Home > Anime, Manga and Games, Events, Reviews, Uncategorized > Review: ‘Manga マンガ’at the British Museum 23 May – 26 August 2019

Review: ‘Manga マンガ’at the British Museum 23 May – 26 August 2019

Dedicated to the victims of the Kyoto Animation fire in Uji City!

Noda Satoru, Golden Kamuy, 2014 onwards © Satoru Noda SHUEISHABelonging to Kōzan-ji temple in Kyōto the Japanese National Treasures the eight ‘Scrolls of Frolicking Animals’ and the ‘Scrolls of Frolicking Animals and Humans’ called ‘Chōjū-jinbutsu-giga’ (animal-person caricatures) were painted between the 12th and 13th centuries by, it is thought, the artist-monk Toba Sōjō. They are credited by many as the earliest form of manga.

Fast forward nearly a thousand years and the Citi Exhibition ‘Manga マンガ’ at the British Museum (supported by CITI with logistics partner IAGCargo) is touted as the biggest manga exhibition ever mounted in the West showing just how far and wide the popularity of manga has spread since the 12th century.

Toganoo-san Kōzan-ji © T. Skingle and part of Chōjū-giga scroll with animals sumō wrestling at a celebration © Kyōto National Museum, Wikimedia Commons

Toganoo-san / Kōzan-ji © T. Skingle and part of Chōjū-giga scroll with animals sumō wrestling at a celebration © Kyōto National Museum, Wikimedia Commons


The exhibition begins with an ‘Alice in Wonderland’ theme implying that the visitor is entering into Alice’s topsy turvy world where just about anything goes. The exhibition is broken down into six sections.

‘The Art of Manga’ explains how modern manga developed from newspaper strip cartoons created during the late 1800s by political and satirical cartoonists, and flags the idea, a matter of debate, that manga may have been influenced by the ‘Chōjū-jinbutsu-giga’. It also provides guidelines on how to read manga courtesy of Kōno Fumiyo using the animal characters from the ‘Chōjū-jinbutsu-giga’.


‘Drawing on the Past’ covers the emergence of manga as a continuation of the centuries old tradition of visual storytelling and looks at the precursors to and evolution of modern Manga and includes a section based on the collaborative manga ‘Professor Munakata’s British Museum Adventure’, produced by Hoshino Yukinobu in conjunction with the British Museum.

‘Professor Munakata’s British Museum Adventure’ © Hoshino Yukinobu

‘Professor Munakata’s British Museum Adventure’ © Hoshino Yukinobu

Also included here is a life sized visual of the Tōkyō bookstore Comic Takaoka established in the book district of Jimbōchō in the late 1800s which closed in March this year. It includes a QR code to download free manga to your mobile phone.

Manga Store

A Manga for Everyone’ looks at the popularity of manga amongst various sections of society and its genres and themes.

‘The Power of Manga’ covers the influence of manga in Japan, where it is used as a teaching tool and a method of communication, and examines its impact on culture and society.

‘The Power of Line’ examines older through to more recent manga. It is this section that includes the visually stunning Shintomiza Kabuki Theatre’s ‘Yokai Hikimaku’ (Demon Curtain) which portrays the ‘Night Procession of the Hundred Demons’ (hyakki yagyō). It is a piece that the curator, Nicole Coolidge Rousmaniere, asserts is fundamentally central to the whole exhibition. Due to the fragility of the curtain it is also the last time it will be on show outside of Japan.

Shintomiza Yokai Hikimaku with actors names

The Shintomiza Yokai Hikimaku with some actors’ roles indicated © Tsubouchi Memorial Theatre Museum, Waseda University

Originally sponsored by the author Kanagaki Robun it is 4 metres high and 17 metres long and was painted over a period of 4 hours on 30 June Meiji 13 (1880) by a drunken Kawanabe Kyōsai in the photographer Futami Asakuma’s studio in Ginza.

Symposyium Classical Arts x Digital Technologies

At a peripheral event ‘The Symposium on Classical Arts X Digital Technologies’ at Japan House which focused on the curtain, Ryūichi Koadama, Vice Director of the Theatre Museum at Waseda University, identified a number of the actors ‘portrayed’ in the curtain.  Amongst others facing left is the head of Ichikawa Danjūrō IX as a rokurokubi (snake headed demon, traditionally female) with the kumadori make-up of the character Kamakura Gongoro Kagemasa from the play ‘Shibaraku’ (Wait a Minute). Facing him is Onoe Kikugoro V as a ghost cat – distinguished by his long eyes, and to the right of Danjūrō is Iwai Hanshirō VIII as ‘Shirohebi’ (White Snake) – he had his grandfather’s attractive eyes described as worth thousand ryō (Mesenryō).

Left to right Bandō Kakitsu I, Onoe Kikugorō V, Ichikawa Danjūrō IX, and Iwai Hanshirō VIII © Tsubouchi Memorial Theatre Museum, Waseda University

Left to right: Bandō Kakitsu I, Onoe Kikugorō V, Ichikawa Danjūrō IX, and Iwai Hanshirō VIII © Tsubouchi Memorial Theatre Museum, Waseda University

Given the current crossover between manga and Kabuki and the regular appearance of Kabuki productions adapted from manga classics such as ‘Naruto’, ‘One Piece’, and more recently ‘Tsukiakari Mezasu Furusato’ (Heading for Home under the Moonlight) adapted from Minamoto Taro’s manga ‘Fūunji’tachi Bakumatsu-hen’ (The Lucky Adventurer’s at the end of the Edo Period)…

Posters for Kabuki adaptations of Manga ‘Naruto’, (Super Kabuki II) ‘One Piece’, and ‘Tsukiakari Mezasu Furusato’ © Shochiku

Posters for Kabuki adaptations of Manga: ‘Naruto’, (Super Kabuki II) ‘One Piece’, and ‘Tsukiakari Mezasu Furusato’ © Shochiku

…it might have benefited the exhibition to have included more about this to further compliment the curtain and the section ‘Manga: No Limits’ which looks at the various ways and forms into which Manga has developed. This includes anime, gambling and various forms of media as global phenomenon and also looks at how since the 70s the experimental forms of manga have pushed the boundaries and developed into new innovative forms.

Characters from three manga which have been adapted to film (from left to right) Attack on Titan, Jojo's Bizarre Adventure, and Dragon Ball – Citi Exhibition ‘Manga’

Characters from three manga which have been adapted to film (from left to right): Attack on Titan, Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure, and Dragon Ball – Citi Exhibition ‘Manga’

For those who grew up with the (culturally) very different English comics such as ‘The Beano’, ‘The Dandy’, and ‘Eagle’ and the later much more controversial ‘Oz’ magazine the exhibition seems to show manga almost as a parallel form. However, unlike manga which has developed into a global phenomenon, English comics have, since their heyday, experienced a drastic decline.

Startling in its coverage of a very large variety of manga, the range of supplementary ideas and discussion points, and visually impactful in a way that only manga can be, this exhibition is a great introduction to manga for the uninitiated but also as a confirmation of manga as a global ‘phenomenon’ for manga otaku (fans). Whilst for otaku it might be ‘preaching to the converted’ it does delve into and exhibits forms which many may not have come across before. For instance exploring sexuality and gender identity as a function of manga which this reviewer had never seen before and which confirms manga as a contemporary form of social discourse.

One practical criticism though; it is badly signposted in the main precincts of the museum. On entry to the central courtyard there is a large banner which looks like the visitor is being directed up the stairs of the central structure which, as this partially disabled reviewer discovered, only leads to the restaurant at the top of a VERY long flight of stairs. This was very frustrating. Given the resources that have gone into trying to make this exhibition such a success it seems that in the planning any thought to addressing this seemingly small issue was passed over.

This exhibition is one of many manga related events that are part of the Japan-UK Season of Culture 2019-20 which runs from July 2019 and ends June 2020.

It is, and has been, accompanied by various special complimentary events and exhibitions, some at the British Museum, but many elsewhere, such as the ‘This is Manga: The Art of Urasawa Naoki’, at Japan House in Kensington.

This Is Manga

One of these was also ‘The Symposium on Classical Arts X Digital Technologies’, at Japan House in Kensington (see above). Another which took place at the British Museum, in collaboration with Time Out and Japan House in London, was a special screening of ‘My Neighbour Totoro’ (Tonari no Totoro, 1988), courtesy of Studio Canal.

my neighbour totoro still

‘My Neighbour Totoro’ (1988) © Studio Ghibli/Studio Canal

There was a Q&A with British Museum Curator Nicole Rousmaniere, the renowned anime specialist Helen McCarthy (author of The Anime Movie Guide and Hayao Miyazaki: Master of Japanese Animation), Jake Cunningham (who had never seen any of Studio Ghibli’s work before), and self-confessed Ghibli fanatic Michael Leader. It was recorded live for the podcast Ghibliotheque


My Neighbour Tottoro

‘My Neighbour Totoro’ Q&A

During the Q&A Helen revealed some astonishing facts about the film including that £2.4 million was spent on the film itself, £4.5 million on its DVD release but that £1.5 billion was spent on merchandising. She also revealed a very interesting fact about pirating of the film globally, that there are 17 million illegal download links. Nicole also made an interesting point that whilst the Japanese come to anime from manga in the West it is the opposite way around with Westerners coming to manga through anime.

All in all the manga coverage this summer is, to put it mildly, comprehensive. Though most of these take place in London there are currently three manga related events taking place elsewhere in England. For more details please see the Japan-UK Season of Culture 2019-20.


The main exhibition, however, is the motherlode in relation to all the other manga events and exhibitions, even if they can be visited independently, a first visit to the main exhibition helping to facilitate enough of an understanding of manga, especially by novices, to better understand and appreciate the others.

Reviewer Profile:

Trevor Skingle was born and lives in London where he works in the field of Humanitarian Disaster Relief. He is a Japanophile and his hobbies are Kabuki, painting and drawing and learning Japanese.

Related Posts:

Film Review: Never Ending Man: Hayao Miyazaki

Interview: Sebastian Masuda – Art Director and J-Pop Culture Pioneer

Other manga-related posts

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: