23rd Manga Division Critiques
“Now,” and on to New Frontiers
A striking number of manga dealing with artificial intelligence and robots have won awards many times now. I think the reason for this is that, with so many of them winning awards, manga concerning these topics are able to directly engage with universal dilemmas such as "What are humans?" and "How should humans conduct their lives." That said, these manga are all surprisingly different from one another. They each take a theme to its extreme through different approaches. For example, AI no idennshi (Gene of AI) by YAMADA Kyuri, winner of the 21st Excellence Award, creates a detailed simulation of a very real near-future society. ORIGIN by Boichi, winner of the 22nd Grand Prize, is also a manga squarely in the entertainment genre but underpinned by philosophical questions and scientific issues. This year's winner as well, Robo sapiensu zenshi (Prehistory of Robo Sapiens), depicts robots as a new human species in an allegorical style. There is a good chance that technology for AI and robots will be updated on a nearly daily basis, and that our common assumptions will be constantly overturned. However, together with the famous works that started with Astro Boy, those celebrated as manga document our present and, at the same time, are remembered as works with deep messages that resonate in all eras. Manga that confront issues in women's lives, such as Ashitashinuniwa, (To Die Tomorrow,), which realistically depicts the subtleties of aging, and Bikacho shinshi kaikoroku (Memoirs of Amorous Gentlemen), the story of a prostitute who faces herself and gains independence by writing, also really stood out for me. If You Become an Adult, which was published at the author's own expense, is not only an interesting story, but is also very much of its time in that it attracted attention through social media, rather than in the dojinshi comic market. The elaborate design for the paper used in this book also makes this manga unique. It gave me an impression of the unique nature of the present moment, while providing what I see as a legacy of manga in book form at the same time. This year the Japan Media Arts Festival added a Social Impact Award to its roster of prizes. This means that we can now recognize works effecting broad repercussions that result in a major impact on society, that awards up until now have not been able to identify. The fact that the first work to receive this award was Yamikin Ushijima-kun (Ushijima the Loan Shark), which addresses the illegal business of collecting on loans made by black-market lenders, really demonstrates the clout of manga. The Japan Media Arts Festival increased the number of winners of the U-18 Award, but unfortunately there were no works suitable for this prize in the Manga Division. I think that young people are working particularly hard in the manga genre, and I hope they will begin to pursue this award going forward. As in the past two years, several works among the Jury's Selections were in deep contention for the prizes. Once the mangas reach this level, all of them are without question highly original and it is difficult to say which is better. In the end, the jury's decision was based on very meager considerations. I highly recommend that readers explore any manga that appeals to them. I have served on the jury committee three times now, and this will be the last year for me. This opportunity has given me the chance to experience the wide world of manga that I would not normally have explored, and I learned so much as a manga artist myself. The authors came from a variety of countries and employed a wide range of media. Some entries dealt perceptively with social issues, others with a light touch that made my heart want to dance, and then there were also those that sank deep into my heart. Manga are wide-ranging, however, and the experience of reading one differs for each individual, all of which adds up to its unique value in each respective reading. That sense of excitement one has when reading a vertically scrolling manga in an app, waiting for the next episode to be uploaded, feeling the warmth that emanates from the delightful images--especially when contrasted with the serious comments on one's social media timelines--all have an appeal that cannot be fully recognized when reading them in book form. At this very moment, manga in a wide range of formats that we may not even be aware of are probably being created in places we are unfamiliar with, and read in surroundings we can't even imagine. I believe that these extraordinary manga that are opening up new possibilities are due to be recognized at this Japan Media Arts Festival.