Digital Manga Koshien aims to create new media hub
BY YUDAI OGATA STAFF WRITER
UTSUNOMIYA--High school students from around Japan aspiring to become a new generation of digital manga creators will be competing for cash and other prizes at the Digital Manga Koshien contest held April 3 here.
The 135 entries are being judged by a panel of popular manga artists.
The event takes its cue from the annual Manga Koshien, a national high school manga championship held in Kochi Prefecture, where undiscovered talents have emerged. That contest was inaugurated in 1992 to promote manga across the country. Kochi Prefecture has produced many renowned artists, including "Anpanman" author Takashi Yanase and Rieko Saibara, creator of "Mainichi Kaasan" (Everyday mom), a manga recently adapted into a feature film.
Publishers dispatch scouts to uncover promising young talents to that event every year.
Now, Utsunomiya, which is within an hour's bullet train ride of Tokyo Station, is jumping into the act with a digital version: the Digital Manga Koshien.
The Koshien part of the names comes from the annual national high school baseball tournaments that are held at the venerable Koshien Stadium in Hyogo Prefecture.
Still, it remains to be seen whether the new contest will become a starting point for aspiring artists, or whether Utsunomiya evolves into a hub for new media.
Digital manga are comics created entirely using computer software. Unlike conventional paper-based comics, digital manga are mainly read on computers and other digital devices.
Like everything else, the advent of digital technology is transforming the world of traditional comics.
Compared with hand-drawn works, digital manga not only offer a wider scope of story expression, but can also incorporate new media effects, such as sound effects and music.
The first Digital Manga Koshien awards ceremony takes place at the Orion-dori street in the city center.
Entries were accepted online from Nov. 1 last year until Feb. 17. A total of 135 works were submitted from high school students across the country, including 27 from Tochigi Prefecture.
The jury panel includes Tetsuya Chiba, creator of "Ashitano Joe" (Tomorrow's Joe), Monkey Punch, creator of the "Lupin the 3rd" series, and Yoshimi Kurata, best known for "Aji Ichimonme." The panel is currently reviewing the entries.
The top winner wins 100,000 yen ($1,220). Two members of the all-girl idol group AKB48, Sayaka Nakaya and Miku Tanabe, both known to love anime and manga, will be special guests on April 3.
"Within a few years, e-books will grow in popularity. We'd like to use (this contest) to create an environment in which high school students can digitally create manga," a representative from Shogakukan-Shueisha Production Co. (ShoPro), one of the sponsors, said.
Both academic and business circles hope that the new championship, together with the Manga Koshien in Kochi Prefecture, will expand opportunities for young artists.
Bunsei University of Art in Utsunomiya helped to organize the digital contest.
The university is one of the few schools in eastern Japan that offers manga studies as a major. Chiba, a well-known "mangaka," also serves as a professor at the school, aiming to cultivate young manga talents.
"To date, Tokyo has been the center of manga culture, but the Internet can provide a chance to distribute manga from local areas," said Seiichi Tanaka, who lectures at the university.
"I'd love to place an interactive map of Japan on the contest website. You could read manga featuring the local charms of a certain prefecture by clicking on the map. I think such offerings might help revitalize local areas," Tanaka said.
Another goal of the Digital Manga Koshien is to put Utsunomiya in the spotlight.
"We'd like to stimulate Utsunomiya's economy and increase its brand power by holding a nationwide event," said one person (who prefers to remain anonymous) who helped bring the event to the city.
This individual says that Bunsei University of Art's accumulated expertise, together with the presence of Chiba, were major factors in getting the contest off the ground. After the project received the green light, exchanges between the organizers and ShoPro to coordinate the schedule and other details went smoothly.
A big obstacle was raising sufficient funding. Organizers found a way to finance the project after Kojima Co., a leading home appliance retailer based in Utsunomiya, offered to sponsor the event.
The city's downtown Orion-dori shopping street, the venue for the contest, will also offer full assistance.
United by the common purpose of turning Utsunomiya into a new media and digital manga hub, local cultural and business circles are going all out.
"We'd like to play our part as a local company," Kojima Chairman Akitoshi Kojima said. He said his company will "help develop an environment for manga culture in Utsunomiya and promote it around the country."
Kojima stores will post the prize-winning manga up on its website and at nationwide outlets, the chairman added.
Because Kojima stores have considerable experience in marketing and selling digital devices, the chairman has high hopes for the future of digital comics.
"It will certainly be fun to incorporate sound effects and theme songs (into digital manga) and try new challenges," Kojima said. "(The contest) is the first festival for digital manga being developed. I hope everyone comes to Orion-dori street to experience digital manga."
Up to 10,000 manga enthusiasts and visitors are expected to attend.
"We have high expectations (that the contest) will raise Utsunomiya's profile nationwide," said Misao Irie, head of the Utsunomiya Orion-dori shopping street promotion association. He added that he hopes using cultural "soft power" will help.
"Right now, it is difficult to attract people to the area only with products," Irie said.
The Orion-dori street has lost its former crowds of shoppers over the past 20 years or so, he said, adding that the area needs to try new ways to revitalize the community.
"We'd like everyone to visit, learn about and enjoy Utsunomiya to the full," Irie enthused. "We also hope to hear opinions and feedback from visitors."
Tetsuya Chiba also looks forward to heading up the jury panel at the awards ceremony April 3.
"Utsunomiya will be filled with much excitement," Chiba said. "I'm looking forward to seeing manga works created on digital devices and submitted over the Internet. It is so exciting to witness this world of expression changing."