0 Items | £0.00


Grave of the Fireflies

Sunday 25th November 2012

Andrew Osmond on the truth behind the anime classic

Grave of the FirefliesReleased in 1988, and now the subject of another live-action remake, the anime war film Grave of the Fireflies has been analysed as drama, as poetry, and as one of the most heartbreaking films ever made. There’s been less said, though, about the real events that inspired it, barring a hugely informative essay by David C. Stahl, called Victimization and “Response-Ability.” The information in this article is from Stahl’s essay; if you want to read the original, it’s in an anthology called Imag(in)ing the War in Japan: Representing and Responding to Trauma in Postwar Literature and Film.

The film of Grave of the Fireflies, animated at Studio Ghibli by Isao Takahata, is based on a 1967 story by Akiyuki Nosaka, itself inspired by Nosaka’s horrific experiences during World War II. Nosaka was born in 1930; his biological mother died soon after. He was adopted by his maternal aunt, Aiko, and her husband. Their hometown was the city of Kobe, near Osaka and Kyoto. In 1944, the family also adopted a baby called Keiko, who became Nosaka’s little sister.

In June 1945, in the last days of the Pacific war, Kobe came under air attack from American B-29 bombers. The family house was destroyed, though Nosaka and Keiko survived. Nosaka was fourteen; Keiko was one and a half. After the attack, they moved in with a relative of Aiko’s, a widow. Food soon ran short, and Keiko, who was so young that she couldn’t even swallow hard foods, was malnourished.

In July, the children moved out, apparently because of Nosaka’s tense relationships with the widow and her neighbours. They stayed a month in a bomb shelter beside a pond. In August, the children were moved to another house, but Keiko’s decline continued. Years later, Nosaka described how his toddler sister reverted from walking to crawling, and finally to sleeping as her body wasted away. She died on August 21st, six days after Hirohito announced Japan’s surrender to the nation.

Nosaka AkiyukiAfter the war, Nosaka went back to school for two years, but failed a high school entrance exam and dropped out. That year, he was caught stealing, and sent to a detention centre in Tokyo. Nosaka was shut in a filthy room with fifteen or twenty other boys, some of whom died while he was there. After a month, his biological father (now a politician) learned of his situation, and Nosaka came into his care. Two decades later, in 1967, Nosaka published two stories about the war, including “Grave of the Fireflies.” The next year, they won a literary prize.

Viewers of the Grave of the Fireflies film will see many of the story’s details match Nosaka’s experience. As Stahl explains, though, the history is complicated because Nosaka, by his own admission, didn’t always tell the truth. Until 1973, he said he was a war orphan, having lost his family except Keiko in the air raid. In fact, not only did his biological father survive, but so did his foster mother, Aiko. In the fictionalised Grave story, the mother character is terribly injured in the air attack, and dies shortly after. In reality, Aiko was burned – when Nosaka saw her after the raid, she was indeed covered in bandages, as the mother is in the story – but she survived and apparently lived into the 1970s.

Stahl suggests that Nosaka lied to protect himself, “to garner sympathy and deflect possible inquiries concerning his conduct during the attack.” In Grave, the fictional boy carries his sister to safety during the air raid. He has a loving relationship with her, and struggles to bring her food, even at the risk of his life. True, the story also shows how the boy cannot cope with his bullying aunt – based on the widow with whom Nosaka stayed – and decides to move out, with fatal consequences. Still, the character idealises the real Akiyuki.

As Nosaka confessed in his non-fiction writings after “Grave,” on the day of the air raid, he saw his family house burning, called out to his foster parents - and then fled. It was Aiko, not Nosaka, who saved Keiko from the air raid, despite her horrendous burns. Nosaka also confessed that, in the time of deprivation, his terrible hunger meant he sometimes ate food without sharing it with his baby sister. “I loved her,” he wrote. “But my gluttony overrode my affection and concern for her.”

In the Grave story, the boy is shown walking at night with his sister crying on his back, trying to coax her to sleep. In reality, Nosaka wrote, he was so exhausted and maddened by Keiko’s crying that he abused her. First he spanked her; then he hit her hard on the head, knocking her out. He also said that during his time at the widow’s house, he became smitten with her teen daughter, so much that he hardly thought about Keiko’s condition, or the injured Aiko in hospital. Despite its horror and tragedy, the Grave story often shows what Nosaka wished had happened. Stahl suggests that might extend to the fictional boy’s death, shown at the start of the story, taking the author’s survivor guilt to its conclusion.

Stahl also argues that both Nosaka’s fiction and his later confession reflect a traumatised man working through his nightmares, “marked by conflicting motives of atonement, dissembling, testimony, evasion, repentance and prevention.” One trigger was the birth of Nosaka’s daughter in 1964. After what had happened to Keiko, Nosaka was terrified she would die in infancy, and envisioned their house burning down. Nosaka also cited the war in Vietnam. “Complacently living as we do in peace and prosperity, we naturally think that Vietnam has nothing to do with us. But one misstep, war breaks out and women and children suffer.”

Stahl points out that Grave is not just derived from Nosaka’s memories of his poor dead sister, but is an amalgam of experiences. For example, it reflects his own later suffering in the Tokyo detention centre. Moreover, the little girl in Grave, Setsuko, may represent Nosaka’s sister Keiko, but she was based on someone else as well. On the day of the air raid, when Nosaka fled his burning home, he reached a hillside bomb shelter outside Kobe. In the shelter was a girl by herself, about four or five years old. She was holding a doll and a basket, and seemed calm despite the grim situation. For half an hour, they talked together while they looked out on the burning of Kobe, before Nosaka left the girl to find his family. Stahl notes, “Nosaka has written that the origins of his fictional character Setsko can be traced back to this brief but memorable encounter.”

The film version of Grave further overlays the experience of its director, Isao Takahata. Like Nosaka, Takahata was a child of war; aged nine, he and his older sister fled through their bombed town when the B-29s came. As part of that generation, Takahata views wartime in a different light than we do now. He said that he wanted Grave’s viewers to reflect on the actions of the boy in the film, his terrible mistakes that kill him and his sister. Of course, our chief reaction is grief and sorrow for the children.

Grave of the Fireflies is available on UK DVD from Studio Canal.

Grave of the Fireflies


Fairy Tail The Movie: Phoenix Priestess

was £19.99
Follow Fairy Tail's dream team - Natsu, Gray, Erza, Lucy, Wendy, Happy, and Carla - as they lend a helping hand to a girl with little memory and a grudge against wizards. As they uncover clues about her mysterious past, a lunatic prince hatches a half-baked plan to sacrifice her in exchange for immortality. When the fool unleashes an ancient force, a raging war becomes the fiercest inferno Fairy Tail has ever faced. Can the guild with a heart of gold save the planet from a fiery finish?

Special Features: Fairy Tail the Movie Prologue: The First Morning, Trailers, Creditless Opening and Ending.

Spoken Languages: English, Japanese, English subtitles.



Fairy Tail

Matt Kamen is your guide to the world of Fairy Tail!
Welcome to Earthland, where magic runs rampant and professional wizards sell their talents to the highest bidder! Populated by all kinds of mystical creatures, it’s a place of wonder but also one filled with peril.

Cosplay: Fairy Tail's Obra

Paul Jacques snaps some more Fairy Tail cosplay
Cosplayer Kyle McDonald suits up as Obra from the Raven Tail guild in Fairy Tail, available now in two box sets from Manga Entertainment on UK DVD.

Fairy Tail and Japan's Shonen magazine

Matt Kamen on Japan’s Weekly Shonen Magazine
Mystic action abounds in the second thrilling collection of Fairy Tail, as flame-spewing Natsu, ice-mage Gray, summoner Lucy and the rest of the gang take on sorcerous threats across the world of Earthland. The series is based on the long running manga by Hiro Mashima, and as the anime closes in on its 150th episode in Japan, it’s clearly shaping up to be the next Naruto or Bleach, delivering ongoing adventure to a devoted audience. Unlike a certain orange ninja or black-garbed grim reaper though, Fairy Tail’s roots do not lie in the pages of the famous Weekly Shonen Jump anthology.

Fairy Tail music: MAGIC PARTY

Tom Smith on the music behind Fairy Tail 5
It’s been said that two’s company, three’s a crowd. But for Japanese electro-pop duo AIRI and Koshiro, two is more than enough to party – to MAGIC PARTY! At least if the cutesy name of the pair’s musical project is to be believed.


Tom Smith on the band behind Be As One
Unlike a number of the bands featured on the Manga UK blog, W-inds haven’t had much of a history with anime tie-ins despite their massive success. In fact, in 14 years they’ve only ever done two anime themes; their first in Akira Amano’s Katekyo Hitman Reborn!, and more recently with Hiro Mashima’s Fairy Tail, where their 29th single Be as One became its sixth ending.

Fairy Tail Music: Daisy x Daisy

Tom Smith on Fairy Tail Part 7’s opening theme
Little Mika still has a long way to go, but since signing to Pony Canyon she has managed to have a crack at the anime universe, featuring heavily in one series in particular; Fairy Tail.


Where is Victorian Romance Emma?

Why do we get Downton, but not Emma?
Fans of K-On! The Movie’s lovely and realistic vision of London may not be aware that in between that film and Steamboy’s loving depiction of a steampunk-era Manchester and London rests a show that is as accurate as either, and yet is also arguably the most English anime show ever made. Yet it still cannot be bought on DVD in the UK itself.

Bleach Music: Miwa

Tom Smith rings the ch-ch-changes…
Bleach series 13 continues the clash between Soul Society’s Shinigami and Sousuke Aizen’s Arrancar army. It also brings with it a new talent in Japanese pop-rock: miwa. This fresh-faced female, armed with a guitar and an arsenal of upbeat pop-rock songs, provides the series’ twelfth opening theme, ‘chAngE’.

Comicon Pics

Just some of the Comicon cosplays, photographed by Paul Jacques
As promised, here are just a few of the pictures taken by our photographer Paul Jacques at the MCM Comicon this May. Some pretty amazing stuff on offer behind the LINK.

Sword Art Online Music: LiSa

Tom Smith on Sword Art Online's LiSa
Salarymen to the left of me, shoppers to the right. And here I am, stuck in the middle with otaku. Well, more accurately I’m frolicking with them, in Hibiya Open-Air Concert Hall, a concrete amphitheatre that’s dwarfed by the towering skyscrapers of Tokyo’s business district to the west, and high-end retail haven Ginza to the east. Between the two is the venue, hidden in the peaceful Hibiya Park. Peaceful, that is, until 3,000 anime fans descend en masse, clutching chunky glow batons, wearing identical shirts and all waiting for the latest lady-singer that tickles the tastes of otaku to hit the stage; LiSA.

Naruto Music: Okamoto's

Tom Smith on Naruto Shippuden’s 18th ending theme
As Naruto ups the ante and swears to take on Sasuke alone in box set 18 of Naruto Shippuden, the team responsible for the encompassing episodes’ ending theme have also took it upon themselves to up the pace.

Godzilla: Too Soon?

When is it okay for a real-life disaster to become entertainment?
How soon is too soon? The question’s raised by the new Godzilla trailer, the first half of which seems to be all about recreating traumatic events as fantasy, just three years after they occurred. Specifically, the trailer opens with a disaster at a Japanese power station, before segueing into images of a giant wave sweeping into a town with devastating force. Both images seem less ripped than Xeroxed from the headlines of March 2011, when northern Honshu (Japan’s mainland) was struck by an earthquake which caused a tsunami, killing thousands, and the meltdown at Fukushima.

Bleach music: Kenichi Asai

Tom Smith on ‘Mad Surfer’ Kenichi Asai
“Try ‘n boogie, guns n’ tattoo” – there’s no greater embodiment of Kenichi Asai’s work than that opening line. As the words are dragged across the bluesy, rock n’ roll riff of Mad Surfer – the Japanese rebel’s song used as the 20th closing of Bleach – it’s difficult not to imagine smoke filled bars, motorcycles or leather jacketed misfits sporting hairdos your mother wouldn’t approve of.


Tears, cheers and liver-ripping fun with Japanese ghosts
The battle to destroy the eight seals dominating Kyoto steps up in this second half of the second series adapting the manga of the same name. Nura, our young hero, here finds his desire to use the supernatural to protect humans means he has put his clan in the way of much greater harm than ever before – and before series’ end, yokai, onymyoji and humans will have all spilled blood....
Contact Us   |   Refund Policy   |   Delivery Times   |   Privacy statement   |   Terms & Conditions
Please note your card statement will show billing by MVM. Grave of the Fireflies from the UK's best Anime Blog.