24th Manga Division Excellence Award
Hei no naka no biyoshitsu (The Depth of the Sky)
KOHINATA Marco / Original author: SAKURAI Mina［Japan］
In a women’s prison, there is a beauty salon where inmates cut the hair of those from the outside. ASHIHARA Shiho, a writer for a weekly journal, is assigned a piece on the salon. Too busy to see much of her boyfriend, Shiho is recently dumped and nursing a broken heart when she enters the prison salon. What awaits her inside is a room painted like a blue sky, and a prisoner, KOMATSUBARA Haru, who obtained her hairdresser’s license while serving a long sentence for a grievous crime. As Haru cuts Shiho’s hair and the two engage in a brief conversation, the knots in Shiho’s belly loosen, and she is drawn to the mysterious prisoner, who is further illuminated through illustrated points of view from not only Shiho but also prison guards and Haru’s family. Based on the original novel, the manga expresses the complex emotions of its characters with a deft touch, and quietly, lyrically limns the portraits of women with unquiet hearts who must press ever forward.
Robustly researched and carefully illustrated, this manga comes highly recommended by everyone on the judge’s panel. Unlike most works on this awards list that were crafted by single artists, however, it is a novel-to-manga adaptation, which was the only point to give us pause. But the original novel is wonderful, the manga art is wonderful, and we quickly pushed past any doubt to nominate it for an Excellence Award. The story progresses at an easy tempo, illustrated painstakingly (and likely very slowly) by a gentle hand full of feeling. The amount of time it took to create the pictures was enough to put the artist’s thoughts into it and make it a calming and soothing work. With manga, a story’s quality largely depends on its composition in frames across the page, and this one is segmented and paced well, with simplified dialogue. You can almost hear the characters’ breathy sighs lifting off the pages. (KURATA Yoshimi)