A historical story using Ghosts to explain the life times of the reign of Emperor Hirohito.
Comic Showa-shi describes an era of upheaval and impoverishment in Japanese history, beginning with the Tokyo Earthquake in 1923, and covering the financial panic, the Great Depression, the March 15th Incident, and other events up until the Manchurian Incident in 1931.
Comic Showa-shi received the Kodansha Manga Award in the General category in 1989.
The series was published in English as Showa: A History of Japan by Drawn & Quarterly in 4 volumes from November 12, 2013 to October 13, 2015. The 2nd & 3rd English volumes won the 2015 Eisner Award for Best U.S. Edition of International Material—Asia.
How much do you know about Japan? Since you’re on this site, it’s safe to say that you are at least somewhat interested in the culture. You've likely picked up some scattered facts about the country. You know that losing the second World War irrevocably changed Japan; did you know they’d been at war almost a decade before WWII officially started? You know what a kamikaze soldier is; did you know that this was largely created out of desperation after Prime Minister Tojo (according to this manga) declared: “I would rather see this whole country die than admit the smallest defeat”? You might even know
Japan had an “economic miracle” after the war; did you know this was a series of small booms largely influenced by the Korean and Vietnam Wars?
Before I get to why this series is worth reading, I need to state that the MAL write-up is insufficient in every way. the series is a sort of guided tour through the Japanese Showa period (1923-1989) using a spirit, but Showa (which I’ll call the series for brevity’s sake) is a serious history. These 120 chapters present a meticulously researched glimpse into the events of the time and what it was like to live in the country as these events occurred. Everything from political upheaval and economic trends to short-lived fads and headlines of the day are represented in these pages. The character of Nezumi Otoko (the supernatural narrator for most of the series) is there only to streamline the events and help elevate the series into more than a series of facts.
But, if this was just a history book with pictures, it wouldn’t be so special. Showa is also the autobiography of a man with an incredible life. Shigeru Mizuki (who lived through the entirety of the Showa period) intersplices the story of the era with the story of his life. If you aren’t interested in the story of a slacker who lost an arm in the war and would go on to be one of the pioneers in the manga industry, then I do not know how to interest you.
That said, it cannot be stressed enough that this is a history first and foremost, and it is the way Mizuki tells this history that gives its power. Through Nezumi Otoko, the reader is able to “witness” some of the best and worst of the twentieth century. There is no shying away from harsh or unpleasant topics. Nezumi shares panels with Hitler, looks rapists and war criminals in the eye, and tiredly shrugs as he describes some truly horrible events. Yet, no one is made an obvious villain; no event is considered unjustly simple. Mizuki (and Nezumi) offer the situations and motivations that led to each event.
If you are interested in this series, you should also know that most of it takes place during World War II. As Mizuki explains, this was the ultimate turning point, and it is impossible to fully appreciate how much everything changed because of these years. Every battle is covered, every major decision made by the military and by the government. I defy any reader to read these chapters and not be filled with both horror and pity as they read these chapters. The phrase “noble death” will never mean the same if you read this.
And at the centre is Shigeru Mizuki, an artist who calmly acknowledges his faults, mistakes, and regrets as he relates his story. I won’t pretend that every chapter is enthralling, or that the art is always brilliant, though the juxtaposition of realism and the cartoonish works well to add variety.
I don’t know how to rate this series. It’s a serious history of a tumultuous period in one of the most interesting countries in the world; I can’t rate that based on its entertainment value.
To sum it up, this is a quick glance at the events that led to a culture we all love, at least in some degree. If you’re only here for entertainment, you’ll likely be turned away by some of the more horrible things discussed, but if you have ANY interest in learning about the history or culture of this country, I cannot recommend this series enough.