Author: Shigeru Mizuki
Mizuki intersperses his own personal history with the major political and military events of the time period. There is quite a bit of overlap with his earlier work NonNonBa (review here) but Showa covers a broader portion of his life. The account of Japanese history begins with the 1923 earthquake. The economic recovery, along with oppressive government policies, drove much of the country to financial ruin and starvation. Failed coup attempts served as excuses for tightening the tyrannical grip on the populace. Just as in Nazi Germany, military might became a source of pride for a nation in dire straits.
In typical manga fashion, the book has extreme contrasts in artistic style. Most characters, including all of those from Mizuki's own life, are presented in near-caricature form. Real-life historical images, on the other hand, are hyper-realistic. A few panels, in fact, are obviously rendered from old newspaper photographs (Shigeru was an obsessive scrapbook keeper as a child).
I've been reading a lot about 20th century Japanese history recently. Along with this book, I've also read the first three volumes of Keiji Nakazawa's Barefoot Gen series and Yoshihiro Tatsumi's autobiographical work A Drifting Life. Japan is, in many ways, still coming to grips with its War and pre-War history. Its relationships with other Asian countries are still compromised by Japan's refusal to formally apologize for the atrocities committed in the Pacific Theater. Japanese aggression had begun long before Pearl Harbor with the attack on Manchuria in 1931. One could even go back to the forced annexation of Korea in 1910. Officially demilitarized for nearly 70 years, modern Japan has little sense of this history. Perhaps it's just as well that the Japanese should think of themselves as a peaceful nation. After all, by 21st century standards, it is. However, one wonders how the country might change once pre-1945 Japan passes from living memory. Mizuki's account is unflattering and uncompromising, sure to be a meaningful record for future generations.