By Ivo Dimitrov
I allow myself a moment of doubt when I face the small sign saying Manga Kissa. Should I have come here with my Naruto-loving friend? It could have helped to protect my soul from this obviously dangerous and perverse art. But it’s too late now anyways. I will have to experience ‘Europe’s first and only public manga library’ all by myself. Though I better watch my back, for one can never be truly safe when going off-campus.
I have a hard time pushing the door open, thanks to a mini Everest of shoes obstructing the entrance. What the hell?! Already images of weird feet fetishes invade my mind and I am instantly ready to leave this place of sin. But alas, a surprisingly normal-looking middle-aged guy has noted my unfamiliar presence and is already approaching me. I can’t blow my cover now. So before I know it, I am professing my supposedly infinite love for Japanese comics in front of him.
The excited glimmer in his eyes does not indicate any good. I instantly know it: he’s found a new lost soul to recruit in his ever expanding army of manga-craving nerds. Do I have a choice, when he ever so kindly insists on giving me a tour? But first things first, I am reminded to take off my shoes and to embrace the ‘homely atmosphere’, while a hot cup of jasmine tea materializes in my hand. Not too bad for a conspiring society about to kidnap me, I guess.
Once my feet have found their way into the comfiest pair of slippers (like I am going to be fooled by warm and fuzzy footwear!), I take a look around the room. Shelves stacked with colorful books, drawings on the walls, cozy couches full of teenagers – the relaxed and hippy setting surely must be a façade, destined to lure me into an indoctrinated underground cult. The tour I receive is even more suspicious: no way on Earth are their only goals to “popularize underappreciated art and culture”, or to “inspire people and give them a safe haven to express themselves”. Hello, I was practically born in the Soviet Union, I know brain-wash and mind-control!
At this point I am waiting for someone to lock the door behind me and force me to read sexually tinted comics and wear a slutty school girl uniform. To my complete shock, people greet me peacefully instead, inviting me to grab a book and enjoy it with some more tea and cookies. No, I don’t need to pay for anything. Yes, I can leave and come whenever I wish and no-one is going to bother me. I am even offered a basic lesson in Japanese.
This does not make any sense whatsoever. What, are they just going to welcome me kindly and embrace me in their community? And then it finally hits me: these folks might be nothing more than a bunch of inspiring and generous young people. Boring! How am I supposed to infiltrate if there is no danger involved? Upset, I leave, hoping I will find more excitement elsewhere. And if you’re the manga type, this is definitely the place to check out.
Manga Kissa, Pauwstraat 13