Anime and Manga at the British Museum

The British Museum has never been a stuffy sort of place. It views history as part of the human continuum, not some dusty subject to be stuffed in a dim corner but a vital element in the makeup of ourselves and our cultures. Right now the Museum is living its principles by pairing its astonishing exhibition of dogu – archaic Japanese clay figures – with an exhibition and activities devoted to a high-profile segment of Japan’s modern mass culture: manga. This weekend, on Saturday 21 November, the Museum hosts a free talk on the manga of Yukinobu Hoshino and screenings of several Astro Boy episodes.

Professor Munakata’s Museum Adventure, an exhibit devoted to Hoshino’s star creation, runs until 3 January 2010. I’m speaking about Hoshino’s work on Saturday as part of a lively programme of manga-related talks and activities running into the New Year. This talk is followed by a screening of three Astro Boy episodes from the 1980 colour series, which is free, although booking is advised to ensure access. Full details here.

On 2 December Chie Kutsuwada will ask “What makes manga ‘manga’?” and on 18 December ILYA gives a comic strip artist’s perspective on “how and why manga work.”

If you want to see the dogu, you have to go this week – the exhibition closes on Sunday 22 November and this amazing assembly of early Japanese art will once again be scattered.  Drawn from many public and private collections, it features three of Japan’s National Treasures and many Important Cultural Objects. Some of the figures come  from collections which are not on public view, and to see all the others would involve travelling all over Japan. It makes sense to go and enjoy them in this tranquil, beautifully lit gallery, displayed in spacious cases, with photographs of back views where it isn’t possible to walk around the case and see the whole object.

This is great art – moving, exciting, dynamic and inventive in its use of basic techniques and materials to create and distort form. I’ll be heading back for another look after the screenings, and I urge you to see it for yourself while you still have the opportunity.

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