This is the second title in Sean Wilson's "Illustrated Japanese History" series. We reviewed his "Black Ships - The Americans Arrive" here. Coincidentally, this year's NHK Taiga drama series Segodon revolves around Saigo Takamori and the Satsuma Rebellion, which is the backdrop of this comic.
The narrative follows the political and social events triggered by the arrival of Perry's black ships. In his preface Wilson states that he tried to avoid falling into clichéd Hollywood traps by "exaggerating the violent events that took place in the summer of 1877 or by "conjuring up love-interest that did not actually exist", clearly a side blow at "The Last Samurai".
The comic begins in 1873 when Saigo suggested an invasion of Korea under the pretext of retaliation for what the certain elements in the Meiji government perceived as insulting behaviour towards the Japanese emperor. While his intentions to find employment for the thousands of idle samurai were praised by the government, his plan was ultimately rejected; not only for budgetary reasons, but also for fear that the Japanese forces were still inferior to foreign powers. After the rejection of his plan, Saigo returned to Kagoshima and became a maverick figure.
Wilson pays great attention to historical facts and details and vividly describes Saigo's gradual transformation from restoration hero to rebel, elaborating on his growing dissatisfaction with a Meiji government he came to view as morally corrupt and "not living up to the standards he and his companions had fought for". He reluctantly accepts his role as leader against the central government, but not against the emperor. The events of 1877, the siege of Kumamoto Castle, the chase and consequent reduction of the insurgents by Meiji troop reinforcements as well as Saigo's death are illustrated in an unemotional and unbiased fashion. Wilson does not depict the Meiji soldiers as blood-thirsty monsters, but as men who were greatly dispirited by their mission to eliminate a former officer of their very own army. The story ends with Captain Hubbard's account of Saigo's dead body (he had committed seppuku and was decapitated by one of his comrades) and the (perhaps more mythical) scene of kubi jikken (head inspection) by a weeping General Yamagata Aritomo who deplored Saigo's tragic end.
That leaves only one question: what will Wilson focus on next?
More info here: Satsuma Rebellion - SEAN MICHAEL WILSON
Manga The Satsuma Rebellion: The Last Stand of the Samurai
Illustrated Japanese History - The Last Stand of the Samurai
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