When I lived in San Francisco, I would sometimes visit a certain bookstore in “Japantown,” a neighborhood of Japanese shops and restaurants in the middle of the city. Manga of all kinds practically spilled off the tables at the front of the store—a testament to its popularity. Even though I could not discern the meaning of the text or make out the storyline, something about those colorful little tomes pulled me in. Shojo Manga! Girl Power! East and West at MCAD has that effect, too. It just draws you in.
The show—an internationally touring exhibition curated by Masami Toku—features 170 works by twenty-three mangaka (manga artists) spanning about six decades and organized by eras, starting roughly with the end of World War II and ending with shojo manga produced in the last few years. It’s the first show to take such a comprehensive look at Japanese comics for girls. The show features both Japanese masters of the genre and mangaka on our side of the Pacific Rim, hence the “west” in the show’s title.
The influence of American popular culture jumps out at you with the very first image by Osamu Tezuka, dubbed the “father of modern manga.” It’s as if Walt Disney had decided to expand his empire, heading due east. Tezuka’s Princess Saphire has all the elements: a princess with huge sparkling eyes, knights, fairies, anthropomorphic animals. Contrast that with Riyoko Ikeda’s Rose of Versailles, a love story set in revolutionary France and created in the 1970s, the Golden Age of shojo manga. Then have a look at the lush, painterly images produced by CLAMP—a collaborative group of four women mangaka—or the ink drawings of Akimi Yoshida from the last few decades. You come away with a fun lesson in the evolution of Japanese aesthetics and cultural attitudes.
Shojo Manga! runs through June 29 at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design. Admission is free.
Photo: Hideko Mizuno, Silver Petals (Gin no Hanabira), 1957-59. Courtesy of the Minneapolis College of Art and Design