Wednesday, February 24, 2016

On the Coffee Table: Showa 1939-1944

Title: Showa 1939-1944: A History of Japan
Writer and Artist: Shigeru Mizuki
via Amazon
This is the second volume of Mizuki's outstanding Showa comic book series.   I reviewed the first volume here.  Japan's Showa era was defined by the reign of Emperor Hirohito: 1926-1989, a period of extraordinary national transformation.  Mizuki lived through it all and his books weave historical events with his own personal experiences.

Obviously the years 1939-1944 were dominated by the Second World War.  Japan's weak democracy had become, in effect, a military dictatorship.  Domination of Asia and the Pacific was seen by those in power as the nation's destiny.  The event best known to Americans is the attack on Pearl Harbor but in fact that strike was only one part of a much broader offensive executed in several corners of the Pacific simultaneously.  Over a seven-hour period, Japan also attacked the Philippines, Guam, Wake Island, Malaya, Singapore and Hong Kong.  All were resounding victories for the Japanese.  So began the most extensive and destructive naval war in human history, of course just one chunk of the greater, all-absorbing global conflict.

That much history is easily gleaned from textbooks.   Mizuki provides a more intimate view.  Not only does his stunning artwork bring us closer to the action but his own experiences in the Japanese army offer a sobering perspective on the conflict.  He himself has no sympathy for Japan's war objectives but as a grunt soldier, his personal opinions were immaterial.  His life was in constant peril.  In truth, it's amazing he survived to tell his story.

In some ways, the book encourages one to learn more but even in a sequential art medium, the details of naval battles tend to run together.  I will leave it to others to judge the work's historical accuracy.  Every once in a while, Mizuki lapses into hypotheticals: how the world might be different if the Japanese had won the Battle of Midway, for instance.  But he also brings us back to the underlying realities of the conflict: the Pacific Theater hinged ultimately on American superiority in both military intelligence and supply lines.

Showa is top notch.  Anyone with an interest in Asian history or the power of what is still seen by most in the English-speaking world as a frivolous medium should give it a look.  The next volume, 1944-1953, covers the American occupation, every bit as important to the shaping of modern Japan as the War was. 

8 comments:

  1. Truly one of the great comic book efforts, and most important.

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  2. I have not read this series but am very interested in it. Must put this on my reading list.
    I read more about the time leading up to WW1 and the time between WW1 and WW2. This was a field of study of one of my sons.

    cheers, parsnip

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    1. The first book of the series covers the time between the wars, or at least most of it.

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  3. I've definitely given far more credit to graphic novel-type books in the past few years. While they aren't my fave, their poignancy cannot be discounted. Thanks for sharing this. I think it would intrigue my eldest.
    Best,
    V:)

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    1. The best material routinely comes out of Japan and the French-speaking world. Joe Sacco is an American, though, and his work is certainly poignant.

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  4. Interesting that he is writing as a Japanese. I have watched a number of Japanese war movies made in the 50s--which I find intriguing.

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    1. The record of Japan's War generation will be important for years to come. Or at least, I hope it will. The country is so far removed from it's militaristic past now.

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