NIIGATA--Sato Ito is still a teenager, yet she is on the cusp of making her professional debut as a manga artist.
Ito, 14, and a ninth-grader at junior high school, created a manga titled "Toaru Neko-kaburi Shonen no Himitsu" (Secret of a boy wearing cat headgear) that will be published in the December issue of Nakayoshi, a long-running monthly comic anthology published by Kodansha Ltd. It will be released Nov. 2.
Her work first came to the attention of a Nakayoshi editor who sat on the jury of the Niigata Manga Competition hosted by the city government. Ito won the top prize three years in a row, starting in 2009.
She is the youngest person to win the competition and have her work featured in a commercial publication, according to officials of the city government's cultural policy section.
Ito lives in the city's Higashi Ward. She won an encouragement prize in the junior high school division with a manga titled "one season." She submitted the title for the competition in 2011.
Toshiko Suda, deputy editor of Nakayoshi, was so impressed with Ito's work that she encouraged the student to go pro.
"I was surprised by the degree of completion of her drawings, too, but she also had a unique sense of imagination to tell stories," Suda said.
The editor invited Ito to join the Manga School program run by Kodansha to find new talent. Ito came up with "Toaru Neko-kaburi Shonen no Himitsu" for her assignment.
Ito, who was an eighth-grader at the time, spent about a year from summer 2012 to finish the romantic comedy set in a school.
Suda said she was surprised when she received the manuscripts, saying: "She produced a work of this high quality even though we didn't give her hardly any guidance."
About 50 works of manga are submitted to the highly competitive Manga School each month. Ito is also the first artist in nine years to make his or her professional debut fresh off the program.
"This is an important period of her life as a manga artist and as a person," Suda said. "I wish she could present works that she can create in this particular moment without compromising her school work."
Ito said she started drawing manga characters when she was a third-grader and was self-taught when it came to creating manga stories.
When asked how she felt after learning that her manga would be published in Nakayoshi, Ito said she never imagined such an honor.
"I'm happy for it to be read by many readers, but on the other hand, there could be criticism about my work. For now, I feel more anxious about that," Ito said.
Ito also said she wants to pursue a career as a professional manga artist, but realizes it is no easy dream to achieve.
"I'm applying for a private high school where I can study illustration and design," Ito said, adding that she was impressed by Czech artist Alphonse Mucha's paintings and wants to continue honing her skills to reach that level of expertise.
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