On the subject of manga, there are two large groups of extremes: maniacs and those who could not care less about Japanese comics. Now that the Asian Art Museum is getting ready to show the first exhibit of its kind — “Tezuka: the Marvel of Manga,” June 2 through Sept. 9 — here’s a report from the thinly populated middle ground: somebody who is neither ignorant of nor mad about manga, these childish (or, at times, X-rated, but not in this show) works of art.
This personal reference is of importance in defining terms: I don’t inhale manga books, but I am a great fan of anime, Japanese for “animation,” because of such wonderful works as Hayao Miyazaki’s “Spirited Away” and the soon-to-be-released “Paprika,” by Satoshi Kon.
Anime is often based on manga, but the two are in no way identical. Manga is a genre; anime simply means “animation from Japan;” the former serves as material for the latter.
What’s coming to the museum is a doubleheader: the show about artist-writer-entrepreneur Tezuka Osamu (1928–1989), founding father of manga, and “Yoshitoshi’s Strange Tales: Woodblock Prints from Edo to Meiji,” an exhibit of 100 woodblock prints by Taiso Yoshitoshi (1839–1892). Separated by a century and a world of difference in their genre, the connection is in Taiso’s “ancestral” relationship to Tezuka.
You might never have heard of Tezuka, but chances are you’ve seen his work, if not in its original form, then in various popular Western adaptations. In Japan, he is considered the “god of comics”; among manga fans worldwide, he is revered as a great master. Tezuka created more than 700 titles, drawing more than 150,000 pages during his lifetime. Among the handful of his many famous works represented in San Francisco:
» “Mighty Atom” or “Astro Boy”
» “Jungle Emperor” or “Kimba the White Lion”
» “Princess Knight”
» “Black Jack”
» “Eulogy for Kirihito”
» “Human Metamorphosis”
Emily Sano, director of the Asian Art Museum, says it took more than nine years of complex negotiations to obtain release of the material from Tokyo. The show, marking the first time Tezuka’s original drawings have been seen in the West, features “a catalog that contextualizes for Western audiences the full scope of Tezuka’s artistic output.”
Curator Philip Brophy speaks of Tezuka as “a driving force of the manga and anime industries in Japan,” promising an exhibit that will “reveal the striking originality of his manga; its technical inventiveness, extraordinary dynamic range, and its close relationship to his anime. From the people who remember Astro Boy on TV when they were kids, to the late teens of today — who are in tune with Japanese pop culture — this exhibition will appeal to a wide audience to whom the bold and sharp sensibilities of the comic form are exciting and relevant.”
Tezuka: The Marvel of Manga
Where: Asian Art Museum, 200 Larkin St., San Francisco
When: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays through Sundays; open until 9 p.m. Thursdays; closes Sept. 9
Tickets: $7 to $12; free for children 12 and under
Contact: (415) 581-3500 or www.asianart.org.