By Hoshino Yukinobu
Publishing: October 2011
Publisher: British Museum Press
264 pages, line drawings throughout
ISBN 978 0 7141 2465 0, PB £14.99
The Book: An exclusive series of manga episodes inspired by the iconic objects of the British Museum, soon to be available in English for the first time. Professor Munakata, esteemed for his expert knowledge, is invited to deliver a lecture at the British Museum on mythology and folklore. But when the Stonehenge megaliths suddenly disappear during his visit, the Professor must immerse himself in the history and deep-seated rivalries of Europe to foil a sinister scheme that endangers the museum and many of its most important collections…
The Review: First created by acclaimed artist Hoshino Yukinobu, one of Japan’s leading manga artists, in 1990, Professor Munakata Tadakusu is one of Japan’s most famous manga characters, with millions of readers eagerly following his adventures in the fortnightly magazine, Big Comic.
A historical ethnographer, Professor Munakata has dedicated his life to unravelling the mysteries of Japan’s past, with previous adventures seeing him uncover ancient burial grounds and lead dangerous archaeological excavations.
Following his first visit to the British Museum in 2009, Hoshino Yukinobu was inspired by the unique setting that the museum could offer for a Professor Munakata mystery, and quickly began work on Professor Munakata’s British Museum Adventure.
Japanese readers followed the story across ten episodes first published in Japan’s Big Comic for five months before the thrilling mystery was bought to a close with a dramatic final scene that sees the Rosetta Stone in grave danger.
Professor Munakata’s Case Records have been serialised in Big Comic, Shogakukan, since 2004 and the art on this manga detective tale is absolutely incredible, as you can see from the selection of samples published here. Hoshino Yukinobu’s attention to detail is meticulous, but his figure drawing, too, is beautifully drawn artwork.
If you’re not a regular manga reader it takes a while to get used to the story flow – the book follows the Japanese format of reverse pubilcation – but that’s pretty easy to do. The adventure, an age-old conspiracy to bring shame to Britain for its past, rattles along at a reasonable pace (this is manga, after all, which enjoys a luxury of longform storytelling rarely afforded British or American comics), enabling plenty of character development and throughout, quite gorgeous art.
Plot-wise, the adventure holds together well – I don’t want to say too much about it because it would spoil some of the twists and turns. However, I can reveal that the story tries to address the thorny issue of the repatriation of British Museum treasures – and Munakata proves a wily and thoughtful adversary to his enemies.
For all the wonderful art (in a new story last year, The Economist noted in a spoiler-filled report that normally manga appears in a series of nine episodes but Mr Hoshino was so enamoured with the adventures at the museum that he broke the rules and drew ten), I have to say that I found the dialogue often fairly stilted, perhaps on occasion a too literal translation of the original Japanese text rather than a more considered English adaptation.
However, I’m conscious that such liberties with the script may well have been contractually denied this English edition – a problem that I find on occasion befalls some of Cinebook’s titles.
Despite this concern, I was simply blown away by Hoshino Yukinobu’s art and I’d still recommend you track this title down on release in October. Given that tis is the British Museum Press’s first comic title ever – and event in itself – it deserves support.
Professor Munakata’s British Museum Adventure also features bonus supplementary material including an essay on the history of manga and an interview with the artist.
• Salon Futura: Hoshino Yukinobu feature by Jonathan Clements (recommedned reading – what Jonathan doesn’t know about manga probably isn’t worth knowing)