Hitoshi Iwaaki's "Historie" won the Manga Grand Prix at the 16th Tezuka Osamu Cultural Prize on April 23.
Sponsored by The Asahi Shimbun, the prize honors the late Osamu Tezuka, the creator of "Astro Boy," who left an indelible mark on the nation's manga culture.
The Originality Prize, given for fresh talent and novel mode of expression, went to Yu Ito's "Shutoheru," while the Short Story Prize was given to "Sake no Hosomichi" (The Narrow Road to Sake) and other stories by Roswell Hosoki.
Meanwhile, the Asahi Special Prize, given by The Asahi Shimbun based on the panel's recommendations, went to one sole copy of Shonen Jump weekly comic magazine that was shared by many children in Sendai who survived the March 11 Great East Japan Earthquake.
The awards ceremony will be held May 25 at Hamarikyu Asahi Hall in Tokyo. Each winner will be given a bronze statue. The Manga Grand Prize winner will also receive 2 million yen ($24,655), while the other winners will get 1 million yen.
Manga titles published or released in 2011 were eligible for the awards. For the top Manga Grand Prize, members of the judging panel each conferred 15 points--no more than five to any one manga--based on recommendations by experts and bookstore staff.
Six titles remained in the first selection round.
Judges included fiction writer Atsuko Asano, manga artist and Kyoto Seika University's Faculty of Manga professor Keiko Takemiya, Gakushuin University professor Shohei Chujo, manga artist Go Nagai, manga editor Haruyuki Nakano, columnist Burubon Kobayashi, Kyoto Seika University's Faculty of Manga professor Jaqueline Berndt and manga researcher Tomoko Yamada.
Yamada was absent at the final discussion to select the winners, during which "Historie," the front-runner in the first round, garnered widespread support from panel members.
"Historie" follows a real-life secretariat of Alexander the Great. It won high praise, with judge Kobayashi saying, "It makes me excited even though I know how it ends, if it follows historical facts."
Chujo described the work as: "The sense of floating in air made possible by the author's relaxed expressions connects with young people nowadays."
The runner-up was "March Comes In Like a Lion" by Chika Umino, which follows a young man who is a professional shogi (Japanese chess) player and shows how he thrives through shogi matches and interactions with those around him.
The comic won support from judge Takemiya who said that "the development of the story is full of existential suggestions." But it fell short of winning the prize.
Mikio Igarashi's "I" also won widespread support, however, many judges shared the same opinion that they wanted to read more because the comic spans only one volume so far.
Judge Asano said of the Originality Prize winner "Shutoheru," "It is a world I have never read about and the manga tackles with the issue of letters."
The Short Story Prize winner Hosoki, a veteran artist known for his sake-drinking manga works, edged out newcomer Ryoko Kui's anthology titled "Ryu no Gakko wa Yama no Ue" (The Dragon's School Is Up On the Mountain). Judge Nakano praised Hosoki's works, saying: "Short manga stories are expected to play a role to bring relief in a comic magazine."
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THE MANGA GRAND PRIX
The Manga Grand Prix winner "Historie" follows the life of Eumenes, who in real life served as a secretariat to Alexander the Great, one of the greatest heroic figures in the ancient Western world.
As the reason why he chose a considerably insignificant person as the protagonist, author Hitoshi Iwaaki said: "So many things happened around him. (I picked him because of) the appeal of his position."
Iwaaki portrayed Eumenes as a Scythian, a member of a nomadic people who grew up in a family of a local Greek mogul, although the first half of his life is largely unknown historically.
Through the journey of Eumenes' life full of twists and turns, the author vividly illustrates the ancient Mediterranean world where different cultures clashed.
During the course of the story, Eumenes gets over difficulties with his witty plots and continues to establish his status in Macedonia. But he is also attractive with his somewhat reserved manner that gives his story a sense of lightness.
"I'm writing the manga to show the difficulties surrounding the interactions between different cultures and to question what we can do to get things moving in a better direction," Iwaaki said. "But Eumenes is not a type who upholds justice or desires happiness for people across the world. He seeks ways on how to quick-fix a conflict that has already happened."
With his representative work, "Parasyte," the author became known for his brutal expressions that made a strong impact.
This trait is also felt in "Historie." In the latest and seventh volume of the manga series, there is a scene where a large snake swallows a human head, which is overwhelming.
Iwaaki also took the liberty of introducing Alexander the Great as a boy who has a dual personality. The manga artist said he is about 40 percent through the story.
It appears certain that he has many more surprises to offer.
"Historie" has been running in Kodansha Ltd.'s afternoon monthly comic magazine since 2003.
THE ORIGINALITY PRIZE
Set in central Asia in the 13th century, the Originality Prize winner, "Shutoheru," follows a tribal boy from Western Xia who is captivated by the beauty of Tangut characters.
While a powerful Mongolian leader is obsessed with burning all books in Western Xia, the boy goes against his tribe and decides to protect the characters. He ends up traveling with a female soldier known as "Shutoheru," or evil spirit, whose fellow soldiers were killed by the boy's older brother.
Interwoven with fierce battle scenes, the story questions the meaning of "characters" for human beings.
"I had always felt sad about myself being good for nothing since childhood," Ito explained why he chose the theme. "But I always had desired to be kept in record somewhere without vanishing into oblivion."
Ito's first original manga series, "Shutoheru," is serialized in Shogakukan Inc.'s Bic Comic Spirits monthly magazine.
THE SHORT SOTRY PRIZE
The Short Story Prize winner Roswell Hosoki's "Sake no Hosomichi" manga series has been running since 1994 in Nihonbungeisha Co.'s Manga Goraku weekly magazine.
The story is simple: Thirtysomething salaryman Sotatsu Iwama enjoys drinking sake in each 6-page episode. But readers are certain to feel a strong urge to drink as well.
"He represents all of us and our close friends,” Hosoki said of the cheerful drinker.
THE ASAHI SPECIAL PRIZE
A dog-eared, much-read copy of Shueisha Inc.'s Shonen Jump weekly comic magazine was awarded with the Asahi Special Prize.
Yuichi Shiokawa, 49, the manager of the Itsutsubashi branch of Shiokawa Shoten bookstore in Sendai, reopened the store for business three days after the March 11 earthquake. He decided to do so at the requests of parents who wanted to soothe their children with the help of manga.
With the magazine distribution network in tatters, he was given the copy from a man who bought it outside Miyagi Prefecture. The manager posted a sign at the storefront, saying: "You can read Jump here." An array of children rushed into the bookstore.
"When children read manga and smile, it makes adults smile, too," Shiokawa said.
The cash prize of 1 million yen will be donated, through the bookstore, to a fund set up by the Japan Magazine Publishers Association to help reconstruction efforts.
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