Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Macoto Exhibit Review

Makoto Takahashi, (penname: Macoto) is one of the more influential artists in the history of shojo girl's manga, given that he pretty much laid down the ground rules that have been followed ever since (according to some accounts).

If you remember from the History of Manga series, girls' manga magazines had been around since the beginning of the 1900's, with Shojo no Tomo (Girl's Friend) being the longest-running magazine of the group. Artists like Yumeji Takehisa, Jun'ichi Nakahara and Katsudi Matsumoto flourished through the 1920's up to the beginning of WW II, doing cover art, 4-panel strips, and a few story-driven manga. But when the Japanese military government imposed restrictions on what could be published, presumably to conserve paper and ink for the war effort, the resulting propaganda artwork pretty much put the entire development of manga on hold. Following the end of WW II, the Japanese people were trying to put their lives back together again, and were short on both food and entertainment. Tezuka's "Shin-Takarajima" (New Treasure Island) appeared in 1947 as a rental book, marking the (re-)start of story-driven manga, and also propelling him into the world of shojo magazines with his subsequent titles.

(The museum's cafe had a Macoto-inspired dessert special on the menu.)

Tezuka set up his studio in Tokiwa Manor (an apartment building called Tokiwa Sou, just west of Ikebukuro, near Tokyo) from 1953-54, and several of his assistants, including Shotaro Ishinomori, started doing manga for shojo magazines from around 1953. The designs for these new manga were heavily influenced by Tezuka, who in turn was influenced by Takarazuka. You can say that the girl's magazine stories at this point were rather adventure-driven and the female characters somewhat masculine.

(A large sign board greets you when you arrive.)

(Macoto. From the "La petite princesse de Macoto" exhibit book, used for review purposes only.)

Makoto Takahashi was born in 1934, in Osaka. Having picked up Jun'inchi Nakahara's Himawari magazine in 1947, he developed an interest in shojo artwork. He debuted in Shojo, in 1957, but initially he didn't garner much attention. He then traveled to France, where he studied various illustrations and magazines. He returned to Japan and started illustrating for various magazines from 1961, later appearing in Shojo Friend, Margaret and Ribon. At this point, his ultra-feminine, ultra-fashionable characters with their huge sparkling eyes and massive heads began their work in defining a new genre of "shojo manga" - love interest-driven soap opera.

(Posters on the wall in front of the elevators. The one on the right advertises the upcoming Mamoru Oshii and company exhibit starting July 16.)

(Entrance to Yumebi, in Hachioji.)

The Yumebi Museum in Hachioji (about 25 miles west of Shinjuku) ran "La petite princesse de Macoto", an exhibit dedicated to Macoto's works, from June 4th to July 4th, 2010. I'd been in the middle of studying for my Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT) which was held on July 4, and wasn't really sure if I'd be able to visit the exhibit before it ended. On Thursday, the 1st, I took a couple hour break from my studies to ride the trains to Hachioji. The only other time I'd been to the Yumebi was for the Gundam Mecha Design 30th Anniversary exhibit, and for that one I rode my bike out. On the other hand, two more major shows are coming up at the Yumebi before the end of the year, so I'll try riding my bike back out for those.

The exhibit space is fairly large, and there were at least 100 framed paintings and other art on the wall, showcasing Macoto's top works from 1961 up to the present. Glass-covered cases in the middle of the floor displayed the various products his characters promoted, from stationery pads to jigsaw puzzles, purses and paper fans. One case had some of his old art supplies, and another showed some of his sketch books. Lest you look at his pictures here and blow him off as a hack cartoonist, the sketches of chipmunks and flowers in his notebooks are incredibly detailed and realistic. Macoto is a very skilled artist who just happens to prefer working in an exaggerated style.

(Untitled, 1961. I think that Jun'inchi Nakahara's influence is still pretty blatant at this point. From the "La petite princesse de Macoto" exhibit book, used for review purposes only.)

The museum had about 20 visitors shortly after noon on that Thursday. Most were middle-aged women revisiting their favorite manga. Some had brought their young daughters along with them. And, there were a few middle-aged salarymen also looking around. The gift shop carried a number of Macoto postcards, some stationery items, and the exhibit book (2350 yen; $25 USD). The exhibit book is an 80-page hardback about 8"x10", and contains most of the illustrations from the exhibit. There's 12 pages dedicated to an interview with Macoto, pictures of him in his studio, and a short chronology.

(Shojo, Oct. 1961 issue. From the "La petite princesse de Macoto" exhibit book, used for review purposes only.)

Initially, Macoto's style in 1961 was very primitive and crude, with girls' faces looking like they were clumsily carved out of clay. The bridge of the nose is long and flat, and everyone has pretty much the same expression and head angle. By '67 he'd softened the features somewhat, but there's still a sameness to his characters that makes them kind of boring if you look at more than 2 or 3 at a time. Eventually, he develops as an artist to the point where his characters start taking on a life of their own, and his more recent works, from 1991 on up are really very impressive. But there's still a sameness to the figures - everyone has the same number and shapes of sparkles in the same locations in their eyes.

(Margaret, issue #25, 1967. From the "La petite princesse de Macoto" exhibit book, used for review purposes only.)

If you're interested in the history of modern shojo manga, then you'll want to look more closely at Macoto's illustrations. He's virtually unknown in the U.S. (and he's not well-documented in Japanese), but he's the one that all of the more recent artists have been influenced by, or had copied at one point or another. His studio is open as an art gallery, on the other side of Tokyo, in Chiba, not too far away from Narita airport. Unfortunately, it's not easy for me to visit, but if anyone reading this has been there, please tell us about it here.

(1974. From the "La petite princesse de Macoto" exhibit book, used for review purposes only.)

Notice that I've ordered the illustrations chronologically. You can more easily see the way the facial features soften as Macoto's style matures.

(Initially printed in Deluxe Margaret, 1973, redrawn in 1994. From the "La petite princesse de Macoto" exhibit book, used for review purposes only.)

(One of the drawings from Macoto's mythology series. "Daphne". 2007. From the "La petite princesse de Macoto" exhibit book, used for review purposes only.)

Macoto really likes working from western sources, with works from the Little Mermaid, Thumbelina and Little Red Riding Hood, as well as Greek mythology. But, he's also drawn from various Asian folktales as well.

(From Macoto's sketchbooks. From the "La petite princesse de Macoto" exhibit book, used for review purposes only.)

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