Ichiro, written and illustrated by Ryan Inzana, was nominated for a 2013 Will Eisner award (the Oscars of the comic book industry) in the teen (13-17) category. The series is an ambitious, adventure packed, fast-paced story about a mixed race Japanese American teenage boy who is struggling to come to terms with the death of his father and his own identity.
At the same time, Ichiro is also a very serious attempt to try and explain the horrible conflicts of war through the eyes of a confused 13-year-old boy using manga style art and the mythology of Japan. Lots of moral questions arise and the free expressionistic manga style really helps propel the story throughout the book.
The story is simple enough. A young boy named Ichiro whose American father has recently died is taken by his Japanese mother back to Japan so that she can find work and he can spend some time with his Japanese grandfather. At first, Ichiro is totally unhappy with this idea but slowly his grandfather works on changing his grandson’s attitude. He takes Ichiro on a tour of Hiroshima, which includes a trip to the Peace Memorial, a monument to the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. There Ichiro starts to question his own ideas about being an American and how Japan and America came to be at war. His grandfather wisely counsels him and tells the history of his life and his own father’s involvement during World War II. When his grandfather then takes him to a family home outside of Hiroshima, Ichiro’s adventures with the Japanese spirit world begin.
Ichiro finds himself unbelievably moving out of his contemporary world into the world of Japanese myth. It’s a bit like Alice falling into the rabbit hole and ending up in a world where nothing really makes sense. Similarly, the same device is found in Hayao Miyazaki’s film, Spirited Away, when the heroine, Chihiro, goes through a tunnel that starts in her world and ends up in a strange spirit world. Ichiro finds he must struggle to find out who he is and struggle to return to his own world again by trying to understand the mythic world of the Japanese gods.
Ryan Inzana uses old Japanese Shinto myths about the creation of Japan itself to try and explain the beginnings of conflict in Japan. He introduces the major Japanese Shinto gods and utilizes his manga style graphic illustrations to create an exciting and unusual explanation of Japanese myth and history. Sometimes this can be a little confusing with unfamiliar Japanese names and figuring out which god does what. However, the quality of the graphic illustrations and the color device of dividing each section of the book into different colors so that the mythology of Japan is in full color, modern contemporary Japan is in sepia tones, and the spirit world is in a weird orangey green color makes for a dynamic energy that helps the story flow rapidly by. It is a very effective method of introducing lots of Japanese history and culture to a young American audience.
Ryan Inzana stated he was inspired to write this book because of his own visit to the Hiroshima Peace Memorial where he first met his Japanese wife’s family. He wanted to explain how war between Japan and the United States occurred and how nuclear devastation and war are things we would never want to experience again. By using the theme of ancient Japanese myth and a young teenage boy searching for his own identity, Inzana puts forward a unique graphic book worthy of more than a quick reading. I read the book twice and it improved on the second reading. It is definitely a book to recommend.