By Kenichi Sato / Yomiuri Shimbun Staff WriterFor sheer volume, the drawings of popular manga artist Naoki Urasawa on show at the Setagaya Literary Museum would be hard to beat.
Urasawa stressed this point in coming up with the subtitle “Kaite, kaite, kakimakuru” (Draw, draw and draw away) for the first large-scale exhibition of his works at the museum in Setagaya Ward, Tokyo.
“I didn’t like it to be too cool or too unsophisticated,” Urasawa, 56, said of the subtitle, which indicates how confident he is in keeping deadlines for manga magazines and producing hit after hit for 33 years. He covers sports, sci-fi, suspense — a wide range of genres.
Visitors to “Urasawa Naoki Ten,” or Naoki Urasawa exhibition, will be amazed by the massive number of manga pages, which he literally drew nonstop, that fill the exhibition space. In all, about 1,000 original pictures are on exhibit. Visitors can read four installments each of “YAWARA!” and “Nijusseiki Shonen” (20th Century Boys).
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“I didn’t want each picture to be displayed individually in a frame. I wanted to display them in the way they appear in a magazine, that is, in pairs of two facing pages,” he said.
A highlight is “MONSTER.” All the manuscript pages in the final volume of the work are on display. The manga tells the story of a morally monstrous man and a Japanese surgeon who pursues him through Germany, the Czech Republic and other places. The exhibits are a formidable record of his monumental work.
“When I was working on the final stage of this manga, the membrane of my eyes and nose became swollen, and I was a total mess,” Urasawa said. “Looking at those pages still reminds me of my obsession at the time and almost makes me sick.”
When he was 5 years old, Urasawa started copying pictures from Osamu Tezuka’s manga, such as “Tetsuwan Atom” (Astro Boy) and “Jungle Taitei” (Jungle Emperor Leo). He was a third grade student in primary school when he completed his first feature manga. His childhood manga notebooks are also on display at the exhibition, and visitors can see his precocious talent by perusing the neatly paneled pages. In a book of graduation writings published by his middle school, he wrote: “If I become a manga artist in 10 years’ time, it’s going to be a lot of hard work. Day after day, I’m overwhelmed by work, which is killing me.” This was a kind of prophecy before his debut as a manga artist at 23 and the days that followed.
Since 2014, NHK has broadcast “Urasawa Naoki no Manben” (Naoki Urasawa’s manga study) on the NHK-E. Urasawa appears in the documentary series and has introduced the workplaces of fellow manga artists, including Takao Saito and Akiko Higashimura. In the current exhibition, he reveals his own creative process.
“I hope people will find a different way of looking at manga,” he said.
Looking at his own pictures on display at the exhibition, he said he became tempted to praise himself a little. “I’m kind of impressed that a child who was eager to climb up the Tezuka mountain range has come this far,” he said.
“It’s not that I’ve climbed all the way to the top. I’m still on a hiking trail,” he added, laughing.
The exhibition runs until March 31 at Setagaya Literary Museum in Setagaya Ward, Tokyo. The museum is open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and closed on Mondays (except March 21) and March 22. Visit www.setabun.or.jp for more information.