Writer and Artist: Shigeru Mizuki
This installment covers by far the longest time span of the four volumes, well over half of the Showa period. It's a particularly important era for me personally because it includes the time when Japan became a vital part of my family's life. My parents first moved to Japan in 1969 and stayed for seven years (Showa 44-51). Both learned far more Japanese than I ever did. My older sister and I were both born in Tokyo. The book even includes an event with which my father was directly involved: Emperor Hirohito's visit to the United States in 1975. My parents have never talked much about the student protests and political corruption that were going on during their time in Japan. Maybe with the relative isolation of diplomatic life, it didn't affect them too much. Maybe after two years in Laos, Japan was relatively stable. Maybe it's just not the sort of stuff you talk about with young children.
As the book and the Showa era close, my own time in Japan is nearing. I went back to teach for two years, 1996-98 (Heisei 8-10). As such, the Japan in the book comes to look a lot more like the Japan I knew. Japanese cities aren't exactly beautiful but familiar sights tug at the heartstrings nonetheless.
What I appreciate most about the Showa series is Mizuki's attention to cultural history in addition to all of the military, political and economic details. He shares the TV shows, movies, fashion magazines and songs that were popular. He seems especially interested in crime tales, going into too vivid detail with several headline grabbing stories. In fact, if I have one criticism, it's that sometimes, the book's a little gross. Mizuki loooooooves potty humor.
That said, I am now half-tempted to go back and re-read Mizuki's other work, especially GeGeGe no Kitaro, his most famous comic. I probably won't but I would have a greater appreciation now that I know more about the author's life. I am also grateful for the history lesson about a country that has been so important to me.