Paperback, 536 pages
Published November 11th 2014 by Drawn and Quarterly
Source: Raincoast Books
Shigeru Mizuki is something of a legend in his circles and even beyond. A veteran of the second world war, he has become a household name in Japan for his work as a mangaka. Despite losing one of his arms to malaria while serving in the army in Papua New Guinea, he has distinguished himself as an artist and written and drawn several fictional and nonfictional pieces of literature. He has received almost every conceivable award possible and his life is an inspiration to anyone who cares to listen.
Showa 1944-1953 details Mizuki’s life during the years, focusing primarily on his time in Papua New Guinea before moving back to Japan with the end of the war and the onset of poverty. The book does not shy away from showing the grittier portions of war and life after war. There are no apologist tones or cadence to the narrative. In fact, I noticed a certain bitterness in his recollections of army life: the harsh conditions, the ill-advised decisions made by army superiors, the treatment common soldiers received from figures in authority, the shocking loss of life not to combat but to the Japanese determination that suicide is much better than defeat. Mizuki’s experiences may be biased by his experience in the army but I dare say the book is invaluable precisely for that reason. The book, though it deals with such serious matters, is not narrated in a gloomy tone. In fact, Mizuki ensures that the harsh and serious events narrated in the book are juxtaposed in a strangely nonchalant tone. This juxtaposition emphasizes the brutal and cruel nature of army life even more greatly than it would have been had it been narrated in a similarly sombre tone.
The portion that follows when Mizuki returns to Japan after the war and faces the sad reality of a defeated nation that has little to no resources left to feed the people still remaining alive is just as evocative. His portrayal of life in Japan after the war is sobering but once again, the reader is distanced from the narrative by the tone. This technique serves to stop the reader from immersing herself fully into Mizuki’s world but instead of it being a negative thing, it serves to prevent the book from being overwhelming.
Obviously, the book does not chronicle Mizuki’s entire life (as is probably evident from the title) but it is a solid volume that leads us to understand him and the events of world war 2 a bit better than we would were we to simply read his biography.