If the atomic bomb forever burdened Japan with apocalyptic visions, and if the postwar prohibition of armed forces repressed martial pride, then the country’s wild, often violent cartoons are like manic confessions of doomsday fears and samurai fantasy. In this busy, well-selected exhibit of manga (comic books) and anime (films)—in which unmuscular youths wreak destruction—chaos feels like catharsis. The artists jam-pack their finely composed sequences with angular motion, cluttered backgrounds of dense ink, and explosive color. In his raucous manga about two boys battling mobsters, Black & White, Taiyo Matsumoto prominently divides his panels with borders cutting across the page at acute angles, jaggedly cropping the scenes, which (as in much of the work here) constantly shift their points of view. The thrills don’t come so much from logical drama as they do from your sense of visual displacement.
That’s especially true in the landmark and influential Akira, a 1988 animated film from Katsuhiro O-tomo, which, for many U.S. moviegoers, first demonstrated that Japanese comics weren’t all saccharin-cute like Hello Kitty. Set in a post–World War III Tokyo, the elaborate plot unfolds in an expressionist fervor of shadow and rich bursts of Disneyesque hues—even the blood is luscious—exhausting you with dizzying motion. And you might get the shakes when watching Masaaki Yuasa’s anime of love and vengeance, the appropriately titled Mind Game—a spectacularly insane mélange of sketched settings, photographic images, and every cartoon style under the rising sun. (Excerpted in the gallery, the anime films run full-length on select dates.) Not that everything is frenzied: Droll depictions of Japan’s company-man culture appear in the simple Dilbert-like drawings of Hitoshi Odajima, and also in Yuichi Yokoyama’s geometric sequences of enigmatic factory assembly. Aficionados may have seen it all before, but for newbs, the exhibit is likely to dazzle.
Tuesdays-Sundays, 11 a.m. Starts: March 25. Continues through June 14, 2009