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Out in the alley behind the Sunset Boulevard comic book emporium/art gallery Meltdown, four of the 23 members of the Japanese art collective Shibuya Girls Pop were painting in front of a live audience. As the party raged inside, Sayaka Iwashimizu, Shinjuko, Eimi and Hiroshi Mori filled two canvases with overlapping images. On one, young women dressed in school uniforms with hip accessories chatted on cellphones. Another referenced Hayao Miyazaki's film Kiki's Delivery Service with a girl wearing a large bow in her hair flying on a broomstick.
Surrounding the artists was a crowd of L.A. party-hoppers. Some were dressed as their favorite characters from Japanese cartoon series, while other girls were decked out in frothy, doll-like dresses in the style of Lolita fashion trend, and boys sported pastel glam outfits that were almost, but not quite, retro '80s. Less than a month after surviving the devastating Tohoku earthquake and tsunami, the members of Shibuya Girls Pop had arrived in Los Angeles to a rock-star welcome.
The show marked the opening of "Magical Girls: Art Inspired by Shojo Manga," a landmark event in the local Japanese pop culture community — and not only because it's the first major L.A. exhibition by Shibuya Girls Pop, who are already well known in Japan. In a city where art shows based on comic books and cartoon series are relatively common, this was the first such show in which the inspiration was comics and cartoons created specifically for girls.
Shibuya Girls Pop was founded two years ago by the art director Kazuhiro Kato. The collective began with just one artist, Nana Aoyama, and a new member is added each month. Not all of "The Girls," as they are sometimes known, are female — "Girls" refers to the intended audience, young women who hang out in Tokyo's fashionable shopping and nightlife ward.
The members of Shibuya Girls Pop were brought together by a similar inspiration — kawaii, a Japanese word that roughly means cute, used mainly by young women to describe anything from the latest fashion to stationery covered in anthropomorphic characters.
"When Japanese girls see anything they like — whether it be cute or cool or lovely or nice — they always say, Kawaii!" says Mori, one of only two male artists in the collective, via email. "I want to draw something that makes them say kawaii!"
Often, when it's attributed to art, kawaii has a more subversive connotation. Takashi Murakami and the Superflat artists use kawaii as a commentary on how Japanese media exploits cute images. Shibuya Girls Pop incorporates kawaii to comment on the often rebellious post-adolescent journey toward self-discovery that Japanese women experience.
In some respects, the closest kin to Shibuya Girls Pop is L.A.'s pop surrealist movement, which began in the 1970s and is often known by its more derogatory name, lowbrow art. That movement is composed of a group of artists, including Natalia Fabia, Buff Monster and Luke Chueh, who have drawn upon the influence of Japanese pop culture and kawaii (all three have had solo shows at Corey Helford Gallery in the past year).
In "Fashionable Aftertaste Without End," Fabia painted L.A. fans of Lolita fashion and referenced the popular Japanese character Domo. Buff Monster's melted ice cream characters are in that so-sweet-it's-subversive category, and Chueh's famed gory bear painting Possessed recalls Japanese-style mascots. These artists paved the way for the Girls to hit L.A.
With most members of Shibuya Girls Pop in their 20s, youth culture isn't so much an influence on their work as it is a part of their lives. Individually, their work has appeared on album covers, cellphone skins and backpacks. They contribute to pop culture as much as they ingest it.
Eimi's sultry, long-lashed girls are often placed against a backdrop of hot pink and lime green with geometrical shapes as accents — colors and patterns popular in Tokyo street fashion. Shinjuko, a multimedia artist whose artwork appeared on Gwen Stefani's album Love. Angel. Music. Baby., also makes clothing and considers her apparel work part of her collection of "3-D pieces," along with sculpture and ceramics. She also creates comics and animated videos, both of which figured prominently in "Magical Girls."
Within manga — the term for Japanese comic books — shojo manga is a genre created specifically to appeal to girls, and it usually is centered around characters who are middle and high school students. The genre has taken off in the United States, where there was no previous equivalent in the comic book world. Titles like Vampire Knight and Ouran High School Host Club, both revolving around teenage girls dealing with unusual situations at school, frequently hit The New York Times' best-seller list's manga section.
The Meltdown show focuses on a subgenre of shojo manga known as "magical girl" stories, in which a young heroine discovers she has supernatural powers and then uses those gifts to help save the world. It's a sci-fi/fantasy approach to serial storytelling that contrasts with the more reality-based romantic comedies and teen dramas also found in manga sections. The most famous example of a magical girl, at least in the U.S., is Sailor Moon, the title character of a superheroine manga and television series that became popular during the 1990s.
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me and my little sister like kiki's delivery service! and we even sing the opening song.
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I like the comparison you draw between kawaii / shibuya culture & pop surrealism / low brow... eeenteresting.
[listing dept. corrections & details]Upcoming Events• Showcase and Open Mic / JamEvery week Thursday SHOWCASE: and OPEN MIC / JAM: "Companion Events" (vocalists/instrumentalists)LARRY DAVIS "CD Release Party" and JAM... + (both events) Guest Host: James GERALDEN & "D'z" In-House Live Jazz Trio " 'Lady & Gentlemen' too " Karen HERNANDEZ & Tony DUMAS · Don LITTLETON "masterful" accompanist/improv-musicians DOLORES PETERSEN Presents: @ HSB&G 6122-6124 Sunset Blvd., HollywoodThurs. Apr. 7th, 7p and 8p, sign-up 7:30p (Blues, Jazz, Latin, Pop and multi-genre)