(This post has imagery that may be NSFW.)
Last week I finished up looking at Kodansha’s initial list of releases and found them to be… boring. Now that I’m finished looking over what is actually going to get published in the US, it’s time to daydream about manga that hasn’t been licensed yet. Since I am a sucker for manga award winners, and since they generally are less formulaic, more unique pieces, I’ve been daydreaming about the list of Manga Taisho nominees that was announced in January. My first delve into the Manga Taisho awards explored the world of Un Chocolatier de L’Amour Perdu, a josei manga about a pâtissier and his unrequited love, which sounded absolutely delicious. Going back to the Manga Taisho list (of which you can find a very nice synopsis here), we are going to look at one of the darker pieces of work that was nominated this year – I Am a Hero, by Kengo Hanazawa.
The Manga Taisho awards are sort of the odd man of awards given to manga in Japan. Unlike most manga awards, which are generally chosen by editors and mangaka, the Manga Taisho awards are chosen by booksellers who are in charge of selling manga in their specific stores. The Manga Taisho awards are also limited to works published in the year that the award is given, and can only be given to a series that has eight or less volumes. This means that the Manga Taisho awards generally promote newer work, and keep industry behemoths like One Piece and other shonen giants away from the limelight. The Manga Taisho panel also has the tendency to skew towards manga that are more eclectic and mature than normal manga, so you tend to see more seinen and josei series than shojo or shonen (although Bakuman did get nominated for the 3rd Taisho awards last year).
I Am a Hero is a psychological thriller/horror manga that features a 30+ year-old man who is working as a mangaka’s assistant and is trying to make it big with his own series. The author has some severe psychological problems, but he tries to overcome them and live a regular life. Things take a nosedive when a rampant virus which initially looks like the flu starts turning people into crazed zombies, and the world starts collapsing… maybe. From what I can tell, it seems fairly contentious whether or not the zombies are real, or if they’re part of the main character’s overarching psychosis.
The author of I Am a Hero, Kengo Hanazawa, has published a total of four series. His longest running, Boys on the Run, was a 10-volume series published in Big Comic Spirits, and seems like a mix up of Rocky and I’ll Give It My All… Tomorrow. Likewise, I Am a Hero is currently in print in Shogakukan‘s Big Comic Spirits, which is a weekly seinen magazine that is/was also the home of Oishinbo, Ikigami: The Ultimate Limit, and Even a Monkey Can Draw Manga. That’s quite a bit of variety, and the series currently being published in Big Comic Spirits seem to relish that.
I Am a Hero is reminiscent of some of the much darker work of Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service illustrator Housui Yamazaki. Both Mail and MPD Psycho published by Dark Horse in the USA immediately come to mind for their dark, disturbing horror. While I Am a Hero is published in Shogakukan‘s Big Comic Spirits, I have a feeling that a series like I Am a Hero could only gain traction in Viz Media‘s Signature line (which does feature Biomega, a sci-fi horror manga) or in Dark Horse‘s excellently curated manga line.