Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
Rose Guns Days Season One
After a catastrophe ended World War Two, Japan was forced to surrender in return for international aid and ultimately was divided up between China and the United States. Forced to become refugees in their own nation, English and Chinese became the dominant languages and the Japanese were forced to adapt to a country no longer their own. It is to this new, unrecognizable country that soldier Leo Shishigami returns in 1947...and it looks like he doesn't plan to simply go with the flow in a world no longer his own.
I have always suspected Ryukishi07 of being either fascinated by, upset with, or obsessed with World War Two. It has exerted a subtle influence over his previous series Higurashi: When They Cry and Umineko: When They Cry, and now in Rose Guns Days Season One it becomes the focus. The setting for his third manga series to receive an English release is an alternate 1947, where Japan's loss of the war was more complete than in our reality. Rather than explicitly saying that an atomic bomb was dropped, the author simply says that there was a “catastrophe,” which appears to have had a farther reaching result than the destruction of two cities. Unable to cope with the resulting disaster, Japan effectively surrendered in order to receive aid from the US-China alliance (other allied nations aren't mentioned), and either because of the scale of reconstruction needed, lingering enmity on the part of the alliance, or a combination of the two, Tokyo was rebuilt as a totally foreign city. Now the Americans and the Chinese have taken over, with the Japanese becoming a refugee minority in their own nation.
Obviously this set up is going to cause some readers pause, and I'll admit to not being fully comfortable with it myself. There is a clear nationalistic vibe to Rose Guns Days' first volume, and given that the world at large has not forgotten the horrors of WWII, no matter what side your family was on, there are definitely elements here that are not going to work for everyone. If you can divorce yourself from the real-world countries that are named, however, and look at this as if it took place in fantasy nations (which essentially it does, being alternate history, a subgenre of fantasy), it has the potential to become an interesting story about reclaiming your heritage.
This volume, however, doesn't quite get there. It opens twice, first with a prologue that sets up a bookending device that at this point feels similar to how the story is told in Fannie Flagg's Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Café in that side character is narrating the events that went on around her. This would be fine (and effective, as Flagg proved in 1997) did not the exact same events replay in the opening pages of chapter one, minus the narrative device. The repetition feels wholly unnecessary, as it is repetition and not rephrasing, giving the story a dragging, clunky start. While we don't see the return of that device in this volume, that awkward pacing persists, with poorly shuffled scenes of our hero, Leo, cruising around the town in a too obvious attempt to introduce us to the story's reality interspersed with his interactions with the folks at the Primavera brothel, who make up the main denizens of the tale.
It looks as if Ryukishi07 is trying to create a hard-boiled world, where gangs from opposing factions (in this case nations) duke it out in the streets and buildings of Tokyo, battling for control of the quarter. This part works relatively well, although motivations generally feel unclear. We know Leo's just in it because fighting is what he does – he's a repatriated soldier just home from wherever he was stationed, at a loss because the Tokyo he knew – and all the people in it – have vanished. Everyone else's stakes are a little more nebulous; returning control to the native people seems to be the main goal, as does mere survival, but there also seems to be something more than that going on, which is confusing. Also tangling things up is the fact that although the story proclaims its setting to be 1947, cars, clothing, and other material culture objects look much more like the 1960s, which makes it difficult to root yourself in the story's world.
Gender politics have the potential to get ugly as the story goes on, although this does make sense in context. Women appear to have the upper economic hand because they can sell their bodies as prostitutes, whereas men are forced to wait for offers of work, which often turn out to be low-paying and difficult. This is relatively faithful to post-war life in real-world 1947 Europe; more interesting is how the men discuss feeling emasculated by the women's economic success. While we as modern readers may not be comfortable with the idea of women having to prostitute themselves to make a living, there is the potential for a Lysistrata situation later on...although there is also the possibility of sexual violence, which definitely raises its head in this volume.
Rose Guns Days' first book, one of four in the “Season 1” cycle, is perhaps more difficult than it has to be. With uncomfortable themes throughout, historical inaccuracies in the physical objects of the setting, and pacing that needs some smoothing out, this is not nearly as captivating or intriguing as Ryukishi07's previous work. It is early days yet, but this volume has enough issues that giving it a chance with another volume doesn't sound all that appealing.
Overall : C-
Story : C-
Art : C
+ Some interesting out-of-the-panel images, parts of the concept have potential. Narrative set up could work...
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