George Takei is probably THE most famous Japanese-American actor. Some people may only know him as that guy who says “oh my” but to those in the know he’s Sulu from Star Trek. So, of course, anything this man puts out the fans will lap it up. The most recent thing he created is a memoir comic book called They Called Us Enemy
It’s World War II and the Japanese have bombed Perl Harbor. Because of that, President Roosevelt has signed Executive Order 9066 which says all Japanese living in the US must be sent to internment camps. Five-year-old George Takei’s family were forced to go and thus begins Geroge and family’s time in one of these camps.
This is a tough subject even for the Star Trek fans who weren’t expecting this from Takei. However, the events at the camps that Takei tells are pretty tame. They’re mostly about how he conditions weren’t ideal but they made do and turned a cabin into a good enough for now home. Also, the stories are mostly about how his dad and how he became block manager. They seem like more minor nuisances than terrible conditions. That’s not saying what happened in these camps weren’t bad, Takei just makes them out to not be all that bad.
One reason may be because Takei tells this story through the viewpoint of a child that doesn’t quite understand what’s going on. In this regard, he does that job well by having him mostly tell of all the happy memories.
That doesn’t mean there weren’t negative ones. From the questionnaire every Japanese must answer that had the two questions that if you answered no you were labeled a “no-no person” and the demonstrations that happened inside the camps by Japanese who were willing to give up their US citizenship due to being in the camps. The problem is these memories don’t have the intended impact that Takei was trying to go for.
Artist Harmony Becker did a smart thing with the art: she made it look like manga. While it doesn’t read in the right to left format like traditional manga, the look is there. This is a brilliant idea since what better way to talk about Japanese than to make it look like manga. Not modern manga, but manga that was available in the 40s and 50s which, since this takes place in the 40s, is perfect. The historical figures (FDR, Batak Obama) look more like sketches of the real people and stand out from the rest of the artwork. Some may think that change is too glaring, but once you think about it it makes sense in the context of the story.
They Called Us Enemy is not a terrible memoir comic, nor is a great one. If anything, it’s mildly enjoyable to the right people and the artwork is a nice touch. It may not be groundbreaking, but as a story told by someone who experienced it and tried to tell of things he remembers since he was way too young to understand, it’s an OK read.