Ex-Combat Agent Strives to Find a Peaceful Life

“Heiwa no Kuni no Shimazaki e” (“Shimazaki in the Land of Peace”) by Gouten Hamada, story, and Takeshi Seshimo, art, published by Kodansha

Heiwa no Kuni no Shimazaki e (Shimazaki in the Land of Peace)
by Gouten Hamada, story, and Takeshi Seshimo, art (Kodansha)

All over the world, particularly in Africa, there are cases of armed terrorist organizations kidnapping children to turn them into child soldiers. According to a survey conducted by a non-profit organization, as many as 250,000 child soldiers were confirmed between 2004 and 2007. Such children suffer from psychological effects long after they have been freed and provided with protection. This may be completely unimaginable to those living in Japan, but “tragic” is far from being sufficient in describing the reality these children face.

The story of “Heiwa no Kuni no Shimazaki e” (“Shimazaki in the Land of Peace”) begins with a flashback. A plane flying out of Japan is hijacked by an international terrorist organization. Its passengers are abducted and their whereabouts are unknown. Thirty years later, 39-year-old Shingo Shimazaki makes his living as a manga artist’s assistant while also working part-time at a cafe. He appears to be an ordinary middle-aged man, but he is not fluent in Japanese. He struggles to speak the language, possibly because he has lived abroad for a long time. For some unknown reason, the public security police have their eyes on him.

We learn that Shimazaki was kidnapped when he was 9. He was brainwashed and trained to become a competent combat agent. After fighting on battlefields here and there in the world, he suddenly escaped from the organization. He is now being sheltered in a colony for fugitives in Japan. Shimazaki’s only wish is to live quietly in this “land of peace.” But there is no way the operatives of the terrorist organization, which has also laid down roots in Japan, will let the traitor go free.

Long-time manga readers will recognize that the pattern of this story derives from “Kamui Gaiden” (“The Legend of Kamui”) by Sanpei Shirato. Shimazaki is a modern-day Kamui, an outcast ninja. If you look at it through that lens, the outlandish situation will not bother you too much. In fact, I am quite impressed by how well the past masterpiece has been updated.

First of all, Shimazaki is very charming as a character. He has a gentle personality to the point of almost being timid, but his eyes — ever observant of his surroundings — remain keen and sharp. What he remembers from his past, which he wants to forget, sometimes comes in handy in unexpected ways. Even in this “land of peace,” there are tangled relationships and crimes, so when Shimazaki fixes various troubles unnoticed by others, he begins to come across as a dependable hero.

That, however, is only half of Shimazaki’s identity. Having been through hell, he has an unfathomably dark side as well. He mercilessly kills all the assassins sent by terrorist organizations, and you begin to realize that this man is a walking lethal weapon. The public security police may be absolutely right in their concern that he is a potential security risk who should not be in Japan.

This contradiction in his personality is drawn as contradictory as it is, and that’s what makes this manga so intriguing to read. Since the subject matter is extremely heavy, I actually hesitated to start reading this manga. What helped me to overcome this hesitation was the compelling storytelling by Gouten Hamada and the persuasive drawings by Takeshi Seshimo. Seshimo is especially wonderful in his ability to portray the sharp contrast between Shimazaki’s charm and his ruthlessness, while harmoniously combining the attributes into one human being. This is likely to become one of the most notable works by Seshimo, who has depicted completely different subjects — from baseball to Genghis Khan and rugby — whenever he has started a new work.

At the end of the first chapter of the manga, we are told that Shimazaki will return to the battlefield in 340 days. A disturbing countdown ticks away at the end of each chapter. Is it impossible for this charming monster to settle down in the “land of peace”? No, I would like to believe in a big, surprise twist and a positive ending.