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Tuesday, 29 September 2015

OUT TODAY: Showa: A History of Japan 1953 - 1989

I hope you've put some time aside for some serious manga-reading, because the fourth and final volume of Shigeru Mizuki's epic Showa: A History of Japan is out today!


This volume picks up where volume 3 left off. Japan is reeling from its devastating defeat at the end of the Second World War. It carries us through the Korean War, and the slow reinvention of the Japanese nation. A newly forged allyship with the US funnels opportunities for employment and even wealth into the country, allowing Japan to put on a bright new face for the world. But the Second World War casts a long shadow, and ordinary Japanese people are still struggling with that darkness.


This is a particularly exciting volume for manga and gekiga (alternative manga) fans, because it illuminates the decades during which gekiga was brought to life by the likes of Yoshihiro Tatsumi, Seiichi Hayashi, Susumu Katsumata, and Mizuki himself. My Life As A Mole (title page pictured above) shows Shigeru's difficulties trying to make a living as a manga artist at the end of the 1950s. "His life is nothing but manga. And scrounging for money..."


I love Mizuki's rare and glorious full-page drawings, like the one above. Here, Shigeru has met with success as an artist, but struggles with the daily grind. In one of his dreams, a ghoulish type shows up at the door, selling after-life insurance—"guaranteed satisfaction post-death"! Reading tip: we know it's one of Shigeru's dreams when he still has both arms...


Here's another wonderful full-page illustration. Here we see Shigeru return to Papua New Guinea, which he first visited (or rather was forced to visit due to his army service) in Volume 3. This time his sojourn there is pleasurable. He tries to get his family to join him, but they don't understand the appeal.


It wouldn't be a Mizuki book if it didn't have some Yokai in it, would it? Above are some Yokai encountered by Shigeru in Papua New Guinea. Lying in bed one night, he reflects on his connection to the spirits: "I could sense Yokai. In my life, I'd encountered about twenty and had even seen one or two. It seemed like understanding was near, but it eluded me for the moment." A nice foreshadowing of the importance of Yokai in his manga work.

The original Japanese edition of the series Showa: A History of Japan won Mizuki the prestigious Kodansha Manga Award, and two (so far) of the English volumes have won Eisner awards! If you need to start the series from the beginning, don't worry: we sell all four volumes at the Librairie!


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