This review contains spoilers!
Known for his long, ongoing mystery narratives from Monster to 20th Century Boys, mangaka Naoki Urasawa doesn’t fall into the trap of his stories being driven by a mystery box, but rather by their characters, who show both the light and dark within a humanity. This is often why shows and films by J.J. Abrams tend to suffer from the concept of a mystery box, as they often drive the narrative without a clear through line planned ahead.
Although there is often a hook early on in Urasawa’s stories that will grab readers’ attention, what is interesting about reading the first volume of Asadora! is that its hook happens at the very end. Set in 1959, there is the Asada family, made up of eleven siblings living in the Port of Nagoya. As one of the younger siblings, Asa rushes to get the doctor so he can help her mother, who is labor, as a typhoon is raging at the same time. When Asa encounters a burglar, she pursues him, only to be kidnapped by said burglar. Thus, an unlikely friendship is formed.
That unlikely friendship is not the hook, but it does set up a dynamic that reflects on the setting that is post-war Japan. On the one hand, you have the unnamed burglar who used to be a pilot during the Second World War and afterwards, struggled to get a job and to support his family. Meanwhile, you have Asa Asada, part of an extended family living in poverty, feeling left out. When the storm occurs, which is the factual Typhoon Vera that occurred in 1959, the two team up to find their home damaged and search for any survivors including Asa’s family.
As a piece of historical fiction, Urasawa doesn’t negate the tragedy of the event as his detailed background art showcases the damaged reality, but this is not a depressing read. What make the book lively are the characters, from our feisty young heroine to the former pilot, both of whom are determined to feed the survivors by parachuting rice cakes and water from the pilot hijacking someone else’s plane. Contrived as that sounds, the characters themselves are so much fun to read that it’s hard not to complain, even some of the other players such as Asa’s friend who is hoping to compete in the Olympics is less interesting.
For much of this volume, you are reading a period drama, and yet there is an element of magic as suggested from the initial pages of present-day Tokyo under attack, to the animal-like rumblings heard during Typhoon Vera. Only in the final two pages do Asa and the pilot discover a giant footprint of a Kaiju, and suddenly the story delves more into the realms of fantasy. This is where Urasawa shines once again as an author of mystery, and it will be curious where he goes from here.
Although you don’t have an instant idea about what the story actually is until that reveal at the very end, this first volume of Asadora! is a wonderful character-driven piece of historical fiction.
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