23rd Manga Division Grand Prize
Robo sapiensu zenshi (Prehistory of Robo Sapiens)
SHIMADA Toranosuke [Japan]
This is an omnibus work set in a time when robots and humans coexist. The behavior of robots is depicted using poetic margins, with simple lines and a backdrop full of symbols and characters. The first episode tells the story of a salvager who, at the request of a wealthy man, is looking for a robot that used to be his lover. Over the course of the investigation, human love and the ego underlying it are revealed. In another story, super long-living robots known as timenauts (“time astronauts”) are managing facilities responsible for the detoxification of radioactive waste, and are given missions to explore terrestrial planets that are not possible for humans due to their long time spans. It eventually appears, however, that the human scientist who created these robots has also secretly given them a second mission. Also included is the story of ITO Sachio, a robot that was transformed into a “free droid” in the will of his human wife, and can respond to requests from humans. Since Sachio no longer belongs to anyone, he continues to respond to their requests while the story depicts the way he interacts with people and nature. The connection among the individual stories in this collection gradually begins to reveal itself. Through the behavior of robots, who sincerely try to carry out the orders given to them by humans, this manga brings into sharp focus the complicated relationships linking humans with robots before the era of robo sapiens begins.
The characters are drawn with simple lines, while the purpose and condition of the buildings are illustrated using kanji characters, with details omitted. The world depicted in the manga is a humorous retro future with very unique, abstract illustrations. In a sense, this one seems to have turned back to the very beginnings of manga, returning to their original essence. Nevertheless, it addresses themes that we are confronted with today, bringing an immediacy and freshness to it that likely shows us why the author chose these themes. An air of poetry arises when we get past the noise. The issues being treated in this work can only be depicted in manga, and this one was commended for its strong story elements that draw in the reader. The jury took a comprehensive look at this manga and found it deserving of the Grand Prize. The word “sapiens” evidently means “wise” in Latin. Do the “wise” figures of the robo sapiens represent the author’s hopes for “homo sapiens,” or do they symbolize his despair? A broad reading of this work allows for both interpretations. (SHIRAI Yumiko)