Reviews

Satsuma Gishiden (1977)

Creators

Hirata Hiroshi (writer-artist).

Extent

Read in 2019.

Review refers to Dark Horse’s three volumes, which do not preserve the occasional colour pages of the original run, nor did Dark Horse publish the last two tankōbon of the Japanese run.

Subject

Flood control work in the 18th century.

Commentary

An entrancing mixture. Hirata’s gekiga expertly combines beautiful artwork and calligraphy with schlocky jidaigeki tropes, historical verisimilitude and a rich drama of class struggle amid immense economic and ecological forces. The system of three rivers where the aristocrats of Satsuma labour to mitigate catastrophic flooding is the ideal representation of a carefully mythologized feudal Japan: The world is uncontrollably fluid and the characters seek to stem that flow by their hysterically masculine moral sentiments, routinely threatening seppuku to demonstrate something worth protecting from the torrents of society.

Symptomatically, Hirata never mentions that the strongest distinguishing characteristic of the province of Satsuma is the fact that it invaded the Ryūkyūs and maintained its direct control over this colony at the time, in tacit competition with the bakufu state. Though it questions the unity of the state, Satsuma Gishiden is still a mythology of Japanese spirit, as if there was only one, and nothing else was worth noticing.

fiction Japanese production sequential art