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The Manga Tarot is a beautiful and insightful deck. It skillfully combines the evocative and fantastical feel of Manga—Japanese comic art—with the equally evocative format of Tarot. Add to the mix some creative changes and juxtapositions and you’ve got a deck that is both familiar and exotic. It provides enough connection to traditional meanings that a beginner will not feel overwhelmed. It provides enough freedom that a beginner will not feel stifled. It presents enough uniqueness that a seasoned reader will discover new pathways to explore.
For those of you familiar with Lo Scarabeo Tarot decks, you’ll know that they are more apt to push the boundaries of Tarot, to play with structure, symbolism, and theme, and to reach toward the next evolutionary level of Tarot in general. This means they don’t produce many decks that would be recognized as Rider-Waite-Smith derivatives. But when they do, such as with the Manga Tarot, they change just enough and add just enough to make the journey through the Major and Minor Arcana a thrilling ride filled with intriguing insights, if only we take the time to look.
In the Manga Tarot there are four things that overtly affect the interpretation of the cards. First, in most of the cards, figures that are usually depicted as male in the Rider Waite tradition are depicted as female, and vice versa. This creates a change in the some of the Major Arcana titles and the numbering of the Emperor and Empress (III and IV, respectively). This technique really plays with the Eastern idea of Yin/Yang and of the idea that all people (and archetypes?) have both masculine and feminine qualities. When we look at these cards, we are encouraged to explore the feminine qualities of the Priestess (The Hierophant in the RWS system) and the masculine qualities of Temperance.
Another change also involves gender. The court cards are named: Prince, Princess, King, and Queen and are depicted in that order, as opposed to the usual Page, Knight, Queen, and King. In a reading, this probably wouldn’t make much difference. The idea of the court cards as a family is not alien to us, and the order they are listed in the booklet, since there is no numerical demarcation on the cards, wouldn’t affect how we view them in a spread. But because this shift in order was consciously implemented by the deck creator, it does invite us to reconsider how the implied hierarchy of the court cards, whatever they are called, influences our interpretations.
In addition to the gender changes, the Manga Tarot includes the addition of four different glyphs. These glyphs are the Japanese symbols for the seasons: spring, summer, fall, and winter. In the Manga Tarot the seasons are meant to indicate the temporal and cyclic element of the cards:
Spring: birth, beginning, sunrise, adolescence
Summer: growth, culmination, noon, maturity
Fall: decline, stagnation, sunset, old age
Winter: death, minimum, night, silence
These glyphs are used (or not used, as we shall see) on all the cards. Each card has one glyph, with the following exceptions: The Wheel and the Aces have all four glyphs. The Tens have three glyphs. The Fool has no glyphs. So in the Manga Tarot the absence of a single glyph (in the case of the Tens) or of any glyph at all (in the case of The Fool) plays as big a role as the inclusion of a glyph. For example, the Ten of Cups is missing the glyph for winter. If the Tens in general represent the culmination, fullness, or ending of something and the Ten of Cups is about true love and happiness, we can see the absence of the winter glyph as the ending of night, silence, and loneliness. The fullness of true love has within it the beginning of love, the growth of love, and hopes for growing old together. But in that moment, the Ten of Cups moment, it has no thought of that love ever ending.
Another important and conscious choice in this deck is the use of color. The four colors highlighted are:
Blue: which represents the suit of Swords, air, and intellect.
Green: which represents the suit of Pentacles, earth, and nature.
Red: which represents the suit of Wands, fire, and personality.
Yellow: which represent the suit of Chalices, water, and feelings.
So, as you would imagine, the cards in the suit of Wands are mostly red. That’s nice, but not really something that would influence a card interpretation. A Sword is a Sword, whether the image is blue or otherwise. Ah, but this deck is more complex than that. For example, the Ten of Pentacles is very green overall. However, there is much yellow (Chalices). For a card showing a loving, stable family bond, Chalices compliment this card perfectly and remind us that stability, family, and tradition without emotion and affection is an incomplete picture of the Ten of Pentacles.
The idea of the absence of something is used to good affect in The Fool card. It not only lacks any glyph, it also lacks color. It is all black, white, and gray except for one small, subtle use of color: small red flowers grow along the path that The Fool has walked. This Fool is not our easily recognizable Rider-Waite Fool. It is true, there is a figure walking not paying attention to where she is going, a dog, and a cliff. But this Fool isn’t distracted by anything external or happy. She covers her eyes with her hands. When you look at her you may, sometimes think she is unhappy or distressed. Other times she seems very calm in a Hanged Man-like way. The dog isn’t watching for danger; it is watching her. The booklet provides the (at first glance) cryptic phrase: "It is the nature of things that space desires to be filled." This Fool may be seen as being between lives, on her way to her next incarnation. That’s why the flowers sprout where she walks; she is leaving her previous personality behind, bit by bit, making space that will be filled by her next incarnation.
This deck is beautiful, challenging, and enchanting. It’s like a song sung in a different language…the tune resonates but you may not be quite sure of the lyrics. Each time you look at it you'll find yourself in a new place, with new questions and new answers. If you are someone who enjoys knowing the general direction, who is comfortable finding meaning in images, and who wants to find their own way, you will love this deck. If a beginner is aware of the differences between this deck and a Rider-Waite-Smith deck and is comfortable delving into something new, then this would be a lovely introduction to Tarot. The really remarkable thing about this deck is that it does manage to be two things at once. Because the traditional meanings are clearly recognizable, this is an excellent reading deck for divination. Because of the gender reversals, the intelligent use of color, the intriguing use of the absence of things, and the addition of the glyphs, it is also a doorway into new ways of looking at the cards.
Publisher: Lo Scarabeo
Creator: Riccardo Minetti
Artist: Anna Lazzarini
Brief Biography of Artist: Anna Lazzarini is well known in the world of Italian comics. Passionate about Manga drawing and art, she has made an essential contribution to the creation of the deck through her inventiveness and imagination.
Name of Accompanying Booklet: Manga Tarot
Number of Pages of booklet: 63 (15 in English, the rest in Italian, Spanish, French, and German)
Author of Booklet: Riccardo Minetti
Brief Biography of Author: Riccardo Minetti is the author of the Etruscan Tarot, the Fey Tarot, and the Gothic Tarot of Vampires. He also collaborates on many other decks as a member of the creative team at Lo Scarabeo.
Reading Uses: General, Past Lives, Karma
Ethnic Focus: Japanese
Artistic Style: Manga-influenced
Does it follow Rider-Waite-Smith Standard?: Yes, with variations
Does it have alternate names for major arcana cards? Yes, for three cards.
The Magician becomes The Sorceress
The High Priestess becomes The Priest
The Hierophant becomes The Priestess
Why was deck created?: According to Riccardo Minetti, the creator of the Manga Tarot:
"I wanted to make a deck for beginners, and I wanted to make a deck that could help younger generation (that do not have the sixties or the occult in their brain wavelength) to approach Tarot into a form, and toward a direction, that was in their experience, and that could resonate with them. I sort of think that it's easier for younger people to relate to ‘warrior’s honor,’ than to ‘justice.’ It’s not just that they can recognize it more (they are not stupid), but it simply means more to them.
"In a way the assumption behind it is that Tarot should mirror experience. It is not a higher truth, but rather a ‘tool’ for that, a ‘map’ to that, and a ‘translation’ of that.
"Also, note that I don’t absolutely think that Beginner = Rider-Waite[-Smith].
"I wanted the Manga [Tarot] to offer Rider-Waite compatible meanings, but also give an easy and immediate way to look at connections between cards rather than to the meaning of single cards. And I wanted images (as the gender switching) that make you wonder about the why... so that when you change decks you were not set to ‘this is the only way.’ In my opinion, a beginner deck should open doors and not offer a safe, self-contained path. At least that is my idea of a good beginner deck."
I have been writing books for Llewellyn since my first one (Circle, Coven & Grove) came out in 2007; my tenth (A Year and a Day of Everyday Witchcraft) will be out in October 2017. That's a lot of books! And I've switched my primary focus to writing novels—although they're still mostly about witches, of course—so I had sadly... read this article