Monday, August 29, 2011

Manga Monday: Shigeru Mizuki

Onward Towards Our Noble Deaths
Shigeru Mizuki

This World War II manga from legendary cartoonist Shigeru Mizuki follows a troop of the Imperial Army stationed in the South Pacific.  It begins with illustrating the everyday life of a soldier in the battle field, the waiting and wondering, and the constant threat of enemy fire, not to mention the natural dangers of animals and disease.  There's cruelty from commanding officers, there's unfairness towards the rookies, bonding over stupid pranks, and plenty of humor.  It is sort of an odd mix here to blend humor in with this dark material, but it helps to lift it from being bogged down in too depressing material.  Mizuki also chose to draw the troops in a cartoony style that contrasts with the dangerous, realistic surroundings.  I liked that.  He kind of depicts these troops as goofy, but it makes them more lovable and more human, I suppose.  There are a lot of characters, however, and only a few that stand out, so it is difficult to really connect with a single character, but it's that camaraderie between the soldiers that Mizuki creates from the pranks and humor that makes you sort of feel for the troop as a whole that makes what occurs later so much more tragic.  Once the enemy really begins to invade the area where this troop is stationed, the book becomes much more bleak and bloody, showcasing the true terror of war as soldiers bury the body parts of their friends, etc.  It also becomes a commentary of the Imperial Army in general, specifically its code of honorable death and suicide.  I was surprised and impressed with how contemporary this books feels for a manga that's almost forty years old, but I think that that really speaks to the strength of the creator.  This was a fascinating book, and more than likely one of the best manga that will be released this year.

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