It's about young people in postwar Hiroshima getting involved in the black market for weapons. The main character is an A-bomb survivor whose hatred drives him to kill an American black marketeer. He asks the Americans, "Who are you to talk about justice when you massacred hundreds of thousands of innocent people in Hiroshima, in Nagasaki, in the firebombing of Tokyo? Was that what you call justice?"
The Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic bombings were world-changing events. They came as the crescendo of half a century of unprecedented human violence facilitated by technology. The bombs caused an immediate revolution in consciousness. For Japan, however, much of the effects of the atomic bombs would be seen as clandestine topics of discussion in the eyes of an increasingly American moderated society. 'Struck by Black Rain' is a manga that moved against this obfuscation, developing a strong dialectic.
Published in 1968, Struck by Black Rain was author Keiji Nakazawa's first manga dealing vocally with the issues surrounding Hiroshima's bombing. Because Nakazawa concentrated on the taboo topic of
Hiroshima, no mainstream manga magazine would publish the work. Eventually, Nakazawa managed to publish Struck by Black Rain in 'Manga Panchi', a magazine featuring mostly prurient material.
It is of some import to note that Nakazawa had become a fairly successful mangaka before writing Struck by Black Rain. The manga industry at the time was dominated by a limited number of publishers; Kodansha, Shogakukan, Hobunsha, Shueisha. While it is true the same can be said of today's situation, the manga market was much smaller. Nakazawa's works appeared in magazines by many of these more illustrious publishers, illustrating his relative success as a mangaka. When Struck by Black Rain was rejected, Nakazawa was forced to go to an independent magazine. There was a limited number of these- Garo the most famous. Nakazawa's manga is a died in the wool manga though- coherent with the established aesthetic of the medium- and as Garo was 'alternative', or 'underground', he would be denied this publishing avenue too.
Nakazawa was born in 1939, in Hiroshima. At the age of six, he became victim to the atomic bomb 'little boy'. The bomb killed his younger brother, his sister, his father, and his mother's newborn child. The bomb also annihilated his home, his opportunities in life, and his family's livelihood. Nakazawa growing up in Hiroshima found himself discriminated against by those who came with a government project to repopulate Hiroshima. The term for an atomic bomb survivor was 'Hibakusha'.
Nakazawa learned to hide his Hibakusha status as he matured. Unlike his father who had been a painter, Nakazawa became a mangaka. In 1961 Nakazawa left Hiroshima to head to the shining citadel of hope and new opportunities that Tokyo constituted at the time. He would debut in Shonen Gaho with 'Spark One'. And while Nakazawa actively hid his Hibakusha status during his initial years in Tokyo, references to themes of the atomic bomb often appeared in his manga. In 'Universe Giraffe' published in Shukan Shonen King in 1964, there is an occurrence of deadly mutated plants. 'The Eleventh Spy', published in Bokura in 1966, features a physicist kidnapped by Americans during the war developing a "new-type" bomb. And in 'Super Battleship Fujimi', published in 1968 in the magazine Shonen just months before Struck by Black Rain, Nakazawa depicts the tale of a battleship larger than the Yamato carrying out successfully a secret mission to attack a Pacific island where atomic bombs are being produced.
The event that spurred Nakazawa into creating what is essentially an opinion piece about Hiroshima and its effects in the form of a manga, was the death of his mother to radiation sickness. She was cremated, and the fact that even her bones were turned to cinders infuriated Nakazawa who had personally dug up the bones of his deceased family members after the bomb.
Struck by Black Rain is compartmentalised into eight chapters, each a stand-alone story featuring survivors of the Hiroshima bombing. Nakazawa elucidates pure discontent in Struck by Black Rain. Not only in the tragic mutagenic results of radiation and so forth upon victims of the bombs, but the continued inequity of their situation in a 'new' Japan. For example, one story tells of a survivor who goes on to father a daughter. This daughter falls in love, and proposes. The discovery of the father's Hibakusha status results in the disintegration of the marriage and the daughters subsequent suicide.
It may be ironic to note that Nakazawa's stylisation of manga is quite westernised. The character designs are adherent to the aesthetic that Tezuka Osamu had propagated in the shonen manga industry- a style derived from Disney (and in some part internal influences like Kenzo Masaoka and Noburo Ofuji who also had western influences). Nakazawa's characters are thus rounded, simplistic, and slightly diminutive. Yet advanced anatomical structuring and unique facial structures allows his work to stand alone. Heavy use of simple backgrounds, and focal toning in a set of three depths, quite clearly distinguish the period of the piece and the fast pace of composition Nakazawa employed. Furthermore defining Nakazawa's oeuvre is the propensity of point-of-view panels, tightly cramped panel pages, and a confluence of characters conversing while looking away from each-other. So though it is commonly admitted Nakazawa's artwork is not astounding, and his panelling and framing somewhat lacks dynamism or innovation, the visual content is quite sufficient to empower Nakazawa's political message in Struck by Black Rain.
The political element in Struck by Black Rain is the genesis of Nakazawa's true importance in the industry. Due to the potency and in some regards outrageousness of the stories content, Nakazawa would be offered the opportunity to run four more similar 'black' serialisations in varying adult magazines. The utter power of Nakazawa's anti-American, anti-empirical, anti-militarist content gave Nakazawa a kind of infamy. This would directly result in Nakazawa gaining the chance to create a one-shot in Weekly Shonen Jump called 'Ore Wa Mita' / 'I Saw It' in 1972. Following its success, Nakazawa was offered the chance to write the work he is now almost exclusively known for 'Hadashi no Gen' / 'Barefoot Gen'.
Barefoot Gen would come to be 'the' manga that defined the Hiroshima experience. It became part of the national curriculum, being one of very few windows for a new generation of Japanese children to understand the event. Equally for foreigners it would come to be one of very few pieces of media depicting Hiroshima in whole. It was also the first manga translated into English. It has been the gateway into the manga medium for innumerable readers, being stocked in libraries all over the world. It is then of interest to ask why Barefoot Gen was of such radical success, and Struck by Black Rain was clandestine and never popularised.
I've discussed the (damning) issue of Struck by Black Rain being published in an adult magazine, but there is more than simple publishing issues separating the two. Struck by Black Rain was the beginning of Nakazawa's focus on Hiroshima and its effects, penned in 1968, 5 years before Barefoot Gen. While the themes of Struck by Black Rain were the base for Nakazawa's success story, these themes are presented in a very different course of content than in Barefoot Gen.
Much of the difference can be explained by context. The sixties was a time of rapid modernisation, vocalisation of previously unheard stories, evolving expression in artistic thought, and harshly delineated politics. Japan had experienced its liberalisation a few years earlier than other the U.S.A, and by the late 60's, the realisation that most of the effort had resulted in very little was nascent. 68' was the year of the Prague spring, and several international scuffles. It was the start of what is described as 'détente'- incorrectly described as 'relaxing' of militarism, more accurately the realisation of the futility of protest and conflict. During this time, there was a global feeling of helplessness. Like a cornered rat, this is when Nakazawa wrote his highly inflammatory Struck by Black Rain, decrying the injustice of Hiroshima and its effects, not least the treatment of Hibakusha by a Japan who should have been doing the opposite.
Thus the result is of Struck by Black Rain being highly myopic- inciting violence against Americans, virulent in its anti-establishment message, and providing plots which are solely manipulative in trying to evoke emotion in readers. All of the content in Struck by Black Rain additionally is focused upon others. The content is hearsay and rumours Nakazawa encountered. Barefoot Gen in contrast is semi-autobiographical, and has much more a sense of authenticity in result.
In content, much of Struck by Black Rain is objectionable. And in artwork and composition, this manga provides little. But Struck by Black Rain gives incite into the work of an invaluable honored mangaka that Nakazawa is, gives perspective to the Hiroshima dialectic, and is in its manipulative glory very evocative. Contextually invaluable, my hope is that the translation of this manga will prosper a heightened understanding of both the issues Nakazawa has given denouement to, and a heightened understanding of the circumstance and evolution of the manga industry.