Saturday, December 5, 2015

Now Museum, Now You Don't

That belongs in a museum.
- So do you.
Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade

Reminder to self: must go visit that mystery fiction library in Busan, South Korea if it still exists.

Professor Munakata was a long-running manga by Hoshino Yukinobu, most famous for his science-fiction work. His first adventure was published in 1990 and introduced the world to the titular professor in Anthropology, specializing in the link between folklore and actual historical events. Since then, he has been appearing irregularly, solving historical mysteries both in and outside Japan. In 2009, the British Museum published the most recent adventure of the professor (at the time), marking the very first (and still the only) English-language publication of the series. Professor Munakata's British Museum Adventure starts with the professor being invited by the British Museum to hold a guest lecture. During his stay in London however, the monoliths of Stonehenge are stolen and it appears the hostage takers demand the museum to return all the art objects that have repatriation claims to their respective countries. It's up to the professor to figure out how to save the collection of the British Museum, as well as the monoliths of Stonehenge.

This was the very first time I read the Professor Munakata series, but it sure won't be the last time, because I had a lot of fun with this comic. To start off: the book itself is pretty well made. Obviously, the British Museum is not a 'regular' manga publisher, so it's a surprisingly sturdy book, accompanied by an informative foreword and an interview with Hoshino himself about the adventure and his own trip to the British Museum. The font used also betrays the fact that comics aren't the British Museum's usual work, but that's just a very insignicant complaint about an otherwise good publication.

But the story is more important, right? Well, Professor Munakata's British Museum Adventure is almost the last story that was written in the series, and it shows that through its gripping and exciting storytelling, which reveal years of experience. The story manages to mix actual historical facts and the background of the British Museum expertly with Hoshino's own imaginative story of a Stonehenge hostage-taker and the result is a historical adventure of mystery and excitement unlike any other. It's very educational, as you'll learn a lot about some of the British Museum's better known possessions, but the educational parts are also intelligently woven within the fictional part of the story, and nothing is said for nothing. The story eventually leads to a crazy (in the good sense of the word!) conclusion that I want to see as a movie as soon as possible. In fact, this story would actually make for a fantastic movie, I think, similar to how The Louvre featured in All-Round Appraiser Q.

Then again, I've always had a weakness for these kinds of stories that mix history/folklore with a mystery plot, so it's no wonder I like it so much. Interesting enough, the story also touches upon the sensitive topic of repatriation of art objects (and that while this book is published by the British Museum!) Even though this story is one of the last Professor Munakata stories in Japan, it can be read without any prior knowledge of the series. Though if you're like me, you definitely don't have enough with just this one story. I'm definitely tempted to read the original Japanese version now. Readers should also check out Urusawa Naoki's Master Keaton, which might be best described as the adventures of a MacGyvering insurance investigator with an interest in archeology. 

The artwork of Professor Munakata's British Museum Adventure is neat and clean, though a bit lacking in the dynamic part. Hoshino's art is well-suited for still, contemplative panels of larger sizes and looks excellent whenever he draws big shots, but some of the (minor) action in the story looks not as intense as it could've been. I guess the style also fits his science fiction stories (which aren't of the Star Wars kind, but the slower, science kind).

The fact that Professor Munakata's British Museum Adventure was published by the British Museum is interesting on its own, but this is definitely a story that deserved publication. It's smart and fun and makes you wonder why no other publisher has picked up the rest of the series.

Original Japanese title(s): 星野之宣 『宗像教授異考録』:「大英博物館の冒険」


  1. This sounds awesome! Especially given the controversies over repatriation...and the fact that the British Museum published it themselves; my head's spinning a bit trying to work out how to feel about this...

    Wonderful post title, too, by the way. Top marks.

  2. As always, post titles are just taken from mystery-related things (books, episode titles, songs etc.). This particular one is an episode title of A Pup Named Scooby Doo.

  3. would you have become a detective if you could?