It has been a while since I have done a graphic novel review, and this is a book I would recommend older teens to college age students to read. Shigeru Mizuki is considered to be a living mangaka legend, well respected and influential to generations of Japanese manga readers. His work GeGeGe no Kitaro, popularized the concept of youkai usage in manga, so if you mention either the title or author to any Japanese they definitely would know it.
However that work is still not avaliable in English, so rather last month at Mocca, I saw Drawn & Quarterly release one of Mizuki’s wartime memoirs, Onward Towards Our Noble Death. The story is a semi-autobiographical account from the mangaka’s own experiences fighting in World War II, where in real life he did survive and only lost an arm.
War is not a pretty thing, and as history pointed out, Japan took the role of a aggressor. American’s may know of the famous Bataan Death March, but Onward Towards Our Noble Death, is from the perspective of Japanese soldiers surviving and taking a last ditch desperate stand on the island to what is to be known as Papua New Guinea.
At the beginning of the book, there is a roll call of who is going to be in the unit/cast, but the simplistic style of Mizuki proves a challenge to keep a track of who’s who in the events of the story. There are detailed black and white depictions of background art, since that is what Mizuki is known for, comedic depictions of humans but great detail for background. The cultural notes from the text is quite interesting, and reading this book made me think that in war there really is not victor. There is always victims and hardships for both sides involved.
If you want to definitely want to see a comparison in film, Letters from Iwo Jima covers a similar scenario that Onward Towards Our Noble Death did.