The National Art Center in Tokyo is currently hosting one of the year’s best exhibitions of Japanese pop culture, ‘Manga Toshi Tokyo’, which returns after an excellent reception at a celebration of Japanese culture in Paris.
The leading groups behind ‘Manga Toshi Tokyo’ are the Agency for Cultural Affairs, Japan Arts Council, and National Art Center, who have managed to bring together a huge range of exhibits taken from popular manga, anime, games and the action-packed SFX films known as tokusatsu.
The expansive collection on show was only possible with collaboration from iconic companies including Warner Brothers Japan, Toei animation, Bandai Namco, Square Enix and so many more that I definitely don’t have the space to name every company in this article.
Despite the mix of properties the organisers of Manga Toshi Tokyo have avoided the chaos you might expect and have managed to tie the exhibition around some really interesting themes.
Chaos still has its place though, since the curators have explored the relationship between pop-culture and the destruction of Tokyo, looking to media which brings down the city to the ground only to rebuild new urban landscapes in its place. For an area constantly at risk of earthquakes and with memories of the Second World War, it’s understandable how deeply these ideas of damaged pop culture and gave rise to monsters like the atomic Godzilla.
At Manga Toshi Tokyo visitors are invited to consider the connection between the city’s real life history and its representation in fiction, and just how much each has led to our perception of the other.
The destruction gets split across three displays, the most dramatic of which explores the repeated destruction and reconstruction seen in media like Evangelion, Akira and Godzilla. Selected video clips, Kaiju statues, and original artworks are all on display here. It’s almost comfortingly familiar to see all these threats to the Japanese capital.
The second theme is more subtle, looking into the daily life of people in Tokyo. It brings in media which recreate a sense of the city back when it was named Edo, as well as views of a postmodern landscape and a more contemporary environment. That means appearances from action series City Hunter, and the shōjo classic Haikara-San: Here Comes Miss Modern.
As the exhibition reaches its last theme characters start to step into the reality, with displays about the Odaiba Gundam and PR mascots which have taken over locations in the real world. It’s definitely a theme which seems appropriate considering the brand new Gundam in Yokohama has recently started taking steps as well, and not in a metaphorical way.
Since virus concerns have affected scheduling a little, the final dates for Manga Toshi Tokyo are August 12th to November 3rd.
There’s also been an impact on international ticket holders who won’t be able to catch a flight. Those who had to cancel plans will be just as disappointed as the organisers at the lower visitor numbers, but even through the challenges of isolation and a cancelled Olympics the groups behind the project have managed to put together a fantastic and thought provoking exhibition.