BAREFOOT GEN, Volume Four (Mania.com)
Review Date: Sunday, August 19, 2007
Barefoot Gen, a story about a boy living with the aftermath of the atomic bomb that dropped on Hiroshima, is a good reminder of humanity's biggest blessing and curse: The hope and perseverance needed overcome even the worst adversities. Volume four of Keiji Nakazawa's famous manga is appropriately titled "Out of the Ashes;" Gen, having seen endless horror and death in the wake of the Bomb finally begins to see some moments of peace that are still intermingled with tragedy.
As American soldiers occupy Japan, the countryside begins to buzz with rumours about savage attacks on civilians and other atrocities (In one misinformed but humourous interlude, Gen and his adoptive brother, Ryuta, put pieces of sheet metal around their middles after hearing tales about American soldiers cutting off civilians' balls). Not surprisingly, the truth of the occupation is a mixed bag; Gen gets his first taste of chewing gum when he encounters an American soldier for the first time, but some rape conquered Japanese women without consequence.
Japanese gangsters also take advantage of the lawless chaos. They organise packs of orphaned children to loot and rob with the promise of food. Ryuta involuntarily falls in with one gang when he finds and uses a discarded gun to kill a thief; the boss "adopts" him and promises to protect him, but he can't ever see his family again without risking jail. Gen loses one more brother, but gains another when his eldest sibling, Akira, returns unscathed from the war.
Whereas the previous volume of Barefoot Gen focused mainly on the irradiated burn victim Seiji, Out of the Ashes reverts to telling several characters' stories at once and how the American occupation has affected their lives. In one side story, Gen encounters a little girl throwing rocks at an American soldier on a date with a Japanese woman. After following her home, Gen learns the woman is the girl's sister, and she became a prostitute to support her. We see how much Gen has been desensitized to shock and surprise when he shrugs off the whole encounter with "Things are tough for people all over." Focusing again on his own family's survival, he attempts to raise money for his ailing sister's medicine by reciting Buddhist chants for the dead.
Still, nothing prepares him for the shock he receives when his baby sister is kidnapped. When he discovers the reason she was stolen, he's stuck between deciding on the welfare of his mother and the emotional well-being of an entire village.
The ending scenes for "Out of the Ashes" will stay with you for a long time. Volume four of Barefoot Gen retails for $14.95.
Mania Grade: A
Story and art by: Keiji Nakazawa
Publisher: Last Gasp of San Francisco
Rating: Older Teen (16+)