Photo/Illutration“Jitterbug The Forties” ((c) Shinobu Arima/ Shogakukan/ Big Comic Original)

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  • Photo/Illustraion
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Shinobu Arima's “Jitterbug The Forties,” which digs deep into the mentality of a middle-aged woman, won the Manga Grand Prix at the 23rd Tezuka Osamu Cultural Prize.

The competition, sponsored by The Asahi Shimbun Co., honors “Astro Boy” creator Osamu Tezuka, who left an indelible mark on Japan’s manga culture.

Sansuke Yamada’s “Areyo Hoshikuzu ” was awarded The Originality Prize, given for fresh talent and novel modes of expression.

The Short Story Prize went to Ken Koyama’s “Little Miss P.”

Veteran “gekiga” artist Takao Saito, best known for “Golgo 13,” won the Asahi Special Prize.

The awards ceremony will be held June 6 at Hamarikyu Asahi Hall in Tokyo’s Tsukiji district. Each winner will be given a bronze statue. The Manga Grand Prix winner will also take home 2 million yen ($17,880), while the Originality, Short Story and Asahi Special Prize winners will each receive 1 million yen.

Manga titles published or released in Japan in 2018 were eligible for the awards. For the top Manga Grand Prize, eight judges each assigned a total of 15 points and no more than five to any one manga. Eleven titles with the most points advanced to the final round of deliberations, along with one title that was ranked first in the recommendations by bookstore staff and many experts.

MANGA GRAND PRIX

“While the series was running, many readers sent me letters that said things like ‘it saved me’ and ‘I was comforted,' and it also made me feel saved. Winning the award was really satisfying,” Manga Grand Prix winner Arima said.

“Jitterbug The Forties” centers around a 40-year-old woman named Arata who doesn't have a boyfriend. Aiming to make a fresh start in life, she starts working in a bar where all the hostesses are much older. The series ended its 7-year run in 2018.

“When I looked back on my life after I turned 40, I realized that I didn’t have any significant works under my belt and my body was worn out. I thought about the meaning of my life and, at the same time the thought occurred to me, ‘Do I have to achieve something in my life?’ And I turned that feeling into a story with honesty,” Arima said.

The artist made her professional debut when she was a third-year high school student.

“I started out doing four-frame comic strips, so I take advantage of that experience and don’t do rough sketches even when I work on a story manga. When I finish drawing the last panel of each episode, I’m often surprised to see how the story develops, like, ‘Oh, this is how it goes!’” she laughed.

In the latter half of the series, the story enters an epic scale as it focuses on a tragedy experienced by a legendary chief hostess called “Jitterbug,” who was a settler in Brazil, and a memory of another seasoned hostess who survived war-ravaged Japan.

“I find people like yakuza, drifters and immigrants interesting. I want to portray what outcasts have gone through,” Arima said.

ORIGINALITY PRIZE

Originality Prize winner Sansuke Yamada made his professional debut in 1994. The artist has published many of his works in tabloid and adult magazines, with his first long series “Areyo Hoshikuzu” coming to an end last year. It had been running since 2013.

The winning title focuses on former army sergeant Tokutaro and his old comrade Kadomatsu. Their story is intertwined with yakuza and prostitutes, vividly illustrating the intensity of the black market and the scars of war.

“I expected that I would be criticized more for portraying the last war because I was born after World War II, but I feel like I was saved after I received an honorable award commemorating Mr. Tezuka, the author of ‘Paper Fortress’ (which describes his war experiences),” Yamada said.

SHORT STORY PRIZE

“Little Miss P,” which features a creepy but cute looking character representing women’s monthly periods, takes jabs at menstrual pains, which vary greatly from person to person, men’s lack of understanding, social prejudice and other issues.

Ken Koyama started releasing the episodes of the manga on his blog in 2014. It caused a stir after it was published in book form last year. A live-action feature film adaptation is set to hit theaters this year.

“It raises eyebrows at times because of its theme, but I heard that Osamu Tezuka once said, ‘The subject of manga is the spirit of satire and indictment,’ and that has been such an encouraging aphorism for me,” Koyama said.

ASAHI SPECIAL PRIZE

Takao Saito made his professional debut in 1955 when his work was published in a “kashihon manga” rental comic. He was among the first to pay attention to the possibilities of manga works produced for young adult male readers, and spearheaded the gekiga (dramatic pictures) movement. Saito has had a massive influence on manga culture and remains a prolific artist at age 82. His “Golgo 13” celebrated 50 years of continuous publication last year.

“I have little control over my waning strength, but I take this Special Prize as a message of encouragement from Mr. Tezuka, as if he were saying, ‘You’ve made it until now, so why don’t you continue a little bit more,’ and I want to keep trying my best as long as I can,” Saito said.