Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
One day in 1959, a young girl named Asa Asada is running through the streets of the Port of Nagoya to find the doctor – her mother's going into labor again. Asa's one of eleven children and definitely not keen on the arrival of another, but when she's kidnapped by a strange man, she realizes that she still loves her large family. But while Asa and the man are in an empty warehouse, the rain outside turns into a typhoon, and when they manage to emerge, the Port of Nagoya is basically gone. Will Asa ever find her family again? Was the strange crying sound she heard really just the wind? Neither is a firm yes, but Asa and her erstwhile kidnapper are about to see if they can learn the truth.
Although it's not strictly a post-war story, Asadora!'s first volume is steeped in the trauma of WWII, primarily in how it affected the everyday people and the soldiers who came home. The main characters are one of each: Asa Asada is a ten-ish year old girl who feels like the invisible person in her large family, and she's mistakenly kidnapped by a former fighter pilot who has fallen on hard times since he came home lacking a civilian pilot's license or the money to procure one. When he snatches Asa off the streets (mistakenly taking her for a doctor's daughter), the two end up unlikely compatriots in the devastation Typhoon Vera wreaked on Nagoya in September of 1959. (Images of the inundated port show that Urasawa definitely did his research.) Both of them find meaning in their work to help the survivors, which may or may not include Asa's family, as multiple plot threads begin to slowly come together - the cry of a mysterious animal, the treatment of veterans after the war, and the upcoming Olympics all seem to hinge on the rescue efforts that Asa and the pilot kick off.
The story begins in September of 1959. Asa is running to fetch the local doctor as her mother goes into labor with what will be something like her twelfth or thirteenth child, grumbling to herself all the while. Asa feels like the forgotten child in her family – not only does everyone call her by her sisters' names, but they all have more “beautiful” first names in her mind; she was just named “Asa” because she was born in the morning and half the time she's not even sure if people realize she's present or not. Along the way Asa bumps into a friend whose family have pinned their Olympic dreams on him (the war stopped his older brothers from competing) before finally winding up at the doctor's office. He lends her a raincoat with the name of his clinic on it, which turns out to be the defining moment that will reshape Asa's life.
A lot of this initial volume hangs on what the characters see as “defining” or “fated” moments. For Asa, the coat gets her mistaken for the daughter of a doctor, which leads to her being kidnapped for ransom by a man who was a fighter pilot during the war but who now has to steal to get by. For her friend and his family, being forced to train means that they aren't at home when the storm surge from Typhoon Vera inundates the Port of Nagoya and all but destroys it. And for the pilot, kidnapping Asa turns out to be a way back to the hero he once was during wartime, as she convinces him to help her distribute food and water to the survivors stranded on roofs while they try to find out if her family survived. While there is a certain contrived, or perhaps clichéd, element to all of this, the fact that all of the events are rooted in historical fact helps to make the plot feel less hackneyed. Typhoon Vera was the third deadliest natural disaster of the 20th century in Japan, war veterans are often left at loose ends when they're no longer needed, and World War Two did disrupt the Olympics, so to a degree, all three intertwined stories feel plausible, while also having a sort of universality that you might not expect when the book is so firmly set in Japan.
That's not to say that the story is completely devoid of fantasy elements, however. During the typhoon, Asa remarks several times that she hears something that sounds like an animal crying, and later, when she and the pilot are flying above her neighborhood looking for her family in the final pages of the book, they see what looks awfully like a giant footprint. When we factor in the title – with “dora” possibly serving the same purpose that it does in Toradora! (i. e. “dragon”), it's starting to look like there might be a kaiju tromping about, and possibly one who has lost or misplaced its family like Asa has. This potential plotline not only nicely dovetails with at least one of the stories from the short story collection Sneeze, but it also gives a sort of magic realism to Asadora! that stands to make this more Gabriel Garcia Marquez than John Steinbeck.
Even without that possibility, however, this is a very solid work. Asa is the kind of spitfire heroine that's easy to get behind – she's vulnerable in what she doesn't say and afraid of pretty much nothing, possibly because if she stops to be afraid she'll never get moving again. She doesn't hesitate to do what she has to in the moment, and her sense of purpose is what drives the pilot and a group of older ladies in the part of Nagoya that's still standing to mobilize themselves. Yes, she wants to find and save her family, but she also genuinely feels that it's right to give onigiri and water to everyone affected by the typhoon, and that almost forces the adults around her to shape up, too. She gives them, especially the pilot, a sense of purpose, which is what the ex-soldier really needs in his life. It's almost a reverse of the O. Henry short story “The Ransom of Red Chief;” having kidnapped Asa, keeping her may prove to be the pilot's saving.
Although Asadora!'s first volume doesn't give us the whole idea of where the story's going, it's more than enough as the beginning to an interesting tale. It's about people coming together even when they may not want to, about moving beyond what happened in the past, and maybe even about just trusting your ears when you think you hear something. Even if this doesn't have a kaiju, it should be a trip worth taking.
Overall : A-
Story : A-
Art : A
+ Aftermath of Vera looks just like the news photos of the day, Asa's a great heroine. Intriguing story.
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