Showa - A History of Japan, review of the first volume

Showa - A History of Japan, review of the first volume

Showa - A History of Japan

Showa - A History of Japan is an atypical manga that leads readers to discover the Japanese history of the twentieth century. Finally, the first of four volumes also arrives in Italy thanks to the elegant edition of J-Pop and the Italian public will be able to learn about the amusing and singular reconstruction of the Showa era, which goes from 1926 to 1989, created by the master Shigeru Mizuki. The latter has cleverly managed to weave the autobiography with national and international events, but let's find out more in this review.

Showa - A History of Japan: Japanese History according to Mizuki

In Japan, the late Mizuki is a very popular mangaka and artist, best known for his fascinating nonconformist tales about yokai culture (stories of spirits inspired by Japanese folklore. The word yokai, in fact, is easily translated into Italian " ghosts "or" spirits "). In the land of the Rising Sun, exactly in Sakaiminato City, there is even a museum dedicated to his artistic works and his manga, complete with references to numerous adaptations in the form of live-action animated films. To make you better understand the importance of this author for Japan, in his hometown as well as Sakaiminato there is a street that features 100 bronze statues of his yokai characters.

After this far from light preamble, let's talk about Showa - A History of Japan. With "Showa" (known as the "period of enlightened harmony") we refer to the 63 years (1926-1989) in which Emperor Hirohito ruled. It is about that historical period that allowed Japan to first become a great military power and then be severely defeated at the end of the Second World War. The latter brought the country into decline, but the Showa period also coincides with the great economic boom that made it possible to transform Japan into an ultra-modern and highly successful nation in the 1980s.

Born in 1922, Mizuki therefore grew up in the middle of this era and it is for this reason that the manga also takes on autobiographical connotations as the mangaka describes himself as a Showa Man. It is precisely when the work acquires these more intimate aspects that we can observe a warmer and more informal narrative tone, especially when Mizuki recounts her adventures with Nonnonba, an affectionate and elderly drinker who became a sort of protective grandmother of little Shigeru.

Between royal history and yokai culture

She is the one who teaches the author about yokai culture, including some details regarding highly bizarre creatures like Betobeto-san, a spirit who embodies someone's eerie feeling chasing people in the dark. The young Mizuki hears the sound of his wooden shoes everywhere, even in the paths traveled at night. So here comes the saving intervention of Nonnonba who explains that if Mizuki politely allows Betobeto-san to pass, he will leave.

In short, for readers who love Japanese culture this manga is not to be missed also because it shows perfectly another view of the history of World War II. For the Japanese, in fact, the latter did not begin with the Germans invading Poland or the bombing of Pearl Harbor, but with the conquest of Manchuria on September 19, 1931. Mizuki, in fact, puts a critical magnifying glass on of the expansionist policies of a government dominated by the uncontrolled armed forces. The latter would have produced the infamous Nanking massacre and other acts of brutality.

Mizuki perfectly represents this period of confusion by blending three different artistic styles. His childhood adventures have a simple and cartoonish aspect that suggests a moment of innocence and tranquility. His portrait of himself as a child has a large round head comparable to the iconic Charlie Brown features. Nonnonba's head and her authoritative gaze are also constantly resting on a small body and small feet. Mizuki's ineffective father and some of the other adults, on the other hand, are made in a less cartoonish way, albeit always with a simplified style.

All this comes in stark contrast to the settings as the characters sometimes they inhabit equally simple and minimal environments, while at other times they walk through carefully drawn evocations of pre-war Japan. The historical characters, including the Emperor, various generals and the Chinese victims of the Japanese aggression, on the contrary, are rendered realistically with lots of references to real photographs.

The editorial aspect

The work created by J-Pop is treated in every detail. Immediately stands out the colorful colored dust jacket that incorporates the colors and shapes of the Japanese flag and inside is embellished with pages of excellent weight and prints of the highest quality. The most interesting aspect, net of the wonderful history, is present at the end of the work where all the notes inherent to various words of difficult translation present in the various balloons are preserved, but above all a rich historical excursus complete with a time line of all the main events of the historical period from 1926 to 1939 (ie the time span of this first volume). This welcome extra allows the reader to immerse himself even more in the story and understand how even the most dramatic events actually happened despite the folkloristic and sometimes humorous presentation of the yokai.


In conclusion Showa - A History of Japan goes far beyond what are often seen as the limits of a manga. Mizuki deals with issues with courage and honesty that continue to resonate even after almost 30 years from the first publication of the work and almost 80 years after the events took place. It is a bold work because Mizuki tries to show what many do not want to admit, namely Japan's inability to recognize the brutality of actions in Asia during and before the outbreak of World War II.

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