Animate Me brings manga masterpieces to Abu Dhabi

Original, hand-drawn comics by pioneering Japanese masters are coming to the capital. We look at why this is big news for fans as well as the uninitiated.

Leiji Matsumoto's drawing of Captain Harlock. Courtesy Leiji Matsumoto
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An Abu Dhabi man is on a mission to show UAE anime and manga fans how it all began. Yuji “Tokyo Toy Guy” Ueda is bringing a unique exhibition of original hand-painted manga and anime artwork to the capital.

The Japanese Ueda, who is coordinating the transportation of 145 pieces from the Art Space company in Tokyo to Etihad Modern Art Gallery, is the founder of the Tokyo Toy production company and a passionate toy collector. He even has a manga character – Tokyo Toy Guy – created in his honour by manga artist and friend Teru-Box.

The free-to-attend show, which begins on Sunday, will be the first in the Emirates to present creations by anime and manga grandmasters Leiji Matsumoto and Osamu Tezuka, as well as a selection of manga “cels” (celluloid animation).

Ueda says: "I wanted to do this event because manga like One Piece and Naruto are very popular, but even these have origins, which were created by Matsumoto and Tezuka. Without these two legends, manga these days wouldn't exist. So this is a very good occasion for all the generations to see the origins of manga art."

An old art form

Before the digital age, Matsumoto and Tezuka used to hand-draw their masterpieces onto paper, and painters were hired to paint them in.

Ueda says this is why original artwork is now extremely valuable. Prices of artwork on show in the capital range from Dh1,800, to Dh110,000.

“Since 2003, manga has all been digitised, so there are now limited numbers of these works for sale. They’re basically very precious manuscripts,” says Ueda.

The Abu Dhabi exhibition will also includes three new works, coloured inks on paper, that Matsumoto created exclusively for the show.

Meet the artists

Tezuka (1928-1989), the "Walt Disney" of manga, is perhaps best known for creating the superhero Astro Boy (known as Mighty Atom in Japan). Astro Boy, which was later made into a hit TV series and film, is a powerful android who was created in a futu­ristic world where humans coexist with robots. Original hand-drawn and painted Astro Boy pictures are also among the artwork that Ueda is bringing over from Japan.

Tezuka is also famous for the creations Black Jack, Princess Knight, Phoenix (Hi no Tori in Japan), Kimba the White Lion (Jungle Emperor in Japan), Unico, Message to Adolf and Buddha. His longest-running work was Phoenix – a story of life and death that he began in the 1950s and continued until his death.

Matsumoto, 77, says the manga he is most proud of creating is Otoko Oidon (1971), a series that chronicled the life of a young man preparing for college, which later became a movie. His Captain Harlock and Galaxy Express 999 series will also feature at the exhibition.

Matsumoto's talents were also put to work in helping to create edgy music videos for the French electronic group Daft Punk's album Discovery.

“They took off their helmets and came to see me in the office,” says Matsumoto of the notoriously secretive duo, who wear helmets in public. “This was the first work I’ve done with artists from overseas. It was a great experience and much fun.”

• Animate Me is from Sunday, November 1, until November 31 at Etihad Modern Art Gallery in Al Bateen. It is being held in association with Kinokuniya Art Space and Tokyo Toy Films, and supported by the Japanese Embassy of Abu Dhabi. The gallery will also be serving Japanese cuisine in its Art Café. Visit or