As someone in his late 20s, It’s still wild to believe I was a young child when recent disasters happened. From 9/11 coverage in elementary to the Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami in high school, it was surreal as an observer. Now a little older, I’m starting to hear about the unsung heroes of modern tragedies. One such person is Naoto Matsumura, whose tale of bravery spans Tokyopop’s Guardian of Fukushima. Part survival story, part environmentalist tale, this title is an amazing look at how one person can change the world.
What is Guardian of Fukushima?
The story of Guardian of Fukushima stars Naoto Matsumura, a humble farmer living near the Fukushima nuclear plant. On March 11, 2011, he, his parents, and nephew experience the frightening effects of the Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami. They survive, but must contend with the disorienting situation of displacement and scarce resources. The first half of the graphic novel chronicles Naoto as he tries to get his family to safety. In addition, the Fukushima nuclear plant explodes soon after, irradiating the area and contaminating those living nearby.
It is here where we see the brutal reality of what comes after disaster. The family members are rejected from different shelters because they aren’t from the specific wards to be taken care of. Naoto and his parents are denied staying with other relatives because of the fear that they are radioactive.
Rescuing the Lost
The second half of Guardian of Fukushima revolves around Naoto’s resolve to return to his farmland. After assessing the damages, he realizes that a multitude of animals remain due to local evacuation services only rescuing humans. He spends subsequent months tending to their needs before gaining international attention for his efforts.
The way the author writes these conflicts are visceral yet confined to the youth/10+ rating. There are instances of smoking, discussion about death, and a brief scene where Naoto bathes, but all tastefully depicted. It’s a morbid situation but done in a way that older children can understand.
Telling the Story for a Younger Audience
In the beginning of the story, Naoto contextualizes the disaster in a way his nephew Koichi can understand. He uses the story of Namazu, a catfish that causes earthquakes, as well as Ryujin, an angered dragon. The use of Japanese folktales is something that works well in this story. In fact, Naoto himself is likened to Urashima Tarō (a fisherman who rescues a turtle that turns out to be a princess). It’s this allegorical storytelling that connects Japanese culture to the modern societal issues that come with natural disaster.
It’s telling that the age rating for Guardian of Fukushima is 10 and up and geared towards younger audiences. The 2011 earthquake was something that most elementary students were not alive to hear about. Contextualizing this in a way children can understand is great; I can see teachers using this book for school lessons.
Guardian of Fukushima is an International Effort
While the story is of Japanese origin, Guardian of Fukushima follows a traditional western comic style rather than manga. Author Fabien Grolleau and artist Ewen Blain are both French and the comic artstyle reflects a European comic album. It’s a refreshing style and the colors range from vibrant and lush to erratic and haunting, which reflects the story. The art style subtly shifts to muted coloring when showing folktales as well.
I enjoyed the additional content that added interviews with the creative team and chronicles Naoto’s life. There were also scenes from the Tōhoku area, which creates a melancholy mood in the reader.
A Time Worth Remembering
In the end, Guardian of Fukushima is an important graphic novel. It details the history of one of the worst modern natural disasters, but also the courage of the Japanese people. It chronicles the lush history of the culture and the efforts of one man to save what he loves most. While most pain will heal in time, we should never forget the lives lost in Japan that fateful day. If you’re looking for a somber, empowering read, you should read this graphic novel.
Guardian of Fukushima is published by Tokyopop. You can purchase the graphic novel online or wherever books are sold.