This is a good book.
Don’t let my pithy commentary and safe comments about the art let you forget this fact: Ichiro is an impressive accomplishment.
To a point, I understood the craze that American Born Chinese got. It was a neat blend of myth and a great portrait of the balancing act an American citizen with cultural ties needs to heckle with. Not that there’s anything wrong with American Born Chinese, but I think I really wanted that book to be Ichiro.
Ichiro explores a very similar idea, but I love Ryan Inzana’s interpretation of it. From page one you know that you’re in for a luscious visual treat. A tale of a tanuki is retold with brilliant colors and a heavy-handed inking brush. The style isn’t a line for line playback of a Japanese brush painting, but enough of it is suggested that that influence is felt. This choice is especially strong because when the story shifts to the present day, the styles don’t clash at all.
When the tanuki’s story closes, the curtain rises on the eponymous Ichiro. A young New York native, Ichiro and his mother are all set to go visit her father in Japan. This is where you’re first introduced to Ichiro’s problem. He’s half Japanese and half American, and feels out of place in both. Having lost his father at a young age, Ichiro wants to address his confusion, but is lacking half of a crucial equation. His mother has no worries, but Ichiro is searching for answers. He’s not sure how to handle the prospect of visiting a home country that is so alien to him. (In the first few pages, Ichiro’s treated to his first taste of natto.) He might be technically from there, but it will take a lot more to make him appreciate Japan.
That is where the introduction to Grandpa Sato is quite handy for Ichiro. Reuniting with a grandfather he can’t remember promises to be a very educational experience. His grandpa can not wait to take him to all of the sites and temples and everything Japan has to offer. Most tantalizing about this sequence is that the reader gets to take the journey with Ichiro. The grandfather doesn’t glorify Japan, he relates its history, both wondrous and atrocious. And, as with any good retelling, as many myths as can be included are.
The greatest part about how engaging the whole story has been thus far: what I’ve summarized only comprises half of the book.
The seemingly random tanuki tale at the start of the book comes back in a huge way in it’s middle. And while such a mythical distraction may seem to take away from what was a nice slice-of-life yarn, that’s not the case with Ichiro. Somehow by taking Ichrio out of this world, Inzana is able to find resolution to so many of Ichiro’s internal conflicts. While it may be odd that for the rest of the book the line between reality and fantasy is shaken, the trade off in adventure and a sense of wonder more than make up for it.
The art in Ichiro is just as praiseworthy as the story. One of my favorite choices is in Inzana’s use of colors. Specifically, that the human portions of the tale don’t have any. It’s as if the only items with enough life are myths. The few items that do get a dash of color in mostly grayscale pages can all be related to myths: the sun, persimmons, festival masks.
When the story changes, much more of the artwork is in color. It immediately establishes the tone of a different plane, despite how weird the circumstances are. Somehow Inzana makes it easy to follow Ichiro through his offbeat journey.
Overall, Ichiro is a story Americans empathize with. It is such a detached feeling to know you’re American but you’re also __________. That there are lands and cultures and dynasties that are a part of you. Somehow. It’s a turbulent role, but one that by the close of the book, Ichiro is ready to embrace.
by Ryan Inzana
Houghton Mifflin , 2012
Publisher Age Rating: 12 and Up