I made a breakthrough while reading Shigeru Mizuki’s Kitaro: The Great Tanuki War. I finally grasped the essential nature of manga, the enormously popular Japanese comics that read backwards.
If you’re like me, you’ve wondered why they go on so long. Whenever I read manga, I always end up convinced there must be no editors in Japan. That would explain the superfluous plot elements, the unmotivated twists and the digressions upon digressions.
Strange things happen regularly in manga, just because.
Here’s the thing: After the Second World War in Japan, books were very expensive. So what blossomed was a healthy book-rental business.
Post-war Japanese would rent manga volumes the way we rented VHS tapes in North America in the 1980s.
Publishers needed a way to hook readers and keep them reading, so the seemingly endless comic story became a tradition.
Keep that in mind while you read this tale of an invasion of Tokyo by subterranean ratmen, the tanuki of the title. That knowledge will help you appreciate why this collection, and so many others like it, seem to drift aimlessly from one plot point to the next.
What I detect between the panels in The Great Tanuki War is a society still dealing with the angst of a foreign occupation. This title was originally published in the 1950s, so fear of the American military wasn’t a theoretical concern for the young readers of this series.
What I found surprising wasn’t the horror, but the winking political satire: Japanese politicians are depicted as ineffectual while the U.S. navy won’t intervene in the supernatural invasion, despite the ongoing American presence in the country.