Yugai toshi (Harmful City)
Taking censorship as its theme, this is a work that weighs in on the issue of freedom of expression in contemporary society. The setting is near-future Tokyo just before the 2020 Olympics, when a “purification campaign” has been launched to eliminate anything deemed obscene or indecent. In the case of manga, works containing images with extremely sexual, violent, vicious, antisocial or antiestablishment content are labeled by a Council of Experts as “harmful books” that could adversely influence youth, and their sale is accordingly restricted. It is under these conditions that a single manga artist, HIBINO Mikio, publishes a work depicting the spread of a “cannibalism disease” symptomized by an uncontrollable urge to consume dead human flesh. HIBINO searches for a way to disseminate his work without being censored. The narrative alternates between the real world of increasingly repressive censorship and the desolate world of HIBINO’s manga, sometimes positing a synchronicity between the two.
There was no significant difference of opinion within the jury in conferring an award on this work, which won nearly unanimous acclaim. With masterly storytelling and elegant artwork, it gives full play to the same talents that dazzled in the author’s previous manga Yokokuhan (Prophecy, Shueisha, 2011-13). More than passion alone is required to tackle a theme like manga censorship, and this work gives optimal shape to it. But this is also a “manga artist’s manga” in which the author’s personal feelings about censorship drive his pen with an urgency sustained to the very end. It was not lost on us that the work was challenging us to examine our own views on manga censorship as jurors for an award organized by the Agency for Cultural Affairs. That awareness made for a certain tension that never let up in the course of reading the story, but we soon became engrossed in it and kept turning the pages. However socially significant or educational a manga’s content might be, the medium demands that it first and foremost be entertaining. Above all this manga works as entertainment, and is replete with brilliant devices to ensure that. (KADOKURA Shima)