Home > Manga Reviews, Reviews > Ichi-F: A Worker’s Graphic Memoir of the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant

Ichi-F: A Worker’s Graphic Memoir of the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant

Ichi-FIchi-F
by Kazuto Tatsuta, Translation by Stephen Paul
Kodansha Comics, 536 pp.
Rating: T (13+)

March 11, 2011, saw Japan rocked by one of the largest earthquakes of modern history. In the wake of the 9.0 quake, a massive tsunami devastated the region, wiping away entire towns, and leading to multiple meltdowns at the coastal Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Plant. In the wake of that disaster people from around Japan came to the region as part of the clean up effort. Ichi-F is the story of the clean up efforts from one of those workers. In this mammoth 500 +page volume, Kazuto Tatsuta offers readers a peak into the daily life of the blue collar clean up crews and the slow but steady progress the region and its people are making towards recovery.

Ichi-F is not a gussied up tale of tragedy, but a slice of life memoir about the day to day life and activity of the clean up effort which Kazuto Tatsuta took part in over the course of several years. It’s closer to a documentary then anything else, and at times it almost feels like TEPCO or regional propaganda, something the introduction says he’s been accused of. It’s easy to see why too. He expressly states that part of his reason for creating this was to dispel some of the myths and the negative image surrounding the clean up effort. To this end he shows the boring, daily grind, safety measures taken by the workers, and similar mundane, daily life activities. At the same time, though, he doesn’t really shy away from some of the shadier aspects of the effort. He spends quite a bit of time talking about the subcontractor system, and how they lure workers with high priced offers, but then end up offering them significantly less. Several chapters in the early part of the book depict how workers often end up living in the area and go for months without a job, building up debt for the housing and living costs which is paid to their employers, while awaiting the start of their paying job. Similarly, he does touch upon how the people of the area are still unable to return, and even mentions how some of them may not live to ever see the day they can go home. It’s clearly a complicated situation with many sides to it, and Kazuto Tatsuta makes no bone about which side he’s on.

While the technical ins and outs of the process was interesting, it’s not terribly dramatic or thrilling. It’s a very placid read that lacks much in the ways of tension. At times the plant work begins to drag and become repetitive, but Kazuto varies things up by shifting to other aspects of the clean up effort. He touches upon the state of the towns, and how other parts of the region are handling the recovery, giving us tantalizing glimpses into how those who lost their homes are dealing with their new reality. One particular chapter dealt with a temporary home for the elderly, and touched upon how they have been seemingly forgotten in the wake of the disaster as the attention they initially received vanished. These glimpses into other aspects of the clean up and the disaster’s effects are equally fascinating, but don’t feel like they occur often enough or are in depth enough. I found myself wishing he had spent more time talking about these aspects, and less about the regions dairy treats. There are several digressions about hot baths, stores in the area, and the regions food and produce, which at times causes Ichi-F to comes off as a travel brochure for the region.

A page from Ichi-F

Note the left-to-right reading order.

On its back cover, Ichi-F declares itself to be a memoir created by an amateur artist, and early on this feels like the case. The backgrounds, building, and mechanical details are all very well done and large, splash pages and half page panels help to give a sense of the immensity of the damage done. Large spreads of over grown fields, piles of rubble and abandoned buildings do a wonderful job at conveying the state of the region and the environment he’s working in. These are punctuated by moments of beauty, like a full moon framed by reactor buildings, or the site of wild cows roaming through the streets of an abandoned town. When it comes to depicting the individuals, however, it gets a little shaky. Nearly everyone in the book has the exact same expression on their face, a large, friendly grin that appears in almost ever situation. Meanwhile, early on he experiments with a slightly more cartoony look to the figures, where he almost, but not quite, draws them with large heads and small bodies. It’s a distracting motif that I chalked up to a beginner struggling with anatomy, though he later in the book he admits that it was a stylistic experiment.

It’s almost important to note that the artwork has been retouched and redrawn in places. This is because Ichi-F has been flipped to read left-to-right rather than the right-to-left format that most manga is published in today. The flipping is nicely handled though, and I didn’t notice many clunk transitions, or odd errors that sometimes mark a flipped manga.

Ichi-F is an interesting read, but one that sometimes feels like propaganda or a travel brochure at times. This is clearly deliberate though, as Kazuto Tatsuta makes no bones about wanting to help in the recovery effort, and if he can’t do that by being on site and physically working to improve the conditions of the region, then he’ll do it by encouraging others to visit, buy their food, and to view it in a better light. On one hand, this admirable and a laudable effort. The region suffered one of the worst catastrophes in recent history and anything that can help it and its people recover should be encouraged. That said, it can make for a weird, uneven and mixed read at times. It’s fascinating to see the life of the workers, and the efforts and progress they’re making in recovery, but at times the propaganda like nature of Ichi-F can be distracting and takes away from genuinely emotional and moving moments or points. Overall, though, Kazuto Tatsuta has managed to craft an interesting and unique manga.

Ichi-F is available now from Kodansha Comics. Review copy provided by the publisher.

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