December 26, 2009

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Barefoot Gen Volume 2

Written by Keiji Nakazawa
Illustrated by Keiji Nakazawa
Last Gasp

The second volume in Mr. Nakazawa's 10-volume story of being a Hiroshima survivor, told through the viewpoint of Gen, a young boy who at this point has lost all but his mother and newborn sister. Still not sure of what has occurred, mother and son must try to survive amongst the dead, the dying, and the cruel. Gen tries everything to help his mother, begging, singing, and fighting off those who would take from him what little he has.

In the process, we see the sheer horror of what has happened, as Gen watches the dead explode in the river, the dying lose the skin off their bones, and that tragedy does not often unite a people--it only makes the divisions worse. Nakazawa uses a few plot twists to make sure that Gen sees all of the aftermath, from burning bodies to uncaring doctors, to radiation sickness. Not a stone of cruelty from the bomb is left undisturbed.

Again, there's not much I can say about this other than it is an unflinching look at the aftermath of war, and how those who pay the price are not the generals and the leaders, but the common people. No matter what the conflict, war hits the poor and the immigrant the worst of all, and sometimes not even friends are willing to help. Nakazawa shows us how hope gives way to grim reality and his maturation of Gen is astounding. The art is dark and shows every bit of gore you want to see. I even flinched from the page more than once. Be warned that this is not your average manga. This is using the graphic medium to its fullest potential for telling a hard story.

Sometimes, it seems that it's better to be dead than to be a survivor. As bad as it is for Gen and his mom right now, I'm sure it's only going to get worse.