License Request Day: Children of the Earth

June 26, 2009

Before I get into this week’s license request, I thought I’d belatedly offer my philosophy for this weekly feature. I’m not looking for properties that I think would be commercially viable or even for ones that fill a gap in the cultural or historical record. There are people who are much better qualified to address either of those concerns. My sole consideration is the English-language publication of Japanese comics that I’d like to read. I’m just that selfish.

fils1And really, why else would I request a comic that its original publisher (Shueisha) doesn’t even seem to have kept in print? I’m speaking of the three-volume Children of the Earth, written by Jinpachi (Benkei in New York) Mori and illustrated by Hideaki Hataji. I believe it was originally serialized in Shueisha’s Super Jump magazine, though I can find no mention of the series in the magazine’s Wikipedia entry. It was published in French by Éditions Delcourt under the title Les Fils de la terre. It was among the titles to receive the 2008 Prix Asie awards from the Association des critiques et journalistes specialises en Bandes Dessinées. But information on the book is thin on the ground; no one even seems interested enough in the book to steal it, which is kind of sad.

So why am I interested? Partly, it’s my fixation on stories set in rural Japan. Another point in the book’s favor is its subject matter: agriculture. While there’s a growing level of interest in where our food comes from and how it’s produced, it still strikes me that there’s a shocking amount of ignorance on the subject and a disregard for how hardworking and smart farmers need to be, especially if they want to engage in sustainable or organic production. Children of the Earth promises both; no wonder the French embraced it.

fils2Here’s what I’ve been able to glean of the book’s plot from the remnants of my shaky college French: a newbie with Japan’s agricultural agency is sent to a rural village, Takazono, to help local farmers “reform” Japanese agriculture. The bureaucrat, Natsume, butts heads with a local farmer, Kohei, who has no use for the government’s reformation effort. Natsume is won over by Takazono’s charms and the inherent dignity of farming and dedicates himself to encouraging young people to pursue education and careers in agriculture.

(If anyone has read the book in French or Japanese, please feel free to correct any of the above. Add my language “skills” to the often inaccurate shorthand of solicitation text, and you have a recipe for gross misinterpretation of a book’s content, you know? Ditto my inability to find it on Shueisha’s web site, which I suspect I would find difficult to navigate even with any Japanese fluency whatsoever. I did manage to find it on Amazon Japan, which leads me to suspect I could have found it on the publisher’s page if it was there. To summarize, I have strikethrough functionality and I’m not afraid to use it, so please don’t hesitate to tell me I’m wrong about just about anything.)

fils3Admittedly, the English-reading manga fan need not suffer from an absence of farming comics. The first volume of Moyasimon (Del Rey) was just listed in Previews, promising an opportunity to really get to know the microbes so essential to food production. Viz’s Oishinbo gang always seems to be ready to head out to the countryside to see food at the source. (I want their jobs and their expense accounts, don’t you?) But Children of the Earth seems like it would be right up my alley and, as I said, this is ultimately all about me.

(P.S. Okay, it doesn’t have to be entirely about me. I’m open to guest authors on License Request Day, so feel free to drop me a line if there’s a book you’re burning to see published in English.)