Manga & Anime in Australia

Published in Wochi Kochi (Japan Foundation Quarterly Newsletter) Tokyo, 2006
Toho studios with original 70s Godzilla props - January 1984

(Foreward: this article was commissioned by the Japan Foundation, Tokyo for their quaterly newsletter. I was asked to reveal for the Japanese readership my personal involvement with manga & anime, and to discuss the 100 ANIME book and the TEZUKA - Marvel of Manga exhibition.)


I'm often asked how did I first get interested in anime. Strangely, I don't remember anime as clearly as I can remember Godzilla. There was something alluring and 'other' about Godzilla: he looked like a rubber-suit 50s monster who looked like the suit itself had actually been through an atomic bomb blast. As a child I sensed the seriousness of Godzilla's affliction, though I didn't understand truly the meaning and effects of atomic warfare.

There was something incredibly scarred about Godzilla that I related to. Plus I sensed something strangely tragic in the way he seemed to be completely unmotivated in his destruction. Images of him chewing trains, crashing through power lines and stomping on oil refineries greatly excited me. This I would later discover to be a riveting symbol of much of post-war Japan and its pop culture to which I gravitated.

I think I've been to Japan now over 20 times. For the last 5 years or so years I'm there at least a few times a year. Actually, the only reason I first went to Japan was to visit Toho studios where they made the Godzilla films. I got to hold the Godzilla suit in my very hands: I was extremely honoured. Once in Japan, I discovered how it was a wonderful anti-matter universe of the West, and fell in love with it all. Discovering anime and manga was a natural part of that.

For me, anime is everything that film fails in delivering. Cinema is an archaic orthodox self-validating form of art now - yet it remains so clunky, hamstrung, moralistic and bogged down in theatre and literature. Anime is the opposite: it's all light, colour, sound, movement - plus it has a completely non-European sensibility in its view of life, death and beyond.

Japan and anime

There's one question I've been asked so many times: "Is Japan the world leader in animation?" The answer is very simple: yes. And anyone who thinks that Disney, Pixar or any CGI corporation is at some sort of 'cutting edge' really needs to grow up and move on past such retarded phantasmagoria.

The way people regard THE INCREDIBLES or SHREK - not to mention LORD OF THE RINGS or THE MATRIX - with such awe indicates a western baby-boomer fixation on 'the magic of cinema'. Those films create very regressive fantasy worlds. They seem designed for audiences goo-gahing over such supposedly impressive 'state of the art' films without confronting their vapid Boys Own Adventure retardo stories.

Anime certainly has its share of similar traits, but the market is so huge in Japan that there are tonnes of alternatives to such dross. So really the debate of Japan's 'leadership' in animation must entail issues of cultural difference, and the west - America in particular - reads Japanese animation in the most reductive ways. They claim to be inspired by it, but when you put PRINCESS MONONOKE next to THE LITTLEST MERMAID you're talking about two planets in completely separate solar systems.

Ultimately, I think the western popularity for anime lies in audiences - usually young people - sensing that there is something different in anime. That 'difference' as always been part of the allure of Japan to westerners, and anime is yet another example of how uniquely Japanese culture and history informs and shapes art produced there.

The book 100 ANIME

A few years ago, the British Film Institute in London commissioned me to write a book on anime: 100 ANIME (2005). The book gave me the opportunity to tackle all these sorts of ideas - plus counter how the west tries to over-explain anime as a slight change on western ideas.

Calling Miyazaki "the Japanese Walt Disney" is typical of America's self-centred view of things. Miyazaki is Miyazaki - no comparisons of equivalents needed. Plus it's borderline offensive to westernise Japan to make it 'understandable'. As I've often pointed out, that's like saying sushi is like a hamburger, only it's cooked and has beef instead of fish.

100 ANIME traces all these unique and wonderful things about Japan - its culture, its technology, its art, its music, its architecture, its theatre - and discusses how various examples of anime are like compacted insights into these aspects.

It's not a 'top 100' - nor, frankly, is it an introduction. In fact the worst thing to do with anime is 'introduce' it. My initial encounters with anime were always confounding, mind-boggling and disorienting. I love that in all life and art, so my book intends to follow suit and throw you in the deep end. That's the best way to tackle anime.

I've found that Japanese people are very interested in reading about a western view of aspects to their own culture which they don't normally discuss in such detail. I understand of course that anime and manga - while being very popular - are sometimes frowned upon and not treated seriously. I always claim that it is in the most common elements of life that one's culture takes deepest seed, so I think it's important to not exclude things like anime and manga from serious considerations about Japan. I think I have been proposing this for about 15 years, though I will never tire of doing so.


Back in 1997, I was approached by Mr. Matsutani of Tezuka Productions to see if I could organise an exhibition of Tezuka Osamu's manga in Australia. Mr. Matsutani was happy with the presentation of Tezuka's anime I incorporated in an exhibition I curated for the Museum of Modern Art in Sydney in 1994 (KABOOM! EXPLOSIVE ANIMATON FROM AMERICA & JAPAN). I had also programmed a retrospective on Tezuka's animation for the 1995 Melbourne International Film Festival which was equally popular with audiences in Australia.

It was an honour and a challenge to undertake this task. Finally - almost 10 years later - there will be the exhibition TEZUKA - THE MARVEL OF MANGA. This is a major survey of Tezuka's manga held at the National Gallery of Victoria (Melbourne, from November 5th, 2006) and the Art Gallery of New South Wales (Sydney, February 23rd, 2007). It will then shift to America, starting at the San Francisco Museum of Asian Art (mid 2007). This will be the first time many people in the west can see original manga, as well as discover the great talents and Tezuka as a manga artist.

TEZUKA - THE MARVEL OF MANGA is equally moulded by an aim to contextualise manga for a Western audience, and an intention to critically posit Tezuka as an artist clearly aware of manga's greater potential as a transcultural form of communication. The exhibition is thus divided into 3 sections to provide audiences space to consider manga along these lines. There are 234 artworks presented in the exhibition.

The 1st section is a simple introduction to manga form. Making no assumptions of an audience's exposure to manga, excerpts of Tezuka's work is presented to demonstrate the power and complexity by which manga in Tezuka's hands generates heightened effects. This section of the exhibition is a foreword to the two larger main sections.

The 2nd section covers the titles by which Tezuka would be most known in the west: works from which he produced anime (animation) TV series and films. Many of these titles a Western audience might presume to be American productions due to their voice-dubbing. In Japan of course, Tezuka's anime has always been viewed in relation to his manga, and this section of the exhibition will give audiences a chance to see the origins of what became anime programmes.

The 3rd section covers a selection of Tezuka's gekiga work produced between the late 60s and late 80s. Audiences will hopefully comprehend that gekiga is a more seriously-toned adult-oriented narrative form of manga which stresses realistic effect and emotional impact, as opposed to the visual symbolism and hi-keyed archetypes displayed in early post-war manga. This section of the exhibition is designed to introduce to audiences to the deeper power of manga.

There will also be a 120 page catalogue (in English only) plus a national touring programme of Tezuka's anime managed by the Australian Centre for the Moving Image (ACMI, commencing December 2006).

Across 150,000 drawn pages (collected in the 400 volumes of Tezuka's works by Kodansha Publishing), Tezuka's manga has evolved a peculiar post-atomic fusion of eastern calligraphic sensibility and western narrative iconography. Like the multitude of metamorphosing beings which populate his stories, his manga is emblematic of Japanese post-war identity and symbolic of Tezuka's own transmogrification of image/text narration. Rewiring Occidental cinematic machinery with Oriental philosophical energy, his manga constitutes an active and vital demonstration of a non-Eurocentric postmodernism, marking Osamu Tezuka an artist well due acknowledgement in the Western art world.

I hope that through seeing the range of work that Tezuka produced, Australian audiences will see that manga is not simply 'funny pictures for children', and that Tezuka is the most important historical figure in this uniquely Japanese form of expression and communication.

Text © Philip Brophy. Images © Maria Kozic.