What's new

Manga Black Ships: Illustrated Japanese History-The Americans Arrive

Item details

On the 14th of July, 1853, the USS Plymouth, Mississippi, Saratoga, and Susquehanna sailed into Yokosuka, Japan. The mysterious -Black Ships- had arrived.

In this stirring account of a pivotal moment in modern Japanese history, award-winning author and illustrator team Sean Michael Wilson and Akiko Shimojima tell the story of the four American -Black Ships- that arrived in Japan in 1853 under the command of Commodore Perry to force Japan to open up to trade. The book compellingly portrays the apprehension and confusion of the Japanese people witnessing the Black Ships steaming into view over the horizon; the anxious response of the samurai; the cat-and-mouse game that ensued; the protracted negotiations; and the eventual agreement signed on March 31st, 1854, as the Treaty of Kanagawa. Historically accurate and with an easy-to-read visual format, Black Ships conveys the personalities of the key figures in the drama: on one side, Commodore Perry and his captains, and on the other, Shogunate officials Abe Masahiro and Hayashi Akira. Wilson and Shimojima vividly capture the atmosphere of threat and change that pervaded Japan during Bakumatsu, the final years of the Edo period, as the feudal Tokugawa shogunate took its last breaths and gave way to the new Meiji government.

Latest reviews

  • Easy read
  • Appealing illustrations
  • Lots of supplementary info on historical events
  • Can't think of anything negative honestly
Although not an avid fan of manga, I have recently started to read comic books on Japanese history. Having devoured Shigeru Mizuki's series on the Showa era as well his biography of Adolf Hitler, my curiosity was aroused immediately when I found "Black Ships". Sean Michael Wilson is a Scotsman and a resident of Japan who has published a dozen or so titles, Akiko Shimojima teaches digital comics art in Tokyo. "Black Ships" isn't the first historical title they have published together: they created "The Book of the Five Rings", "The 47 Ronin", and "The Secrets of the Ninja" which won the Bronze Award and an Honorary Mention in the 10th Annual International Manga Awards.

"Black Ships" is the narrative of Commodore Perry's arrival in Japan and a description of the earlier encounters the Japanese had with foreign powers in the early 19th century. Perry is depicted as an insisting and fairly insensitive character, countering Japanese reluctance to open their ports with an overwhelming display of military force. The reader can very well apprehend the turmoil the shogunate is thrown in over the impact of superior Western technology. The discourse between Perry and Captain Buchanan on the "Manifest Destiny", the 19th-century US doctrine claiming that the expansion throughout the American continents was both justified and inevitable, is enlightening and seems to still bear relevance in our modern days: when asked why the Americans had to open up Japan forcefully, Perry responds: "Morals and money, morals and money!" Another interesting (and obvious) aspect of the arduous negotiations between the teo parties was the language barrier: both parties had to translate their documents first into Dutch and then re-translate them into Japanese and English.

"Black Ships" is appealingly illustrated, easy to read and without doubt fascinating also to those who are already familiar with the history of Tokugawa Japan. I am already looking forward to the next historical title released by Wilson / Shimojima in spring 2018: "The Satsuma Revolution".
Last edited:

Item information

Added by
Last update
4.00 star(s) 1 ratings

Additional information

Sean Michael Wilson (writer) / Akiko Shimojima (illustrator)
North Atlantic Books
Year of publication
March 2017
Number of pages
USD 12,95

More in Manga

More from JREF

Top Bottom