To the British Museum last weekend for a talk on the art of Yukinobu Hoshino and an introduction to the screening of three Astro Boy episodes.
I worked here many years ago, when the British Library occupied part of the Museum premises including the great round Reading Room, now used for exhibitions. It was nice to work there again, and it made me reflect on how much has changed in our understanding and appreciation of popular culture.
Like almost everyone outside Japan, I’d never heard the word anime back in 1974. Even within Japan, manga eiga, the term used by Toei’s president in 1956 in the trailer for Hakujaden, was still current. Toei’s summer anime movie programmes were branded manga matsuri until about 1990 – but that’s another story. Anime, manga and modern popular culture were equally invisible to me. Japan was a place of samurai, cherry blossom, charmingly quaint costumes and cheap electronics.
The Museum gave me a wider appreciation of times, places and people I knew little or nothing about. Its diversity and strangeness and charm entranced me. This giant cabinet of curiosity, this fabulous imaginarium threaded through with byways and back alleys leading into depths of knowledge I hadn’t even begun to imagine, was mine to explore. The British Museum helped me become who I am, feeding my mind and setting my imagination free to run riot in its inexhaustible playground.
Now, more than thirty years later, I can stand in a gallery surrounded by works of the human imagination and talk to others about them with a fluency and confidence that I owe, in large part, to my surroundings. If you haven’t been there lately, you should. Don’t take my word for it, have a look at the website and see everything that’s on offer.
One of the highlights of talking about Hoshino at the BM was being able to introduce his works done here at the museum in the context that inspired them. A walk through the galleries will take you past many of the artefacts that inspired Professor Munakata’s British Museum Adventure, in Room 3 until 3 January 2010. Hoshino’s work fits the Museum context well: he loves to explore the mysteries behind apparently impenetrable objects. He also weaves his stories into huge, overarching sagas, connecting apparently random individual fragments into metanarratives – the daily work of historians, and the method behind the manga Hoshino cites as a major inspiration, Osamu Tezuka’s Phoenix saga.
Another highlight of the experience for me was being able to contradict the impression given by many widely respected English-language sources, that Hoshino has created only a handful of works. One of the people I chatted to after the talk told me that he’d only been able to find five or six titles listed, and had wondered how someone with such a limited back catalogue was important enough to warrant a display at the British Museum.
The exhibition was based on Hoshino’s interest in dogu, the topic of a concurrent Museum exhibition. The Museum wanted to reflect how dogu were viewed in Japanese popular culture, and they figure in many of Professor Munakata’s manga adventures. Hoshino’s back catalogue is much wider; before Professor Munakata made his debut, his creator was best known for science fiction. Except for his SF masterpiece 2001 Nights, and The Two Faces of Tomorrow, his graphic novel version of James P. Hogan’s story, the majority of his works go unmentioned in English-language sources.
The talks by Paul Gravett and myself at this exhibition, as part of the Comica festival, appear to be the only ones given in English so far. That gives Hoshino an extra affinity with his surroundings. His work is not as well known as it deserves to be in the English-speaking world. Like many of the Museum’s artefacts, its wonderful mysteries are waiting to be discovered by new eyes.
Museums, adventures, books, all begin with a question. Someone picks up an object, or an idea, and wants to know where it comes from and if there’s anything else like it. One of the reasons I was driven to write about anime is that nobody else was doing it, and the books I enjoy writing – and reading – most are the ones that throw some light on unexplored corners. It’s what got me excited back in 1983 about Frederik L. Schodt’s peerless Manga! Manga! The World of Japanese Comics, and Eric P. Nash’s Manga Kamishibai hit exactly the same button this year. It’s why I wanted to write about Osamu Tezuka – so much of his work is unknown to those who speak my language. I was insatiably curious before I worked at the British Museum, but working there reinforced my conviction that finding out things I didn’t know before is not only a wonderful game but a useful one.
So to start the ball rolling, here’s a list of the Hoshino works I’m aware of. I’ve compiled it after a quick comparison of a few European-language and Japanese sources, so there may well be some gaps. I’ve included the transliterated Japanese titles, and noted where I’ve found none but think one may exist. Titles originally written in katakana have been rendered in English. First serial publication and collection publication details would also be useful.
If anyone with time to track down and translate further information would like to add to or correct this list, it would help to extend knowledge of this remarkable artist in the English-speaking manga community.
1971 Sea of Fang (I haven’t yet found a Japanese title)
1975 Queen of Steel (Kotetsu no Queen), Weekly Shonen Jump Extra
Faraway Morning (Harukanaru Asa – Tezuka Award winner)
1976 Blue City, Shukan Shonen Jump
1978 Legend of the Giants (Kyojintachi no Densetsu)
1979-80 Legends of the Enchantress (haven’t found Japanese title) a collection of stories about a magician reborn many times as famous women of history.
1980 Saber Tiger, published in English in 1991 by Viz Media
1982 Aphrodite Inferno
1983 Fire of Yamato (Yamato no Hi) also released as Yamato no Hi – Legend of Yamataika vol. 5 in 2007
1984 2001 nights (Nisenichiya monogatari) Monthly Super Action, English translation published in 1996 by Viz Media in three volumes. A video feature, Space Fantasia 2001 Nights, was released in 1987 and a new film based on two stories from the manga, To, is out this year from Fumihiko Sori.
1986 Starfield, Futabasha, artbook (Futabasha Mook 83 Leisure and Hobby Series)
1987-91 Yamataika, collected by Ushio Shuppansha (later collected as Legend of Yamataika?)
1988 Big Regression
Ivan’s Day: Déjà vu
1991 Bem Hunter Sword
1991-2 Blue Hole, Mister magazine, published in French in 1996 as Le Trou Bleu by Casterman – riffing on the concept of black holes in space to postulate a ‘blue hole’ in the ocean leading to the time of the dinosaurs.
1993 Mirai no futatsu no kao (The Two Faces of Tomorrow) graphic novel based on story about artificial intelligence by James P. Hogan, published in English in 2004 by Dark Horse Comics
1995 Mega Cross
1995 Stardust Memories – collection of 6 stories
1995-98 Blue World, in Afternoon.
1996 Chronicle, artbook published by Asahi Sonorama,
The Sea Monster (Horobishi Komonotachi no Umi)
1996-99 The Musings of Professor Munakata (Munakata Kyoujo Denkiko)
1998 Temple of El-Alamein (El Elamein no Shinden) 6 short stories
1991-2001 Kodoku Experiment
2000-1 Midway – 2 collections of 8 stories subtitled “History” and “Space”
2003-4 Lost Moon
2004 Case Records of Professor Munakata (Munakata Kyouju Ikouroku) in Big Comic.
2009 Professor Munakata’s British Museum Adventure 3 drawings made at the Museum in October, 8-9 new stories planned for 2010.
The dates I have for these two are for collected volumes but so far I’ve been unable to verify serial publication dates, if any:
PILOTS Legend Archives 2006
Ooi naru kaiki 2005