Manga / Barefoot Gen
A cheery tale, right? Notice the word "Hiroshima."

"Wheat pushes its shoots up through the winter frost, only to be stepped on again and again. The trampled wheat sends strong roots into the earth, endures frost, wind, and snow, and grows tall... and one day bears fruit."
Daikichi Nakaoka

Barefoot Gen is a manga by Keiji Nakazawa, based on his experiences as a survivor of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. It ran in Weekly Shonen Jump from 1973-74, was made into a live action drama, and a feature-length anime twice.

The story begins in August 1945. Gen Nakaoka is a young boy living in Hiroshima, suffering from the wartime shortages and rationing. His family (father Daikichi, mother Kimie, older brothers Kôji and Akira, older sister Eiko and younger brother Shinji) can barely grow enough food to feed themselves, and his pregnant mother is weak from malnutrition. While air raid sirens are a daily fact of life, the city has been spared the heavy bombings others faced. Gen prepares to show his brother a small wooden boat he earned.

And then, Little Boy drops. What follows are some of the most horrifying images put to paper.

In the chaos that follows the blast, Gen loses most of his family, and his mother gives birth prematurely. In the following weeks, they struggle to find food and shelter. Japan surrenders, the American occupation begins, and criminal gangs and the black market appear in force. Radiation sickness takes its toll. Gen, Kimie, Koji, and Akira must learn to survive in this changed world.

As Gen matures into a young man, the series takes on a more political tone, covering the social climate of the Occupation, the Korean War and Japan's rearmament, the search for meaning in the lost war, and finding an identity in the face of discrimination as a hibakusha (bomb-affected person/people). Though these parts tackle powerful subject matter, they are often overlooked by the public, either because they weren't made into movies, or perhaps because they come across at times as anti-American, anti-Japanese, and anti-Hiroshima City Government in particular. Regardless, the manga doesn't end with 1945. Read on.

A critically acclaimed work, Barefoot Gen helped break the silence surrounding the atomic bombings in Japan, and raise awareness about the hibakusha. It is one of the few Japanese works to avoid the nuclear weapons taboo.

Compare Grave of the Fireflies, which is about the air raids and officially Ghibli's most depressing movie.

These works contain examples of:

  • Adult Fear: Daikichi and Kimie's lives are filled with this. Because of the war their children's lives are constantly at risk, their son Akira is sent to the countryside with the group evacuation in the midst of strangers, their other children are bullied and ostracized because of Daikichi's vocal opposition to the war... and their eldest son Koji volunteers for the IJN even though he's not yet old enough to be drafted. And then comes August 6th...
  • Anyone Can Die: Almost everyone (even a few of Gen's closest friends as well) whom Gen know and befriend personally eventually will die, either from radiation poisoning (some of these can take years) or from other causes.
  • Apocalypse How: One of the smaller ones, since it's "only" two major cities (Nagasaki being bombed was only briefly mentioned in the story but still), but considering how the atom bomb affected everyone's perception of warfare...
  • Artistic License History: The dropping of the bomb. Averted in the manga and anime, where it is dropped with a parachute - as it was done in real life in order to give the Enola Gay enough time to fly away from the blast zone. Played straight in the live action TV version, where the bomb falls freely into Hiroshima.
  • Artistic License Military: The crew of the "Enola Gay" are shown wearing thick flight jackets and leather helmets. This was not the typical getup for a B-29 crew, since the cabin of the bomber was heated and pressurized, making these jackets redundant. These were instead more in line with the crews of the older B-17 Flying Fortress and B-24 Liberator.
  • Art Shift: The pilots of "Enola Gay" are drawn in far less cartoony style than the other characters - presumable to avoid Narm.
  • Art-Style Dissonance: YES.
  • Author Avatar: Gen is essentially Keiji Nakazawa himself. Like his character, Nakazawa was seven years old when the bomb fell and lost his entire family except for his mother and brother. He also eventually moved to Tokyo to pursue his career as an artist. The entire work is basically a fictionalized account of the author's youth.
  • Barefoot Poverty: Given the setting, even food was hard to come by, much less shoes. It's even in the title!
  • Beauty Is Never Tarnished: Averted. One of Gen's friends, a girl who wanted to be a dancer, had half her face burnt off.
  • Berserk Mode:
    • In the manga, Gen breaks into this with Kiyo's family, due to the brutal treatment her mother-in-law and bratty children give him, his mother, and baby sister.
    • Way earlier, Daikichi breaks into this with his children's teachers and Ryukichi over Eiko's brutal treatment and humiliation at school. In general, he's not afraid to dish it out at people who oppress and harass his family.
  • Birth/Death Juxtaposition: Tomoko. She perishes soon after.
  • Body Horror: Many people were so badly burned as to have their skin melt from their bones, and some had wounds that kept getting infected.
  • Break the Cutie
  • Clean Pretty Childbirth: The birth of Tomoe is a very simple and straightforward thing that six-year-old Gen can help with, and (oddly enough for this film) there's no indication that a mess was ever made. They do rinse off Tomoe in a bucket of water, but she was pretty clean before that.
  • Cosmic Plaything: Anytime the main characters had a semblance of normality and joy in their lives, the universe would then drastically and dramatically turn their luck into sadness and suffering, more often than not.
  • Crapsack World: Japan, both pre-and-post-war, mostly post-war. And it's autobiographical.
  • Delivery Guy: Gen is forced to deliver his baby sister when all the doctors and nurses in the area are too busy trying to help people who were burned and irradiated by the bomb.
  • Does Not Like Shoes: Subverted. Several characters don't use shoes but it might be more that they really can't afford shoes, and have simply gotten used to "doing without".
  • Doomed Hometown: Hiroshima. It gets rebuilt, of course, but hope for a new beginning is enveloped by bitterness, as many surviving residents suspect—perhaps rightly—that the future Peace Park in the center of town is partly supported by land speculators buying up property which conveniently has no one left to claim ownership. And they sell this manga in the museum gift shop.
  • Earn Your Happy Ending: And holy FUCK does Gen deserve it.
  • Empathy Doll Shot
  • Even Evil Has Loved Ones: Many of the civilians and former soldiers are borderline jerkasses just for the fun of it, but surprisingly many of them were made that way usually by losing their loved ones during the atomic bombing or during the war. Some of them turned good and for the better... But others, not so much.
  • Everybody's Dead, Dave
  • Eye Scream: In the first film, we see people's eyes melting out of their sockets.
  • From Bad to Worse: As can only be expected, really, given the subject matter.
  • Gonk: Many of the sinister characters have slanted eyes and buck teeth.
  • Hopeless War: Based on both Truth in Television and the comments by Gen's father, Japan would lose the war against the United States due to the latter's chance of winning the war through their vast industries and military resources at the price of both massive military and civilian casualties for Japan. That was before an atomic bomb hit Hiroshima and later Nagasaki.
  • Identical Stranger: After Gen's whole family aside from his mother is killed by the bomb, they meet a little boy named Ryuuta who looks exactly like the deceased little brother. They take him in as one of their own, simple as that, with no negative emotional hang-ups over the uncanny resemblance. VERY refreshing and heartwarming.
  • Improbable Cover: Gen survives the detonation of the nuclear bomb simply because there was a wall between him and it. The people around him were not so lucky. Even more terrifying because it actually happened...
  • Infant Immortality: Averted. Infants, small children, animals...they all die.
  • It Can't Be Helped: Many of the citizens in Hiroshima use the phrase to explain why they accept the military rule and the acceptance of the below-poverty conditions that cause many of their citizens to starve.
  • Laughing Mad: Poor Kimie...
  • Madness Mantra: Kimie, as she watches her husband and children burn.
    Kimie: "They're all burning up. My family... burning... They're burning like a bonfire..."
  • Megaton Punch: In the manga, Gen delivers this to a number of characters, such as Ryuuta, Kiyo's mother-in-law, Tatsuo, and Takeko.
  • Mood Whiplash: The beginning almost seems like a slapstick comedy, given Gen and Shinji's roughhousing.
  • Orphan's Ordeal
  • R-Rated Opening: Averted. While the beginning talks about the war up until that point, nothing that graphic is shown and it quickly seems like it's just a daily life story about a boy and his family. Then the bomb hits. See Mood Whiplash above.
  • Scenery Gorn
  • "Shaggy Dog" Story: Baby Tomoko is suffering from malnutrition because Kimie is not producing milk. Thus Gen and Ryuta go get a job to buy milk for the baby. A bunch of stuff happens, and they buy a lot of milk so Tomoko would be satisfied for a long time. They get home only to find Kimie cradling the baby... who died from the malnutrition just before they returned. The scene adds yet another Tear Jerker to one of the most depressing stories ever told.
    • As if this doesn't get enough of that, Gen's love story with a newfound Love Interest in the form of Mitsuko during his teenage years definitely counts. Both characters met each other accidentally and grew very fond of each other, mainly due to them were first-hand survivors of the atomic bomb and how them being incapable of saving their families during the event. All was well, at least until Mitsuko fell ill and died from leukemia, which was only discovered during her high school years (years after she contracted radiation in 1945), sending Gen into depression for quite some time. Their whole story was just chockfull of undiluted sadness.
  • Shameful Strip: Eiko, when she's accused of theft.
  • Sliding Scale of Idealism vs. Cynicism: Very much toward the cynical side, despite the cartoony art style. Most characters are assholes only out for themselves, or who are needlessly cruel to Gen and others because they can be. Both the Americans and the Japanese come out looking very bad.
  • Suspiciously Specific Denial: The Japanese deny anything happened in Hiroshima immediately afterward, while barring entry; in Real Life, the Japanese and the Americans both denied the atom bomb.
  • Token Minority: Mr Park, the Korean slave labourer whom Gen and Shinji befriend.
  • True Companions
  • War Is Glorious: In the eyes of perfectly healthy and wealthy Japanese war veterans only, that is. Not quite so for the Japanese civilians who suffered from that war.
  • War Is Hell: The whole point of this manga/film.