April 20, 2009
Here’s something a little different. Usually I review graphic novels, but this was a one-shot 48-page comic from 1982, so there’s no volume to compile it into. This is also kind of an interesting title. It’s the predecessor to Barefoot Gen, Keiji Nakazawa’s short story that was eventually developed into the series. Unlike Barefoot Gen, this is 100% autobiographical and is told in first person.
The most interesting thing is seeing how closely the events in Nakazawa’s life paralleled those in Barefoot Gen. It’s pretty much verbatim, actually, except this is obviously a lot shorter. The family size is about the same, he’s in the same place when the bomb hits, his family meets the same fate, he winds up with his mother and brother, all of it is pretty much the same. I almost didn’t want to read the second half because I was worried that it would spoil Barefoot Gen for me. There’s so much more detail in the series, though, that it… well, can’t be spoiled in a 48-page comic.
The content is just as nightmarish, though. Maybe even a little more so than in Barefoot Gen, since it’s in first person and everything has been condensed. The woman with the glass embedded in her body and the people dragging their skin on the ground are still some of the most horrible mental images I can think of. Aside from the fairly triumphant ending to the story, where he becomes a popular manga artist just like he’d always dreamed (ever since seeing “New Treasure Island,” in fact), the entire thing is just a tragedy. This and Barefoot Gen are literally two of the saddest stories I can think of, and… I don’t know, reading them sort of makes you feel hopeless, in a way.
It’s definitely worth reading though, especially if you read Barefoot Gen. An autobiography like this isn’t really the type of thing you happen across very often in English, and there really isn’t a more compelling story to tell about one’s life than being a Hiroshima atomic bomb survivor. Don’t be fooled by high Amazon prices, you can actually find the issue for $1-$2. Also, it’s been colorized, which is kind of novel.