Friday, 30 May 2014

Japanese history, the right way up

I'm completely the wrong person to review a manga.

My sum knowledge of the art form is from stolen glances on the Tozai Line at salarymen's copies that looked to me slightly less enticing than lugging around multi-coloured phonebooks through Tokyo's underground. But that was 15 years ago. The comics were impenetrable to me, being in Japanese. And upside down (I was invariably standing and the manga were on the laps of folk who had got on before me and so got seats.)

Well, that was until tonight.

Tonight, I finished reading Shigeru Mizuki's Showa, A History of Japan 1926-1939, An English translation of his history of the country, his life and his art. You probably know more about him than I do, so I'll just link to his Wikipedia page in case you don't and simply add that the guy is well placed to comment on the history of the Showa period, having lived through it all, much of it at the shitty end of the stick.

I've taken the liberty of scanning in three pages of the 500 in this manga just to give a flavour of the book. I thought at first it was just one damned thing after another (pre-war Japanese history as a series of Incidents and Puppet Governments, at least it was if all the history you know is to pass an  'O' Level. To a student, everything looks like a bullet point). But as time goes on and the pages fly by, you see, really see -- this is a manga remember -- how the Great Events of History impacted an imaginative but lazy kid having the good fortune to grow up in the wilds of Tottori, but the bad to have come of age at the time of dictatorship.

Read it. It's excellent. Unlike me, you haven't spent half your life deluded that comics are just for kids, have you? Because that would be a terrible mistake.

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