Author & Illustrator: Ryan Inzana
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt: 2012
Call Number: Y 741.5973 INZ
The wave of Kaiju (“strange creatures” in Japanese) from the movie Pacific Rim sent me scouring in the library for a good Japanese monster book. I chanced upon Ichiro, a graphic novel written and illustrated by Ryan Inzana. As I flipped through it, expecting it to be some heroic fighting monster story, it turned out more than meets the eyes.
Under Ryan’s rich illustration of two parallel worlds: our present world and the Japanese fantasy/folklore world, is a coming-of-age story of a teenage boy named Ichiro, who is in search of his identity. Ichiro is of dual heritage: American & Japanese, and does not know where he fits in. Fatherless and raised solely by his Japanese mother in a cosmopolitan country where he calls home and primarily regards himself as American, he is still inevitably subjected to stereotypical racism of Asians, and chooses to hide behind his sunglasses and loud music. His grandpa Benny does not help much as he is portrayed as the typically ethnocentric Caucasian. Until a chance comes upon for him to stay with his maternal Japanese grandfather Sato in Japan that Ichiro, for the first time, learns a lot more about his Japanese beliefs. Like Ichiro, I too know about folding 1,000 cranes from the Japanese means that there is a chance to get well, but never knew it originated from Sadako, a girl who survived the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, but was very sick from the radiation! Ichiro also starts to question about human conflicts as he sees the aftermath of World War II from the Japanese’s side of the story.
But what really makes the story fascinating is the treachery that happens in a world of myth and magic reflecting traditional Japanese creation legends. While trying to trap the persimmon-stealing animal thief, Ichiro is unexpectedly dragged by the magic racoon into an underground hole, thus to a land of Japanese gods and monsters. To some extent, the underground war between the mythological lands of Ama and Yomi reflects our present world of human conflicts. We see suffering and injustice of war started by a mere small crack of a bridge, which is left unattended in the beginning. In this land, Ichiro is too treated as a foreigner, a spy and a criminal. He begins to see the complexities of human differences and fears for his own survival. It is not by his choice, but still he is at the mercy of the environment, evidenced in both worlds.
What we, as well as Ichiro, learn ultimately is that there are two sides to the story of any war and both can be equally capable of unimaginable destruction. It is not for Ichiro to choose to be either American or Japanese, but to accept both sides of his heritage. The writer, Izana, has certainly integrated surreptitiously a message on war, tolerance and open-mindedness into a story on Japan’s mythology, history and culture!
Reviewed by Lee Yee Fuang, Library Services Development, Public Libraries Singapore