The 2nd Dimension

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Reading Journal: Town of Evening Calm, Country of Cherry Blossoms

Manga Overview
Book Info

Overall= B
Story = B
Art = C-


Part 1: Set in 1955, a family from Hiroshima struggles to come to terms with their survival of the atomic bombing of their city. The protagonist is Minami Hirano, about 20 years of age. Part 2: Set some decades later, the niece of Minami Hirano is bewildered by her father's mysterious disappearances. She and a friend follow him to discover what he is doing. Parts of this story are told in flashback. (Source: ANN)

There are some subjects that you'd think it would be easy to build a dramatic story around. One is the Holocaust. The other is the bombing of Hiroshima. And although I've seen and/or heard of plenty of movies related to the former, I can't really think of many related to the later (Barefoot Gen being the only one that immediately comes to mind). Part of that is probably because the US is not likely want to explore the unpleasant details of something it's responsible for (or to import that kind of material from Japan). But if Town of Evening Calm is any indication, it is also likely because Japan itself just wants to move beyond those events as well.

Town of Evening Calm, Country of Cherry Blossoms -- unlike Barefoot Gen -- doesn't deal directly with the events of the bombing, but instead deals with the emotional and physical after-effects that are felt years and decades later. The first part takes place ten years afterwards and focuses on a girl named Minami who is trying to happily move on with her life but realizes that as much as she tries she just never feels right about it. The second part takes place in 1987 and 2004, and deals with how even later generations -- for whom the bombing is little more of a history lesson -- still feel its effects.

From a purely entertainment standpoint, this manga is definitely worthwhile. It isn't as heavy or in-your-face as I expected given the weighty subject. It's also not as preachy or critical of the events themselves (except for a few lines at the end of the first chapter). It deals with the subject matter indirectly for the most part, making it easy to read, but also giving it dramatic undertones.

But it's more interesting in how it shows Japanese attitudes and reactions to the bombing. I mentioned earlier that I have not seen a lot of stories involving the bombing directly, but of course there are plenty that deal with it indirectly, through either symbolism, themes, or just through the countless anime that show Tokyo blowing up. So you know that it's still there somewhere in the back of people's minds, but it's not often that I get a chance to see a straightforward representation to how the Japanese think and feel about it. So -- if nothing else -- this manga is certainly worthwhile for that insight alone.

As far as the artwork is concerned, it is not particularly impressive. The characters are ill-proportioned so that it is sometimes hard to tell between an adult and a child; and overall it not clean or solid. But even so, it does exude a light tone that, again, gives the weighty subject a more relaxed feel.

So, I think that a lot of people will hesitate to buy this due to its subject matter, regardless of how effective it is as a drama. But for those who are interested in getting some insight into Japanese attitudes toward one of its most historically impactful events, it is definitely worthwhile.

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