Barefoot Gen, vol 1, by Keiji Nakazawa (trans. by Project Gen)

My Copy: 9780867196023 (image from bn.com)

I’m trying to remember where and when I first heard or saw Barefoot Gen mentioned, but it was either in regard to graphic novels and their place in the classroom, or it was some internet analysts breaking down anime styles and stories over the years.

Perhaps it was both. Regardless, as a history buff, it makes sense I’d gravitate toward a graphic novel series like this one. I was just amazed at how much I would get out of it, and this is just the first part.

Barefoot Gen is a largely autobiographical story (at least, in this part) from the author and focuses on young Gen and his family in Hiroshima in the closing days of WWII. You get a feeling for their hardships, especially hunger and an increasing awareness that they will lose the war. Because the father is an outspoken opponent of the war, the family is treated worse and worse by many of their neighbors and the kids, called traitors and beaten or humiliated in some fashion. I found it startling to read about the anti-war sentiment laced in the father’s language, because I can’t recall ever reading about anti-war statements by the populace, or really anything from the civilians. Granted, I’m still reading, but heavens…

The family (and especially young Gen) and what they’re going through is occasionally interrupted by pages of images and description about the war and what’s going on there, and of course the Bomb’s creation.

What I found fascinating and startling in the pages was the rare anti-war perspective on the Japanese side, in that you get an outside-in view of how brainwashed most of the population was regarding the Emperor’s divinity and that even though air raid sirens and bombers were overhead all the time, the officials kept saying they’d sweep the enemy from the waves and the sky and achieve final victory. As things get worse, the leadership becomes more sadistic, and the people starve and wonder when the war’s going to end.

I’m curious how the rest of the series will go (there’s 10 books in my collection), and just wow. Took me a while to get it, but I can’t wait to keep going.

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