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Friday, August 2, 2019

Selah's Manga Mania Review: In This Corner of the World by Fumiyo Kouno

In This Corner of the World
by Fumiyo Kouno
October 31, 2017
Genre: Seinen, YA, historical fiction, manga

Original run 2007 – 2009
Paperback: 450 pages
Volumes 3
1940’s Hiroshima Prefecture. Suzu, a young woman from the countryside, joins her new husband and his family in the shipbuilding city of Kure. As her beautiful home collapses around her, Suzu must confront the challenges of a new life while coming to grips with a world in turmoil. Unwilling to give up hope, Suzu struggles against the horrors of war to create her own happiness.

One of the great things about any art form is to look at something from a different culture or lens. Today, we're going to look at a title that takes us through the late part of WWII from a Japanese perspective. Unlike my usual, I'm going to refrain from flippant remarks and not break it down in terms of pros/cons/squicky stuff because not only is this a serious and heartfelt title, but it deals with a time in history that I think many westerners have a limited point of view on.

Let's take a look at In This Corner of the World.

Suzu is a young woman who lives in the countryside of Hiroshima with her family. She helps with their seaweed business, has an ogre of a brother, and loves to draw. We see her travel to her grandmother's, escape a goblin (the only real nod to the paranormal in this), and generally live her day to day life until her marriage is arranged. She soon joins her husband and his family in Kure, a shipbuilding city. Her sister-in-law is unimpressed with her scatterbrained ways and she struggles to fit in with her new family and get to know her husband. She deals with tensions when an old school friend she had feelings for shows up, and struggles to deal with the fact that a friend she has made is also likely a sex worker that her husband used to visit.

Through it all, there is the war. Rations, neighborhood initiatives, hard times that only get harder, her sister-in-law struggling with sending her own children away, air raids and bombings, and difficult living conditions are a way of life.

Throughout the actual story are asides about different methods of extending food or what different programs were in Japan. Suzu struggles to adapt and keep up her optimism, both in her new environment and with everything else. And then a bombing changes everything for her and her relations with her in-laws. And then she gets word of what happened in Hiroshima to her own family.

This isn't as heavy as it sounds since there is a lot of day to day life scattered throughout, but it does deal with serious subjects, both in Suzu's personal life and with the historical aspect. It's incredibly well-researched and sourced, and I felt like I learned a ton while my emotions were being shredded. I wish the footnotes and some of the main text weren't so tiny because it does take a little effort to catch everything.

It's also as much historical information as it is an actual story, so if you're looking for a fast-paced drama, be aware that you'd probably prefer the movie version. There is a lot of story, but things often pause for explanations, which could seem a little disjointed, but overall I think it works very well. It's impressive that for not being a biography, the story seems very possible.

Emotionally, I felt for all the characters. Suzu grows considerably, and by the end fourth, some of what she deals with is gut-wrenching. Her emotional reactions aren't overlooked or rushed through, which I think is important.

The art is nice and accessible, things can get a little cramped and at times the size and scale of the story felt overwhelming. Still, this is one I absolutely recommend. I think we don't really talk about Hiroshima much except for textbook entries, and on the whole, don't like to stop and think about how it affected people. It's so easy to paint people as the enemy from a past time, but these characters are living their lives the same as anyone else. There's also a wealth of information here, so it has importance both as an educational tool and as an empathy-building one.

This would probably be easier for high school age on up, just for the size of it and some of the themes. I could see it complementing any history course, but it definitely is great as regular reading, too. It will move your heart and give you a ton to think about.

Five sheep

About the Author:
Selah Janel is a writer who is trying to start doing that again instead of reading manga all the time.

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