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.

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