Barefoot Gen, vol 10: Never Give Up, by Keiji Nakazawa

My Copy: 9780867196016 (image from bn.com)

This one’s a bit tricky to describe, as it’s the last of the series. It’s satisfying in one way and has so much in it that it probably could’ve made enough material for two more books. It’s not some super-thick volume, it’s just a lot that’s tackled in these pages.

On the other hand, considering the rapid speed of change as our characters progress, perhaps keeping it all in this one volume to demonstrate that was best.

Barefoot Gen, vol 10 begins with Gen about to graduate middle school, even though he’s been so busy working he’s barely attended school. He meets his old teacher, who congratulates him and tells him to keep true to himself and his ideals, and that a scrap of paper is not the end, but the beginning.

Gen’s graduation has some harsh moments in it because of some school official’s insistence that they sing the anthem to the emperor before the official ceremony. Others look on, fuming at Gen’s speech, while at least one adult takes what he says into account. Gen also ends up helping the very teachers who despise him later on.

But after the crazy graduation, our Gen finds himself in love with a girl and a lot of what he goes through is pining to know more about her and date her. But when he finds out who her father is, things just get REALLY crazy for Gen… of course, he still tries to see her, and it leads to a lot of great, insightful interactions.

Ryuta has grown up a little more in this one. Sure, he does dumb stunts and sings funny songs to get attention so they can sell the dresses Katsuko makes. This also opens them up to unexpected opportunities when they set up shop in the wrong place. But this doesn’t do so well for our heroes when the cautious, responsible Musabi gets caught up in Yakuza tricks.

The forces acting on this little cobbled-together family are stressful and joyous in turns. When Musabi gets in far over his head and pays the price, Ryuta is eerily calm about what he plans to do to make the Yakuza pay for it, even if he’s a kid.

I won’t spoil what happens, because I was curious how it was all going to turn out myself. It seems everyone is maturing to a degree in this volume, and not just the kids. Even some of the adults have gotten over their military worship and are trying to accept the new world order and make a better Japan, especially since the Americans have given the reins of power back to Japanese hands.

This whole series was a roller coaster, up and down with peace and violence, life and death, courage and despair. You run the gamut of human emotion with this story, and the bomb is never far from anyone’s minds.

As far as what our young heroes will do at the end? Who knows. I’m going to eventually read the book about the author himself and see how things turn out beyond the last page of this series.

Happy reading, folks (or at least happy contemplating and learning–there are dark as hell elements, after all). And hope to the future (and the kids that may improve upon it).

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