MANGA: Okinawa Chapter 13 - The Journey of Jim Thomas
From Mabui by Susumu Higa, a WWII vet returns to Okinawa to reunite with the baseball team he coached, and remember his role in the post-WWII occupation.
Hi everyone, welcome to the penultimate chapter of Susumu Higa’s Okinawa.
While we were preparing this chapter, Deb shared with me a link to a manga essay by creator Kan Takahama featured on Google Arts and Culture called “What is Historical Manga?” I thought it would be good to share it with all of you too.
Kan Takahama is a long-time favorite of mine; her works Monokuro Kinderbook and Mariko Parade (with Frederic Boilet), published years ago in English by Fanfare/Ponent-Mon, were deeply affecting and some of the most interesting work from the Nouvelle Manga movement. She disappeared from the English language manga scene for a little while—15 years to be precise—but has been releasing original manga titles with French publishers for years.
Her newest English language manga, Emma Dreams of Stars is published by Vertical/Kodansha, and co-authored by a Michelin Guide reviewer and a food journalist. It’s a full-color graphic novel about a young woman taking on the challenge of becoming an inspector/reviewer for the world-famous Michelin Travel and Gourmet Guides at a time when many inspectors were older men. It’s available now in print and in digital. She’s a fascinating creator, and we should definitely profile her at some point.
But back to Takahama’s visual essay on historical manga. It’s actually a short story that’s been reformatted for digital viewing (which is interesting enough to be a whole discussion on it’s own at some point in the future), but it would be hard for me to not be much more interested in the idea of a manga-ka making historical manga, and then becoming history themselves, that Takahama introduces. It’s kind of what we’re doing here with our first Mangasplaining Extra project, Susumu Higa’s Sword of Sand and Mabui.
Sword of Sand (the first 7 chapters of our Okinawa) is undoubtedly a historical manga. It covers extensively stories of World War II, brought to life through research, interviews, and personal and familial stories. It fits the definition, though it may not date back to the 1600s, as Takahama’s work does. :)
An interesting thing has happened though, with Mabui, the second half of our Okinawa project. In the 12 years since it was written, it too has become historical manga, of a kind. Written at the time as a contemporary look at the issues facing Okinawans, as they were dealing with the scars of history and then looking to a different, more self-determined future, it has become a chronicle of feelings and emotions and stories from 2010.
The ‘kicker’ here, of course, is that the issues being discussed in Mabui have not been resolved, and aren’t neatly and cleanly left in the past as history… or rather, the people of Okinawa are still living in that history, as it continues to be made every day. Just last month, a feature was written in the Guardian about Jinshiro Motoyama, who began a hunger strike to demand the removal of the U.S. Military bases in Okinawa, on the eve of the 50th anniversary of the return of the island chain to Japanese sovereignty after the U.S. Occupation of Japan after WWII. Reading Motoyama’s story, I could easily imagine the manga that Higa-sensei might make about him.
It’s tempting to look at historical manga and firmly place these stories in the past, as we read them. That isn’t always the case, and in the situation of Okinawa, it definitely isn’t. With Mabui I feel that Higa is trying his hardest to re-introduce the idea of Okinawa to the general public of Japan that has largely written off the area as “beaches+poverty+where the war happened.” (Or at least, he’s trying to do that for the arty-manga-types who were likely to read AX magazine, the Japanese indie/alternative manga magazine where some of these stories were first published). Higa uses Okinawan language, culture and religious beliefs to bring to life what makes Okinawa special and uniquely different than mainland Japan. He also shows explicitly how the presence of the U.S. Military bases are directly at odds with Okinawa’s culture and way of life. So yes, it’s history, but we’re also living in it every day. I’m really proud that we’ve been able to share that with all of you reading, to try and build a greater understanding of the Okinawan people and their history and culture.
So all of that said, please enjoy this second-to-last chapter of Okinawa, ‘The Journey of Jim Thomas.’ As a special note, this story makes extensive use of flashbacks that take place as double-page spreads, and so we’ve added separator bars to mimic the page flips that would occur and create a visual break between flashback sequences and ‘the present day’.
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