Barefoot Gen Vol. #01 (Mania.com)
By:Eduardo M. Chavez
Review Date: Wednesday, March 30, 2005
Release Date: Thursday, July 01, 2004
Translated by:Project Gen
What They Say
Barefoot Gen is the powerful, tragic, autobiographical story of the bombing of Hiroshima and it's aftermath, seen through the eyes of the artist as a young boy growing up in Japan. The honest portrayal of emotions and experiences speaks to children and adults everywhere. Barefoot Gen serves as a reminder of the suffering war brings to innocent people, and as a unique documentation of an especially horrible source of suffering, the atomic bomb. This is part one of a ten-part series.
This is the third production I have seen of Barefoot Gen and this is no doubt the best. There is one problem, though, and it comes from the start - this is presented left-to-right. Yeah, reading flipped manga in this age is frustrating but it is printed nice matted A5, the printing is extremely clean and sharp and this version has a couple nice extras - an intro by Art Spiegelman (Maus), a message from Nakazawa, a message from the Coordinator of Project Gen and a mimi-bio of the mangaka.
This presentation is once again in an A5 but Last Gasp uses a new cover for this volume. This cover has an interesting image of Gen horsing around on a sunny afternoon. The image is framed on a red background. The logo is very simple just the title in an all caps Arial font, with a subtitle "A Cartoon Story of Hiroshima" under it. The opposite cover has a huge volume description beneath a brown tone panel image of Gen walking through a flattened city.
Nakazawa’s art really has not aged very well. The character designs are straight out of the 60’s. I often feel that Nakazawa’s art, like many of his contemporaries at the time, was influenced by American comic art. His characters are not very detailed. They have caricatured faces and comical expressions. Bodies are of pretty good proportion, although they are much rounder than current designs. Costume designs do not have much detail either, but that is actually in reference to the era this is set in. There was little money around for fancy garb, so the majority of people wore simple clothing.
There is a very flat feel to the manga. That might come from how little screen tone was used here. Depth is often done through the layout and with shading through inking. With the backgrounds being rather active in this story, I am reminded of Tezuka’s work and how characters can look so plain but the scenes he places them in are very detailed pieces (it is an interesting contrast). The layout is very active. I have to say after going through this only once some of the panels have been burned into my brain, illustrating how powerful Nakagawa’s images can be. WOW!
The translation by Project Gen is a group effort and as good as it is, there are moments when it feels really chunky. I am not sure how the translation duties were distributed, but there are some pages that just felt off, while the rest was very good. This also had me feeling the translation was a little flat. While the emotions came through well, I could not really distinguish personalities well. Maybe the context made for characters that would sound very similar, following the principles of propaganda.
SFX are pretty rare, even with all the violence and action of WWII. The SFX are all overlaid very simply, using the same font throughout the GN. What was more impressive was how they had to go back and flop all the text. They did not bother to flop left-handed spear practice or lefty swordsmanship, though. They also translated all the signage in the gutters so readers do not have to disrupt their reading too much to figure out what the significance of banners, posters and signs in the scenery.
Contents: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Bigotry, nationalistic religious fundamentalism and fascist greed powering governments driven to control their worlds through fear and war profiteering sounds like something written about this century, but this is the story of Nakazawa's Japan in World War II. Nakazawa through, what many consider his biography, Barefoot Gen is avenging his family, retelling the horrible past and warning those in the present of the ignorance that could create the Hiroshimas of the future. This story is about lives lost to those who wanted to profit from death and destruction. It details the destruction of a nation from its core, which happened before the American's fire bombed Tokyo or dropped Fatman and Little Boy. It presents how those who opposed the war were harassed and called traitors. It shows how a nation with limited resources dependent on imports created a rift between the rich and poor to maintain its wars. It shows a nation that takes children from their families, and uses the poor and youth to strengthen its military. It has a government that collects people from foreign lands, uses them up, tortures them, kills them and justifies this for the sake of national prosperity and security.
This is as much a story of a nation, as it is a young man. Japan in this story is an industrial war machine that manipulates the media and gives the police a mandate to abuse the public. Life is not only cruel but it is almost inhumane. War breaks the fundamentals of society. It drains the public physically, emotionally and fiscally and the public often must endure a transformation. In Japan the transformation came in many forms. There was religious fundamentalism, media manipulation, a switch from an agrarian society to a military industrial society but none were more swift than the changes caused from the bombings by the US.
The American role in Nakazawa’s story is evident as well. The US’s firebombing would essentially destroy the infrastructure of WWII Japan. As the bombing escalated, war strategy became more desperate for the Japanese and the US began their plans to end this war and threaten any nation that stood against it. The bombing of Hiroshima by the US and its Little Boy did not just level a city of 400,000 people but it changed both nations and in a way changed the world. There would be one more atomic bomb used in war and that has been the last one. The US had used unnecessary overwhelming force to prove a point. There were going to be a super-power from this point on, at the cost of millions, including Gen’s family in this book (and in real life took Nakazawa’s family).
Nakazawa through Gen's experiences, which are also his own experiences, tries to make sure we never go through such horrors again. Greedy murderers destroyed all his family, his life, his nation and his world; in this volume it is people with the least that paid the most. People were just tools, they lost their rights. They traded their minds filled with fear for comfort in masses. The Nakaoka's never gave up o their souls. The parents were free thinkers respectful of their nation, at the same time maintaining their individuality as people who could see beyond the propaganda. The kids ere kids, but with increased stress these children began to grow up very quickly, leaving their youth behind to play their part in their family's welfare. These kids learn how cruel war is. Through their parents they began to understand racism and abuse of power. The Nakagawa's are a dissenting voice against despotism and fascism. However there are very few who listened to voices like that back then.
Nakagawa's world is cold, cruel and unrelenting. It does not forgive the past. Most importantly, it is timeless because of its brutal honesty. Nakagawa's story parallels modern day wars in many ways. Those who read his story should not be numbed by the hate, violence and death; instead they should be disgusted by it. Readers should question their own opinions about much more than war - the media, government, tolerance, and freedom of speech are all tested. These are not topics most people want to think about (these topics can be complex and contradictory), but as they are critical to every strong society they cannot be ignored. Gen lived through this, so if you follow him through this epic story you cannot ignore the injustice. There are very few manga that challenge readers like Barefoot Gen, therefore if and when you read this, and I suggest every manga reader should, prepare to have a bomb dropped on your mind and heart because it is much more than a story of Hiroshima (and today being the 2nd anniversary of the Iraq conflict thinking about what war means is even more important as we consider our freedoms and freedom across the globe).
Mania Grade: A-
Art Rating: B-
Packaging Rating: B+
Text/Translatin Rating: B+
Age Rating: All
Released By: Other
Orientation: Left to Right