I had a problem with reviewing the Magic Manga Tarot.
It kept reviving the ‘What is Tarot’ topic, a topic commonly bandied about on the electronic forums.
Then there was an evening here a while back when I sat with Robert Place discussing, “What is Tarot”. With his knowledge of symbolism, it was a great in depth discussion. I had a difficult time keeping up.
My inability to ‘keep up’ was further enhanced by my dabbling in Manga and Anime based Tarot, an appreciation for the Asian Tarot market. There’s that question I like to ask people, “If River Tam used a deck, what would it look like?” I like to move Tarot out into the future, when man lives amongst the stars. Add five hundred years to the calendar. What does Tarot look like?
We have expectations; we have ideas and concepts about what Tarot is. It has certain symbols, placed in certain orders, many predating A.E. Waite’s sweeping influences.
Back in 1970, David Palladini produced the Aquarian Tarot. Some images lacked the expected symbology, instead depending on character pose and expression to convey the elementary emotions that the symbols that we count on would project if they were present. It was the dawn of the Character Driven Tarot.
Then a few years back, something even more unexpected occurred.
Tarot began to sweep like a grass-fire across Asia.
There are myths that Europeans have created for and about Tarot. Although we’ve tried to correct them during the last thirty years, they have begun to sprout as facts, in the Asian markets. Some Asian Tarot books include (with new experts and photographs) the revelation that Tarot comes from Ancient Egypt….
Western symbols don’t carry the same meanings or weight in Asia. Asian numerology and astrology developed with differences. And some things don’t translate well, variances occur, changes occur in both directions of translations.
When I first began to explore Asian Tarots a few years back, I was at once captivated and shocked by the imagery. The Clamp X featured pictures slapped onto seventy-eight cards willy-nilly, with complete disregard for traditional ‘card meanings’ regarding suit, numbers, placement in a sequence.
But let’s not get too excited yet. Not all Asian Tarots are character driven. Some pay very close attention to accepted Western symbology and meanings. Some (the Derakkusu ban Hihou Tarot is an excellent examle) pay such a dedicated homage to western numerology, that westerners often fail to understand the subtlety, which may be closer to Ikibana than standard pip arrangement.
Evan Yi Feng’s Lunatic Tarot mirrors WCS in a specific manga art style.
Some folks go on about the Tarot Archetypes and ‘bringing them (the Archetypes) into our lives.
An ‘archetype’, and more accurately an archetypal image, by definition is an image that ‘means’ the same thing regardless of cultural interpretation.
Eastern Archetypal Imagery makes us rethink such statements.
They (the images) do not stand-alone and plainly convey the intended emotive reaction. Either images are not archetypal, or they do not fit the meanings, or our definition of Tarot is too narrow and restrictive.
One could make the mistake of assuming that Asian deck designers are careless by looking only at decks such as the Full Metal Alchemist and Clamp X.
The Magic Manga is a deck that will convince the astute user that our current definition of Tarot is far too narrow.
The Trumps are somewhat reminiscent of traditional western trumps, Strength is a stern looking woman either wrapped in a lion-skin or embraced by a lion (numbered in the continental fashion as XI), the Hierophant bows behind a Japanese cenotaph, the Fool is in Motley….
Some make us stretch our minds; Temperance holds a pendulum – and has both a black and white wing, the Hanged Man is enveloped in spider webs, the Devil shows only the victim sporting wrist restraints, and the Empress trims a rose standard.
The minors contain some vast variances.
The Two of Wands displays for us a stern teacher mid-sentence, the Two of Swords has a nurse displaying two scalpels, the Five of Wands shows a tightrope walker, the Four of Cups an indifferent ship captain, the Eight of Cups a woman in mourning, the Five of Cups a scientist mid-experiment who has just had a florence flask shatter.
Now each of these images actually illustrates the accepted standardized modern meanings. But each does so in a method that makes sense to the western mind with study and some pretty free-form thought association.
The Five of Cups makes sense when one considers there are levels of ‘disappointment’, or spilled milk. There are different types of leaving for the woman in the Eight of Cups, but what about that Four of Cups?
Take a look at the Four of Cups in the WCS. Three cups sit in the same configuration as the man’s contact with the ground. Three points of contact, a tripod. A fourth cup is introduced. But above. Like the man’s head that rests above the three points of contact. This is actually an illustration of the Z-axis, or three-dimensional geometry. This is something that man would have noticed once he began sailing. It is the first instance of human evolution where the Z-axis becomes crucial (awareness keeps one from capsizing).
The two scalpels for the Two of Swords? The aspect usually overlooked in the WCS Two of Swords is that of mastery. To sit with two swords at the ready while blindfolded implies a certain mastery with swords.
The Magic Manga is created in a warm and soothing palette. The deck and LWB are in Deutsch, Français, English, and Español.
“The cards should look like vintage prints. Thus the color parts are even (no soft gradients, structures or painted-like surfaces) and partially decorated with patterns. In order to avoid too bright, colorful and mawkish cards, I decided to use only four slightly discreet colors (winered, bottle-green, pale yellow and dark grey-blue) and mixed them and added some pattern” says Viviane, who drew the Tarot art in the style of Kaori Yuki (of Angel Sanctuary fame).
I really really like it. It could be a new benchmark for Asian Tarot art. It could have a few cards that five hundred years from now – would appear on a Tarot deck out in the black, where constellations no longer exist, and Earth is far behind, only legends of the old exist.