My Copy: 9780867195972 (image from bn.com)
Barefoot Gen, volume 6 continues with our plucky and occasionally violent hero, Gen, his friends, and family trying to survive on meager rations and wits even a few years after the Hiroshima bomb dropped.
We start with Gen, Ryuta and the kids trying to sell skulls with kanji curses written on them to American servicemen as a way to make money and also stick it to the people who dropped the bomb. They get harassed by Gen’s old teacher about it and give him something to think about regarding survival.
Things get more dangerous for the general population. Food is scarce but being caught with loads of rice off the black market can get you thrown in jail. Gen and Ryuta try to get some with suspenseful (and funny results). However, as Kimie, Gen’s mom, gets sicker thanks to overwork and radiation sickness, Ryuta knows they need money for treatment and decides to go after some gangsters for it.
It’s interesting to think that this series is made by a man who lived through Hiroshima, and uses a version of himself in the story, and can still translate the modes of thought children have about the world. Gen tries to be good and essentially acts as everybody’s hero and protector, but Ryuta is the adopted kid who also has a more black and white view of the world. Nakazawa remembers the simple thinking of a child, that things are good or bad at different times, but he doesn’t rationalize it. When he sees the men who have so much money they recklessly gamble it while everywhere else people starve, it forces him to act.
One thing that’s never forgotten in this series is that to the kids, it’s all about survival. The adults (other than Kimie and the adopted Papa figure) try to rebuild the world they knew where things like law and honor were priorities, even as their hypocrisy is pointed out by mere children. That’s what I love about this, the kids don’t want people to forget what happened and it was because of the war, especially as the gang’s Papa figure is becoming more ill from radiation sickness himself. Gen is determined to publish his book before he dies, and yet because it is so critical about the bomb and insults the Americans, no one will dare do it.
It’s still a struggle for our intrepid gang, which seems to grow a bit more as time goes on and new hurt people look for a way to heal and find something to cling to in this new reality of pain and starvation.
Barefoot Gen is an incredible series. Moments of humor and abrupt reality that just lets you have it without sugar-coating, the way a child would. I can see why if kids are allowed to read graphic novels in school for their reading credits, this series might be on the lists more and more often. I sure hope so–it’s an amazing story so far. Can’t wait to see what happens next.