Manga Study Guide: Barefoot Gen/Analysis (Q& A from study guide)

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Manga Study Guide: Barefoot Gen
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Analysis(Q&A from Study Guide)

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This is an analysis created by answering a number of questions that the authors of this wiki were provided with by their supervisors in the form of a study guide.

1. Gen is a Japanese name meaning “root” or “source.” Nakazawa stated, “I named my main character Gen in the hope that he would become a root or source of strength for a new generation, one that can tread the charred soil of Hiroshima barefoot, feel the earth beneath its feet, and have the strength to say ‘NO’ to nuclear weapons.” Think about the wheat field that keeps coming up in the novel (especially on page 1). How does it relate to Gen’s name? Explain the metaphor.

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“Gen” is also the first letter of the word “Genki” which means strength and energy When wheat is stomped and stepped on, they do not die like other plants; they continue to grow. Like wheat, Gen struggles because of war and horrible neighbors, but does not lose the will to be a survivor. The wheat field symbolizes hope - how the wheat field provides them the bugs to eat as if it wants them to survive to persuade others to feel the same way as their family. It also visualizes Mr. Nakazawa’s explanation of the origin of the name, how the wheat field is the ‘root or source of strength’. The state of the wheat field correlates with the storyline, showing the situation of the family. For example, when the wheat field was destroyed, the family felt emotionally unstable. The kanji Gen not only symbolizes strength but also means the root of something. Combining these two interpretations together, it can infer that the main character, Gen is the “root” or “source” of strength, supporting the people in his lives and his family. Throughout the comic, Gen often acts almost as a hero for justice. For example, on page 239, it shows how Gen broke window glasses, knowing he would get in trouble, in order to help a legless man’s get over his debt and financial problems. The wheat also has a very symbolic meaning: in the story, the wheat suggests invincibility. Even after getting stepped on, frosted by the cold winter, wheat shoots right back up. All in all, Gen represents a figure of justice, someone who would not be defeated by anything. (In this case, the pre-war lifestyle and his struggles with society) Because of the events in the novel - of living harshly and being treated terribly and getting worse (the bomb) - it symbolizes that no matter how hard things get, you should always stand back as because there is always something to stand up for, like the wheat rising to grow and be used by the Nakazawas, Gen - whom is another symbol, must stand up for his family because they are worth standing up for. They need him as he needs them as well as all of the family needing the wheat. In another point of view, something worth standing up for is not always the case. A plant’s whole purpose is to grow. It does not care if it will be killed or destroyed, it’s only purpose is to grow no matter what, which is what Gen and his family should do. Live. Gen is described like the wheat they are growing and he is because like the wheat threw the war he is growing, learning and experience more. When Gen, his brother and sister are bullied and the shoes are thrown into the river is when the wheat had been stomped down, like him but it hadn’t died and kept growing such as Gen did.

2. Barefoot Gen has been described as a comic book for both children and adults – do you agree with this statement? What audience do you feel is most appropriate for this book?

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Hadashi no Gen has been serialized in a manga magazine specifically for young adults and teenagers. “Weekly Shonen Jump!” was a popular manga magazine, and still is, that was targeted towards a wide demographic. The age range of the people reading the magazine, and with it Hadashi no Gen, would most appropriately be the children around the age 15 to 20, as by then they would develop some immunity towards biased material, and be able to efficiently gather out the important aspects of the work while also being able to see how the mangaka was able to express his emotions.

Both adults and children can enjoy and learn about Barefoot Gen. It is important for children to know what happened during the WWII so that they'd understand that wars must not be repeated. Although it contains some gruesome scenes, the gruesomeness is not emphasized so we can accept them as the outcome of the A-bomb (like facts). Barefoot Gen can also be read by adults because after learning the WWII as series of events, which are mainly about defeats and victories of the counties, they can have a look at the individuals' stories.

3. One thing that makes Barefoot Gen unique is that it describes the day-to-day life of ordinary men, women and children living in wartime. The bulk of the book deals with suffering outside of the battlefield. Select a scene from their daily life that you found affecting or moving and explain why it affected you.

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On page 16 Gen and Shinji are fighting over a sweet potato. They punch each other trying to eat the sweet potato by themselves. This scene was affecting and moving as it shows the greed and hunger of a human which we usually hide behind a curtain of respect or shame. However, seeing them fight over it while showing open greed shows the effect of war on people. in addition, it makes the audience compare their life to Gen’s.

Pg. 52- This is a scene in Gen’s classroom, where they are reading out letters to send to the soldiers off in the battlefields; Gen reads out his letter, encouraging them to survive instead of dying, and his teacher’s fist comes flying into him and he gets told to rewrite it. I found this strange because nowadays, teachers don’t use violence on students because their parents would soon find out and will protest. Secondly, school is a place to learn peace, at least not to encourage them to die in the war. On Page 60, Mr.Pak and Gen are teased by the classmates, although they have not done any misbehavior.

On page 193 - 194, Gen and Shinji are shown street performing, under false identities and circumstances, as well as attempted stealing a fish from a man’s Koi Pond. This is particularly affectionate as it shows how far an individual will go for their family. As the old saying is, Family comes first. The two lied about themselves, lied to others and stole from others to keep their family in relatively good, better, condition. In addition, as I am from the Philippines, I’ve seen how the hardship people experience and know how far people will go and do for those they care about to survive and thrive.

4. Look at the villains in the novel. Are there any similarities in the way they are drawn? Analyze the effectiveness of Nakazawa’s portrayal of them.

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Nakazawa often portrays the villains in a very stereotypical way. They have pursed lips, thick and slanted eyebrows, and they often have narrowed eyes. The superior, grown-up villains, such as instructors, the chairman and officers often have mustaches. The mustache symbolizes power and class. In addition, many of the villains have dark circles under their eyes: symbolizing mischief and wickedness.The effects of these facial expressions are very effective. It becomes a crucial clue of who the antagonists are to the readers. The audience can easily recognize the role the character is playing, therefore, the author can easily evoke the feelings he wants the audience to feel. One of the resembles in the villains in Mr.Nakazawa’s comic book is their clothing. Many antagonists tend to wear uniforms, such as chairman, instructors and officials. When protagonists were sometimes seen in more casual clothes antagonists remained in uniforms: symbolizing royalty to the emperor in addition creating a stiff and hard impression.

5. Throughout the book, there are instances in which characters who are initially portrayed as villains are later shown in a sympathetic light. Select and describe a passage where this occurs. What do you believe Nakazawa was trying to achieve?

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When Koji encounters a man who tries to injure him shares his experience and feelings with him (pg. 142-161): there are sympathetic light on the man to emphasize the tragedy and the situation of the war - how they are forced to volunteer to be the Kamikaze pilots and how the man doesn’t want to die. It also shows how the citizens are forced to think that contribution to war and sacrificing your life is something to be proud of. Through this experience, Koji realizes his father was right all along and war brought nothing but misery to the people

6. Barefoot Gen’s main focus is the Nakaoka family; the story unfolds through their words, thoughts and actions. At times, a separate narrative voice is present, in the form of captions. This unknown narrator conveys information beyond the family’s experience, such as facts about the war. How well do these two storytelling approaches work together?

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The two storytelling approaches work well together. This is because we get the insight of the Nakaoka Family and their struggles that are because of the war. We learn about their struggles and their experiences for wanting the war to end. They are called traitors for despising war, but nevertheless, want nothing more than to end it. Having a narrator that is not the main character while we also see the story from the families point of view (main character) is very good as it enables us to see the story from different perspectives. As the Nakaoka family generally disagrees to war it is good to see a general perspective. it enables the reader to interpret the story in an unbiased way understanding the story to a deeper extent. on the other hand it can also intensify the emotions of the reader as seeing the anti-war Nakaoka family with the Pro-war people around them which the unknown narrator explains, expresses the desperate situation of the family even more. There are few moments where the story is narrated by supporting characters which gives readers an opportunity to see the ways other people perceived with struggles in their lives during the war.

7. The pages of this book are filled with scenes of violence – from childish brawls to cruel beatings. Even within the Nakaoka family, violence is normal (look at page 1!). This is common in manga, but how did the amount of violence affect you as a reader? How did it affect your sympathy for Gen and his family?

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The amount of violence in Barefoot Gen was essential in order to make the reader feel rather excited than shocked. In most of the scenes where violence is used, Mr Nakazawa used onomatopoeia and visualizing things that you can’t see, such as the shock when the father hits Gen and Shinji on the head. The Japanese are more accepting towards physical punishment. A stereotypical character in manga or anime, especially in the old ones, are depicted as an “enthusiastic teacher”. They are commonly portrayed as muscular men who may look scary or mean at first glance because they give physical punishments. But the students later finds out that the teacher was punishing them for their own sake, to teach them what is wrong to do, etc. The teacher soon becomes the most popular teacher amongst students because he can empathize with them, and at the end of the story, the students and the teacher run towards the sunset. As seen in this example, Japanese culture is quite forgiving when it comes to violence that are done for others instead of own satisfaction. In addition, the fact that Gen and Shinji are smiling but crying at the same time when their father punch them makes the violence seem less painful. However, in scenes where the children are abused for unjust reasons (E.g. pg.174 the police officer stops them from eating sweet potatoes), Gen and Shinji are not smiling. This made me feel very bad for them because it looked very painful, and as violence to the Nakaoka family were repeated throughout the book, their impression changed to victims.

8. Though this story has a large cast of characters and many subplots, Gen plays the central role. Describe Gen and the pivotal role he plays throughout the novel.

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Gen is also a symbol of hope and happiness. He plays the central role, as he has a huge impact in relation to the development or success of the rest of the characters that appear throughout the text. The small anecdotes and subplots are mostly based on the justice Gen creates. Whether it’s a feud or an obstacle, Gen confronts the villains. For example, Gen and Shinji skips school and acts like beggars in the streets in order to get money for their sick mother. The pure intention of Gen is what the author hoped for the readers (especially the youths) to capture: almost acting as a moral or theme for the book. But Gen is still a child, and so he is highly gullible and believe anything that his teachers tell him, even if it is a form of propaganda, as in false education to mislead the children so that they stay obedient to the country. Through his interactions with various people of that time, we get to see a side of Hiroshima that everyone subconsciously knows exists, but wishes to not see.

9. Symbolism is characteristic of Japanese comics; in Barefoot Gen it takes the form of a reappearing sun that glares through the pages. It is the marker of time passing, the giver of life, and the flag of Japan. Find as many instances of the sun as you can and analyze what it represents in the examples.

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8 – The sun is a symbol of safety in this page, after the US fighter planes fly away from the city, allowing the people to continue with their lives. With the sun shining bright without any clouds, it gives a sense of normality (of the weather and the people’s activity).

14 30 31 34 39 – This sun has some dark clouds around it, forecasting a twist in the story that will affect the Nakaoka family a difficult time. As it is drawn the same way as the sun from page 8, it gives a comparison.

35 75 78 127 139 163 - The sun has lines spreading from the center. The spiky sun appears before the members of the family feels anger towards a person or the society.

61 64 179 – The shady sun appears when the family has a peaceful, quiet, happy time. It also appears as the end of the sub plots, and the sun represents the afternoon.