Dien Bien Phu 1, the review: the Vietnam War according to Daisuke Nishijima

Dien Bien Phu 1, the review: the Vietnam War according to Daisuke Nishijima

Dien Bien Phu 1, the review

Bao Publishing has decided to bring also to Italy some products that until now were only related to the Asian market. In fact, every two months, the publishing house publishes some very popular manga in Japan and included in the special publishing label called Aiken. In recent months we have been lucky enough to read some of them, really appreciating the choice of including both one-shot volumes and entire manga series. The last of these is Daisuke Nishijima's Dien Bien Phu and we will review the first of ten volumes.

Who is Daisuke Nishijima?

Before going on with the review we believe it is necessary to open a parenthesis on the author Daisuke Nishijima. We are talking about one of the most respected writers, directors, mangaka and musicians in Japan. He was born in Tokyo, exactly in Mitaka, in 1974 and made his mangaka debut in 2004 with the Oson Senso series, followed by Sekai no Owari no Mahoutsukai (which in the same year allowed him to win the prestigious prize at the Seiun Awards as Best Artist). He is currently working on a webcomic linked to the Coronavirus and an Idol project entitled Mayowigo.

Dien Bien Phu Vol. 1: the Vietman War in the eyes of a little boy

Returning to Dien Bien Phu Vol. 1, this introduces us to the main story of the tale and shows us the early main characters. Here we notice the first peculiarity because we are no longer in Japan, as happened in other manga of the same Aiken series, or in the futuristic world, but we are in Vietman and exactly in the year 1965. The country is divided into two states, that of the South and that of the North, and in between we meet Hikaru Minami, a young reporter who is part of the United States Army, but has Japanese origins and for this reason he is sent to Saigon (Ho Chi Minh) to work as a journalist.

Hikaru does not know Vietnamese reality well and cannot imagine what might await him, but he certainly never expected to find a totally wrong and highly complicated environment. Everything is upset, from relations with the chain of command to those with the local population. The United States behaves like tyrants and invaders who do not hesitate to rape and harass Vietnamese girls in the moments of pause between a hunt for the Viet Cong and an assault on their riches.

After all, the choice of the name of the series it is far from accidental. Dien Bien Phu, in fact, is a city located in the northwest of Vietnam. It is the capital of the province of Dien Bien, and has become famous above all for the events that occurred during the Indochina War. Here the decisive battle of Dien Bien Phu was fought which ended on May 7, 1954 with the victory of the nationalist Viet Minh forces and the surrender of the French garrison. So, although the story is set in the city of Saigon, the war is the central hub on which all the main events revolve.

The unconscious protagonist of just nineteen has ended up, therefore, inside a whirlwind turmoil that history would remember as the Vietnam War that lasted twenty years (from 1955 to 1975). In this "game" two totally different realities clashed, but united by the use of immoral rules where victory depended solely on how much humanity one decided to put aside, making the pride of one's nation prevail.

Here Hikaru witnesses scenes of unprecedented violence and gravity, such as the rape of some girls by Sergeant Watermelon and his subordinates. Being present during that atrocious act meant being in the wrong place, at the wrong time and the boy imagines that his life has come to an end. Fortunately he is saved, actually involuntarily, by a girl who, without wasting time, kills all the soldiers present. The blow also comes to Hikaru who does not lose his life thanks to his camera hidden in the jacket that absorbs the blow. It is precisely this event that will forever change Hikaru's life and his conception of the reality that surrounds him.

The girl, however, was none other than The Princess, a mysterious and young guerrilla, as well as the heroine stronger than Vietnam which, together with sweet granny and a mysterious little dog named Hung, is part of the National Liberation Front of South Vietnam, an organization that Hikaru will begin to know better and better by starting to get his own ideas about the event he was experiencing .

Narrative style and artistic style in a combination of contrasting emotions

Dien Bien Phu Vol. 1 is a raw and dramatic manga that without narrative censorship tells one of the most terrible and shameful conflicts of the contemporary history. The Vietnam War has been described in many works of different nature, but you can hardly find any like the one made by Daisuke Nishijima. It is, in fact, a manga with an innovative, jaunty and at times comic style capable of snatching some bittersweet smiles despite the sad scenes that follow one another page after page.

Nishijima's narrative style, however, is not serious and perfectly follows the artistic one made up of drawings with a light line and a wealth of details. The author also decided to lighten the theme by using characters who have a physiognomy very close to that of children. This choice creates a powerful dichotomy: on the one hand we have the lightness and carefree nature of youth, but on the other hand they have to deal with the painful consequences that war has on everyone, but especially on the little ones. The latter are nothing more than helpless kids and children who often find themselves orphans and are forced to grow up faster than all their more fortunate peers, abandoning the delicacy and light-heartedness of childhood and adolescence too soon.
Among these characters stands out Bao, an eight-year-old boy who, due to a bombing, has not only lost his parents, but also without a leg. The only psychological lifeline is her six-year-old little sister Nhieu to whom she is logically very attached. Bao can't stand the Americans because they have destroyed his life, but despite this he wants to allow his little sister to have a normal future and for this reason he forces himself to do any work to be able to send Nhieu to school. Tell me about the job? Wash the blood in American barracks, collect empty or unexploded shells and carry out very dangerous tasks that Americans do not want to do in order not to risk their own lives. In short, he is a guinea pig. A guinea pig of only eight years.


The one exhibited by Nishijima Daisuke is a complex and extremely real and current story. The Vietnam War is just one of the most terrifying events in contemporary history, but certainly not the only one nor the last. Even today it is easy to find similar realities where children and teenagers are forced to abandon their youth and freedom because of adults who "enjoy" playing the game of war. Dien Bien Phu Vol. 1, however, is also an original work that differs considerably from the other works that tell the story of Vietnam and masterfully describes the consequences both of those who suffer war, but also of those who do war. The narrative and artistic style are so simple and unexpected for a work of this kind that on every page and every table you are greeted by a contrasting whirlwind of emotions that pushes you to read and shout out the next issue.

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