Back when I was buying issues of Monthly Afternoon to get my Genshiken fix, the magazines would occasionally come with packaged mini-manga. Each small book has one or two self-contained stories and it seemed like a pretty good extra. It wasn’t until kransom’s post about the Afternoon Four Seasons Award that I realized that these manga were exactly that: winning entries from the competitions.

Though anyone is allowed to enter, amateurs can still manage to win, as was the case with Winter 2005 when then-rookie manga artist Imai Tetsuya won the Winter 2005 Grand Prize for his entry, entitled Traveler.

Portable Four Seasons Winter 2005. Traveler is the one on top.

Looking at Traveler, it most definitely deserved to win. The basic premise is that a boy wakes up one day to find that he’s four months in the future and that apparently in those four months he’s turned into a complete jerk who left his band and broke up with his girlfriend. The story is less about returning back to the proper time and more about dealing with responsibility even when it shouldn’t have anything to do with you. It’s pretty intriguing, and everyone loves to say, “Fuzakenna!

Imai makes mistakes. Some of the characters and plot development seemed tacked on and unnecessary. But what I find really interesting about this is that the faults of Traveler feel different from the mistakes that tend to happen in OEL manga.

When we look at criticism of OEL manga and the whole movement behind it, one of the factors is how much it just doesn’t “look” like manga. Artists try their best to live up to the series they love, but something typically feels off. In the past I’ve talked about some of the reasons why I think this happens, and Narutaki over at the Reverse Thieves pointed out the abuse of screentone in a lot of OEL titles. But I think there’s a more inherent cultural difference, one that’s not really a matter of talent or experience.

The art in Traveler hits bouts of inconsistency, particularly with the characters, as they sometimes suddenly look like they have no bones underneath their skin and muscles. I think you can see this in the image from earlier. Faces go out of proportion, too. A lot of western artists probably even have a better grasp of anatomy and motion than Imai, but the way in which the artwork turns out inconsistent is different from the way it happens in most OEL titles.

The story’s faults are also different from the issues that occur in OEL manga. In Traveler, some characters and plot threads sometimes seem unnecessary or perhaps given too much time, a problem when it’s just a 32-page one-shot, which are problems which occur in OEL titles too, but the plot issues with Traveler seem very much like the kind of mistakes that would happen in manga. There’s a sense that Imai and other manga-aspiring artists in Japan, when compared to their counterparts across the ocean, are simply aiming for separate goals; whether they reach them or not is another matter entirely.

I think the lesson here might be that when you judge two things, comparing the very best of one to the very worst of another doesn’t really get you anywhere. It’s far more interesting and fruitful to look at the middle ground; avoid the absolute greats for a little bit so you can see what most people are doing. There, you’ll find a good snapshot of the state of manga, or whatever it is you’re looking at.

I also know that “across the ocean” leaves out countries and products like Korean manhwa. I’ll leave that for another day though.

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