Told from the perspective of seven-year-old Gen Nakaoka, Barefoot Gen is creator Keiji Nakazawa’s critically acclaimed semi-autobiographical manga about the events leading up to and after the dropping of the nuclear bomb on Hiroshima, Japan, during World War II. Spanning 10 volumes, Barefoot Gen, depicts the monstrosities of warfare in an attempt to encourage future generations to seek peace as an alternative to war. As Misayo, Nakazawa’s wife, commented shortly after his death, he felt strongly “that he must share with children accounts of the miseries of the war and the atomic bombing to prevent a recurrence.”
Although the series has become a staple in many classrooms across Japan, it has also become one of the most challenged manga as well. In 2013, the book was pulled from elementary and middle schools in Matsu city. In 2014, the book was again challenged and removed from the entire school system in Izumisano city. Citing violent depictions, discrimination, and the propagation of anti-Japanese mentality, the book was temporarily banned in both cities and was later reinstated after media and community backlash. In hopes of preventing any future bans of Barefoot Gen, we’ve put together these resources for librarians and educators who may need to justify and defend the inclusion of the book in library and classroom collections.
Reviews for Barefoot Gen manga
The reissue of this classic manga’s first volume has impeccable timing. It recounts the bombing of Hiroshima from the perspective of a young boy, Gen, and his family. But the book’s themes (the physical and psychological damage ordinary people suffer from war’s realities) ring chillingly true today. Gen and his family have long been struggling without much food, money or medicine, but despite hardships, they try to maintain a semblance of normal life. The adults are exhausted and near despair; the children take air raids and starvation more or less in stride. Nakazawa, a Hiroshima survivor, effectively portrays the strain of living in this environment and shows how efforts to stay upbeat in dire circumstances sometimes manifest as manic, irrational humor. The story offers some optimism: characters perform acts of self-sacrifice for the sake of neighbors and loved ones (e.g., when Gen’s pregnant mother becomes ill from malnutrition, he and his brother pose as orphans and perform in the streets, throwing the money over the walls of their home so they won’t get caught). Underneath this can-do attitude are the parents’ deep guilt and sense of helplessness. When the children clamor ecstatically over a scrap of food, the parents dissolve in shame and grief. The art is sharply drawn and expressive, and the narrative has such a natural rhythm, it’s easy to get pulled into the family’s life, making the cataclysm readers know awaits them all the more real, intimate and difficult to take. Despite its harrowing nature, this work is invaluable for the lessons it offers in history, humanity and compassion.
This is a ten-volume autobiographical manga series in which Nakazawa’s alter-ego, Gen, and his family experience the bombing of Hiroshima at the close of World War II. The pain and suffering Gen must endure during the aftermath of the atomic bombing is honest and unflinching. Volume 1 will be enough for most small and medium-sized libraries, but large libraries should consider purchasing the entire series.
This groundbreaking manga was first published in Japan in the early 1970s and published in the United States first by New Society and then Penguin. Nakazawa survived the 1945 atomic bombing of Hiroshima, and this is a semiautobiographical account of that terrible time. Young Gen’s family, branded as traitors to the emperor because of his father’s antiwar statements, suffer humiliation and brutality on top of the deprivation and starvation that they, and many others like them, already experience because of the war effort. But Gen is a high-spirited and determined young boy, and he helps his family eke out a precarious living. By the time the bomb drops, late in this first volume, Nakazawa has created a truly moving and compelling portrait of the suffering not only of Gen’s family but of all of the Japanese people at the hands of their militaristic government during the war. The tragedy the bomb brings is almost too terrible to contemplate, but even then, Nakazawa holds out hope for a better time. Future volumes of this series from Last Gasp will be newly translated and will include previously untranslated material. Because of explicit images of violence, suicide, and the melting flesh of the bomb victims, this is not for children or for the squeamish of any age, but it is highly recommended for older readers and for all libraries.
What should I do if Barefoot Gen is challenged?
Most challenges to comics in libraries come from well-meaning individuals, frequently parents, who find something they believe is objectionable in their local public or school library. These challenges are often difficult and stressful for the library staff who must manage them, but there are resources to help them in the process. Below we’ve identified a number of tips and links to assist libraries to increase the likelihood of keeping challenged comics on the shelves.
1. Make Strong Policies.
Strong selection and challenge review policies are key for protecting access to library materials, including comics. The American Library Association has developed a number of excellent tools to assist school and public libraries in the essential preparation to perform before books are challenged here.
2. Face the Challenge.
What do you do when a comic is challenged? Much of the material in this post can be used to help defend The Graveyard Book against a challenge. The American Library Association has developed these helpful tools to cope with challenges:
- Conducting a Challenge Hearing
- Strategies and Tips for Dealing with Challenges
- Sample Request for Reconsideration of Library Resources
CBLDF can also help by providing assistance with locating review resources, writing letters of support, and facilitating access to experts and resources. Call 800-99-CBLDF or email email@example.com at the first sign of a First Amendment emergency!
3. Report the Challenge.
Another essential step in protecting access to comics is to report challenges when they occur. By reporting challenges, you help the free expression community gather necessary information about what materials are at risk so better tools can be created to assist. To report a challenge to the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, call us at 800-99-CBLDF or email firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also report the challenge to the Kids’ Right to Read Project, a CBLDF-sponsored program from the National Coalition Against Censorship and one of our frequent partners in the fight against censorship. Finally, you can report the challenge to ALA here.