No laughing matter: Japan's manga comics boldly tackle Fukushima

Wed Jun 25, 2014 7:36pm EDT
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By Elaine Lies

TOKYO (Reuters) - Japanese farmers in Fukushima try to convince skeptical visitors that their crops are safe from radiation. Blood trickles from the nose of a reporter who visits the area.

These are just two of the tales from the aftermath of the world's worst nuclear disaster in 25 years - as told by manga, Japan's ubiquitous comics for adults and teens, which have taken up Fukushima on an unprecedented scale even as Japanese film largely avoids the topic.

"Ichi Efu", which centers on workers at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, has sold 170,000 copies in book form in nearly two months, rare for a debut manga. Another manga set off a furor that sparked angry responses from the government, including Prime Minister Shinto Abe.

As Fukushima fades from the public spotlight, publishers say they hope manga will spark debate about uncomfortable topics such as the health impact of the accident, which released radiation over a wide swathe of northeastern Japan.

In contrast to the more than 30 manga published since the disaster, there has been only one mass-market film to date on Fukushima - "Homeland", released in March. Its director was careful to emphasize the human story over any political statements during publicity tours. [ID:nL3N0M11MU]

The nuclear disaster, set off by a tsunami that tore through the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant and touched off meltdown, remains a sensitive subject in Japan, especially since thousands still remain in temporary housing and may never go home again.

"Movies take a lot of money and backers tend to flinch away from this topic ... Manga are a lot more independent and can go where even news programmes might hesitate," said Kenichiro Shinohara, an editor at the popular "Morning" manga weekly where "Ichi Efu" is also published.

There are several hundred manga published in Japan each year, ranging from cute to violent and pornographic, in magazine and book form. Most are pure entertainment, but others take up samurai-era history, business strategy or World War Two - most notably "Barefoot Gen", a manga about the Hiroshima bombing that stirred controversy last year. [ID:nL4N0GO10I]   Continued...

A Japanese Manga "Ichi Efu" (2nd R), which centres on workers at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, is seen on a bookshelf as a staff adjusts manga comics at a bookstore in Tokyo June 23, 2014. REUTERS/Yuya Shino