After teaching history for three years, I’ve learned that most civilizations have two origins: the historical and the mythological origin. Both origin stories are always fun to learn about, especially when mythology becomes trippy and a hodge podge mess of complicated family stories and conniving relatives. My favorite origin story is Japan’s, the story of Izanami and Izanagi and the sun goddess, Amaterasu. From what I remember it involved tears creating the islands of Japan and because of this divine origin, the Japanese had a long standing belief that their rulers were descended from the gods. Very fascinating but as time goes by, I’ve forgotten how the story goes and it’s only after reading Ryan Inzana’s Ichiro that I remember Japanese mythology.
In the graphic novel, Ichiro, Ryan Inzana explores the world of Japanese mythology through the eyes of his eponymous character. Growing up in Brooklyn to a deceased-American father and a Japanese mother, Ichiro is a typical boy who enjoys the luxuries of a western life. His views on people are largely shaped and influenced by his jingoist paternal grandfather, someone unafraid to call out a Middle-Eastern man a terrorist or insult migrants for supposedly stealing from him. When Ichiro’s mother decides to go back to Japan, he is retold the stories of the country’s mythological/divine origins. Alongside his maternal grandfather, they visit many of Japan’s sacred shrines, retell the story of Amaterasu and her brothers, and argue about war and peace. In one part of his trip, Ichiro follows a shape-shifter (Tanuki) by accident and is unceremoniously dumped in the world of the gods and goddesses themselves. In this world, he realizes the gods themselves are no different from humans, except for their omnipotence, they are still flawed and constantly warring among themselves. At this point, Ichiro realizes that his journey to the world of the gods becomes a lesson on human nature and their tendency to destroy themselves.
The story is relatively simple and exposes readers to understand two things: appreciate culture and history and understand the nature of war and violence. Throughout the novel, Ichiro is transformed, his perspective of the world changes when he is exposed to his country’s history and lessons on pacifism. At the start he is all goth, listens to loud music and enjoys the luxuries and comforts that only America can give. But as he bonds with his Japanese grandfather he comes to appreciate the resiliency of the Japanese and the intriguing nature of its history. By the end of the comic, Ichiro is more mature, discarding his gothic shirt in favor of a neutral one.
My only qualm with the story are the disjointed parts and unanswered questions, the novel starts out with the story of a shapeshifter and throughout parts of the novel he periodically pops in and out. By the end of the novel the importance of this character is lost on me, the buildup of its significance was lost in the all the noise. As for the disjointed parts, some scenes would suddenly jump and left a feeling of incompleteness. Despite the simplicity of the story, there are still a lot of plot holes that were left unanswered, contributing to feeling of incompleteness.
Being a graphic novel, Ryan Inzana illustrates his story using different methods. Parts involving mythology are illustrated in the style of traditional Japanese paintings, while scenes involving the world of the gods are painted. These scenes I loved looking at, the brush strokes reminded me of Japanese calligraphy, smooth, elegant and practiced. In general the artwork for the novel is great, there is a minimalist feel to it and also the art does not distract, again simplicity and minimalism.
Reading Ichiro the first time was a nice review on Japan’s mythology. It was an interesting read that still feels incomplete and calls for a second reading, but not anytime soon.
Ichiro was written and drawn by Ryan Inzana, it is sold in most Fullybooked branches.