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Showa 1926-1939: A History of Japan (Showa: A History of Japan) Paperback – November 12, 2013
by Shigeru Mizuki (Author), Zack Davisson (Translator) achieves most of it purpose. Shigeru tells and illustrates his autobiography as a child of the period of Japanese history he is also telling. He reason for this history as picture book if that Japanese students tend to receive a very sanitized version of Japan’s role as aggressor in more than the 15 year period that the Imperial Japanese Army engaged in a number of incidents in neighboring Korea and China. As a graphic history, rather than a graphic novel it is a superior effort. Writer, artist Shgeru Mizuki is one of the top names in Japanese Manga. That is he is both an artist and a writer and became one years after losing his writing arm as a soldier in World War II. This is an easy recommendation for fans but a slightly less enthusiastic recommendation for a more serious minded reader.
It is a fairly old story that Japan has not done a good job of teaching its 20th Century history to its students. They are aware that their country lost World War II but may have a little or no appreciation for the aggressive way their country helped to initiate the war and the often vicious method employed as warriors and conquerors.
Showa is the name for the period of Japanese history corresponding to the reign of the Shōwa Emperor, Hirohito, from December 25, 1926, through January 7, 1989. Mizuki also lived through this period and his intention was to tell his life’s story as context for also telling something closer to the truth about how Japan acted during this era. He begins with a great earthquake in 1923 and follows with a series of episodes as the Japanese economy follows the world’s economy into what he calls the “American Depression”.
Much of the narrative is carried by a famous Mizuki character called Ratman. Vaguely akin to America’s Donald Duck but a more serious guide rather than a trickster. The narrative begins as mostly disjointed recollections and simple facts about certain events. The absence of analysis can make it hard to understand why we are being told things, but this is also the time of a very young Mizuki who may have only had a vague awareness of the larger events of his country.
Towards the end there may be some analysis but never much and never at any depth. We are shown that the Japanese Army empowered itself to launch invasions and conduct military incidents seemingly despite or without any direction from the civil government. Ministers and opposing voices are assassinated with a regularity that has an almost casual feel to it. In a few years there are reported several attempted military takeovers, backed by killings and no one seems to have been held accountable in such a way as to thwart or deter the next plotters.
If the historic content is lacking the artwork is not. Important people, events and iconic images are reproduced exactly using a technic developed to achieve photo realism. Other images are more impressionistic and typical of Japanese graphic novels, but this is a style all the author helped to develop.
As a study, Showa is uneven and lacking in depth. As a Graphic History, autobiography and demonstration of the serious capabilities of manga it is more than worth reading. I will be seeking out a copy of the next collection of this 3 volume series.
- Paperback: 560 pages
- Publisher: Drawn and Quarterly (15 January 2014)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1770461353
- ISBN-13: 978-1770461352
- Product Dimensions: 16.1 x 5.1 x 22.4 cm
- Boxed-product Weight: 771 g
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- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 75,789 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)