It’s ‘Manga Maniacs’ day at Urbis and Manga fans have been asked to come dressed as their favourite character as part of the How Manga Took Over the World exhibition.
"He’s very excited. “I’m Cloud Strife out of (Japanese franchise) Final Fantasy,” he explains. Do you want to know a bit about the history of the character? He then tells me a very complicated story involving Cloud, who is a mercenary and the life force of a planet."
Queuing at the registration desk are several brightly coloured characters. One girl holds a gigantic key. A tall figure (could be male or female) is clothed head to toe in black, including their face. There’s a guy dressed as a giant cat, with swords.
There is the occasional small child but mostly the entrants look around sixth form age. Being a Manga novice, I haven’t a clue who anyone of them are supposed to be. But they have, I notice, made a spectacular effort with their costumes. This is not some half-hearted stab at fancy dress. Amongst the crowd of Manga fans there are weapon, wigs, toy dogs, shields and lots of crazy looking shoes.
Once they’ve registered, the participants file upstairs to the Manga exhibition, where they will show off their outfits and chat to a panel featuring Urbis curator Sarah Turner, Dawn Harrison from Manchester boutique Tokyo Royale and Manga artist Sonia Leung, for a chance to win the title of ‘best costume.’
I approach the giant cat, who tells me he is just a general Manga character, and he won’t win (“because I never win anything”) but introduces me to Andrew who is dressed in a black soldier-type costume, and holds a huge sword with a bandage wrapped around it. He’s very excited. “I’m Cloud Strife out of (Japanese franchise) Final Fantasy,” he explains. Do you want to know a bit about the history of the character? He then tells me a very complicated story involving Cloud, who is a mercenary and the life force of a planet and…well, I got a bit lost about here. “You are all very enthusiastic,” I said, a master of understatement.
As Andrew went off to talk to the panel and have his picture taken, I took the chance to check out the exhibition which was brightly coloured and, happily, separated into easily digestible areas.
Cute Manga showed the fluffy side of the art form with toys and favourite characters, Action Manga including the more violent aspects, while a section detailing Manga’s role in art, fashion and design contained some wonderful images of well dressed individuals as featured in the Japanese fashion magazine FRUiTS.
I particularly enjoyed the Manga as communication section, which featured images from Shakespeare plays depicted in a Manga style, including a wonderfully ominous Richard III. There was even a Manga bible. Jesus looked a bit dodgy, though.
Before returning to judging area, I couldn’t resist a peep into Erotic Manga, an adult only room dealing with the darker side of the art form. Dark, small and filled with men, it had the atmosphere of a mucky bookshop, though apparently not the content. “I don’t know why this is over 18,” sniffed one lad as he left, disgusted that it wasn’t more disgusting.
Then it was back to the queue where I spoke to two more Manga enthusiasts, Miriam and Kelly. Miriam, dressed in a blazer, had come as Hikaru from Ouran High School Host Club while Kelly was Hayato Gokudera from Reborn. “Can you spell that” I had to ask repeatedly, not understanding a world anyone was saying.The event seems very popular, I observed. “Word will have spread,” they explained, “this is a big deal in the cosplay world.”
Cosplay, I discover, is a subculture of people who dress as characters from anime (Japanse animation) or Manga (comics). It’s like those people who roleplay as characters from Dungeons & Dragons except that, because its Manga, it’s not half as geeky.
As the Manga fans milled around waiting for the verdict, normal museum-goers passed by, bemused by the neon hair and parasols. At last, Sonia Leung announced the winners. In third place was Miriam, who was praised by Leung for embodying the attitude of the character and being so well turned out.
In second place was a young girl dressed in hot pink with a big pair of fluffy purple boots. “You deserve to be in FRUiTS magazine” said Leung - high praise indeed.And the winner was Georgina, who had dressed as Riza Hawkeye from the anime Full Metal Alchemist and was wearing a hand made blue coat with gold piping and clutching a toy dog. As part of her prize, she will have her portrait painted by Leung, which will presumably make her the envy of her Manga-loving friend for, like, ever.By the end of the event, I think I understand why Manga, and particularly cosplay, is so popular with this particular demographic. The Manga look, it explains in the exhibition, is one of big eyes, oversized heads and bold facial expressions. Leaving Urbis as the Cosplayers filed out, they mingled in with the big-haired, eye-linered Emo types who always hang around Cathedral Gardens until eventually, you couldn’t tell them apart.
How Manga Took Over the World, Urbis, until Sep 27, free. Free Anime film screenings throughout July and August, 6-8pm unless otherwise stated.
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