[Review] Fantagraphics’ OKINAWA by Susumu Higa

PopCultHQ received an advance review copy of OKINAWA by Susumu Higa from Fantagraphics which released Tuesday, August 22nd.


Here’s PopCultHQ’s spoiler-free review of… 

OKINAWA by Susumu Higa

Pages: 544
Format: Hardback
Color: Black-and-white
Dimensions: 5″ × 7.125″
ISBN-13: 9781683961185

On sale date: August 22, 2023

This heartbreaking manga, by an award-winning cartoonist, examines the history of Okinawa and its military occupation. An essential manga classic presented in English for the first time.

Please note: This book is a traditional work of manga and reads back to front and right to left.

A Junior Library Guild Gold Standard Selection

A peaceful, independent kingdom until its annexation by the Japanese Empire in the 19th century, Okinawa was the site of the most destructive land battle of the Pacific War. Today, the archipelago is Japan’s poorest prefecture and unwilling host to 75% of all US military bases in Japan.

Okinawa brings together two collections of intertwined stories by the island’s pre-eminent mangaka, Susumu Higa, which reflect on this difficult history and pull together traditional Okinawan spirituality, the modern-day realities of the continuing US military occupation, and the senselessness of the War. The first collection, Sword of Sand, is a ground level, unflinching look at the horrors of the Battle of Okinawa. Higa then turns an observant eye to the present-day in Mabui (Okinawan for “spirit”), where he explores how the American occupation has irreversibly changed the island prefecture, through the lens of the archipelago’s indigenous spirituality and the central character of the yuta priestess.

Okinawa is a harrowing document of war, but it is also a work which addresses the dreams and the needs of a people as they go forward into an uncertain future, making it essential reading for anyone interested in World War II and its effects on our lives today, as well as anyone with an interest in the people and culture of this fascinating, complicated place. Though the work is thoroughly about one specific locale, the complex relations between Okinawan and Japanese identities and loyalties, between place and history, and between humanity and violence speak beyond borders and across shores.

PopCultHQ’s Comic Book Review:

As I have written before, history impacts all of us daily. Not just the events that occur within the borders of one’s nation, but in the world itself. At times, we tend to forget what has transpired, and then it becomes necessary to remember lest the past repeats itself in the present. Susumu Higa, an award-winning writer and artist in the field of manga, has stepped up to provide a stark reminder of the turbulent history of his home, Okinawa, through the visual medium that serves to both educate readers and provide a cautionary tale at the same time. This latest volume will stand out to those who are long-time Higa fans or newcomers due to its usual blend of creative brilliance combined with the kind of history that is not always present within academic institutions today.

Writing: Susumu Higa writes in a manner devoid of flowery prose or complicated plots. His purpose is to present history as he wants it to be: undiluted and unfiltered. With all the chaos and horrible things that happen in war and afterward, people tend to overlook or forget the details, no matter how great or small. Higa takes the time to showcase the ripple effects that have altered the island’s history over the decades, opening a window into a world for those who have perhaps never thought about the history of Okinawa.


Art: Higa’s artwork is lovely to look at. In a world where the art of manga and comics has at times become loud, flashy, and very in your face, Higa has a style that is both rich in detail and yet has an elegant simplicity to it as well. It does not seek to shout out and take away from the story or dialogue of the characters. Its purpose is to enhance, electrify, and call attention to Okinawa’s past and present, serving as both a teaching aid and a cautionary tale for manga fans and students of history.

Letters: Like the artwork, the lettering of volume is a tool that educates and informs the reader instead of shoving a bunch of nonsense in their faces. When words or dialogue require translation, it is in smaller print at the bottom middle of the panels, discreet and there to draw the eye as one reads and takes in the story. It is a truly wonderful thing indeed, as it aided me in moving forward in the hardback with no stopping to translate into English.  

Overall Assessment:

Over the years, I have read many different comics and manga from various publishers. But I rarely pick up a volume that, instead of providing simple visual entertainment, offers up a history lesson and a look into the life and culture of a people I may never encounter. To all longtime fans of Higa and his work, this will make an excellent addition to your private collections. And to scholars or history buffs, this, too, will be worth the read. Finally, to Susumu Higa, I have this to say: Higa-san, mirikiteki de shisa ni tomu monogatari o arigatōgozaimashita. Anata no sukiru wa sekai e no okurimonodeari, kono-pon o tsūjite atae rareta chie ni kansha shite imasu. (Thank you for this engaging and thought-provoking tale Mr. Higa. Your skill is a gift to the world and I am grateful for the wisdom you imparted through this book.)

PopCultHQ’s Rating:

5 out of 5 Stars

Publisher – Fantagraphics

For over 40 years, Fantagraphics has published the very best comics and graphic novels that the medium has to offer. Our mission is to celebrate great cartooning in all of its incarnations, from the form’s early luminaries to contemporary artists currently forging the future of visual storytelling. Not content to rest on our laurels and extensive roster of talented artists, we constantly seek out fresh voices from across the globe. Thus, we honor the rich history of comics while providing a platform for bold new stories, styles, and perspectives that push the boundaries of the medium. Fantagraphics remains peerless in our commitment to be the publisher of the world’s greatest cartoonists.

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