Japanese manga artists and creators are exploring the use of generative artificial intelligence, pinning their hopes on using the technology to offer suggestions for illustration drafts and story plots, as well as for making the creative process substantially more efficient.
Nonetheless, manga artists remain cautious about how much AI can be relied upon for generating works captivating enough to sell to the public, and they are also concerned about AI's potential for copyright infringement, given such technologies are typically trained using massive amounts of data from the internet.
Recently, a project was launched in Tokyo to create a new episode of "Black Jack," a famous Osamu Tezuka manga, using generative AI for release in a weekly magazine this fall. Dubbed the "God of manga," Tezuka died in 1989 at age 60 after writing some 150,000 pages of manuscripts for around 700 titles.
"We think that however we use AI, it won't produce an end-product that excels the original Osamu Tezuka work but...it would be considerable if a work scoring 50 (out of 100) is achieved," said Makoto Tezuka, a project member who is also son of Osamu Tezuka and director at Tezuka Productions Co.
The project will aim to use generative AI that could be trained on the structure of past plots and the relationships between Black Jack and the manga's other characters. The series is a medical drama comprising over 200 episodes about Black Jack, the story's namesake -- an unlicensed, yet genius, surgeon.
The new manga will be released in the weekly comic magazine "Shukan Shonen Champion," which ran the Black Jack series from 1973 to 1983.
Tezuka and other project members stress that they expect the technology to play a supportive role in the creative process, such as offering storyline suggestions, as well as creating character designs and dialogue from prompts created by instructions from the creators, including general themes and depictions of the fictional world.
"We creators will definitely make the finishing touches and tunings, as in the end, we want to produce something that will be enjoyed by our readers. We feel a sense of responsibility about that," Tezuka explained at a press conference about the project.
He said that multiple creators will use AI to come up with the new Black Jack episode for the project, with the most compelling story to be selected for publication.
"AI is only a tool, and what matters is how someone uses it," he said. "Different people will utilize it in their own unique ways, according to their styles."
But Tezuka thinks that AI still struggles to mimic the various ambiguities and subtleties in fictional worlds and plotlines generated by the human creative writing process.
"I think it is possible, for instance, that AI will generate an image that's too clear and precise, and a creator would need to tune it to add a degree of profundity and ambiguity," he said.
Besides the project, expectations are growing in Japan that the use of generative AI will encourage the general public, who may have creative ideas but lack the technical writing and drawing skills, to produce their own artwork with the technology, and also help professional artists become more efficient.
"I hope that AI will not take away from creators but will instead encourage them to expand their businesses," Tezuka said. "Osamu Tezuka would have surely used AI if it had existed at the time, and would have shown us exemplary works demonstrating its utility."
Tezuka explained that his late father was the first Japanese manga artist to hire assistants, who made illustrations and background designs according to his instructions. "If AI had existed at the time, (my father) probably could have produced even higher quality manga," he added.
For now, Japanese law allows the use of a wide variety of content for training AI and developing the technology without the permission of their authors or creators, but if the "action would unreasonably prejudice the interests of the copyright owner," its use is not permitted.
However, the law does not clarify what constitutes "prejudice" in such cases.
Although the law was drawn up in response to the rapid advance of AI, the fact that it has permitted the use of content created by others without their consent has been pointed to by critics as proof that regulation in Japan is too lax compared with other countries, regardless of how the content is ultimately used.
An industry survey showed that many creators in Japan are concerned about the spread of generative AI and its potential implications for copyright infringement, not to mention the impact on those worried that their jobs could be in jeopardy.
An online survey in May showed that 93.8 percent of 27,000 respondents, including illustrators, photographers and writers, are worried about copyright infringement, while 58.5 percent voiced concerns about losing their jobs.
Many also pointed out that illegal websites storing copyrighted works without consent have been used by developers as source material for training their AI models, highlighting the need for revising copyright law provisions that allow AI models to use such material without getting permission in the developmental stage.
Arts Workers Japan, which conducted the survey, has been demanding that the government introduce better regulation for AI. The association is joined by a wide range of artists, including actors, musicians and decorative artists.
An advisory panel for the Agency for Cultural Affairs has been tasked with organizing potential cases that could "unreasonably prejudice the interests of the copyright owner."
While discussions are ongoing about the extent to which generative AI should be regulated, researchers expect that Japan will find an appropriate path forward without veering toward being overly restrictive.
"I think Japan is very open when it comes to coexisting with technology as opposed to European countries, and the United States," said Satoshi Kurihara, a professor at Keio University's Faculty of Science and Technology specializing in AI and a member of the Black Jack project.
"It is a unique country in terms of adapting to new technology," Kurihara said, having seen how other famous Osamu Tezuka works such as "Astro Boy," about an android boy with human emotions, and the popular "Doraemon," a manga about a blue robotic cat who travels to the present day from the 22nd century, incorporate such relationships into manga.
Sam Altman, chief executive of U.S.-based OpenAI, developer of ChatGPT, emphasized Japan's uniqueness during his visit to Tokyo in June. He has also said that OpenAI plans to open an office in Japan.
"Japan is a super important country to us," Altman said at an event at Keio University. "I think there is a long history of humans and machines working together here and figuring out how to embrace automation technology to do more, and that's what I have been quite excited about."