Last year, Tokyo’s Ueno Royal Museum held an exhibition of Japanese swords inspired by the mechanical and character designs of landmark anime Evangelion. As cool as some of the pieces looked, though, you won’t find any scenes in the giant robot franchise where someone actually fights using a katana.
On the other hand, right now the Osaka Museum of History is holding an event that goes even further in bridging the gap between fantasy and reality, by displaying recreations of amazing blades seen in anime, manga, and light novel illustrations.
Running from now until December 23, the 2D vs. Katana exhibition has teamed up master swordsmiths with over a dozen Japanese graphic designers. One of the biggest names involved is Kazuo Koike, whose manga Lone Wolf and Cub was one of the first Japanese comics to build an international fanbase. The sword of the series’ tortured protagonist, Ogami, is one of the pieces on display.
Another artist likely to be familiar even to a non-Japanese atendees is Yoshitaka Amano. A veteran character designer whose career stretches back to the 1970s, Amano provided designs for TV anime Gatchaman and video game franchise Final Fantasy. Weaponry based off his artwork for the multimedia project Zan is being displayed as part of 2D vs. Katana.
Despite the event’s name, the pieces aren’t all necessarily derived from traditional Japanese sword designs. For example, the Demon Sword, a product of the imagination of veteran science fiction and creature illustrator Yuji Kaida, would look just as at home in the hands of a knight as a samurai.
Judging from online reactions, the biggest show-stopper seems to be a recreation of a drawing by Yumeji Kiriko, the manga artist of Le Chevalier D’Eon whose work has also appeared in Sega’s arcade trading card games Sangokushi Taisen and Sengoku Taisen. Since the respective settings of those three titles are 18th century France, China’s Three Kingdoms period, and Japan’s Warring States conflict, it seems like organizers could have played it safe with the sort of practical designs used by actual weapons in those eras. Instead, they decided to go with something a bit more ambitious.
Yes, there seems to be a bouquet of flowers growing out of that sword’s hilt, and in order to stay faithful to the source material, the swordsmith incorporated it into the piece, as shown in this snapshot from early in the production process.
Likewise, losing the ludicrously long hand guard was not an option.
It’s hard to notice in the original illustration, but the sword is actually constructed of two blades, one nestled inside the other, with two prongs at the tip. Like the flowers and hand guard, this is the sort of flourish that’s not an issue at all when working with a pen and paper, but can be pretty problematic when the tools of your trade are hammers and steel. So how does the final result look?
There’s no question those flowers would get torn off in the opening seconds of a fight, and looking at the handle, we’re not sure there’s actually enough room to wedge your fingers into the gap between it and the hand guard. But while the 2D vs. Katana exhibition allows non-flash photography, the event’s leniency doesn’t extend to letting guests grab the weapon of their choice and duel with each other. Taking that into consideration, you can’t really fault the choice to concede a bit of combat practicality when the payoff is that many extra style points.