Goddesses and Monsters

Hardcore devotees of manga and anime have been stigmatized in Japan as otaku(roughly translated as "nerds")—craven addicts, lacking communication skills and fixated to the point of neglecting all relationships. Representing a dangerous tendency, they linger near the bottom of Japan's social hierarchy. The Aum Shinrikiyo¯ cult, responsible for the 1995 nerve gas attack on a Tokyo subway station, used manga to spread its message; six years earlier, a serial killer of young girls took the name of a popular comic book character as a pseudonym.

Anime's images of blankly smiling schoolgirls are often disturbingly eroticized and laced with violence. An artist known simply as Mr. (Masakatu Iwamoto) evokes this creepy, obsessional aspect of otakuculture with dozens of shopping receipts and scraps of paper taped to the walls; on each one, using colored pencils, he's drawn little girls with ponytails, pert attitudes, and bright orange smiles. Unseen breezes lift some of their skirts to reveal neat white underwear.

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My Reality
Brooklyn Museum of Art
200 Eastern Parkway
Through October 7

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The flip side to his pubescent pinups may be found in Yoshitomo Nara's painting of an angry little girl creature, holding a limp, two-leaf clover in her outstretched paw. Nara's work frequently focuses on delicate, cartoon-like images, painted in pastel colors, of demonic children emitting a strange mixture of naïveté and threat. The show also includes one of his sculptures: two stylized children's heads with closed eyes, white as porcelain and floating in a white cup, like Alice in Wonderland's tea party gone awry. Its dreamy fragility, both kitschy and unsettling, evokes childhood's easily shattered aura of innocence. "Kids," Nara said in a recent interview, "they're pure evil." The curators of this exhibition, targeting an audience of adolescents, young families, and children, might have taken this opinion to heart, diving into anime's weirder depths, instead of skimming its shiny, safe surface.

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