Asadora! is Naoki Urusawa's latest series, and a new Urusawa is always an event. Urusawa is the closest Japan has to an Alan Moore, a deconstructionist who examines culture through pop tropes. Asadora! Is about a girl who grows up in an era of giant monster attacks and becomes a legend in her own right.
The first volume takes place in the Nagoya ports in 1959. 10-year-old Asa is the middle child in a large poor family, often neglected and forgotten by her parents in the wake of her numerous older siblings. Her life teeters between farce and tragedy when she's kidnapped by a man who mistakes her for the daughter of a local doctor, hoping to get a ransom. Her kidnapper, a hapless former pilot, fallen on hard times, is on the verge of releasing her when a disaster befalls the town. He and Asa find the town wrecked, flooded, and a humanitarian disaster looming. Asa is desperate to find her house and check on her family but first decides that everyone needs to be fed. She galvanizes a local cook into making food and the pilot into commandeering a biplane to deliver the food to the starving locals. No matter how grouchy, reluctant or selfish, Asa persuades them through sheer force of will. That sets the course for who and what she will become, even before she finds out what caused the disaster.
With Asadora!, Urusawa fashions an oddball hero saga as a shaggy dog comedy. The tone is light and oddball, and his art has a more European and cinematic quality than most comics.
Reading the first volume of the series feels like watching a movie. Urusawa's use of large panels and wide-open spaces makes the book feel even more like a movie than most manga. There's a Capra-esque and European feel to the story. He keeps a light touch as he juxtaposes a disaster movie scenario with funny, goofy characters pulling together.
Giant monsters, or dai kaiju, are considered a force of nature, massive and unstoppable as they cause wholesale destruction whenever they appear in Japan. Urusawa positions them as a force of nature, unseen in his story, but their presence is felt in the wake of the wreckage they leave behind. In parallel, Urusawa seems to place Asa as a force of nature herself, unstoppable and relentless in her ability to make people do good and help each other in the wake of all the mayhem. Asa is the latest in Urusawa's long line of young heroines who are symbols for goodness. Future volumes will cover Asa's coming of age in the post-war decades of Japan all the way to 2020. She might become a symbol for the indomitable spirit of Japan itself, never giving up in the wake of disaster. Asadora! Is a different kind of epic.
Asadora! Vol. 1 is published by Viz Media.