May 12, 2010

,   |  

Barefoot Gen Volume 7

Written by Keiji Nakazawa
Illustrated by Keiji Nakazawa
Last Gasp

Gen tries hard to get the truth out there, but doesn't factor on the personal risk involved when you cross the powers that be in the United States Armed Forces. While always trying to find a way to keep on living, Gen sees death touch him in a very personal way again and again. He's been strong so far, but will this latest series of setbacks be too much?

This was the first volume of this ongoing series that I was actually a bit disappointed with. After spending a lot of time making sure that there was a story to go along with the message in the past few trades, this time around, we are back to the premise of having things happen to Gen so that Nakazawa can comment on them. There are several points in the story which are extremely clunky as a result, and they hurt the flow of the narrative.

What's worse is that in the case of reading excerpts from Hirayama's book, we are only getting another reprise of the same horrors that Gen has already experienced or heard about first-hand. I am not discounting the terrible things, as the point of this manga is to serve as a warning against ever dropping another bomb, not to entertain me. But bringing things to a dead halt to recap what I've already read a few times now did not seem to me to be the best way to go, especially when the narrative becomes extremely preachy.

If you're reading this far into Barefoot Gen, you don't need hit over the head with the abomination of the atomic bomb, and that's what it felt like. Using Mr. Pak as a Deus ex Machina doesn't help this any, and his inclusion in this volume made him feel less like a character (as he was in the past) and more like an non-player character in a video game.

Things are better when Nakazawa moves into newer ground, such as the boys narrowly escaping being used as spies in the Korean War or when Koji returns to tell of his failure, which I predicted back when he left. These incidents continue to tell the story of the aftermath of war, which is what I think we should be focusing on at this point. They're still a bit too pat, however, as Nakazawa maneuvers his characters to make sure we learn everything.

The most powerful moments, however, are when Gen struggles against all odds to keep going. He has quite a few setbacks this time, from personal peril to dealing with death. At one point, it seems he can't handle it anymore, and who could blame him? He's the only one that it seems the bomb did not severely damage, forced to watch everyone around him crumble to dust, not even leaving a bone behind. Gen manages, however, because the only way to beat the bomb, to show the Japanese and American leaders that ordinary people cannot be defeated, is to survive.

It's that part of the narrative that is so compelling, and the one I wish Nakazawa would stress rather than going back to the well of horror so many times. By this point, we get what terrible things can happen. Now I want the story to be about how Gen and his friends manage in a world that wants to forget them. Because if we ever forget, if we ever lose sight of the cost, we'll be back to using ever more terrible bombs in no time. Hell, we're probably there already.

I didn't like this volume of Barefoot Gen as much as the past few, but that doesn't mean this is a bad series. Far from it. I think everyone should read this story from start to finish, as it makes you think twice about some of the ideas you may have had in your head, either about World War II, American foreign policy, or just the idea of warfare in general. As I said above, we must never forget. Reading stories like Barefoot Gen will help us remember.