Ichiro is a boy who straddles two worlds. His mother is Japanese. His father, a dead American soldier. Ichiro has been raised in America, believing that America is awesome, and the Army is the life for him. But when his mother takes a job teaching in Japan, Ichiro is forced to learn about the other half of his life. His grandfather, trying to give Ichiro a taste of Japanese culture, takes him to Shinto shrines and the memorial of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. Suddenly Ichiro is no longer so sure of his belief in the infallibility of the Army life and the American way.
Seeing Ichiro shaken, his grandfather attempts to show Ichiro that there is no absolute “good” or “bad”. Every nation, and every one, has the capacity for both good and bad. To drive the point home, grandfather begins to tell Ichiro sorites of the Japanese gods and the ways they both helped and hindered each other. It is a powerful message, one that is not lost on Ichiro or the reader. No longer are the Japanese seen as merely the “victims” of the bombing, and the Americans are not just the “evil ones” who perpetrated the crime. Instead, they are both embodiments of the capacity we all have for good or bad.
The book would have been fine right there. It would have been an insightful moral tale which we could all read and feel good about. But writer/artist Ryan Inzana is not content to leave it there. After the nice and neat moral message, the book gets strange.
One night Ichiro gets dragged down a hole by a monster.
You read that right. A monster. A shape-shifting, stuff of legends, monster.
When he wakes up, Ichiro isn’t in Japan anymore. In fact, he isn’t in the mortal world. Ichi ro has entered the domain of the gods. There he is confronted with a surreal tableau of forms and figures who seem to act in ways at once familiar, and yet completely foreign. Ichiro is accused of attempting to spy on the land and is sentenced to life in prison.
In prison, he meets Hachiman, an imprisoned god of war, who shares with him the origins of conflict itself. But can Ichiro escape and use what he has learned to help make a difference in his world Or will he be trapped in this world forever?
Ryan Inzana intertwines myth and reality to create a work about peace and acceptance in the face of loss and conflict. He takes a concrete story and moves it in to the philosophical/spiritual plane. By doing so, he reminds us that WE have the power to shape our own lives. A reliance on some outside force is not enough to bring about real change.
Inzana uses separate visual styles throughout the book to indicate the human world, the spiritual world, and the shared past which resonates through them both. While the action is at times chaotic, it is never confusing. The excitement and intensity kept me turning the pages, each one more exciting than the next.
Ichiro tackles many issues between its covers. Instead of pointing fingers or making excuses, Ichiro points out that everyone has the ability to do good, and everyone has the ability to do harm. Even if harm has been done, that does not mean that good can not come again. I was captivated by Ichiro from the first page. It kept me guessing and presented me with more ideas and entertainment than I had predicted would come from this book.
Ichiro is released in March from Houghton Mifflin. Make sure you get yourself a copy!