When Shigeru Mizuki wrote “Onwards towards our noble deaths” back in 1973 it received little attention from the critics in Japan and understandably so given the backlash the country received from the world after World War 2. I think most soldiers who had survived the war wanted to put it behind him, but Shigeru, having lost an arm and several comrades to this senseless bloodshed, needed to set the record straight as to what happened during this turbulent time, especially in Papua New Guinea, 1943 when he served. Unlike most of Shigero’s whimsical manga OTOND is a grim and bleak story of death, blind faith and chaos. Now in his 90’s, Shigeru’s war journal has been translated and published by Canada’s drawn and quarterly for us to enjoy. The story paints a picture most would never get to see about the war from the eyes of the Japanese men who fought it. This is a heartbreaking tale of young men asked to do the unthinkable in the prime of their lives. Men who’ve never known love, but are being forced to take someones life or lay down their own for their country. The characters in the book are mostly young except for the commanders. The treatment of the soldiers is harsh by the higher ups, but you get a general sense that this is the way that it was and that they’ve gotten used to it. The jungle plays host to all sorts of nastiness like hunger, malaria and crocodiles which the men must some how overcome as the allied forces close in. The desperate nature of what they are doing begins settling in as soldiers die all around them. Desperation takes hold and it soon becomes hard to tell whose in command as word reaches them that Japan is under attack and their defeat is eminent. With nothing left several of the remaining squads are ordered to rush the enemy in what is referred to as “suicide charge”. This order causes everyone to question their loyalty to the empire and more importantly asked themselves why? The chaos and confusion snowballs out of control as duty gets the best of them and death seems to be the only resort. OTOND is not a light read despite the cartoonish way the characters are drawn. Shigeru does an excellent job of conveying severity by placing these genuinely animated characters onto super real and exquisitely detailed backdrops, as if to say “this would be a nice place to visit if not for this fucking war”. The story is not dialogue heavy, but that too creates morbid unpredictability as the story progresses. When I was done reading this story I still found myself unable to wrap my mind around that level of devotion and apparently neither could some of the soldiers at the time, but war is hell and no one, not even I, can say what I would or wouldn’t do under such conditions unless I were in it. OTOND is like starring into a man’s memory and with what little you have to go on you must draw your own conclusion and unfortunately I can’t. Reviewing this story would be a slap in the face of history so I humbly decline.
“I’m not a coward,
I’ve just never been tested
I’d like to think that if I was,
I would pass
Look at the tested and think there but for the grace go I
Might be a coward,
I’m afraid of what I might find out.”-Dicky Barret (lead singer of The Mighty Mighty Bosstones)