Iconic work of anime art mysteriously vanishes overnight.

Like many countries around the world, Japan has a complicated relationship with its street art. On one hand, graffiti is illegal so if you’re caught, you’ll get arrested, but on the other hand, if your art is so famous it’s worth thousands of dollars, the governor of Tokyo will pose next to it, wondering if it’s a gift to the city.

▼ The governor drew flack after praising this famous rat on her Twitter account.

Who gets to decide what street art is valuable and what is not? It’s a topic that comes up for debate every now and then, and it’s about to be on everyone’s radar yet again, following the discovery that one of Tokyo’s most iconic pieces of street art disappeared overnight.

If you’ve ever visited Shibuya, it’s likely the now-missing work of art would’ve caught your eye, as it depicted Osamu Tezuka’s famous anime character Astro Boy, and it sat above a busy thoroughfare for eight years.

▼The same location today shows Astro Boy is no longer there.

For around a week now, word of the disappearance has been spreading on Twitter, with passersby wondering what happened to it. Japanese news site J-Cast News attempted to get to the bottom of the mystery by enquiring with the Clean Town Development Office at Shibuya Ward’s Environmental Improvement Division, which has jurisdiction over the area. Staff there confirmed that the artwork had been removed before dawn on 17 June, but were unable to answer questions about the reason why it had been removed, what had happened to it, and whether they knew anything about the artist who created it.

Though officials are even being vague about whether or not they were behind Astro Boy’s removal, given the clean look of the wall where Astro Boy once hung out suggests the job was done professionally, and likely by the ward. As the below photos show, the tiles used by the artist to create his works are fixed to cement surfaces with a concrete bonding adhesive, so it would’ve taken some time and care to remove the art, with a solvent required to remove the adhesive.

The person who created the work is a French street artist who keeps his identity hidden, instead going by the alias “Invader“, which comes from the 1978 Space Invaders video game.

▼ The aliens from Space Invaders are a common motif in his works.

The era of 8-bit gaming also inspires his signature style, which often features characters from anime and video games, made out of tiles to give them a pixelated look.

Like British graffiti artist Banksy, Invader’s works have popped up in a number of countries around the world, and the ones in Tokyo, including Astro Boy, were put up by the artist during a visit here in May 2014.

Over the years, Invader has developed a cult following, and when the artist created an app called FlashInvaders to use alongside his pieces, he became even more  popular. The app encourages the general public to seek out and photograph Invader’s works, adding a fun gameplay element to street art.

Many of Invader’s tiled pieces have disappeared over the years without any attention, including this Mona Lisa in Daikanyama

…and this beckoning cat in Shibuya

▼ The beckoning cat could be seen on this cement wall until around 2019.

Unlike Invader’s other works, however, the disappearance of Astro Boy, a work even the artist himself called a “masterpiece” when he first installed it, has received a lot of attention from the public.

Some people are questioning whether money was behind the removal of the piece, given that TK_119, as Astro Boy is recorded in the artist’s catalogue, sold for US$12,200 at a Sotheby’s auction in 2019. 

This sold piece of art (pictured below) is what Invader calls an “Alias”, a double of a work from the street, which comes on a perspex panel, signed and with an ID card. Invader makes one of these for every street piece he makes.

In hindsight, it’s surprising that such a valuable piece of art lasted on the street as long as it did, but compared to some of Invader’s other works, Astro Boy was located in a well-lit, highly used area. Plus, unlike the sold works of art, the ones on the streets aren’t signed and they’re made with very fragile tiles which tend to break if anyone tries to take them off the wall.

Still, we should keep a careful eye on Invader’s other existing artworks around Tokyo, like this alien Space Invader in Ebisu.

As for Astro Boy, the only thing that remains of his existence is the PokéStop at its former location.

Invader and Shibuya Ward are yet to reply to our requests for comments, so while we wait to find out if we can solve the mystery of the missing art, we’ll be keeping an eye out to see whether Astro Boy will be put on display to the public, like Banksy’s mouse in 2019.

Update: After enquiring with Invader, he told us he wasn’t informed about the removal of his art and he doesn’t know why it was removed. He says he’s shocked and sad about it because “that piece was there for eight years and it had become a real icon of this area”.

Related: Space Invaders Tokyo
Source: J-Cast News via Yahoo! News Japan via Otakomu
Featured image: Instagram/invaderwashere

Insert images: Twitter/@ms903_tomo
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