Fantagraphics. Aug. 2023. 544p. tr. from Japanese by Jocelyne Allen. ISBN 9781683961185. $29.99. GRAPHIC NOVELS
Higa’s manga is a deeply critical yet ultimately hopeful look at the 20th-century history of the Japanese island of Okinawa, divided into two books. The first book, Sword of Sand, chronicles Okinawan experiences of World War II. Many of the stories document the tragedy of the island’s being the staging ground for an unwanted battle. The brutality of a war which decimated the Okinawan population is overwhelming, even as the stories stay largely off the battlefield. The second book, Mabui, refers to the Okinawan religious concept of the human spirit and focuses on the late 20th century, when the islands were overwhelmed by U.S. military bases. Nearly every story finds local people asserting their connection to the land and their cultural identity. Where Sword of Sand despairs at the horrors of war, Mabui is full of fierce hope in the face of hard realities. This is not a historical survey, but a documentary assertion of identity. Higa’s illustrations are stiff, laden with dialogue, and punctuated with panels of dramatic onomatopoetic text when military exercises or community celebrations interrupt quieter times.
VERDICT Exhaustive and emotional, this is an intense labor of love by its creator and will likely prove fascinating and enlightening to the committed reader as well.
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