Barefoot Gen 1 Keiji Nakazawa: B

From the back cover:
Barefoot Gen is the powerful, tragic story of the bombing of Hiroshima, seen through the eyes of the artist as a young boy growing up in a Japanese anti-militarist family. Of particular interest is Barefoot Gen‘s focus on family in a militarized culture, and the special problems which they encounter. Barefoot Gen brings home the reality of an event in our history which we must never allow to happen again.

Barefoot Gen is a largely autobiographical, slightly fictionalized account of a young boy’s perspective of the bombing of Hiroshima. It’s drawn in a cartoony style reminiscent of Osamu Tezuka, and puts the experiences of the Nakaoka family into broader historical context.

My initial reactions to the first volume of Barefoot Gen made me feel like a bad person. I had expected to instantly like Gen and the Nakaoka family, but found them very difficult to sympathize with at first. Part of the problem for me is what Art Spiegelman describes in his introduction as “casual violence.” Certainly in a series about war and the aftermath of an atomic bomb, I expected there to be some disturbing imagery. I did not expect, though, that the members of a “peace-loving family” like the Nakaokas would be so violent themselves.

Daikichi Nakaoka, the father of the clan, is outspoken about his opposition to the war, which makes him and his family the target of much harrassment by their neighbors. You’d think that being against the war would mean that Daikichi is opposed to violence in general, but that’s not true. I lost count of how many times he smacks someone (usually a child) and sends him or her sprawling into a wall. This tendency for violence extends to his wife (who brandishes a knife on several occasions) and his youngest sons (who twice gnaw off the fingertips of admittedly odious people).

It got to the point where I actively began heckling them! Heckling the victims of a nuclear holocaust!

When the family’s wheat field—upon which they were relying as a future food source—is trampled, Daikichi cries, “Who in the hell would do such a thing?”

My response: “Uh, everyone?”

After Kimie, Gen’s mother, holds his eldest brother Koji at knifepoint because he wants to join the navy and thereby improve public opinion of his family, Daikichi says, “The fool. He doesn’t have to go off and get killed in the war.”

My response: “He can get killed right here at home!”

Just when I was sure I was going to the special hell, however, things began to improve. Koji’s decision to enroll in the Naval Air Corps somehow triggers a better meld between the tone of the story and how the characters behave. Gen, who is initially merely an excitable kid who doesn’t think too much about what he says or does, begins to grow up a bit and becomes much more sympathetic as a result.

My favorite part of the volume is when Gen discovers his younger brother, Shinji, humiliating himself for an opportunity to play with another kid’s toy battleship. He puts a stop to it, and when he spots another toy battleship in the window of a glass repair shop, attempts to buy it. While he’s waiting to talk to the owner—who tells him it belonged to his dead son and isn’t for sale—he overhears him being threatened by men to whom he owes money and decides to help out, Gen-style, which entails throwing rocks and breaking tons of windows to bring in business. The owner is so grateful he bestows the ship on Gen as a gift, who generously turns it over to Shinji. They make plans to take it down to the river the next day.

Except that the next day is August 6, and that’s when the bomb hits. This whole sequence is truly stunning, and actually included a few historical facts I didn’t know, like how the Enola Gay returned after the air raid sirens had ceased and that the casualties were greater because people thought the danger had passed and emerged from their bomb shelters. It’s also interesting how Nakazawa puts the blame for everything squarely on the Japanese leaders. Even from the start, he’s referring to the war as something “that Japan began with the USA and England.” He’s critical of the government’s refusal to surrender while they’re not the ones suffering, starving, and losing loved ones. The casualty totals are truly overwhelming, and for what? It makes me wonder if the leaders’ stubbornness was some kind of remnant of samurai pride…

Although it was tough going at the beginning, by the end of this volume I was genuinely excited to continue reading the series. I do feel it’s something that’s going to be best in small doses, however. And let’s hope the days of gratuitous finger-chomping are behind us!

Barefoot Gen is published in English by Last Gasp. All ten volumes have been released.

For more on this series, check out the Manga Moveable Feast archive at A Life in Panels.

Tokyo Zombie by Yusaku Hanakuma: B+

tokyozombieFrom the back cover:
Tokyo Zombie is a horror-comedy manga about two blue-collar factory workers, Mitsuo and Fujio, whose plans for martial arts fame are sidelined when zombies take over Tokyo. In this gory and hilarious tale, the survivors of the zombie apocalypse have been enslaved by the wealthy ruling class, and must cater to their every depraved whim… or be thrown outside the city to fend for themselves. When some of the survivors are enlisted to fight in an undead gladiator arena for the amusement of the rich, Mitsuo and Fujio are locked in a battle for fame, freedom, and their very lives!

Our bizarre tale begins when factory workers Fujio and Mitsuo, a pair of martial arts buffs, kill their blowhard coworker and then head to Dark Fuji, a mountain of garbage, to bury his body. It just so happens that on that same day, zombies rise from Dark Fuji’s mix of industrial sludge and disgruntled spirits and begin terrorizing society. Fujio and Mitsuo are content to continue practicing their grappling moves in peace, but when zombies invade their factory and Mitsuo gets bitten during a food run, they can avoid the world’s crisis no longer.

The story picks up five years later. Humans have erected a wall to keep the zombies out. The rich are living well while slave labor provides their power and their amusement, particularly in the form of the gladiator deathmatch show, in which humans are pitted against zombies for the benefit of a bloodthirsty and moneyed audience. Fujio is one of the fighters, disliked by the crowd for how easily he wins using skills and techniques they couldn’t begin to understand. When the promoter tries to change things up, Fujio meets his next opponent, zombiefied Mitsuo, while outside a timely slave uprising (on pigback) is brewing. The outcome must be seen to be believed.

You’re likely to like Tokyo Zombie if:
* Absurd things appeal to you.
* You liked Shaun of the Dead.
* You don’t mind gore. These are zombies and they do go around biting people, sometimes in sensitive places. Humans commit acts of brutality against each other, too.
* You think dialogue like “Whoa. I think an old lady’s head just rolled by” is funny.
* You aren’t turned off by the heta uma (literally “bad, but good”) art style that works well for decomposing zombies and justice-dispensing dogs but not so well on protagonists.

I fit most of those categories, so I definitely enjoyed Tokyo Zombie. I can’t lie—it’s totally gross and I’m not entirely sure what the point is, but for sheer strangeness alone this isn’t one to be missed.

Tokyo Zombie is published in English by Last Gasp. It’s complete in one volume.

Little Fluffy Gigolo PELU 1 by Junko Mizuno: B+

pelu1I reviewed this strange, cute, and sad manga for Comics Should Be Good. It’s the story of a fluffy little alien who comes to earth to find a bride. It’s very weird, but the absurdity is of a sort that appeals to me.

You can find that review here.

Little Fluffy Gigolo PELU is published in English by Last Gasp and the first volume is available now. It looks like the series is complete in Japan with a total of three volumes.

Review copy provided by the publisher.