20th Manga Division Critiques
My Experience as a Juror, and the Decline of the 4-Frame Strip
This is my third year on the panel of jurors, which means it is also my final year. From past experience, I have come to expect each year's submissions to show a collective trend of some kind. One reason for this can be a large number of submissions coming from the same publisher or the same manga magazine. In my first two years, I was surprised by the number of adult manga submissions. Most of them were undistinguished, run-of-the-mill stories and were quickly eliminated, but I do remember one particular title that I thought was very entertaining. If we had an "Adult Manga Grand Prize," I'd have wanted to award it to this title. I suppose if we did have a genre-specific contest of that kind, though, perhaps the standard would be based on how erotic it is rather than how entertaining.In looking back over my experience as a juror, I would note that it was a constant process of trying to figure out exactly what standards I should be using to select winners. Each of the jurors brings a different set of preferences and judgment criteria to the process, and I suppose the works that garner the most votes in spite of those differences deserve to win. This year there were quite a few submissions of manga that have been adapted to animation, and I couldn't help feeling they had somewhat missed their moment. I'm reminded just how much winning an award depends not only on talent but on timing and luck as well.In my first year on the panel I recall being impressed by the high level of technical skill displayed in today's manga. In the second year it was the tremendously broad range of subjects treated. Fujoshi (girls fond of male homoeroticism), boys' love, homosexual love, nuclear power, earthquake disasters. Some of the winners reflected the concerns of the time. Being well aware that titles submitted to the Japan Media Arts Festival do not represent the totality of current manga, I find myself wondering just how many manga are out there today.Manga reached their present form roughly during the Showa-40 decade (1965-1975). Simple 4-frame strips had given way to manga with any number of frames that were to be read from right to left, tracing an S-curve down the page. From children's manga to dramatic narratives targeted at adult readers, creators had experimented with and ironed out every wrinkle. Manga targeted separately at young boys and young girls were enjoying a golden age, and it seemed as if manga of every possible genre were being produced. If the expression "a hundred flowers blooming in profusion" applies to that era, then perhaps the present one, with its ever more fragmented division of genres and ever deeper and more meticulous portrayals of situations and psychological states, should be described as "a thousand flowers blooming in profusion."Eligibility for the Manga Division encompasses comics published in book form or in magazines (including works still being serialized), self-published comics, and comics published online for reading on computers or mobile devices. In selecting winners, I have tried to always include at least one title from each of the subcategories. My intention is to provide a bridge to the future. Web manga in particular seem likely to undergo dramatic new developments as time goes by. Self-publishing is open to both professionals and amateurs, so it offers a chance for new artists to be discovered--and even for established professionals, selfpublishing offers the possibility of releasing works of a kind they can't publish through commercial outlets. As submissions in these categories increase in quantity and quality, I think we can expect to see the festival start to pull away from other manga awards.On another note, it has struck me that we may be about to lose an important manga genre: the 4-frame strip. Some time has already passed, in fact, since the 4-frame manga boom subsided, but this remains the genre that represents the original roots of manga. Today's story manga developed by breaking out of the 4-frame mold and devising conventions that allow the frames to flow without restraint. The 4-frame manga we see today borrow the superficial layout of the genre but lack the razor-sharp wit of the traditional kishotenketsu (foundation, development, unexpected twist, resulting effect) progression of the frames, and instead merely tell stories of, or comment on scenes from, ordinary daily life.The number of 4-frame manga submitted to the Japan Media Arts Festival has trended down from year to year. It used to be that artists proved their talent by producing 4-framers with zinger punch lines, but it appears as though most of those people are now satisfied with just being facile entertainers. I'm all for talent thriving in whatever way it can, but I'm left with the feeling that the manga world is going to be a little bit lonely in the future.