The reality of Shige
While the two previous writers had written their stories in response to the militant unrest that was brewing in Japan during the early 70s, Shigeru Mizuki wrote a memoir about his youth and his life as a soldier during World War II in Comic Showa History which was published in volumes by Kodansha from 1988-1989. Unlike the previous two, Comic Showa History did not go through serialization in any comic magazine however it did receive acclaim as it received a Kodansha Manga Award in 1989. A short but related comic called War and Japan was published separately in an educational magazine for Grade 6 students.
Unlike the previous works, Comic Showa History had a different perspective of the war as the story begins from Shige’s birth and extends until his old age. More so, Shigeru did not divorce himself from the protagonist of his story by giving it another name. He proudly drew himself as the young Shige who was fascinated with the ghost stories his Nononba shared.
The story of his life was interspersed with actual historical events where one of Shigeru Mizuki’s characters, Nezumi Otoko, would voice Shigeru’s opinions on particular events. As Shige ages in the comic, he gets to converse with Nezumi Otoko and they both reflect on historical events and the repercussions of the war. The contextualization of his life against a historical backdrop widens the perspective of his readers, allowing them to witness what was happening in the great historical narrative as well as question if these events were justified or not.
Compared to the previous artists, Shigeru was of age when the war started. In 1942, he was conscripted in the army and was sent to New Britain before being sent to Rabaul. He was only 20 years old. In this comic, Shigeru Mizuki did not expound on his hardships as a child. However, he was not shy of illustrating the harsh reality of war from the frontlines. As a private in the army, Shigeru not only witnessed war cruelties but also battled with the moral repercussions of war. The comic enters into his thoughts and his own internal struggles as he discovers the best and worst of humanity.
There is an aged, if not balanced perspective in Mizuki Shigeru’s Comic Showa History. It comes with the fact that the story has been written in reflection of his life. More than that, the story pacifies Japanese actions and while it too presents some anti-war themes, the contextualization of the war against American imperialism gave the impression that the war was justified.
In an interview with Japan Times, Shigeru Mizuki expressed his own thoughts of the war, where he believed that after the war, war criminals didn’t matter because anyone could have been a war criminal; Japan was punished because they failed to recognize America’s strength, and Japan today belongs to America. These strong opinions are very much present in his work that it has been criticized by younger comic artists like Yoshinori Kobayashi who felt that Japan should not feel shame and regret over their loss during World War II. Kobayashi’s Gomanism Sengen and On War also became popular in the 90s as it presented historical revisionist ideas.