Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Showa: A History of Japan 1926-1939

by Shigeru Mizuki

I really don't know a lot about Japanese history, and since I liked Shigeru Mizuki's Onward Towards Our Noble Deaths, his account of his own involvement in the Second World War, I thought it would be interesting to read his broader take on the country's history.

Showa is a multi-volume look into the era that began when Emperor Hirohito took the throne.  This also coincided, roughly, with Mizuki's birth.  The first volume of this series covers the start of the era through to the Second World War, and this was a time of great turmoil throughout Japan.

A devastating earthquake created economic instability, which was made worse by the Great Depression.  Following that, a number of 'incidents' in China, and a shocking level of independence in the military, plunged Japan into many years of militaristic expansion into other countries, notably Korea and China.

The larger history of the country is told a variety of ways.  We get straight narration, we sit in on discussions among regular men on the street, and are directly told what's going on by Nezumi Otoko, a magical character from Mizuki's other work.  These sections of the book are interesting, but often became a string of names and faces to me.

Of more interest were the sections that juxtaposed Mizuki's own life with the events of the time.  We see young Shigeru move from being a small child through to his early adulthood.  This provides some context to the larger events, and remind us that at every point of history where major events have happened, there have been people just going about their day.

This is a hugely ambitious project from a much-loved cartoonist who sadly passed away this year.  I look forward to reading the rest of this.

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