongside fantasy and science fiction, many stories based on Noh plays. An Immortal Flower, published in 1979, is an original work based on the Noh performance known as Fuji (Wisteria).

Masato, a young Noh performer who is confused about his ability, falls under a wisteria tree (fuji in Japanese) and loses consciousness, after which he has a dream in which he experiences the memories of the wisteria. Masato becomes the son of the father of Nohraku theatre Motokiyo ZEAMI, living in the Muromachi era (late 14th and early 15th centirues), and meets a young performer by the name of Fujiwaka.

A colourful image of a Japanese manga cartoon character
© Akiko Hatsu
He is present at Fujiwaka’s death and understands how ephemeral life is. The exhibition includes a piece in which Fujiwaka is depicted becoming one with the wisteria tree, providing a vision of the eternal nature of Noh.

Hyaku no Kigi no Hanabana (Flowers of the Hundred Trees), published in 1980, furthermore, features Masato’s younger sister as its heroine. Every detail of the kimonos and features in the frontispiece, which was created with just two colours, is hand-drawn.

Kai’s work incorporates and pays homage to the fine detail of Kaga-Yuzen dyeing processes used by master kimono-dyers in Kanazawa, the sisters’ home town.

Keiko Takemiya

A colourful image of a Japanese manga cartoon character
© Keiko Takemiya
Born in 1950 in Tokushima Prefecture, Takemiya submitted Kokonotsu no yujo (Nine Friendships) to COM magazine (Mushi Pro) in 1967, receiving a Newcomer Award. In 1968 she debuted in Weekly Margaret (Shueisha) with the award-winning story Ringo no tsumi (Apple’s Sin).

Her most outstanding manga series Kaze to ki no uta (Poem of Wind and Tree) and Terra e (To Terra), both created for publisher Shogakukan, were adapted into OAV and TV animation series respectively. Takemiya has worked in a variety of genres, including shôjo as well as shônen manga and even company comics.

Her current activities also include “functional manga,” which present information that is too difficult to understand in text-only format, and the “Genga’(dash)” project, in which original artwork of special historical importance is reproduced as close as possible to the original, preserving it for future generations. She currently serves as Dean of Kyoto Seika University.

Kaze to ki no uta (Poem of Wind and Tree)

A colourful image of a Japanese manga cartoon character
© Keiko Takemiya
Set in the late 19th century in the Combrade Academy boarding school in France, Takemiya’s series ran from 1976 to 1984 and was one of the first manga in its genre to depict homosexual sex and deal with complex themes such as sexual violence.

The protagonists are Serge, a young man who has experienced discrimination as the result of being half-gypsy but wishes to live an honest life, and the handsome Gilbert, who has a troubled past and can only relate to others through physical relationships.

The series deals with the personal development of and love that develops between the two men. It is a highly literary work that depicts the profound connection that exists between the pair – adored by female fans but widely praised by critics and researchers.

It was pivotal in raising the social stature of shojo manga as a genre. The series is considered to be the origin of today’s “Boys’ Love” and yaoi genre manga.

Akiko Hatsu

A colourful image of a Japanese manga cartoon character
© Akiko Hatsu
Born in Ishikawa Prefecture. Hatsu began work as assistant to the manga artist Yukiko Kai, her older sister, and debuted with her own work in 1981 after the death of her sister with Nami no Banka (Elegy of the Waves), published in the magazine Allan.

She subsequently published work in a range of magazines and is currently a regular contributor to Nemuki+ (Asahi Shimbun Press) and fl owers (Shogakukan), amongst others. Her most well-known work includes the series of short stories entitled Uryudo Yumebanashi (Uryudo Dream Tales) which centre on the strange items brought in for sale to the antiques shop Uryudo as experienced by Ren, the owner’s grandson, and Uruwashi no Eikoku Shirizu (Beautiful England Series), which depicts life among the upper classes in 19th-century England.

Based on traditional Japanese concepts, but embracing elements from various other cultures, Hatsu’s work demonstrates a deep understanding of upright, correct human behaviour, and her painting style, with its beautiful colours, continues to attract many fans.

Uruwashi no Eikoku Shirizu (Beautiful England Series); Kyoka Mugen (Kyoka's Dream Fantasy)

A colourful image of a Japanese manga cartoon character
© Akiko Hatsu
The Uruwashi no Eikoku series contains multiple short stories, including Tsuki no De wo Matte (Waiting for the Moon to Rise), Kuchu Rokaku no Junin (People who Live in Castles in the Air), and Tobira wo Akeru Kaze (The Wind that Opens the Door), all set in late 19th century England.

They feature Cornelius Everdeanne, the unconventional and handsome heir to an earldom, as he moves through fashionable society in search of a bride and tell stories of love as well as strange tales involving Wilhelm, the mysterious cat kept by Everdeanne. The stories are mysteries, set in a mansion in which our world is connected with another, stranger one and cover a broad range of themes.

Hatsu also worked on manga versions of novels by writers from the Meiji/Taisho eras (equivalent to Victorian times), such as Kyoka Izumi’s Yashagaike Pond, in which she expresses perfectly the dreamlike world view created by Kyoka.

The largest work on display is a portrait of Kyoka drawn by Akiko Hatsu as the poster for an exhibition organized by Ishikawa Museum of Modern Literature on the work of Kyoka Izumi.

Uryudo Yumebanashi (Uyrudo Dream Tales)

A colourful image of a Japanese manga cartoon character
© Akiko Hatsu
This series began in 1991. The Japanese believe that a spirit (tsukumogami) dwells in objects that have been in use for a long time, as well as in animals, and Uryudo Yumebanashi deals with items of this type and the stories of their past.

It is set in Uryudo, an antiques shop in the Meiji/Taisho (Victorian) periods, and features Ren, the grandson of the shop owner, who connects with the thoughts and feelings of objects brought into the shop and, thereby, with the people who have had contact with the object in the past.

The series comprises essentially stand-alone ghost stories. But the stories are filled, in many cases, with love and pathos. The unusual, charming characters that feature in the series are part of its attraction, with each chapter also being highly humorous.

The colour illustrations from the Uryudo series that feature in the exhibition include kimonos and antique items depicted in painstaking, uncompromising detail, and give an insight into the extent to which the artist has familiarised herself intimately with a broad range of subject matter.

  • Shojo Manga – World Of Japanese Girls’ Comics from the Kyoto International Manga Museum is at The Atkinson, Southport from January 7 – February 14 2016, then House of Illustration, London, March 15 – June 12.

What do you think? Leave a comment below.

Three places to see great illustrations in

British Library, London
On the 150th anniversary of Lewis Carroll's beloved novel, the British Library celebrates Alice in Wonderland through the years in an exhibition of timelessness. Until April 17 2016.

Hull Maritime Museum
The current exhibition, Pirates, Pants and Wellyphants: The Illustrated World of Nick Sharratt, brings to life a colourful world of instantly recognisable characters. Until January 10 2016.

Royal Albert Memorial Museum and Art Gallery, Exeter
See works by five contemporary artists, commissioned to make new work in response to printmaking and selected because their practices were far removed from the traditions of the medium, in the Double Elephant Print Workshop - Redefining Print exhibition. Until January 10 2016.
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