Library Love: Jiro Taniguchi

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Here’s what I’ve been reading:

Benkei in New York written by Jinpachi Mori and illustrated by Jiro Taniguchi. I had a feeling that when the first chapter of Benkei in New York featured a very special dish of haggis, I was really going to enjoy the manga. I wasn’t mistaken. Although the chapters of Benkei in New York are chronological and feature recurring characters, each chapter easily stands on its own. The protagonist, Benkei, is a bit of an enigma. It’s never really explored in the manga why he’s become a killer-for-hire in addition to being an extremely talented art forger. I happen to like revenge stories, even when they’re not especially realistic, so Benkei in New York worked well for me. It’s got a great film noir atmosphere to it.

A Distant Neighborhood, Volumes 1-2 by Jiro Taniguchi. I absolutely loved A Distant Neighborhood and plan on buying a copy of both volumes of the series to own. Accidentally taking the wrong train after a business trip, forty-eight year old Hiroshi Nakahara finds himself heading back to his hometown on the anniversary of his mother’s death. He decides to visit her grave, ends up passing out, and suddenly he’s in the eighth grade again. While he may now be fourteen years old, he still has all the knowledge and vices of an adult. He also knows that at the end of the summer his father will disappear, and he wants to stop it from happening. A Distant Neighborhood is emotionally convincing as Nakahara struggles with his feelings of nostalgia, joy, guilt, and dread.

Icaro, Volumes 1-2 written by Moebius and illustrated by Jiro Taniguchi. Icaro frustrated me immensely. I like the premise of the work—Icaro is born with the ability to fly by manipulating the gravitational fields around him and is raised more or less as a science experiment. Taniguchi’s artwork is as wonderful as always and his images of Icaro flying are fantastic. But ultimately I didn’t enjoy Icaro. Moebius mentions in his preface that he “removed the unnecessary.” He either removed too much or not enough. Plot elements are introduced but are never resolved or explained. There’s a love scene between the Lieutenant Colonel and her aide that serves no good purpose. Also, being able to fly doesn’t make a person invincible, Lieutenant Colonel!

The Ice Wanderer and Other Stories by Jiro Taniguchi. The Ice Wanderer and Other Stories collects six short manga by Taniguchi, all but one with a focus on man’s relationship with nature, and particularly the wilderness. The first two stories, the titular “The Ice Wanderer” and “White Wilderness,” are inspired by the work of Jack London. Personally, I’ve never been a huge London fan, but Taniguchi does a great job with the material. While they weren’t my favorite stories in the volume, they were both very good. Taniguchi’s winter landscapes are simply marvelous. Because so many of the stories deal with the wild, Taniguchi has plenty of opportunities to illustrate untamed terrains from high mountains to deep ocean.

The Quest for the Missing Girl by Jiro Taniguchi. After his best friend and fellow mountaineer dies in a climbing accident, Shiga vows to protect his wife and daughter. More than a decade later, Megumi has gone missing. Leaving his mountain refuge, Shiga travels to the city to find the girl. Living in the mountains has made him tough but the city holds its own sorts of dangers. As Shiga searches for Megumi he must also come to terms with the feelings of shame he holds over her father’s death. The pacing in The Quest for the Missing Girl is fairly slow, but the finale more than makes up for that. Parts of the ending are unbelievable but I don’t really care because, frankly, it’s awesome.

The Summit of the Gods, Volumes 1-2 written by Baku Yumemakura and illustrated by Jiro Taniguchi. This is another series that I’ll definitely be picking up. The Summit of the Gods is a five volume award-winning manga adaptation of Yumemakura’s award-winning novel by the same name. Taniguchi’s illustrations are breathtaking and the attention he has given to the details is stunning. While in Nepal, the photographer and mountain climber Makoto Fukamachi happens across a camera that may have belonged to George Mallory. He becomes obsessed with learning more about it and the man who currently possesses it, Jouji Habu. My favorite parts of the manga are the actual climbs, but I find the rest of the story to be very engaging as well.

The Times of Botchan, Volumes 1-4 written by Natsuo Sekikawa and illustrated by Jiro Taniguchi. I’m almost ashamed to say that I didn’t really enjoy The Times of Botchan. Taniguchi’s art is superb, but I had a difficult time really engaging with Sekikawa’s script. Although I appreciate what Sekikawa was trying to do, showing the times and inspirations of Meiji era literati, the vignettes were simply too fragmented for me. There is also a lot of name dropping; the English edition really could have done with some cultural notes. I’m fairly knowledgeable about Japanese literature and I still regularly felt lost. I did really like all of the judo bits that worked their way into the story, though.

Tokyo Is My Garden by Frederic Boilet and Benoit Peeters, with the collaboration of Jiro Taniguchi. I found Tokyo Is My Garden to be an interesting project. Taniguchi’s involvement was mostly limited to the grey tones in the artwork. I enjoyed Boilet’s illustrations, and for the most part I enjoyed the story, but I couldn’t quite bring myself to like the lead character David Martin. I’m not sure what it was about him that rubbed me the wrong way, but he irritated me. Maybe I was just jealous of a gaijin living in Tokyo who, when his life seems to be falling apart, somehow manages to pull everything together again. I wasn’t entirely convinced by the love story that is a major part of Tokyo Is My Garden, either. But at the same time, I was happy with how things turn out.

The Walking Man by Jiro Taniguchi. The Walking Man is such a lovely manga. You might not expect it from a collection of eighteen short comics about a man going on walks, but it is simply a joy. With relatively little dialogue, the reader must follow along with him on his paths in silence. The utter pleasure which he clearly feels during his explorations is almost inspiring. Reading The Walking Man made me want to slow down, take a look around, and really experience and pay attention to even the tiniest details of my surrounding environment. Taniguchi, too, devotes attention to the smallest details in his artwork, whether the man is traveling through the city or through more rural or wooded areas.

This post is a part of the Jiro Taniguchi Manga Moveable Feast.