Home > comics, manga, review > Onward Towards Our Noble Deaths – A Review

Onward Towards Our Noble Deaths – A Review

Onward Towards Our Noble Deaths holds a unique place in localized manga in North America. Mizuki Shigeru’s semi-autobiography details the settlement of an ill-prepared Japanese camp in World War 2, a suicide charge against U.S. soldiers, and the story of those who didn’t partake in the death charge. It’s a story often excluded from the Japanese narrative seen in localized manga. Onward Towards Our Noble Deaths is also significant for being a human drama by Mizuki Shigeru, an artist most associated with yokai art.

The narrative of Onward Towards Our Noble Deaths focuses on the experiences of the Japanese company of soldiers. Their challenges as assigned to them by the Japanese military brass, the struggles with the environment, and the general fatality and deprivation of war. Each individual met in the work, which there are many, are all distinct and human in their own way. To its simplest point, it’s about humanity, or lack thereof, during war. Specifically, there is a unique Japanese flavor to this. The death charge is something insane-sounding to an American aesthetic, but incredibly reasonable towards a Japanese wartime aesthetic.

My largest issue with Onward Towards Our Noble Deaths has little to do with the concept or the art of the work, but rather the localization given to it. Sound effects are converted from their original katakana (one of the written forms of Japanese, commonly used for onomatopoeia in manga) into English. Obviously, this is made for the simplification of the Western reader, but why change it? Many manga publishers in the West have adapted to maintaining the original language for sound effects and offering a translation section in the back, or use footnotes. In the same regard, many lines of dialogue are changed to be more familiar with a contemporaneous Western reader. While Drawn & Quarterly (who publishes only a select few manga titles) has made a commendable translation, I feel like the work should have retained a greater sense of its original Japanese.

On a stronger note, the art is incredible. Humans are given cartoon-ish features which contrast with a lushly detailed background. It boosts the sense of harshness of place given in the detailed illustrations. The human depictions allow for a more relaxed reading of the drama being told, often ironically contrasting with the trauma of war. The art style doesn’t directly depict the seriousness of the situations of the work, but it’s always there. And hey, Drawn & Quarterly maintained the original right-to-left printing, so kudos there.

Onward Towards Our Noble Deaths is an excellent manga. Both the narrative and art style are unique in the medium. While I have some issues with the cultural conveyance in translation, I’m sure there are many who will never notice it. And at the least this served as an introduction for Western readers of Mizuki Shigeru’s works. It’s something I highly recommend to both manga and comic fans.

Onward Towards Our Noble Deaths is written and drawn by Mizuki Shigeru. It is localized in North America by Drawn & Quarterly.

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  1. April 18, 2014 at 2:20 pm

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