20th Manga Division Critiques
A Cozily Isolated Galaxy of Vying Talents
This year I once again encountered a great many excellent works. Compared with last year, overseas manga seemed underrepresented--though we did get the outstanding Incomplete Life (YOON Tae Ho / Translation: FURUKAWA Ayako and KIM Seungbok). The reasons are no doubt complicated, but one likely factor is that it has become harder to get translations of overseas manga published in Japan. The breadth of mind that supported the pursuit of differentness even at a higher cost seems to be disappearing on both the personal and societal levels as everything continues to contract into the smartphone space. There were also fewer memorable submissions than last year among independently produced works. Perhaps such artists tend to be more interested in the approval of their peers, and don't care to be formally graded in a public event like the Japan Media Arts Festival. Or perhaps the number of "likes" they get on social media gives them all the recognition and validation they crave. Whatever the truth may be, I came away wondering if both factors might reflect the atmosphere of cozy isolation that currently prevails in Japan. On the other hand, Web manga that make use of audio, sliding images, and 3D effects suggest the rise of a mode of expression that, though still developing, may ultimately find a place somewhere between conventional manga and animation.As usual, the submissions by Japanese artists were all very good, which made it difficult to choose among them. A work casting light on the lives of hearing-impaired people that incorporates the real-life story of a composer who created an uproar when his claim of deafness was exposed as false. A lighthearted yet compelling collection of manga by a legendary creator of animated films. A poetic work that depicts scenes of the Tohoku disaster area from the perspective of a rooster. A first-person documentary account of a laborer at the stricken Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant. A work that portrays with color and warmth a group of children who come from complicated family circumstances. The story of a manga artist grappling with censorship, addressing violence in manga, freedom of expression, and the ethical position of the artist himself . . . I could go on and on. There is much doom and gloom on the economic front for both publishing and the country at large, but no pessimism is needed with regard to the quality of manga being produced.