The Summit of the Gods, Volume 5

The Summit of the Gods, Volume 5Author: Baku Yumemakura
Illustrator: Jiro Taniguchi

U.S. publisher: Fanfare/Ponent Mon
ISBN: 9788492444403
Released: July 2015
Original release: 2003
Awards: Angoulême Prize, Japan Media Arts Award

Baku Yumemakura’s novel The Summit of the Gods (which, sadly, hasn’t been translated into English) was published in Japan in 1998 and would go on to win the Shibata Renzaburo Award. In 2000, Yumemakura was paired up with the immensely talented artist Jiro Taniguchi to create a manga adaptation of the novel. The Summit of the Gods manga continued to be serialized through 2003 and was collected as a five-volume series. The manga also became and award-winning work, earning an Angoulême Prize and a Japan Media Arts Award among many other honors and recognitions. In addition to being one of my favorite manga by Taniguchi, The Summit of the Gods is actually one of my favorite manga in general. As such, I was waiting with great anticipation for the publication of the fifth and final volume of the series in English by Fanfare/Ponent Mon. I was thrilled when it was finally released in 2015.

Photographer Makoto Fukamachi followed the legendary climber Jouji Habu to Mount Everest to document one of the most difficult and dangerous ascents to ever be attempted: a solo climb of the southwest face in the winter without oxygen. The agreement between them was that neither one of the men would interfere with the other’s climb no matter what happened. But when Fukamachi’s life is in danger Habu rescues him anyway, putting his own life and the success of his ascent at risk. Fukamachi ultimately survives, returning to Japan to find a media frenzy; not only was Habu an infamous climber, his assault on Everest was an illegal one. And then there’s the matter of the camera that Habu had in his possession. Believed to have belonged to George Mallory, it draws considerable attention once its existence comes to light. Fukamachi’s connection to Habu and to the camera makes him a person of interest as well. Even without the additional scrutiny from the public he would find readjusting to a normal life after his fateful Everest climb to be challenging if not impossible.

Summit of the Gods, Volume 5, page 2013Three stories have become irrevocably intertwined in The Summit of the Gods: the story of George Mallory and Andrew Irvine’s’ final climb and disappearance on Mount Everest, the story of Jouji Habu’s efforts to become the greatest known climber more for himself than for any sort of fame, and the story of Makoto Fukamachi as he strives to untangle his own feelings about climbing and about life by trying to unravel the mysteries surrounding those of the others. The Summit of the Gods can be read in two different ways. It can be approached simply as a compelling tale of adventure and survival or, either alternatively or simultaneously, as a stunning metaphor for any human struggle against seemingly overwhelming odds. Climbing requires great physical and mental fortitude, and life can be just as demanding. The characters in The Summit of the Gods not only pit themselves against nature, they challenge themselves to overcome their own personal weaknesses and limitations.

Facing oneself—being able to objectively recognize the extent of one’s own abilities and admit the possibility of failure—isn’t necessarily an easy thing to do. It can also be a very lonely thing. This, too, is emphasized in The Summit of the Gods through Yumemakura’s writing and Taniguchi’s artwork. Even when working together, the climbers must ultimately rely on themselves and can only trust and depend on others so far. In the end they face the mountain and face their personal demons alone. The characters also show a constant struggle against their own insignificance, a hard-fought battle to find meaning in their lives. Taniguchi’s vistas are gorgeous and sweeping, showing just how small a person is in comparison to the rest of the world. But this also makes the climbers’ perseverance and achievements all the more remarkable. The Summit of the Gods is a phenomenal work with great writing and fantastic art, effectively telling a thrilling drama that also has great depth to it.

The Summit of the Gods, Volume 4

The Summit of the Gods, Volume 4Author: Baku Yumemakura
Illustrator: Jiro Taniguchi

U.S. publisher: Fanfare/Ponent Mon
ISBN: 9788492444632
Released: October 2013
Original release: 2003
Awards: Angoulême Prize, Japan Media Arts Award

One of my favorite manga series is The Summit of the Gods. The manga, a five-volume series written by Baku Yumemakura and illustrated by Jiro Taniguchi, is an adaptation of Yumemakura’s award-winning novel The Summit of the Gods. The manga adaptation itself is also an award-winning work, taking home an Angoulême Prize and a Japan Media Arts Award in addition to winning and being nominated for numerous other awards. The Summit of the Gods, Volume 4 was originally published in Japan in 2003 while the English-language edition was released by Fanfare/Ponent Mon in 2013. It may have taken ten years for the volume to have appeared in translation, but it was definitely worth the wait. The Summit of the Gods is a phenomenal series with fantastic artwork, and engaging story, and marvelously flawed, realistic characters. Even considering some of their incredible talents and abilities, not to mention their enormous personalities, the manga’s characters remain believable and sympathetic.

For the past several years the legendary Japanese mountain climber Jouji Habu has been illegally living and climbing in Nepal. He has been preparing for more than a decade to attempt something believed by most to be impossible—climbing Mount Everest’s summit via its southwest face solo, in the winter, and without oxygen. Even teams of climbers have failed to reach the summit and return alive using a southwest route under much less stringent conditions than those proposed by Habu for his ascent. His attempt will be so dangerous that he hasn’t even tried to obtain a climbing permit, knowing that it will be denied. As a result, very few people are aware of exactly what it is Habu is about to do. One of those people is Makoto Fukamachi, a photographer and mountain climber whose interest in Habu was originally sparked by a camera that he found which may have belonged to George Mallory. But now Habu is determined to reach the summit of Mount Everest and Fukamachi is determined to record his astonishing feat, following him as far as he possibly can.

The one thing that I found slightly unsatisfying about the previous volume of The Summit of the Gods was the story’s temporary shift of focus off of the actual mountain climbing in the series. In retrospect, it makes sense to have that small break as the fourth volume more than makes up for it—almost the entire manga is devoted to Habu and Fukamachi’s preparations for and the first part of their respective climbs of Mount Everest. And it is awesome, in the traditional sense of the word. Taniguchi’s artwork in The Summit of the Gods can be breathtaking with its stunning landscapes and massive mountain vistas. The scale alone feels intimidating and awe-inspiring. Taniguchi has not only beautifully and realistically captured the snow, ice, and rock of Mount Everest, he has also devoted an impressive amount of attention to the details of mountain climbing and the equipment needed to survive. The Summit of the Gods is a manga series fortunate to have superb artwork as well equally strong writing.

The Summit of the Gods, Volume 4 brings to the forefront not only the physical struggles of the characters but their psychological battles as well. The series is intense. Over the course of the last few volumes it has been made very clear how perilous mountain climbing can be. Even under better conditions than Fukamachi and Habu are now facing it has been shown that the smallest mistake can easily end in injury or death. There is a very real and strong possibility that neither one of the men will survive the climb and the sense of danger is constant. Habu and Fukamachi are each facing the mountain head on and in the process must confront alone their own pasts, failings, and limitations. The loneliness of their climb, the isolation they experience on the mountain as well as in their lives, the sacrifices and risks made to achieve what they have and come as far as they have, all of this and more is exceedingly important to the series. The Summit of the Gods remains a tremendously compelling manga; I look forward to reading the final volume a great deal.

The Summit of the Gods, Volume 3

The Summit of the Gods, Volume 3Author: Baku Yumemakura
Illustrator: Jiro Taniguchi

U.S. publisher: Fanfare/Ponent Mon
ISBN: 9788492444335
Released: June 2012
Original release: 2002
Awards: Angoulême Prize, Japan Media Arts Award

Based on an award-winning novel by Baku Yumemakura, The Summit of the Gods is a five-volume manga series written by Yumemakura and illustrated by Jiro Taniguchi. The manga itself has also won several awards, including a Japan Media Arts Excellence Award and an Angoulême Prize for Artwork among other honors. The Summit of the Gods, Volume 3 was originally released in 2002 in Japan. The English-language edition was published ten years later in 2012 by Fanfare/Ponent Mon. The Summit of the Gods is one of my favorite manga that Taniguchi has worked on, not to mention one of my favorite manga series in general. It’s an engaging story with compellingly flawed characters and its artwork is fantastic. Two years passed between the release of the second English volume and the third. Though I wish it could be published more quickly, The Summit of the Gods is a series worth waiting for. The books have a larger trim size than most other manga being released, which allows Taniguchi’s artwork to really shine, and the hefty page count allows the storytelling room to breathe, too.

Makoto Fukamachi has returned to Nepal, continuing his search for the legendary mountain climber Jouji Habu, who is now going by the name of Bikh Sanp. Habu may have found the camera carried by George Mallory on his last, fateful ascent of Mount Everest. The camera and its film could hold the answer to one of the climbing world’s greatest mysteries: who the first person to stand on the summit of Everest was. While researching the camera, Fukamachi became more and more interested in Habu himself, but finding a man who doesn’t want to be found proves to be an extremely difficult task. It is only after Ryoko Kishi arrives in Kathmandu that Fukamachi is able to make any headway with his investigation. Her brother died in a climbing accident, and Habu carries a tremendous amount of guilt because of it, but Ryoko was also one of the people closest to Habu in Japan. However, even she hasn’t heard from him in more than three years. As Fukamachi and Ryoko’s search for Habu progresses, others become curious about him and the camera as well, which only complicates matters further.

Compared to previous volumes in the series, except for the opening chapter which focuses on the many failed attempts to reach the summit of mount Everest before success was achieved, The Summit of the Gods, Volume 3 devotes less time to mountain climbing and more time to Fukamachi’s investigation and its unfortunate fallout. The emphasis in this volume has moved from the mountains and the wilderness to the surrounding cities and villages. While I do miss the drama and grandeur of nature so expertly captured in Taniguchi’s artwork, his portrayal of Kathmandu, Patan, and the various Sherpa villages is equally impressive in the amount of detail included. The city- and villagescapes are just as important as the landscapes. Aspects of Nepalese politics and culture are incorporated into the series as well. But even though climbing isn’t always at the forefront of this volume of The Summit of the Gods, it still plays and extremely important role in the story and it is vitally important to the characters as well.

While Fukamachi may be the protagonist of The Summit of the Gods, the series is really more about Habu and his story. As he has proved time and again, Habu is an incredible climber. In the third volume he pulls off an astonishing rescue—scaling a cliff with one arm while carrying another person—that leaves the others in awe of him. This is not the first, and I am sure it will not be the last, amazing feat that Habu performs. He is so singly devoted to and passionate about climbing that he has made many sacrifices in his life just so that he can continue to push himself to his limits. When it is finally revealed, the ultimate goal that Habu has set his sights on is enormous, beyond anything that anyone else has ever seriously considered attempting. Habu both intimidates and inspires Fukamachi, forcing Fukamachi to evaluate and reevaluate himself and his own capabilities and desires. The Summit of the Gods, Volume 3 is a critical turning point in the development of the series’ characters and plot, bringing a resolution to one story arc and beginning the next.


BlueCreator: Kiriko Nananan
U.S. publisher: Fanfare/Ponent Mon
ISBN: 9788493340971
Released: 2006
Original release: 1997

I first discovered Kiriko Nananan’s work while reading Secret Comics Japan: Underground Comics Now. Two of her short manga—”Heartless Bitch” and “Painful Love”—were included in the volume. I was quite taken by the pieces and so was determined to find more of Nananan’s manga in English. Sadly, very little has been translated. Another of her short manga, “Kisses,” was collected in Sake Jock: Comics from Today’s Japanese Underground, an early English anthology of alternative Japanese manga. Nananan debuted in the avant-garde manga magazine Garo in 1993, which is one of the reasons her work is found in these “underground” collections. She is particularly well-known for her short manga; Blue is her only long-form manga to have been released in English. Originally published in Japan in 1997, Fanfare/Ponent Mon published the English edition of the manga in 2006 after releasing a Spanish-language edition in 2004. Blue has also been translated into French and German. The manga was also popular enough to receive a live-action film adaptation directed by Hiroshi Ando in 2002.

“The sky that stretches out above the dark sea. The school uniforms and our desperate awkwardness. If those adornments of our youth held any color it would have been deep blue.” Thus begins Kiriko Nananan’s Blue. Kayako Kirishima, a senior at the Hijiri all-girls high school, is fascinated by her classmate Masami Endō, the young woman who sits directly in front of her. Endō was suspended from school the previous year. Because of that and her general attitude, many of the students at Hijiri find her difficult to approach. But Kirishima eventually musters up the courage to finally talk to Endō. Her fascination becomes friendship and eventually love. But their relationship isn’t an easy one. Uncertainty, worry for the future, and past regrets all have an impact on Kirishima and Endō and how they relate to each other and to the rest of their friends. Love can be a wonderful thing, but it can also be painful. As high school draws to an end, they must face the inevitable changes in their lives either together or alone.

Nananan’s artwork in Blue is very simple, almost minimalistic, and yet it is also incredibly arresting. There is very little shading employed. In fact, the use of negative and white space is just as important to the manga’s composition as the deep black of Nananan’s ink work. It has a distancing and cooling effect. The fragility of Kirishima and Endō’s relationship is reflected in the fragility of Nananan’s lines. At times the pages are nearly empty, giving a sense of loss and contemplativeness, as if the feelings of the two young women are in danger of disappearing altogether. Body language is especially important in Blue. Hands in particular are a recurring motif and are very expressive—they reach out to grasp someone or to push them away, they hide a face in shame or frustration. Nananan shows intimacy of varying degrees in Blue through the characters’ actions and touch. It can be extremely sensual, but it can also be very chaste.

Blue has a reflective, poetic, and lyrical quality to it. The manga is a fairly simple and straightforward story of first love which is both sweet and sad. However, Nananan is adept at capturing the realistic complexities of love and all of the feelings associated with it—the jealousy and heartache as well as the happiness and joy. Kirishima is constantly thinking about Endō. Even when she isn’t immediately present on the page Endō is the focal point of the manga and always on Kirishima’s mind. The two of them obviously care deeply about each other and so it is particularly unfortunate that they seem unable to be completely open and honest with each other or with themselves. They are both young and don’t always make the best or most mature decisions. Blue is told from Kirishima’s perspective as she looks back from some point in the future to her high school days with understandable sentimentality. Although the manga is frequently melancholic and intensely emotional, it never comes across as melodramatic. Blue is a beautiful and striking work; I would love to see more of Nananan’s manga translated.

The Summit of the Gods, Volume 2

Author: Baku Yumemakura
Illustrator: Jiro Taniguchi

U.S. publisher: Fanfare/Ponent Mon
ISBN: 9788492444328
Released: January 2010
Original release: 2001
Awards: Angoulême Prize, Japan Media Arts Award

The second volume of The Summit of the Gods, a five volume manga series written by Baku Yumemakura and illustrated by Jiro Taniguchi, was originally released in Japan in 2001. The English-language release of The Summit of the Gods, Volume 2 was published by Fanfare/Ponent Mon in early 2010. The series is based on Yumemakura’s 1997 award-winning novel The Summit of the Gods and has won several awards itself, including a Japan Media Arts Excellence Award in 2001 and an Angoulême Prize for Artwork in 2005. I will admit right now that I love Yumemakura and Taniguchi’s The Summit of the Gods. The manga is easily my favorite work that Taniguchi has collaborated on. The series has gorgeous artwork, characters that are larger than life but who remain human in their imperfections, and an engaging story.

After returning to Japan from Nepal, journalist Makoto Fukamachi has been doggedly pursuing the enigma of the man he believes he met there—a legendary Japanese mountain climber named Jouji Habu. Initially, Fukamachi was interested in a camera he is convinced is in Habu’s possession. It may very well be the same camera that George Mallory brought with him on his assault on Everest in 1924. If true, Habu has his hands on an important piece of mountaineering history. But as Fukamachi’s investigation proceeds he becomes more and more interested in Habu himself and what drives the man as a climber. While Fukamachi’s personal life is unraveling he throws himself into his research, tracking down anyone who might know anything about Habu and his current whereabouts.

While I personally find Fukamachi’s persistent research to be interesting as he slowly pieces together disparate clues and leads, what I really love about The Summit of the Gods, Volume 2 are the stories that he uncovers. As unlikeable as Habu can be, and with as many enemies as he has made, his accomplishments as a mountain climber are unquestionably phenomenal. Fukamachi delves into many of Habu’s feats: his disastrous and yet astonishing foray climbing the Grandes Jorasses as well as his notorious participation in a group summit assault on Everest and several unfortunate incidents relating to it. But as amazing as Habu’s achievements are as a climber, it’s Taniguchi’s stunning artwork that makes them a reality for the reader. From the largest mountain vistas to the smallest crack in ice or rock, Taniguchi’s attention to detail is superb. The pacing and timing of his panels make the climbs both exhilarating and terrifying.

Nature and the mountains can be glorious, but they can also be extraordinarily dangerous. Taniguchi’s artwork expertly conveys this. Both the figurative and literal gravity of the situations that the climbers face can almost be felt reading The Summit of the Gods. When something goes wrong, even the smallest something, the repercussions can be devastating. And at times the events that unfold are entirely outside of human control. Saying that a climber fell—such a small and simple word—is easy enough. But the enormity of the human drama and the story surrounding that fall, what happened to cause it, and what happens as a result of it, is intensely engrossing. It is clear that the characters in The Summit of the Gods are effected deeply; the impacts can be seen in their changing relationships to each other, to climbing, and to the mountains themselves. The Summit of the Gods is an incredible work.