Boys' love to Pokémon: British Museum to host major show on manga
Exhibition will be largest on the comic books and graphic novels ever held outside Japan
Beautiful, heart-fluttering gay vampires are coming to the British Museum next year, possibly for the first time, in the largest ever exhibition of manga ever held outside Japan.
On Wednesday the museum announced details of a major show devoted to Japanese comic books and graphic novels to be staged in its huge temporary exhibitions space.
It will explore how the medium has become a worldwide cultural phenomenon and include a recreation of the oldest surviving manga bookshop in Tokyo.
Nicole Rousmaniere, the show’s curator, said there was a manga out there for everyone, including “boys’ love”, “a very important part of Japanese manga”.
“It is basically expressions of love between younger men and what’s interesting is that in general it is drawn by women and the audience is women,” she said.
The show will include bestselling books such as Moto Hagio’s Poe Clan, a series from the 1970s about a family of vampanellas, or vampires, whose main characters are Edgar and Allan.
“It is fantastic, it is romantic, it is heart-wrenching,” said Rousmaniere. “It is about outcasts. These vampanellas are outcasts … when they are uncovered they are killed, so it resonates with people feeling isolated or alienated.”
Another is Keiko Takemiya’s The Poem of Wind and Trees, which was initially blocked by its publisher because it showed a little too much of the sexual coming together of its exotically named teenage characters, Serge Battour and Gilbert Cocteau, who meet at a boarding school in the south of France.
The books are generally less about sexuality and more about romance, said Rousmaniere, and there are many theories about why Japanese women are drawn to the boys’ love stories.
“Many people feel that in a way it’s safer for women, especially younger women, to fantasise about men. It makes them less embarrassed, it takes them outside of their own immediate reality.”
The boys’ love stories are in Japanese but the museum hopes to translate some of them into English.
There will be unprecedented loans from Japan for the exhibition, the museum said, as well as a rendering of the Tokyo manga bookshop.
Rousmaniere was reluctant to give full details, preferring it to be a surprise, but it will be both digital and real, with people having the “retro experience of holding a book in your hand”.
One of the highlights will be the loan of a giant curtain, the Shintomiza Kabuki Theatre Curtain, created in 1880 by the painter Kawanabe Kyōsai. Measuring 17 metres (55ft) and 4 metres (13ft) high, it features demons and ghosts and was originally displayed between acts at the theatre.
If that is a little too old-fashioned for some, there will also be examples of anime and gaming that grew out of manga.
For example Dragon Ball, a hugely successful adventure series adored by seven-year-old children, and Pokémon Go, a phenomenon the museum is used to given there are 16 characters to be found there. “It’s interesting,” said Rousmaniere, “we have people who are in their 70s looking for them.”
Rousmaniere said the family-friendly show would not shy away from adult themes. “There is some horror. There’s violence. The horror could be disturbing. But when you have the Road Runner and Coyote, that gets killed every 30 seconds, I think children are pretty used to violence.”
There would be a story for everyone, she said. “Anyone who enters this exhibition will become, by the end, fluent in manga. It’s better than going on an Open University course because you can do it in an hour and half and it will be fun.”
The director of the British Museum, Hartwig Fischer, said manga had forged a new international visual language and the museum was the perfect place for the show, given it cares for one of the finest collections of Japanese graphic art in the world.
• The Citi exhibition: Manga, 23 May-26 August 2019, British Museum.