24th Manga Division Grand Prize
March comes in like a lion
Professional shogi player and high schooler KIRIYAMA Rei lives alone in downtown Tokyo. As the fifth player to debut while in middle school, Rei is constantly under pressure, isolated at school, and struggling in the game. Having lost his parents in a car accident as a child, Rei is as alone in life as he is on the board. One day, egged on by senior shogi players, Rei imbibes one too many and finds himself in the care of KAWAMOTO Akari. Between spending time with the motherless Akari and her two sisters Hinata and Momo, facing off with shogi rivals, and joining the after-school shogi club at a teacher’s urging, Rei’s closed-off heart begins to soften. Illustrations of the shogi matches are brimming with tension, while the characters’ interplay reveals Rei’s internal maturation. Through subplots detailing shogi players’ backgrounds, Hinata’s problem of being bullied, a father plotting to throw out the sisters, and Rei and Hinata’s romance, the series spins a dramatic and thrilling tale replete with poetic flourishes.
Games like shogi have few physical actions to illustrate in manga, a medium also requiring rigorous application of techniques to show emotional conflict and growth. This work leverages the medium’s established tools to depict these inner worlds, while employing its own methods to capture the quiet drama of a professional shogi player’s daily struggles. Included in the first-rate ensemble are oddball shogi players alternating between rivalry and fellowship and even the river Sumida-gawa, at times warm or harsh, ever soothing and encouraging the protagonists’ troubled hearts. Despite myriad moving parts —romantic and family-related subplots, Japanese sweets motifs, the tug-of-war between comedy and drama—the story remains easy to digest. The Grand Prize recognizes mastery of specific skills and the overall balance of the work as it rises to greater heights. (OMOTE Tomoyuki)