Drawing The True Tokyo Rose: Iva Toguri, an American

TOKYO ROSE — ZERO HOUR

By Andre Frattino and illustrated by Kate Kasenow. (North Clarendon, Vt., Tuttle Publishing, 2022, 128 pp., $16.99, hardcover)

“Tokyo Rose — Zero Hour” is a graphic novel about Iva Toguri, a Japanese American woman who was trapped in Japan during World War II. Pressured to give up her U.S. citizenship, Toguri became a broadcaster for Japan’s propaganda front against the U.S. She took on the persona of Tokyo Rose, a seductive “Oriental” woman for American soldiers. Because of her broadcasts, the U.S. court found Toguri guilty of treason and she served six years and two months.

The graphic novel starts off with Toguri’s trial in the U.S. court, where the reader is first met with sensational radio coverage, U.S. soldiers’ Orientalism and the heckling crowd’s accusations of Toguri as a traitor and killer. The narration then goes back in time to show Toguri was a victim of her circumstances that both the Japanese and the American government created — few understood that she was just trying to survive through the wartime hostility. The book also reveals U.S. journalists’ roles in inciting jingoism against Toguri and other Japanese Americans, the so-called enemies in the white man’s backyard. But an Australian POW describes the situation perfectly: “You Yanks are always claiming your stripes run deep. Iva’s no different than the rest of you lot. What you got going on is a bloody witch hunt!”

The graphic novel provides enough historical context to move the story along but not overwhelm the readers and take them out of Toguri’s story. I enjoyed how the creators depicted one of Toguri’s letters home, where she complains about Japan’s wartime hostility toward Nisei and declares that she belongs in the land of the free, but her text is overlaid on top of panels depicting American soldiers rounding up Japanese Americans for the concentration camps — a clever use of paneling to convey this contradiction.

Most importantly, the graphic novel humanizes the infamous Tokyo Rose as a cheerful, down-to-earth woman with good humor.

But there’s also an emphasis on American-ness. Toguri frequently claims that she’s an American, and thus, a unique individual.

Her husband praises her as a woman who’s not like other Japanese women that submit to men — but was it necessary to make Toguri a likable protagonist through punching down on women from a different country than America? After experiencing incarceration in the U.S. concentration camps, her father is finally reunited with Toguri when she is on trial against their home.

Instead of reflecting on this injustice, he’s proud that his daughter is an American defending her rights.

Writer Andre Frattino’s narration, especially his dialogue, is engaging and interesting. Artist Kate Kasenow’s cartooning is excellent, weaving together various people and events around the globe. There’s a lot going on, but she lays out the panels in a way that is visually entrancing yet easy for the eye to follow. My favorite aspect of her cartooning is the transitions between scenes: how she fades and merges panels from one scene into the background of a new one. It flows in a way only comics can, and it matches well with the book’s play between past and present.

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