In the year 2002, a series of earthquakes split Japan down the middle, forcing the government to look to America and China to help with the rebuilding. Fifteen years later, and the country has effectively become two separate nations, but for many of the exiled refugees, all they care about is the day when they are allowed home. And in the Japanese refugee camps of Taiwan, tensions are brewing between the Japanese and the natives, with disaster sure to follow. Will the resolve of a young man named Genichiro Ryu prove to be enough to defuse this potentially explosive situation?
Having enjoyed Zipang, it seemed only right to branch out and try another series by the same mangaka, and so when the first three volumes of A Spirit of the Sun were translated into English, it hardly seemed like much of an effort to try them. What sort of socio-political tangles would Kaiji Kawaguchi have to offer this time around?
In fact, whilst these three volumes are certainly interesting in their own right, they just don’t feel like enough to really get to grips with this long-running story. After setting the scene with a recounting of the earthquake, the series unexpectedly jumps ahead to 2017 Taiwan in order to focus on the refugees there rather than the situation in Japan itself. There is certainly enough action and drama to be found from the tension between the Taiwanese and Japanese to fuel the series, but at the same time it feels as if we’re focusing on one aspect of a larger whole- at some point I’d also like to get back to Japan itself as it tries to emerge from the stranglehold the Americans and Chinese have placed on it.
At the heart of the story is the character of Genichiro Ryu, a positive-thinking young man who endures the earthquake firsthand, only to end up growing up in Taiwan after he loses his memories. His ‘mixed’ heritage and optimistic attitude make him the perfect vehicle for driving the story, but at the same time that’s all he is- a device for forwarding the plot rather than a person whose development and personality you especially care about. Meanwhile, the supporting cast are largely unmemorable so far, with only ‘gangster-turned-good’ Zhang proving particularly noteworthy (and that may just be due to his dreadlocks and immense muscles).
Kaiji Kawaguchi’s artwork has never been the most aesthetically pleasing, favouring a functional rather than ornate look, and A Spirit of the Sun is no exception. As always, the technical details are intact and the style suits the content of the series, but the work of this mangaka is never going to be something to please those looking for eye candy.
Although the artwork and political side of things may put some readers off, A Spirit of the Sun actually has the makings of a good manga- it’s just that three volumes seem like barely enough to judge it. Unsurprisingly, it seems as if this is another Kawaguchi manga that is in for the long haul, and I only hope I get the chance to read more of it in the future.