15th Manga Division Critiques

The latest in manga and the future of the ever-changing Japan Media Arts Festival

What perspective did the manga division adopt toward the screening process?
In the last few years, manga have become a means of expression no longer constrained by a given media format.In addition to serialized works in commercial magazines, this year's entries covered a wide range of other formats. Some could be read only on mobile phones or the web, while others were published in fanzines. The environment for manga has been changing at a dizzying pace. I try to take this as a given when screening works.

What trends did you see in the content of the works?
During the initial selection of candidate works I could feel the enormous influence of the Great East Japan Earthquake.With such an abrupt change in the mood of the world it is only natural that people would seek something different in manga,but immediately after the earthquake many manga artists--myself included --shrank back and struggled to find the motivation to draw anything. In this sense, Kotobuki Shiriagari's Ano-hi kara no Manga (Manga after 3.11) was really something else in the way it immediately tackled the earthquake head-on. Although we do have editors and assistants, manga--unlike animation and entertainment projects--are at root a form of expression undertaken alone. Changes in the artist's mentality and environment over time are directly reflected in the work. Many of the works selected this year were written prior to the earthquake so the impact is not so conspicuous, but if the way artists look at life has really changed I would expect to see this reflected in their work going forward.

Which award - winning work sparticularly drew your interest?
Grand Prize-winner Saturn Apartments, of course, but I also think Fun Home -A Family Tragicomic- is worth mentioning. Although taking the format of an autobiography, the work is extraordinarily realistic, packed with pedantic sections not directly related to the story and other information about the American social context. At first glance much of this may seem out of place for manga, but it simply represents a novelistic approach that differs from the cinematic approach still dominant in Japan. In terms of readability it takes a little getting used to, but creates a truly one-of-a-kind manga space.
I was also surprised by Tomoko Fuyukawa's Mustard -Chocolate, the first web manga to win an award at the Japan Media Arts Festival. Conventional manga have been defined by a panel layout optimized for magazines, but this work has a completely different feel and presumes that the reader will scroll through one panel at a time. Nevertheless, this does nothing to diminish its dramatic effect.
This work really embodies the potential for creating manga without being bound to conventional panel layouts. Mobile phones and manga, as tools, share an element of portability that I suppose makes them a good match.
Mustard-Chocolate was the only web manga to win an award, but every year brings more and more web and fanzine manga entries. Unbound by the limitations of paper and print, full-color presentation is the norm and some works even incorporate sound and other interactive elements. I suppose it will be important to figure out how to evaluate such works going forward.

What do you think sets the Japan Media Arts Festival Awards apart?
In terms of the manga division, I think a lot of it is about giving a shout out to the award-winners. There are numerous manga awards--the major publishers sponsor many of the largest--and a lot of manga artists win awards. But the Japan Media Arts Festival Awards are different in that they step away from the manga industry establishment to offer something with more freedom, an important opportunity, for example, to shine a spotlight on works that aren't carried in the major manga magazines, or on artists who have not yet been honored with awards.
The character of the festival today, however, will surely change over time because the composition of the jury will gradually shift as each member serves out his or her three-year term. One thing that is certain, however, is that the festival offers a chance to regular people as well as professional manga artists. The festival covers fanzines and web-based works, and there are no publisher-based boundaries. No other manga award is this all-encompassing. At the same time, it may be too diverse--those of us on the jury have to struggle each year just to keep up (laughs).

In closing, is there anything you'd like to say to those who visit the exhibition?
For Japan, the field of media arts has become a huge industry, one in which Japan can lead the world, as well as a huge cultural domain. For manga and animation, in particular, Japan has consistently been at the forefront. The Japan Media Arts Festival exhibition stands at the front lines of this exciting creative force that reaches all corners of the world. I hope those who visit the exhibition will be able to experience that momentum and power for themselves. It is a whirling vortex in which art, manga, animation, and entertainment all influence each other and develop into something new.

Manga Artist
Born in Tokyo. SAITO Chiho made her debut in 1982 with Ken to Madomoazeru (The Sword and the Mademoiselle) in the magazine "Coronet" (published by Shogakukan). She received the 42nd Shogakukan Manga Award with Kanon in 1997. She is a member of the animation production group "Bepapas", and in 1997 she drew a manga version of the TV animation Utena, La Fillette Revolutionnaire. She was also deeply involved with the production of the animation for the TV and movie theater versions. She is currently working on Ice Forest, which takes figure skating as a subject, serialized in "flowers", and a classic original story, Shishaku Varumon − Kiken-na Kankei (Viscount Vermont - dangerous relation) serialized in "Rinka".