TEZUKA OSAMU CULTURAL PRIZE: 'Kingdom' wins manga grand prize

May 09, 2013

By TETSUO IWAMOTO/ Staff Writer

Yasuhisa Hara's historical manga series "Kingdom" won the Manga Grand Prix at the 17th Tezuka Osamu Cultural Prize on April 29.

Sponsored by The Asahi Shimbun, the prize honors "Astro Boy" creator Osamu Tezuka, 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 Miki Yamamoto's "Sunny Sunny Ann!," while the Short Story Prize was given to "Kikai Jikake no Ai" (Mechanical love) by Yoshiie Goda.

The panel of judges decided not to award the Asahi Special Prize, which is given by The Asahi Shimbun based on the panel's recommendations.

The awards ceremony will be held May 31 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 ($20,424), while the other winners will each receive 1 million yen.

Manga titles published or released in 2012 were eligible for the awards. For the top Manga Grand Prize, members of the panel each assigned a total of 15 points--no more than five to any one manga--based on recommendations by experts and bookstore staff. The seven titles with the most points advanced to the final round of deliberations.

Judges included fiction writer Atsuko Asano, manga artist and Kyoto Seika University's Faculty of Manga professor Keiko Takemiya, Gakushuin University's Faculty of Letters 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.

"Kingdom" edged out the other nominees in the final voting round, brushing aside runners-up such as Chika Umino's "March Comes in Like a Lion" and Mikio Igarashi's "I."

Nakano was the only judge who opted for "Kingdom" from the first round, saying that it was "a remarkable piece of entertainment." The other judges brought their opinions in line with his when they read "Kingdom" after the seven titles for the final selection round were determined.

Judge Takemiya praised the work, saying: "No other work has offered readers the chance to enjoy battle conditions showing how a large number of soldiers are actually deployed."

"I can't remember the last time I read nearly 30 volumes (of a manga title) in a row feeling this excited," Nagai said.

Yamada and other judges recommended "March Comes in Like a Lion," but the panel was split over the story featured in the recent volumes.

Judges Berndt and Chujo showed strong support for Igarashi, who penned "I" and drew "Hitsuji no Ki," which was written by Tatsuhiko Yamagami and was also nominated for the top prize.

Judge Kobayashi pushed for Rensuke Oshikiri's "High Score Girl," saying the work "unfolded as a high-octane story from the very beginning."

But Judge Chujo said, "It would make much more sense if we were talking about a prize given to a fresh talent," so the comic book was reassigned to the category for the Originality Prize along with "Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinju" by Haruko Kumota.

Nine authors were considered for the Originality Prize, including the creators of "High Score Girl" and "Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinju."

But Yamamoto was judged the winner for her "Sunny Sunny Ann!" It won support from judge Nakano, who said the work was "wonderful, like watching a classic road movie."

This year, a digital comic book was also in the running for the Short Story Prize.

Goda's "Kikai Jikake no Ai" scored the victory over six other nominees including Miri Masuda's "Su-chan no Koi" (Su-chan's romance) and Yuichi Okano's "Pekorosu no Haha ni Aini Iku" (Visiting Pecoross' mother). Judge Asano praised the winning title, saying: "It is interesting to use robots to tell stories of love."

THE MANGA GRAND PRIX

The Manga Grand Prix winner "Kingdom" is set in the Spring and Autumn Period and Warring States Periods in the third century B.C. in China, when seven states are struggling for supremacy. It centers on a number of youths including Shin (Xin), a young boy in the state of Qin who rises from a servant as he achieves fame in battles, and Sei (Zheng), the king of Qin who later becomes the first emperor. With passionate enthusiasm, the story vividly portrays how they survive through the turbulent times to enter a new era.

The main characters are inspired by historical facts from ancient books such as "The Historical Records" by Sima Qian and "Strategems of the Warring States."

The characters are basically modeled after real-life figures, author Yasuhisa Hara said, adding that he reproduces historical accounts that are as faithful as possible to their sources. But the author also admits that he took liberties in creating details such as the strategies taken by each member state of an allied force that attacks Qin at the Hanguguan Pass.

"It is an 'addition' made to liven up the story by working out details of the dramatic components. That's why it took time to move on with the times, and the number of volumes (currently spanning 30 volumes) keeps growing unintentionally," Hara said with a smile.

He said he finds joy in making up filler episodes that fit in between the major storylines. The artist also prefers the scenes just before battles rather than the actual battle scenes. "I find the process leading up to (a battle) and the heightened emotions before and after more gripping than drawing the battle itself," he said.

Hara often gets carried away thinking of lines for a general in a scene where he gives his soldiers a pep talk on the battlefield. "I get caught up with the character and weep as I draw the scene."

Ou Ki (Wang Qi), one of the six great generals of Qin, and all the other characters have unique faces and figures.

"I pay attention to the balance of the world I am drawing at a particular time, like when Ou Ki is introduced, I give his aide, Tou (Teng), a face that draws equal attention but in a different way from him."

As for Tou, who doesn't look like a Chinese person, the author said he got carried away when he started designing his face. Hara even told his staff that Tou looked like Freddie Mercury.

While Hara displayed a playful sense of humor, he also talked about his work in a serious manner. After a troop of soldiers led by Shin is formed, he said he felt like drawing "nothing but mutual support and bonding." The artist is making good use of the experiences he accumulated after graduating from college. While working as a corporate employee, he said he learned that people can demonstrate an extremely powerful ability when they tackle an issue as a team. Hara also worked as an assistant to popular manga artist Takehiko Inoue before he went independent.

He foresees "Kingdom" eventually spanning 70 to 80 volumes by the time it comes to an end. The author is also making strenuous efforts to create episodes taking place up to the unification of China under the rule of Qin.

"Kingdom" has been running in Shueisha Inc.'s Young Jump weekly comic magazine since 2006.

THE ORIGINALITY PRIZE

The Originality Prize winner, Miki Yamamoto's "Sunny Sunny Ann!," follows an American woman named Ann who is on a road trip by herself. The character is tough both on the outside and on the inside.

Yamamoto said she wanted to present an "unconventional" woman.

"At any rate, I wanted to depict a strong woman," she said.

Feeling that she couldn't depict "unconventional" things if the story were set in Japan, she decided to set the story in the United States.

The author said she loves the aura of a female character in the U.S. film "Gloria." Inspired by "A Day, A Dog," an illustrated book that uses no words, Yamamoto established her own style which involves unique lines and less use of dialogue.

"Sunny Sunny Ann!" ran in Kodansha Ltd.'s Morning weekly comic magazine on an irregular basis before it was compiled into a single comic book volume released in July last year.

THE SHORT STORY PRIZE

The Short Story Prize winner, Yoshiie Goda's "Kikai Jikake no Ai" omnibus manga series, tells stories of self-sacrifice through robots with hearts.

One episode the author is particularly fond of tells the story of a robot detective who gets involved with making fake banknotes to narrow the gap between the rich and the poor. But the robot is turned into an "insect" in the end.

"I was able to express the sadness of a 'person' whose spirit, knowledge and way of living are trapped (in a box in the shape of an insect)," Goda said.

Goda's representative works, "Jigyaku no Uta" (Ballad of self-abuse) and "Kuki Ningyo" ("Air Doll"), were adapted into feature films, with the latter showcased in the Un Certain Regard (A certain view) section at the 2009 Cannes Film Festival.

"Kikai Jikake no Ai" has been running in extra issues of Shogakukan Inc.'s Big Comic manga anthology since 2010.

By TETSUO IWAMOTO/ Staff Writer
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MANGA GRAND PRIX: A scene from "Kingdom"

MANGA GRAND PRIX: A scene from "Kingdom"

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  • MANGA GRAND PRIX: A scene from "Kingdom"
  • Yasuhisa Hara (The Asahi Shimbun)
  • ORIGINALITY PRIZE: A scene from "Sunny Sunny Ann!"
  • Miki Yamamoto (The Asahi Shimbun)
  • SHORT STORY PRIZE: A scene from "Kikai Jikake no Ai"
  • Yoshiie Goda's self-portrait

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