Friday March 1, 2013
Between two worlds
WORLDS OF WONDER
By TERENCE TOH
With touches of Lewis Carroll and Hayao Miyazaki, original graphic novel Ichiro is an absorbing tale of gods, demons and teenage angst.
TOO American for the Japanese, and too Japanese for the Americans, it’s no surprise that young Japanese-American teenager Ichiro feels a lot of rage.
The son of an American soldier who died in the Iraq war, Ichiro glorifies war and the military, which he expresses through his choice of fashion and music.
Ichiro’s life, however, is turned upside down after he is made to follow his mother to Japan on a job interview. There, through the guidance of his kindly grandfather, Ichiro is forced to come to terms with his Japanese heritage.
Things take a dramatic turn after an unexpected encounter with a mythical creature leads Ichiro into a fantasy world populated by creatures of Japanese mythology.
In exploring this mysteriousplace, which is currently embroiled in a violent civil war, Ichiro comes to see the true nature of conflict, and the destruction wrought when two sides are unable to agree with each other. But will he be able to return to his world to use this newfound wisdom?
In Ichiro, writer and illustrator Ryan Inzana weaves a mesmerising tale about race relations, alienation, and the folly of war. His graphic novel is a wonder of layered storytelling.
With the events of the fantasy world paralleling Ichiro’s dilemmas in the real world, it serves as an allegory for real-life events such as the post 9-11 world and the troubled history between Japan and America.
Inzana’s work has appeared in numerous magazines, ad campaigns, books and various other media all over the world, and his comics have even been inducted into the United States Library of Congress’ permanent collection of art.
His first graphic novel, Johnny Jihad, was nominated by Booklist and numerous other publications as one of the top 10 books of 2003.
The best and most interesting part of Ichiro is undoubtedly its use of Japanese mythology. Inzana weaves traditional tales of ancient gods and warriors seamlessly into his narrative, effectively fleshing out the story’s world and giving context to the plot.
Newcomers to Japanese myth will be tantalised by stories such as how the gods Izanami and Izanagi created the world, and how Susano-wo became lord of the dead, while seasoned Shinto myth-lovers will enjoy spotting creatures such as the kappa water sprite and the long-nosed tengu demon.
Inzana uses these mythological influences to create a vivid fantasy world, with the war between the realms of Ama and Yomi taking centre stage. Caught up in a vicious cycle of attacks and reprisals, the inhabitants of both realms experience great suffering.
“Rather than use our whole hand to build, we only used a finger to accuse,” the Japanese war god Hachiman tells Ichiro in one of the novel’s more poignant moments.
“We decided it was better to blame than mend, fighting more noble than fixing.”
Ichiro uses powerful scenes such as this to illustrate its message that no side is completely to blame in any conflict, and it is never too late to make amends. While stories with a message often come off as preachy, it is to Inzana’s credit that his themes of peace and reconciliation never feel heavy-handed.
A sullen, disenfranchised teenager desperately seeking an identity of his own, the lead character Ichiro is also painted well. Alternate universe tales are the perfect medium for coming-of-age tales, and Inzana utilises the conventions of the genre well, developing Ichiro in a realistic and poignant way.
Another highlight of the graphic novel are Ichiro’s interactions with his grandfather, who is kindly yet slightly out of touch with the world, and very fond of storytelling.
Many of the personal experiences he shares with his grandson have a heartfelt, authentic feel to them.
The art of Ichiro is impressive, with panels that are rich and full of detail. Despite being set mostly set in Japan, the graphic novel is drawn in a more conventional Western style rather than a more manga style, which nevertheless still works very well.
Inzana effectively uses distinctive art styles to differentiate between the real and fantasy worlds, the latter of which is drawn in a manner similar to traditional Japanese paintings and woodcuts.
His creature design is also fun to look at. Inzana clearly had a lot of fun bringing to life the varied inhabitants of Ichiro’s fantasy world, with one of the most interesting creatures being a floating pair of eyes and tentacles!
Inzana’s use of colour is also inspiring. The mundane real world of contemporary Japan is depicted mostly in grey and black, in contrast to the bright, richly coloured mythological settings.
Additionally, the inhabitants of Ama and Yomi, originally coloured in a wide variety of hues, slowly turn into red and yellow respectively as relations between the two lands crumble, reflecting their divided stances.
Reminiscent of both Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland and Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away, Ichiro is a recommended read, mostly thanks to its gorgeous art and subtle yet moving themes.
Ichiro is available at Kinokuniya, Suria KLCC.