Anna is the title character and narrator of Mariko Tamaki’s compelling debut graphic novel, published by Picador. Of course Anna lives in Japan, in the high-rise city of Yokohama, and is working for a stunning young CEO, Chihiro Kawata, who has a firm belief in “the nation is safe.” But Anna wants to escape, and when her boss assigns her to help the CEO on a business trip to America, she doesn’t see what all the fuss is about. So far, she can see only the postcard view of American food, but, when Anna bumps into the CEO and an older gentleman at the airport, she makes the decision to pack for a new life in America, even if it means that Chihiro and the president of the travel agency both get the “X” marked in time they were after. The journey begins with a sleek checked suitcase containing a handbag, a set of headphones, a camera, and directions for Apple Maps. “The beginnings of a new life is a surprise, isn’t it?” says Anna, and that kind of optimism makes this book an enviable thing for someone to hold in his or her hands.
However, it is a surprise that the U.S. president is fascinated with the idea of “having a country [that] is not defined by an old population but by a new one, one that is born of people who don’t care about their parents, who didn’t live through the Great Depression, who don’t have feelings for people who work overtime, who don’t pay for their old people, who will grow old when they think that they can’t.” The U.S. is the world’s most populous country, and it is hard to believe that such widespread hatred, distrust, and fear isn’t chipping away at this country’s identity and culture, especially when we are in the midst of an immigration debate. “Where are they from?” Anna asks. “What is the difference between us and them? Is there a difference?” One cannot help but wonder if Anna’s journey across America means less the U.S. itself, but whether we are living through the end of humans or a time when human rights are becoming more challenging and ambitious.