Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Reader's Diary #1383- Shigeru Mizuki: Showa 1926 - 1939 A History of Japan

A bit of a Japanophile, I've been eyeing Shigeru Mizuki's Showa History of Japan series for a while, trying to get up the gumption to tackle it. Each edition is over 500 pages and even for a manga that's daunting. It certainly didn't help that in Frederik L. Schodt's introduction he warns that some readers may find it too much like a textbook or too overwhelming. Nonetheless, I pushed forward.

And I'm very glad that I did. I think Showa 1926 - 1939 is as overwhelming as you want it to be. There are certainly a lot of facts presented and there are a lot of facts alluded to. For the latter,  footnotes advise to check out the notes compiled at the end. It is, of course, up to a reader what to do with these. I decided early on not to bother. I felt that I was getting enough facts as it was and to keep flipping back and forth, I'd lose sight of the narrative. But I didn't feel that my reading suffered any. I was still able to get the gist of Mizuki's thesis (that there were a lot of factors, including hunger and poverty and pride and propaganda that led to Japan's war fever) and it's not like I was expecting a test at the end.

Lest I be suggesting that it's a dry read, it's certainly not. In fact, at times there is even humour. Interspersed with Japan's history is Mizuki's autobiography and the way he depicts himself as a violent, curious but none too bright, and altogether odd child adds much needed comic relief.

Finally, the art is stunning. Bearing little resemblance to the style I've become accustomed to with manga beyond the sharp, thin lines, Mizuki's range is vast and expertly employed. Scenes go from highly realistic, especially when depicting national and international historical events, to simple but exaggerated cartoon expressions, especially when depicting vignettes from his own life.

It felt like I was reading something truly special.

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