Ichiro by Ryan Inzana is a graphic novel that turns into a fantastic journey into an underworld in which Ichiro is confronted by mythic characters. After his father’s death serving in the American military, Ichiro’s mother takes a job in Japan where her son lives with his maternal grandfather. There is some unnamed tension between Ichiro’s mother and her father. His grandfather enthusiastically shares Japan and the culture with the boy who follows along until a contrived narrative moment carries him off to the meat of his adventure.
The groundwork laid in the beginning of the novel, with Ichiro wearing a stereotypically American slogan on his clothing and denigrating his Asian roots, is never developed. He is carried off, in a mythic archetype, to face his demons. This is where the novel fell apart for me because it was too much “on the nose.” The myths shared by his mother and grandfather are clearly meant to set up this journey but the connection that these shared stories create when they are told by a relative is thrown aside for a literal journey into a myth. Thus, metaphor is given a concrete reality that reduces its universal meaning and leaves it not even personal.
Visually, I anticipated a marriage of traditional manga style with an American influence or perhaps vice-versa but this was not the case. Once I let go of that expectation, I could appreciate the artistic quality of the pages but again I felt that there was a missed opportunity.
And this is ultimately how I felt after reading this graphic novel: like a teacher about to write “does not live up to its potential” on a poorly performing student’s report card. It’s good but not great. No discussion of the complex relationship between America and Japan even though this boy is wearing war rhetoric on his t-shirt and not even when he visits Hiroshima. The cultural clash of an American boy and his Japanese grandfather seems completely absent and whatever conflict there is between the mother and grandfather is never explored even as a carry-over into the next generation. All of these brilliant threads left dangling and meaningless. At best, this graphic novel is amusing and perhaps the author only aspired to write an amusing novel. However, the novel could have been something literarily and visually brilliant. Unfortunately, the creator simply did not deliver.