Modern Japanese icons are lighting up Abu Dhabi’s Etihad Modern Art Gallery until 24th November. The show is over two floors. Downstairs are a selection of paintings by veteran Koji Yoshioka, awarded the Salon d’Automne in 1976 after moving to France at just 24 years of age. His bright and often clashing landscapes of well-known sites like Mount Fuji and the Eiffel Tower have been shown all over the world. Upstairs are scores of anime cels (short for celluloid), hand-painted film stills on acetate. These brightly coloured moments from legendary cartoons are a growing rarity since anime became an all-digital format in the late 1990s.

The highlight, and by far the most valuable cel on show is the cat-that’s-also-a-bus still from Studio Ghibli’s My Neighbour Totoro. More Ghibli favourites are here, like Howl’s Moving Castle. Adjacent rooms have Captain Majid – very popular with the Emirati collectors, Astroboy, Heidi of the Alps and Rosen Maiden, some dating from thirty years ago. There’s even a Moomin appropriately carrying a bucket of water across the desert. The artistry of each second of animation is so apparent here. You can see that there are layers of ink for each element and character, revealing detail and clarity. The pencil sketches are layout directions, with numbers and formulae giving instructions for movement and expressions.

Chatting to Tokyo gallery owner Tadanobu Yasumi from Artspace Tokyo, he tells me that while the UAE has a big fanbase, France is almost as enamoured as Japan is with anime. “They are Otaku, super-fans,” he says, pointing out the local anime devotees who have come to the show dressed as their favourite characters.

By: Anya Stafford