Last week we posted this great article on how the specter of atomic war hangs over manga from Astro Boy to Akira. Now Jonathan Clements, author of The Anime Encyclopedia, has written an equally thoughtful piece focusing on Barefoot Gen, the granddaddy of them all (unless you happen to have read Osamu Tezuka’s even earlier “X-Point to the Pacific,” inspired by U.S. nuclear testing).
Drawn by Keiji Nakazawa, who survived the bombing of Hiroshima at age six, Barefoot Gen has shocked generations of readers with its images of atomic warfare: melting faces, horses on fire, oily black fallout. During its run in Japan, Project Gen, a coalition of Japanese and American antiwar activists, began translating and publishing the series internationally to share Nakazawa’s story with the world.
As Clements describes, Barefoot Gen has been many things to many readers. It’s been criticized for ignoring other war atrocities committed against the Japanese, for ignoring war atrocities committed by the Japanese, for being anti-American, for being pro-American, for its blunt pacifism.
Nakazawa himself simply wanted to show the world the horrors of war. Not long before his death in 2012, he hoped that President Obama would read Barefoot Gen with his daughters. “Children who screamed and wept!” he wrote in his autobiography. “Thank you! You now know the true horror of the atom bomb.”
Don’t forget, a new version of Project Gen is running a Kickstarter to get Barefoot Gen into schools and libraries. You can get more information here.