Sunday, December 30, 2012


This is a tough book to explain because it has a lot going on. Ichiro is a young son of a Japanese woman and American GI who finds himself in Japan for his mom's job. Unbeknownst to him, the move may be permanent, which bothers this lifelong New Yorker. Dealing with the change in geography as well as his father's death, Ichiro is helped acclimate by his grandfather, who shares with him a great many stories about Japanese and Chinese history and legend as well as about his own family.

That's about half of the book. The rest involves a plot with a mischievous, shape-shifting raccoon who takes the form of a tea pot and traveling to the spirit world where Ichiro sees the results of an on-going struggle between legendary figures Amaterasu, Lord Yoritomo, Hachiman, and Susano. This fictional war has overtones that mesh with the events of World War II and also the Iraq War, where Ichiro's father was killed.

Apparent from all I have described is that this book has plots within plots, and that its mix of fictional and real world concerns makes for an interesting presentation. Themes of loss, loyalty, betrayal, war, pride, and identity undulate like waves throughout. I felt this was a complex, thoughtful book that left me perplexed in places but also willing and eager to reflect and reread. I am not sure all this material coalesces in a satisfying manner, but this is certainly a book that begs to be read more than once.

This book's creator Ryan Inzana is a designer and illustrator whose work has appeared in advertisements and magazines. He has also produced two other graphic novels, Johnny Jihad, a fictional account inspired by John Walker Lindh and the Columbine shootings, and an adaptation of Stud Terkel's Working, written by Harvey Pekar. I thought his artwork and storytelling in Ichiro was strong, with good use of color and line. The size, format, and excellent paper quality also added to its luster. Inzana speaks about his work on this book in these two interviews.

Reviews I have read about Ichiro have been mixed, commenting on its strengths and drawbacks. The reviewer at Literary Treats "applaud[ed] his creative approach at tackling such a disturbing, emotional subject matter" and also added that this is a "great graphic novel for anyone who wants to learn more about Japan, or about the Japanese side of World War II history." In a lukewarm review Infodad commented that this book "simply tries too hard to do too much – it has well-done moments but is not, as a whole, especially compelling."

Ichiro is published by Houghton Mifflin. There is a preview available at Amazon.

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