Lessons that transcend time




By Ryan Inzana (New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, 2012, 288 pp., $19.99, hardcover)

Ryan Inzana illustrates a coming-of-age graphic novel about identifying the gray areas of good and evil through “Ichiro.” Inzana leads the reader through Ichiro’s coming to terms with his mixed identity. He moves to Japan with his Japanese mother, while his American father had passed away long before the events of the story. The boy of ambiguous adolescent age learns, through his Japanese grandfather, that life is not so black and white, as his American grandfather put it.

Ichiro starts off as a punk kid growing up in Brooklyn. Lacking his father, he learns about his father through his grandfather and tries to emulate the man he can no longer remember. He reads his father’s old Army survival handbooks and wears the aviator sunglasses bequeathed to him. Glorifying military might, he adores the T-shirt his grandfather bought him reading, “Kill’em All, Let God Sort’em Out.”

Once in Japan, however, Ichiro begins to learn that the world isn’t so simple. At first, he feels uneasy with his Japanese grandfather. The grandfather, who faced the U.S. defeating Japan when he was young, takes Ichiro to the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum, teaching young Ichiro about victories and defeats and how wartime atrocities can humble a person. The young boy gradually faces his own inner conflicts, realizing he can find a balanced center in his two identities.

Concurrently, Inzana introduces readers to Japan’s creation myths, telling the nuanced story of Izanagi and Izanami, their children, and the heavenly kingdom of Ama and the underworld of Yomi, first through Ichiro’s grandfather, then firsthand by Ichiro himself as he falls into the mythical world while chasing after a raccoon dog.

Inzana creates a modern-day parable for good and evil. The land of Ama, Ichiro finds, is not so heavenly as he had heard as internal strife had destroyed what had once been a paradise for the gods. Ichiro learns that might does not make right and that what is seemingly evil is not always the case.

Beautifully illustrated with minimalistic uses of color, “Ichiro” is visually eloquent. Inzana explores a very real conflict of identity and guilt through the most fantastic of settings.

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