Review: Guardian of Fukushima is a Labour of Love and a Warning
Guardian of Fukushima by Ewen Blain and Fabian Grolleau is a labour of love, a tribute to Naoto Matsamura's sacrifice to protect the abandoned animals of Fukushima, and a warning about the dangers of nuclear power.
Guardian of Fukushima is published just in time for the twelfth anniversary of the nuclear disaster at the Fukushima power plant due to an earthquake and a tsunami that caused a meltdown and mass evacuation of the towns in the region. The guardian of the title is Naoto Matsumura, a local farmer who decides to stay behind to care for all the abandoned pets and livestock in the town out of a sense of duty.
For Tokyopop publisher Stuart Levy and creators Ewen Blain and Fabian Grolleau, Guardian of Fukushima is a deeply personal project. It's a tribute to Matsumura, an ode to his compassion and sacrifice, and a chronicle of the loss of animal life and devastation. Blain and Grolleau chart Matsamura telling his young nephew about how the land works, tying folklore to the earthquake and tsunami to calm him down before they realise this disaster is bigger than anyone could have realized. Blain and Grolleau's literary conceit is to place the tragedy of Fukushima as part of the continuity of Japanese myth as a way to make sense of the disaster but doesn't lessen its impact. Matsumura's compassion for animals comes from a Shinto Buddhist perspective, one he practices more than many of his fellow Japanese do. Unlike them, he commits risking his life and health to care for the animals abandoned in the town, all the animals.
Contemplative and heartbreaking, Guardian of Fukushima is a portrait of European and Japanese humanism. Matsumura joins the protest against nuclear power, seeing firsthand the environmental disaster a nuclear meltdown would bring to land. His reaction is that of a civilian who was lied to by his government. His knowledge of the failure of the power plant is that of a civilian victim, barely hinting at the corruption, cut corners, and lax safety measures that caused the meltdown. The disaster isn't over, as the Fukushima plant is still dumping radioactive water into the Pacific Ocean, which means irradiating the fish in the region that people across Asia and Southeast Asia might eat. The story's climax is its antinuclear message, which it earns with Matsumura's story.