Manga Review: Showa: A History of Japan 1939-1944

Manga Review: Showa: A History of Japan 1939-1944 by Shigeru Mizuki

This is the second volume of Shigeru Mizuki’s history manga (I have already reviewed the first and third.)  This volume covers most of what Americans call “World War Two” and the Japanese call “The Pacific War” as they had already been at war with China for years by the time the rest of the world went to armed conflict.

Showa: A History of Japan 1939-1944

As with the other volumes, the author covers not only national and world events, but his personal experiences.  Mr. Mizuki depicts himself as a dreamer who puts little effort into school or work, being expelled from both, but enthusiastically pursues whatever knowledge catches his interest.  When he is finally drafted, Mizuki is also an incompetent soldier (much like the American Sad Sack) who blows his chance at a relatively cushy spot as a bugler and instead is shipped out to Papua New Guinea.  (His gentle nature does, however, allow him to make friends with the natives.)

Having bit by bit become a military dictatorship, and with the Soviet Union looming on its doorstep, the government of Japan felt comfortable allying itself with Nazi Germany (and then Fascist Italy) against their common foe.  Japan was then confused when Germany made a non-aggression pact with Russia (and they followed suit) only to invade the Soviet Union a year or so later.  Meanwhile, the Japanese military continued trying to liberate/take over their neighbors in the Greater East Asian Co-prosperity Sphere.

Japan was also beginning to run out of vital war supplies like steel and oil, and their biggest supplier, the United States, was turning increasingly hostile.  The U.S. government, led by president Franklin D. Roosevelt, cut off the supplies.  Japanese ambassadors did try to negotiate, but the American idea of compromise was “give up all territories you seized in war, and we’ll sell you just enough to keep the lights on at home.”  Understandably, the Japanese military government found that offer insulting at best.

And so Pearl Harbor and the subsequent Japanese attacks across the Pacific territories of the Allies.  At first, the Japanese scored victory after victory.  Given the nature of some of the colonial governments, in certain places they were even greeted as liberators.  (Though most soon learned that the Japanese had no intention of allowing them true independence.)  However, this had two bad side effects.  First, many in the Japanese military began suffering from “victory disease”, believing that the Japanese forces were invincible and the war could be won easily.  Second, instead of demoralizing the Americans into giving up as was the plan, the attacks instead stung the complacent public into patriotic fervor and willingness to do whatever it took to beat the Axis.

As the war wore on, the United States’ superior production capability, advanced technology and ability to read Japanese codes turned the tide.  The Japanese government, led by Hideki Tojo, decided to just flat out lie to their citizens by never admitting setbacks or defeats.  Increasing rationing and crackdowns on free speech told the Japanese public that things were going badly, but they had no idea how dire the war had become.

The Japanese army is depicted as brutal, with soldiers suffering constant physical abuse from their superiors (who were physically abused by their superiors and so on.)  In this volume, young Private Shigeru gets the worst of this treatment.  Our protagonist misses out on comfort women only by virtue of being too far back in the line when the brothel closes to evacuate.  There’s also some body function humor.

The Bataan Death March is depicted as less a deliberate atrocity than the result of horrific failure of logistical planning.  And Shigeru’s brother off-handedly does something that will later get him tried as a war criminal.

There are footnotes explaining some military terms (some so basic as to seem silly, but perhaps the equivalent Japanese terms might be unfamiliar to young readers) and extensive end notes.

The volume ends with the mission that will eventually lead to Shigeru Mizuki losing an arm.

As with the other volumes, Mr. Mizuki’s art varies between his usual scratchy,cartoony style and more “realistic” depictions.  Some of the war scenes make it clear he could have done straight-up war comics if he’d so chosen.

Highly recommended to those interested in learning about World War Two from the Japanese point of view, and fans of Shigeru Mizuki’s other work.

And here’s a song about Rabaul, the airfield Shigeru was stationed near.

Manga Review: Showa 1944 1953 a History of Japan

Manga Review: Showa 1944 1953 a History of Japan by Shigeru Mizuki

Shigeru Mizuki was one of the oldest (born 1922, died 2015) still-working and most respected manga creators in Japan.  Though he is best known for children’s horror comics such as GeGeGe no Kitaro, Mizuki also has written extensively for adults.  This is the third volume of his personal history of Japan.

Showa 1944 1953 a History of Japan

The first half of the volume covers the last bit of World War Two from the Japanese perspective, and Mizuki’s personal experiences as an infantry grunt in Papua New Guinea.  After the failure of Japan’s invasion of India, and the successes of the Allies in the Pacific War, it is clear that the war had gone sour for the Greater East Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere, but Japan’s military leadership still believed they could pull a victory out of these difficult conditions.

On the ground, the military tried to keep up troop morale by emphasizing the idea of a “noble death”, taking as many Allies with you as possible rather than surrender or retreat.  Mizuki survived by mere chance when his unit was ordered into a suicidal charge.  He and the other survivors were considered an embarrassment to the brass, and their ill treatment became fictionalized as Onward Towards Our Noble Deaths, which I previously reviewed.  Unlike his fictional counterpart, Mizuki survived even the worst, developing malaria and losing an arm.

Despite his condition, Mizuki was not repatriated to Japan until 1947, now under American occupation.  General Douglas MacArthur and GHQ wanted to reform Japan and get it back on its feet, which among other things meant giving it a new constitution that prevented it from ever again going to war.  New freedoms were the order of the day, until the occupiers realized what people wanted to do with those freedoms and began restricting them again.

Over a decade of war and its privations had ruined Japan’s economy, and all the returning soldiers didn’t help.  As a disabled veteran, Mizuki was worse off than many others.  Personal tragedy struck when his brother was imprisoned; the same deeds that had made him a war hero to the Japanese made him a war criminal to the Americans.

The Red Menace and the Korean War finally were the cause of Japan’s economy beginning to grow again as the Allied forces used it as their staging ground and pumped millions in aid into the area.  Meanwhile, Mizuki had gone back to art school and become a kamishibai artist.  (These were one-man shows where an entertainer would show pictures and tell stories to an audience, selling candy and snacks.)   The advent of regular television was swiftly killing off the old ways, however….

The history is narrated by Nezumi-Otoko (Rat-man), one of Mizuki’s famous creations (joined by cameos of his fellow yokai monsters.)  It’s mostly a visual convention as he does not act in his usual character.  The art varies from cartoony to photo-realistic, sometimes on the same page, depending on the desired effect.

This is powerful stuff, depicting the horrors of war and occupation, and a few brief moments of peace and joy wrested from their  midst.  There’s some nudity, and mentions of rape and prostitution (nothing about Mizuki’s own sex life–it’s possible he simply didn’t have any to speak of in this period.)  I would suggest it to no younger than senior high students, and even then advise caution.

There’s an introduction by manga scholar Frederik L. Shodt, and end notes explaining who many of the historical figures are, and other useful details.

Despite its disturbing nature, this will be a valuable volume for history buffs and those who want more information on the decade or so covered in this book. Highly recommended.

Book Review: Red Randall on Active Duty

Book Review: Red Randall on Active Duty by R. Sidney Bowen

Red Randall and his buddy Jimmy Joyce have completed their flight training and been assigned to a base in Darwin, Australia.  They’re looking forward to getting some revenge against the Japanese for Pearl Harbor, but there’s not much excitement at the moment.  Until suddenly there is!

Frontispiece
Frontispiece

The young pilots distinguish themselves in the combat, and are picked for a special secret mission.  It seems Douglas MacArthur needs new planes and pilots to hold the Phillippines against the Japanese invaders.  Surprisingly, our heroes botch their mission and are captured by the Imperial forces.  Can they free themselves in time to save the day?

This 1944 boys’ adventure book is the middle of a trilogy, between Red Randall at Pearl Harbor and Red Randall Over Tokyo.  (The latter apparently inserting Red into the Doolittle Raid.)  Red and Jimmy’s fathers were in the Army and Navy respectively, and were gravely wounded or killed in the December 7, 1941 attack.

To be honest, this book is bottom-grade, poorly researched (the Japanese use the wrong weapons, and our heroes take off from an aircraft carrier without being trained at all in how to do so) and dripping with racism against the Japanese.  It’s not exactly spotless in other areas either; the heroic Solomon Islanders Red and Jimmy get rescued by are referred to as “the whitest black men.”  It is hilarious though when Red spends a couple of pages talking in “I am speaking to a congenital idiot” lingo, only to have John Smith respond with better English than Red normally speaks.

The timing is weird too, suggesting that Red and Jimmy went through basic training, flight school and transport to Australia between 12/7/41 and 2/28/42 in order to participate in MacArthur’s retreat from the Phillippines.

No romance here; the closest the story comes to a woman is the mention of “nurses” who might be male nurses for all we can tell.  The middle section of the book takes place on a Japanese-controlled island, and our heroes spend much of it flat on their faces while John Smith and company plan a rescue.

I really can’t recommend this one for young readers due to the racism and poor writing–it’s mostly interesting for collectors of WWII memorabilia.

Book Review: Fortress Rabaul: The Battle for the Southwest Pacific January 1942-April 1943

Book Review: Fortress Rabaul: The Battle for the Southwest Pacific January 1942-April 1943 by Bruce Gamble

Disclaimer:  I received this book through a Goodreads giveaway on the premise that I would review it.

Fortress Rabaul

This is the second of three books about the Southwest Pacific campaign during World War Two.  The first book covered the fate of Lark Force, an Australian army unit stationed on New Britain when the Japanese invaded.  The first few chapters of this book recap much the same events, but from the perspective of the air battles.

Rabaul was a small town on New Britain (north of Australia) which had an excellent harbor, but with pretty much constant volcanic activity keeping the local population from getting too comfortable.    Its position made it the best place for the Japanese to build airfields and harbor ships to dominate the Southwest Pacific and prepare for their invasion of Australia.

This is a book dense with information, with detailed reports on many of the air battles in the area.   There are a few black and white photos, but extensive endnotes.  There is a bibliography, and an index which has separate categories for ships, planes and military units

The repeated air battle reports get a bit tedious, enlivened once in a while with a particularly poignant moment.   It was somewhat startling to see just how ill-prepared Australia was for the air war, and how little the initial American forces were able to do.  So many airmen dead, so many vanished, their fate unknown.

The volume ends with the mission that shot down Admiral Yamamoto in 1943, and the definitive turnaround in the course of the war.  The rest will be told in the final book.

This book will be best appreciated by military history buffs, World War Two buffs, wargamers, and those whose relatives fought in the long campaign.

ETA:  Here’s a Japanese propaganda song of the era, with footage of Japanese planes.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oaEa5O3B-KI

Do you like videos with book reviews?  If so, comment.

 

 

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...