Barefoot Gen: A Cartoon Story of Hiroshima vol 1 (of 10)

UK Distributor:  Last Gasp

Author:  Keiji Nakazawa

Suggested Retail Price (SRP):  £9.99

Number of Pages:  288

ISBN:  0-8671-9602-5

Reviewed:  9th May 2004

Reviewer:  Tom (Webmaster)

Before reading Barefoot Gen you may be surprised to hear that it was the first manga to be released in the US.  Why would a publisher release a novel based on a sensitive subject such as the nuclear attack on Japan?  Read the manga and youíll see why.

It is because Nakazawa is angry.  Angry at how Japan entered the war even though it was futile and nothing to gain from it.  Angry at how Japan lied to itís people about how badly it was losing the war.  Angry at how it willingly let soldiers sacrifice themselves in the name of Japan.  Angry at how they had to praise the Emperor like a God.  Angry at how anyone who preached peace was locked up, beaten or killed.  So angry he portrays the Japan as the true enemy.

Nakazawa shows all of the above before the bomb drops and does this through the eyes of six-year old Gen and his ridiculed pacifist family.  Everyday is a struggle for food and once Genís father makes his feelings on the war public they are targeted by the whole village and treated as outcasts.  Genís father is one the mangaís failings though as he is often just there to explain what was wrong with how the government treated one aspect of the war Ė like a history teacher Ė which makes him more like the wise old man up the mountain rather then Genís father.  He is also a contradictory character as when Genís eldest brother decides to join the military in an attempt to stop the bad treatment of his family by the village he is met with a fierce reaction from his father who refuses to speak to him but eventually relents.  This would be fine if it werenít for the fact that he teaches his sons to stand up for what they believe in and not to be influenced by others.

There are also moments were the story is suddenly interrupted by narrative which details points in the history of World War 2.  A character can be walking down the street and then the reader is whisked off to a Pacific Island where a nuclear bomb is being tested.  Often this is intrusive and interrupts the flow of the story as well as telling you what is coming next.  Although you know that the nuclear bomb is coming as this is about Hiroshima, you do not need to be constantly reminded that it is coming about six times before it actually does.

When the bomb does drop though, oh myÖGodÖ. Nothing will prepare you for the harrowing realistic portrayal of the pointless waste of life.  I can still see the people walking through the streets whilst on fire with glass embedded in them before dropping dead now.  This truly is a classic moment in manga and it is not often I can recommend a manga just because of one scene, but I can with Barefoot Gen.

Anyone interested in Japanese history will no doubt already own Barefoot Gen but if you want to want know how the Japanese suffered at the hands of their own during World War 2 then buy it.  You could just buy a history book though.


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