A member of Takashi Murakami’s Kaikai kiki collective, Aya Takano shares in her mentor’s Superflat aesthetic – she employs two-dimensional pictorial space inherited from the ‘floating world’ ukiyo-e woodblock prints of Japan’s Edo era (1603-1868), infused with the style of anime and manga. As the impressively-scaled Let’s go into the World (2008) demonstrates, however, Takano cleverly subverts otaku culture through a self-possessed new perspective. The three girls in this delicately painted work – one hovering in a fairy-like dragonfly costume, another outfitted in a swimsuit and white antlers, a third largely off-canvas to the left – express a sylphic sensuality, confronting the viewer with bare chests and direct, open gazes. Floating amid a scene that seems both urban and aquatic, with a yellow taxi, skyscraper, construction crane and fluid skeins of flowering seaweed arranged on the same plane, they are accompanied by cartoonish but distinctly non-kawaii creatures: a naked mole rat and a red-lipped batfish, with mysterious black eyes. In the spirit of the escapist phantasms of 1970s shojo manga (girl comics), Takano’s mirages explore the artifices and contradictions of Japanese society by employing tropes that are at once alien and familiar. Her adolescent female figures explore the legacy of lolicon, shorthand for Lolita complex: these willow-limbed, almond-eyed waifs inhabit a ‘girly’ universe that retains an infantilised flavour, but today also constitutes a fully-formed sexuality that has bled into the adult lives of Takano’s generation. Takano juxtaposes the kawaii (cute) elements of contemporary Japanese visual culture with ideas taken from the ukiyo-e and shunga (erotic art) in the Edo period, populated by geishas, kabuki actors, samurai, demons and prostitutes. In these extraordinary visions, like flashbacks of half-forgotten dreams, she creates synthetic spaces of opposition: ordinary and extraordinary, child and adult, fantasy and reality, human and non-human, innocent and worldly.