In this coming-of-age tale, MIYAMOTO Dai is a young man determined to become a world-class jazz musician. Dai is on his middle-school basketball team and living in the city of Sendai when a friend takes him to a live jazz performance, a life-changing experience that spurs him to start practicing the saxophone on his own. He can’t read music and doesn’t know a single jazz standard, but he plunges straight on, playing his sax every day, rainy or hot, by the banks of the Hirose River. Little by little people start to hear something they like in Dai’s playing, and when he graduates from high school he heads for Tokyo, vowing to become “the best jazz player in the world.” Together with SAWABE Yukinori, a piano prodigy of the same generation, and Dai’s classmate TAMADA Shunji, who practices the drums night and day to catch up with the other two, Dai forms the trio JASS. Striving to improve together in a friendly rivalry, the three give their all to every performance, earning more praise with each gig and eventually opening for famous bands at major venues. Their own gigs are attracting ever-larger crowds when an unexpected offer to Yukinori presents the trio with a new challenge. Music seems to leap off the pages of this ambitious work, drawn in the powerful trademark style of the author of the hit manga Gaku, Minna no Yama (Peak – Everyone’s Mountain).
Much like its protagonist, whose rough-edged but undeniable power mesmerizes those around him, this work stood out as a Grand Prize winner for its ability to thrill readers, jazz lovers and non-lovers alike. The manga itself is anything but rough, displaying its unpretentious charms in a thoughtful, meticulous way. This is exemplified by depictions of improvised performance that cleverly exploit the nature of manga as a soundless medium. The work is at its most stunning when portraying the miraculous instant in which explosive passion transmutes into music, the fiery interplay between musicians, and their emotional rapport with the audience. If this were a story about music with lyrics, or a wordplay-oriented comedy genre, it would be difficult to maintain a tempo that captivates readers as this one does. Moreover, the work addresses universal, real-world dilemmas—the gap between talent and reality, conflicts with others—and does so through interesting, carefully drawn characters with distinct personalities. The result is a work that touches readers’ hearts and is eminently deserving of this year’s Grand Prize. (FURUNAGA Shinichi)