by Hoshino Yukinobu
published by The British Museum Press; 14.99 UK
Hoshino Yukinobu has been creating manga since 1975, although only one of his works, 2001 Nights, has been previously translated into English (from Viz, now out of print).
His character Professor Munakata, an archeological and historical investigator, has been featured in stories in Japan since 1994. After Yukinobu’s art was displayed at the British Museum as part of a 2009 exhibit, the artist visited the site and created a new story involving the famous setting and some of its best-known artifacts.
This ten-chapter story, Professor Munakata’s British Museum Adventure, is now available in English as one volume, published by the British Museum itself. The Professor has come to England to lecture, only to become involved in an outrageous theft. The giant megaliths of Stonehenge have been stolen, and the thieves threaten to destroy them unless disputed works of art held by the museum are repatriated to their home countries.
It’s a fascinating idea for blackmail, and the underlying question, whether the museum should return significant artifacts to the cultures that produced them, is directly addressed by Munakata early in the book. (Since this book is published by the Museum, which does not return objects from its collections, I bet you can guess what the answer is.) That frees the story to turn to adventure, with an airship battle, secret tunnels, a chase through the museum, threats to famous London landmarks, and other exciting (if unrealistic) events.
The text has a lot of exposition in captions and dialogue, explaining the importance of the location and its holdings as well as providing short history lessons. Munakata’s guide and translator, Chris Caryatid, provides much of the background. (I also appreciated seeing a female character in this male-heavy book.) The art is gorgeously faithful to the famous objects and landscapes of another country. It’s the next best thing to traveling there, and the book serves as a wonderful introduction to one of the most important cultural locations in the world.
The book is black and white, with color pages for the first appearance of Professor Munakata and during the climactic face-off. Additional text materials include how the book came to be, an interview with the artist, a list of his works, and a short article on Japanese print culture through history. Paul Gravett has also posted a short interview with the artist (with pictures). (The publisher provided a review copy.)