A Filipino hero’s story in a Manga

Every generation needs a retelling of history, and this is one story in history that needs to be retold just in time for Rizal Day.

On June 19 last year, Jose Rizal: The Filipino Hero’s Life Illustrated manga breathed new life into a hero’s story in a unique form and yet, that’s more familiar to this generation’s sensibility. Produced by Torico Co. Ltd and initially distributed exclusively online on sukima.me in Japanese and on manga.club in English, the manga created a sensation among young manga readers that prompted local publisher Anvil Publishing Inc. to produce its physical version.

In September, its physical release also created a buzz despite the low key promotions. Since it’s a first of its kind, the real challenge lies with a Japanese writer Takahiro Matsui and mangaka Ryo Kanno, who literally first heard about our national hero by virtue of this project, to come up with a fresh take on Rizal’s life story.

The manga’s opening scene depicts Dr. Jose Rizal at Bagumbayan (known today as Luneta or Rizal Park) dramatizing his faithful last steps as a man accused of leading a revolt he really didn’t endorsed among his countrymen. Then followed by a flashback of Rizal’s childhood that detailed how his mother was maltreated, wrongly accused and suffered under the Spanish authorities, how his sister gained favor from the governor general, and the mother’s subsequent release from incarceration. And thus began his personal crusade to seek fair and equal treatment for the indios.

Rizal then studied in Europe where he wrote his first novel Noli Me Tangere that got published, courtesy of the assistance of Filipino doctor Maximo Viola. Upon his return to the country, as an eye doctor, he treated his mother. However, he was ordered by the Governor General to leave the country to diffuse a heated situation; circumstances that were instrumental to Rizal’s political maturity that strengthened his resolved to fight for equal treatment of his fellow countrymen. That was when he wrote his second novel, El Filibusterismo. On his next return, he formed La Liga Filipina, got arrested for it, and was sent to Dapitan in Mindanao in exile.

To a reader with an average knowledge of Rizal’s life, the manga reveals many details of the hero’s life story that were surprisingly novel and unpopular. In the manga, Rizal got to witness how his political activities led to his family’s persecution by authorities. There were scenes that showed how Rizal accidentally met former tenants turned bandits, and his confrontation with a friar. There was the conversation on board the Spanish navy ship Castilla between Rizal and members of the Katipunan, the dramatic last meeting with Josephine Bracken, and the part where Emilio Aguinaldo read Rizal’s farewell poem to the Katipuneros and Bracken pledged her support to the revolutionary efforts.

Given that the creators had literary license to come up with scenes that would make the story cohesive, it is still impressive that the story material was heavily researched right down to the details. The result was a well written story told in a true manga fashion. Each panel was well composed and carried out at different perspectives with the clean lines. Some minute details, such as the hairstyles and some 1800’s fashion, were amiss of the period depicted in some cases, but those can be considered as minor issues.

The biggest surprise was the end, the part where the writer linked Rizal’s encounter with a girl during his stay in Dapitan to the modern Filipinos struggle for freedom from tyranny and injustice during the People Power uprising, as part and parcel of his heroic legacy. Truly, an unexpected climax that made clear that ours is a living history of which lessons that can move and unite us, Filipinos, especially in times of adversity and struggle. With Rizal’s manga, we hope to see more of its kind published since all hero stories deserve to be retold and reread on different platforms that can reach a wider audience.

Image credits: Images credit to Tonco co. ltd and Anvil Publishing inc.

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