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Manga Black Ships: Illustrated Japanese History-The Americans Arrive

  • 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".
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