License Request Day: Children of the Earth

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.)

7 Responses to License Request Day: Children of the Earth

  1. […] This week’s license request from David Welsh: Children of the Earth. […]

  2. Lorena says:

    Since you asked — I’m dying to see Gokusen in English. I love the premise, the comedy and the unrequited love. Plus it’s got yakuza!

    If this ever makes it stateside, I’ll be the first one in line at my local manga shop.

  3. JennyN says:

    Herewith a few notes after reading the French edition – as always, FWIW.

    The series is indeed interesting, but uneven – it feels as if the creators, or perhaps publisher, tried first this and then that for a while before deciding on what the structure and theme of the series was going to be. The story opens strongly, with the Japanese Prime Minister (obviously based on Junichiro Koizumi, the silver-haired hipster) hosting a meal for his cabinet ministers and senior officials. As they comment on how delicious the food is, the PM points out that all of it is of foreign origin. Japan relies on other nations for an ever-larger percentage of its foodstuffs, and the root problem is that young Japanese aren’t becoming farmers. Through the usual manga complications, the young bureaucrat Natsume is sent to a typical, rundown agricultural college to see if he can find a system to enthuse the pupils which can then be rolled out across Japan.

    A couple of chapters set in the school follow – during which the authors make some interesting points, including that such schools are seen as second-rate even by the teachers assigned to them – but then the first storytelling switch follows, and the narrative begins to concentrate much more on the inhabitants of the traditional, but slowly dying, village where Natsume lodges and Kohei lives. (Again some interesting points – e.g. all the villagers except one are women, because women tend to outlive men). After a few episodes here, the story takes another turn, and Natsume and Kohei set out on a trip through Japan to get innovative ideas from farmers who are managing to thrive despite bureaucratic obstacles, the slow decay of the countryside and so on. (The two last volumes also include articles written by the author about his encounters with real farmers and farming families who were succeeding with innovative methods). There’s one further, rather comic, encounter with the PM during which our heroes realise that he’s lost interest in the grand national project, before they go back to Kohei’s village to revitalise it on a small but satisfying scale.

    So not, IMO, a real triumph of smooth storytelling. What *does* carry the whole thing is attractive characters and the creators’ obvious passion for the future of Japan’s countryside, including the people who live there, and its integration with the country as a whole. These are concerns for most Western nations too, so if this title ever is translated it might set up some resonances in the US and UK too…

  4. Suzu says:

    Ah, I still need to read this one, it’s on my (very) long reading list. Thanks for the review Jenny N.😀

  5. shannon says:

    You can read some of it here:
    http://www.s-manga.net/title/tsuchinoko.html

    (S-manga powered by Shueisha) ^.^

  6. Althalus says:

    Thanks for the heads-up on this series. Somehow I never noticed it when it was first published in France. Bought the first volume after reading your article and it’s great. Getting the other two soon.

  7. davidpwelsh says:

    Oh, glad you liked it, Althalus! Thanks for letting me know.

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