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Friday, April 25, 2014

Best Graphic Novel about Japanese History ever!

Mizuki, Shigeru (2013) Showa 1926 -1939:  A History of Japan  Canada:  Drawn and Quarterly.

     I never really thought about it.  Why did Japan join with Germany and Italy to fight against America and the European Allies in World War Two.  I mean, I wasn't aware of any particular grievances that Japan might have had that would prompt something like the attack on Pearl Harbor. 
     In this brilliant (and rather weighty at 533 pages) volume, Shigeru Mizuki puts that decision in context by giving details about Japans economic and political struggles in the years leading up to the war -- including the rise of a new kind of nationalism.  Mizuki alternates between chapters that read a bit like traditional expository history texts and those that are more like Mizuki's memories of being a child during that time.  Over the course of the book, this has the effect of giving the reader both an overview of the bigger picture stuff, and a clear empathic connection with the everyday people who are affected by the political and economic decisions of the leaders of Japan and other nations.
     This book is written in manga style (it reads left to right and uses some of the symbols and conventions of manga).  It takes an adjustment if you are not used to reading Manga, but it usually just takes me a couple of page and I forget that I am doing anything different.  (I don't usually read manga -- not because I dislike it, but because it is all I can go to keep up with traditional graphic novels.  There is just too much manga for me to ever hope to catch up on.  Sigh.)
     The artwork is beautiful.  Mizuki uses mostly pen and ink but combines different styles and sometimes uses photographs in combination with his drawings.  The effect can be breathtaking.
      Mizuki seems to be a remarkable historian.  The book contains enough footnotes to satisfy even the most intense history professor and the book does a nice job of providing chances for students to contextualize, think critically about the sources of information, and  contrast different points of view.
     Over the course of the 533 pages, Mizuki includes a handful of vulgar moments (mostly when recollecting his middle school years.  This includes some mildly offensive language and a scene where some immature boys play interact with their own defecation.  None of that should be too much a problem for the high school reader (and this book would be a difficult haul for anyone younger than a freshman.)  If you teach History of English, this would be a good one to get hold of. 

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