In a random and informal poll of junior high and high school aged kids I used to teach, only about 10% knew Rumiko Takahashi by name. But on the other hand, nearly all of them could recognize her work. Though most of her life has been devoted to only four series, it’s the length of those series that really stands out; all have animated adaptions, and all of them garner huge international appeal.
The ongoing exhibit at Matsuya Ginza is a celebration of the manga artist who just finished the Inuyasha series, which had been running in the Shonen Sunday weekly publication for nearly twelve years. This, in addition to Shonen Jump‘s 50 year anniversary, prompted this tribute to the artist, which in addition to her own legacy of work included 50 other mangaka’s rendering of Lum, easily her most famous and influential character.
The exhibit space itself was very nice, well decorated and well arranged with just a few notes at the beginning of each section. It was divided into five major areas, not including the intro room, final artist’s tribute room, or theater. Illuminated doorways, more like four illuminated walls covered with huge comic strips, served as the portals between the areas, transporting the visitor between comic worlds. The gallery itself was predominantly watercolor paintings by Takahashi for comic covers, posters, and calendars, with a few done in colored pencil, oil pastel, and mixed media. In addition to the art, some of Takahashi’s personal collection was also displayed – like a Tendo Dojo signboard, for example – that really tied into each series, and at least for this visitor made the comics and characters really come to life. Most areas were capped off with a few pages worth of pre-published panels, showing just raw ink and paper with pasted dialog to get a feel for manga production.
The cute and funny video intro to the exhibit featured Ataru, Lum, Ranma, Inuyasha, and Kagome inviting you to celebrate 50 years of Shonen Jump in a roughly three minute short. The wall was flanked with two brief messages, one from Takahashi giving a heartwarming thanks to you and everyone involved, and one from the curators describing the exhibit. Displayed in a case to the side were some of her treasured items: a very very worn protractor, a couple aged aprons, and funny “beware of fire danger” emblazoned and rather worn red, black, and white cushion, likely used while she worked. This pretty much set the precedent for the subsequent areas, more or less divided chronologically and by series, and each of which had an artist’s message, original art piece done for the exhibit, and story summary prior to the jump.
The first area, Urusei Yatsura, contained perhaps the most work, but the paintings had by and large not been well preserved. This isn’t surprising, considering their age and composite material, but still left sort of a bad first impression. It made one wonder if Takahashi wasn’t a poor housekeeper, or if the whole exhibit was going to be works warped with time. Nonetheless, even these early pieces show Tahashi’s seemingly simple character design splashed in a wealth of immaculately detailed scenery and signature comedic edge.
Next up was Maison Ikkoku, a series I’m not too familiar with, but it was still impressive. After a winding room of art, the gallery is suddenly a doorstop and house facade – complete with lawn and dog house. Walking through the door, the next area contained a remake of a room interior; probably Kyoko’s, the manager of the boarding house which serves as the setting for the series. Adjacent to this was a 1/50th scale replica of the boarding house, complete with furnishings and moving windows, though only Kyoko’s room was illuminated, providing a nice juxtaposition.
The Ranma 1/2 area was particularly nostalgic for me, as I could recognize quite a few of the paintings from comic covers, published in bi-weekly installments by Viz in America. It was the first manga I ever bought, and without really knowing what I was getting into – the cover art looked so cool to my slightly-ignorant-barely-teenage mind. In reflection, it was without doubt no mistake. The Ranma 1/2 area had on display the aforementioned Tendo “Anything Goes” Dojo signboard along with a big kettle.
The fourth section, Inuyasha, her final and most recent series to date, had a huge reproduction of Kirara in demon form flying at the ceiling near a large torii gate that stood over one of Takahashi’s katana. The gate itself was speckled with one sticker reading “Kagome” on either side and an “Inuyasha” on top, perhaps symbolizing how Inuyasha is the arc linking Kagome to the two worlds she inhabits.
The last section was dedicated to Takahashi’s shorter miscellaneous works, such as the Mermaid Forest series, and Half Pound Gospel among others. Again, as much detail was paid to chronology as personal flair, and various well-worked boxing implements were on display.
The theater area featured a lot of seating, but compared to the other areas of the exhibit which were relatively uncrowded and easy to navigate despite the crowd, it was simply packed. After one episode of Ranma 1/2 – which had immaculate video and sound quality – I was nearly trampled by the stampede of people both leaving and rushing to get a seat. It was still well worth it though, and I even experienced a little jolt of joy when the “Mommy, can we see it again?!” kids received smiling approval.
In finale to her lifelong legacy – though who knows, she hasn’t retired yet – 50 different manga artists whom she lovingly refers to as sempai, or upperclassman, regardless of age, drew their rendition of character Lum for an area entitled simply, “My LUM.” This was the second most crowded area, even during movie screenings, and there’s no question why. It’s hard to describe what original twists were added, but needless to say it was very easy to identify who did what. Seeing various alternate versions side by side was quite intriguing, as some choose to draw out more of her sexy side, while others focused on other aspects of her character, and each one came with a commentary by the artist about their exposure to Urusei Yatsura and/or creating the drawing. Some of the contributors included: Mine Yoshizaki (Sgt. Frog), Taiyo Matsumoto (Tekkonkinkreet), Gosho Aoyama (Case Closed), Kagami Yoshimitsu (Lucky Star), and Kiyoko Azuma (Yotsuba&!) among many others.
Like any good Japanese exhibit, the souvenir area past this was huge, but also included a vast selection of all Takahashi’s manga. Various stores in Matsya Ginza, which is a huge designer shopping mall, also offered limited edition theme goods. Though all of them seemed to be chocolate, it still had a real artistic and inspired quality about it that made dropping 5,000 yen seem reasonable. I visited one of said retailers to see how popular these chocolates were, and witnessed a whole group of giddy ladies marveling but not thinking twice as they reached for their wallets, giggling amongst themselves.
Overall, the exhibit was fantastic, and I’ll definitely visit again before it ends on the 11th. There was a lot of care that went into presentation which makes the experience incredibly interactive if you’re familiar with her work. Apparently, this is the first exhibit of it’s kind, but here’s one hoping that it won’t be the last.