- Mangaka : Fabien Grolleau (Story); Ewen Blain (Art)
- Publisher : TOKYOPOP
- Genre : Biography, Fantasy
- Published : January 2023
March 2011 will forever be remembered as the time when the triple tragedy of earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear accident hit the coastal region of Fukushima, Japan. It was the most powerful earthquake in Japan’s history, and it has claimed more than 200,000 lives with residual effects that can still be felt to this day. There are tons of unsung heroes that sacrificed their lives and futures in order to help the people who were affected by the tragedy. This book is about one of those heroes - a man by the name of Naoto Matsumura, who decided to stay behind and care for the animals that were abandoned when the tragedy happened.
The tragedies happened in waves. When Naoto was tending animals with his little nephew, Koichi, the earth shook violently. When Naoto, his family, and their neighbors took refuge at the nearby hill, the raging tsunami swept the city away. When Naoto tried to find out what happened to the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, a big explosion painted the sky in its bright reddish flame.
Countless houses were destroyed, buildings collapsed, and roads filled with cracks. The citizens rushed towards the nearest shelters, while the government’s workers came to the city to help the people and patch the power plant. Only the animals were left unattended. So after he made sure his family was safe, Naoto decided to stay behind at their farm, and take care of the animals.
He would then roam the city to look for any animals in need, all the while being bombarded with an ungodly amount of radiation. Naoto was well aware of the unforgiving threat of radiation to his body and his future, but he still dedicated his life to taking care of his beloved animals.
1. A Heartwarming Blend of Fantasy And Reality
As mentioned before, Guardian of Fukushima is based on the real life story of Naoto Matsumura. However, rather than just a simple biography, Fabien Grolleau decided to beautifully blend fantasy into reality. Numerous Japanese folklore tales are woven into the narrative in order to provide some kind of mirror that reflects what actually happened, along with tales of gods and monsters that have been told throughout the centuries.
One of the most notable ones is the comparison between Naoto and Urashima from the Tale of Urashima Taro, who goes back to his hometown after living at the Ryugu Palace for a year, only to find that hundreds of years have actually passed in the real world, and the people that he loves and the scenery that he used to see no longer exist. Much in the same way, Naoto also sees that the beloved city that he’s known all his life has suddenly turned into a dystopian land that he can barely recognize.
Roland Kets says it best in his foreword. Rather than being limited by facts, this story is liberated by fiction. What a great way to tell such a beautiful story.
2. A Beautiful and Gentle Rendition of Japan and Its Folklore
Guardian of Fukushima is drawn by Ewen Blain in the form of a Franco-Belgian bande dessinée, rather than in the format of a traditional Japanese manga. Therefore, this book comes with vibrant colors, rather than the usual black and white art of a manga.
However, rather than the usual sharp and dazzling colors that we often see in American comic books, this book is drawn with soft and gentle colors that reflect the heartwarming nature of the story. From the violent explosion to the swirling dragon and wandering animals, all of them are depicted in vibrant yet unassuming colors that are pleasant on the eyes.
3. Additional Information At The End of The Book
Another thing worth mentioning is the additional information that is presented at the later part of the book, right after the story ends. Through a series of images taken by a Japanese photographer named Ko Sasaki, we get to see the devastating reality of this tragedy.
The destroyed houses, the people seeking and giving help, the animals wandering the empty streets, we can see them all in the series of pictures provided at the end of the book, accompanied by some short paragraphs to explain what happened. A truly wonderful addition to this already sublime story.
1. The Story Needs At Least Another Volume
This is not a reason to skip this book, but rather a personal wish that comes to mind after reading it. The Guardian of Fukushima tells the story of Naoto Matsumura when the tragedy happened. However, right at the last chapters of this book, the story suddenly jumps a couple of years ahead, to the time when Naoto dedicates himself as an activist who travels all around the world in order to tell his devastating story.
It would’ve been great if we got to see the life of Naoto leading up to that conclusion. What happened to him, to his family, to the animals that he saved and cared for, and to the city that he loved so much? There are quite a few stories left to tell. That is why we feel that another volume is needed in order to make the story feel complete.
There are some real-life stories that deserve to be immortalized in books, and this is one of those stories. What happened to Fukushima and Naoto Matsumura is both an exemplary and also a precautionary tale that deserves to be read for generations to come. Guardian of Fukushima may not tell the whole story, but this beautiful book is a perfect introduction to both Naoto and the tragedy that he, and tens of thousands of people of Fukushima, have gone through.
Have you read Guardian of Fukushima? If you have, what do you think about it? Let us know in the comment section below.