Cyberpunk: Momotarô, the manga phenomenon created by an AI

Cover of Cyberpunk: Momotarô, Shinchosha edition

Technology mixes with art. Is it compatible?

Unless you are still sending faxes in 2023, you surely haven't missed this new technological wave that is making the headlines: artificial intelligence, otherwise known as AI, ranging from DALL-E to GPT Chat. These softwares find concrete applications in a multitude of fields, and this trend does not spare the world of manga. Indeed, the Japanese publishing house Shinchosha strikes a big blow by recently taking the bet to publish a work entirely created by an AI. This is a revolution! Until now, the greatest mangas such as One Piece, Dragon Ball, Naruto or BLEACH to name a few have all been the result of hard work by talented artists, some of whom are considered geniuses in their field. The talent of mangakas often includes several elements such as the scenario, the drawing, the universe and many others, for the greatest happiness of the fans. It is therefore legitimate to ask whether AIs such as MidJourney can compete with the creativity of a great mangaka master.

What is Midjourney?

MidJourney is an AI software developed by the Japanese company HEROZ. It is capable of creating content in many fields using machine learning algorithms, otherwise known as "Deeplearning" or Machinelearning". Also known as deep learning, Deeplearning is a form of machine learning that uses artificial neural networks to model content or solve complex problems for example. Neural networks are computer models that simulate the information processing processes of the human brain, and Deep Learning uses artificial neural networks with multiple processing layers to learn hierarchical data representations. From then on, the fields of action of Deplearning are multiple and focus for example on image recognition, speech recognition, automatic translation, time series prediction, sentiment analysis,... It allows to process massive amounts of data and to extract complex features from these data to accomplish tasks that require a deep understanding of context and meaning. Deep Learning has become one of the most active areas of artificial intelligence research, and is considered one of the key technologies for the future of AI. For application in art and especially manga, the software works by analyzing thousands of existing works to identify patterns in the structure of stories, characters, dialogues and themes, and uses this information to generate new stories and original scenarios.

Script of Cyberpunk: Momotarô

First, "Momotarō" is a famous Japanese children's story about a young boy born from a peach and raised by an elderly couple. In this story, Momotarō is sent by the gods to fight the demons that threaten Japan. "Cyberpunk: Momotarô" thus draws its inspiration from this great classic of Japanese science fiction. In this reinterpretation proposed by the mangaka Rootport, the story follows a young boy with amnesia who has been taken in by the owners of a strip club. It turns out that the protagonist has confidential data locked in a part of his body. Throughout the story, the main character must discover his true identity and find his way. To achieve this, he must face several formidable enemies and fight to achieve his goals. "Cyberpunk: Momotarô" stands out as a modern, cyberpunk version of the classic Momotarō story, with darker and more complex issues. 

AI and art

As mentioned in the introduction, artificial intelligences have recently experienced a surge in popularity in helping to create content, including in art. For the visual aspect, they allow to quickly and freely produce illustrations for YouTube videos, tweets, comic strips,... Thus, we often hear that these machines "facilitate the work" of illustrators and professional writers, by generating a large amount of content of varying quality, we must admit. However, this technological evolution raises questions about the place and role of the artist, the subjectivity of AI and its usefulness in the creative process. On this point, opinions diverge. Some artists see this technological advance as an aid to creation, as the arrival of computers once was, while others fear that their work will be replaced. Some artistic platforms, such as Skeb in Japan, have already banned certain AIs.

Issues involved

As you have understood, the use of AI can have a significant impact on the world of manga. With Midjourney, it becomes possible to generate images by simply typing a query, which allows the AI to better understand complex requests as it is used, thanks to the "Deeplearning" method. This could help mangakas to produce their drawings more easily and quickly, thus lightening their workload and reducing the risks of health problems. Because yes, being a mangaka implies a frantic work rhythm. However, using AI to create a manga entirely involves some issues: 

  1. In the world of manga, mangaka often work with assistants to help them create their boards. This process is also formative, it is a real transfer of know-how, a master-pupil relationship. The use of an AI to produce the images of a manga could allow the mangaka to reduce the number of assistants needed, because he would not need them anymore to draw the plates. This could lead to a loss of jobs for many artists and assistants in the industry, and thus prevent new talents from asserting themselves in this world with their paws. 
  2. Indeed, some mangakas like Boichi, Tatsuki Fujimoto or Miura to name a few have built their fame by developing a unique graphic style recognizable at first glance by the fans. The use of AI could lead to a standardization of designs and create a graphic uniformity of the works produced. This could reduce diversity and creativity in the world of manga and cause artists to lose their ability to stand out with their artistic style.
  3. The question of copyrights also arises. Indeed, in the USA for example, it is not possible to obtain copyright on a work generated by an AI. We are facing a legal blur, because what about a simple help to the creation of the AI? Where is the limit? As often happens, technology advances so fast that it is sometimes difficult to be up to date legally speaking.

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