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.

Library Love, Part 8

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Here’s what I’ve been reading:

Akira, Volumes 3-6 by Katsuhiro Otomo. These last four books of Akira are significantly different from the anime adaptation. While I didn’t enjoy them as much as the first two volumes in the series, they are still fascinating post-apocalyptic, science fiction. Frankly, the manga makes more sense to me than I remember the anime making (which I really should watch again). The characters are much more developed, and the story more thoroughly explained. Art-wise, Otomo’s scenes of destruction are particularly noteworthy. Even after it looks like he’s completely destroyed the city, he still finds ways to do more damage and devastation.

Hikaru No Go, Volumes 8-12 written by Yumi Hotta and illustrated by Takeshi Obata. So, while I still haven’t learned how to play Go very well, I do understand the basic rules. But even when I don’t know exactly what is going on, Hotta and Obata have made me care immensely. Just watching the characters reactions shows how seriously they are taking things. I never thought I would get so worked up rooting for and wishing for the success of the players. Waiting for the results of the various tournaments and games was nerve-wracking and even heart-breaking! Hikaru and Sai’s relationship is starting to become strained now that Hikaru has become so determined and serious about playing Go.

Naruto, Volumes 2-5 by Masashi Kishimoto. As much as I enjoyed the first volume of Naruto, the next few volumes didn’t really do much for me. I was, however, very pleased to find that Sakura is actually a competent character who isn’t just there to pine after Sasuke. Kishimoto introduces a lot of material in these few volumes, including a whole slew of new characters with their own unique and unusual ninja powers. While this is rather fun, it does mean that already established characters don’t get much more development. It also seems like Kishimoto is just making things up as he goes, although there are are some good ideas in there.

The Wallflower, Volumes 1-4 by Tomoko Hayakawa. I was actually somewhat reluctant to pick up The Wallflower. The premise of a group of young men trying to turn female classmate into a “perfect lady” at the request of her aunt (and with the potential reward of free rent) worried me a bit. Fortunately, it turns out they are quite happy to allow Sunako to be who she is although they do encourage her to pay more attention to her appearance. Sunako can be absolutely gorgeous when she puts her mind to it, she’s simply more interested in her horror movie addiction. She also happens to be smart, a great fighter, and a good cook, too. Initially very withdrawn, she is steadily developing a relationship with her new housemates.

Library Love, Part 7

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Here’s what I’ve been reading:

Akira, Volumes 1-2 by Katsuhiro Otomo. Several years ago I watched the anime of Akira and enjoyed it. I think I like the manga it’s based on even better. I find it to be a marvelous, page-turning, science fiction romp. And because it’s an entire series, Otomo is able to explore aspects of the story that he wasn’t able to include in the two hour film; I feel like I can connect with the characters more and understand them and their actions better. There’s plenty of action and violence with all of the delinquent youths, bike gangs, military forces, and resistance organizations, but the manga also has a fair amount of humor to it too that prevents things from getting too dark.

Banana Fish, Volumes 18-19 by Akimi Yoshida. I had a feeling that things weren’t going to turn out well, but damn this is still heartbreaking. The ending is appropriate and the two side stories included in the final volume were a very nice touch. Yoshida ties up everything by the end, sometimes in surprising ways, but the result is very satisfying. The relationships, good and bad, are what this manga is all about and they are intense. Ash is an extremely charismatic character who profoundly affects those around him. Although the plot developments felt a bit repetitive at times, overall Banana Fish is a great series and I’m really glad that I read it.

Godchild, Volume 6-8 by Kaori Yuki. I think that these last three volumes of this manga are also the best in the series. The plot has gotten very dark, and very cruel, but things are starting to make some sense and are pulled together nicely by the end. Cain’s father and his family history are more thoroughly explained although I still don’t understand everything that’s going on. There are some characters that seem to be introduced out of nowhere to force the plot along, and there are still some developments that I’m not entirely convinced by, but for the most part I liked how things ended and how references to earlier volumes were incorporated.

Hana-Kimi: For You in Full Blossom, Volumes 20-23 by Hisaya Nakajo. While I am satisfied for the most part with the ending of Hana-Kimi, the series is definitely a fantasy and not at all how things would have really turned out. The manga seemed to go on a bit too long with a bit too much filler, and the climax was a bit anti-climatic, but it did make me happy to some extent in the long run. However, I will be the first to admit that how Ashiya is finally discovered and outed to be posing as a guy at an all boys school is really, really stupid. I don’t need to read the series again, and a lot of things frustrated me about the manga, but it was kinda fun while it lasted.

Library Love, Part 6

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Here’s what I’ve been reading:

Banana Fish, Volumes 14-17 by Akimi Yoshida. Yoshida has really ratcheted up the action and plot with these four volumes. There are only two left in the series and I have no idea how she’s going to wrap everything up! I’ve really been enjoying Banana Fish; the deepening relationship between Ash and Eiji is simply fantastic. Things are getting really dangerous for them and their allies and it’s hard to see how they’re going to pull through. Eiji in particular is a very changed person, although he has had a significant influence on Ash as well. I want to see the both of them happy but it’s going to be difficult with multiple crime syndicates and mercenaries gunning for Ash.

Hikaru No Go, Volumes 4-7 written by Yumi Hotta and illustrated by Takeshi Obata. I really didn’t expect Hikaru to become as serious as his is now about Go. It’s fascinating to see him grow as both a person and a player. Sai is as adorable and earnest about the game as ever and is happy to see Hikaru take more interest. Although, it does mean he doesn’t get to play as much as he would like. More and more characters are being introduced as Hikaru moves on from his school’s Go club to being accepted as an insei, hoping one day to become a professional Go player. Even though it’s heading in a different direction than I originally thought, I’m loving this series and can’t wait to read more.

Real, Volumes 4-6 by Takehiko Inoue. Damn this series is good! It can be a little emotionally exhausting and intense at times. We get a bit more of Togawa’s back story, Nomiya’s struggle to find his direction in life, and Takahashi’s discord with his family. These are real people dealing with real issues that aren’t always pretty. The attention given to the un-idealized portrayal of disability, physical therapy, recovery and the effects they have on people is stunning. I highly recommend this series even if you’re not into sports manga because it really is about so much more than basketball. Real amazes me.

Yotsuba&!, Volumes 2-3 by Kiyohiko Azuma. Jumbo is still my favorite character and I love seeing the trio of him, Yotsuba, and her father hanging out together. Yotsuba still manages to be adorable without being annoying, completely confounding her friends and neighbors. I’m actually surprised by how much she manages to get away with; the others put up with her antics with amazing tolerance. Perhaps it’s just that she’s such a good-hearted kid even when she’s getting herself into trouble. It’s really a delight to watch as she experiences and enjoys things in life for the first time.

Library Love, Part 5

Support manga, support your library!

Here’s what I’ve been reading:

Dragon Ball, Volume 6 by Akira Toriyama. I think I enjoy this series most when there’s crazy fighting and battles going on. Compared to previous volumes, Volume 6 seems to be somewhat lacking in that department, which isn’t to say there aren’t any clashes. For example, Goku finishes his assault on the Red Ribbon army’s Muscle Tower to great effect, but unfortunately that’s about it. I didn’t find this volume quite as funny as the previous books either, although it does have its moments. I’ll probably still keep reading the series because it has been pretty fun so far and I have enjoyed it.

Fushigi Yûgi: Genbu Kaiden, Volume 7 by Yuu Watase. Ah, no, not Soren! Watase has proven in the past that she’s not afraid to kill off characters, but it’s rather unfortunate that he was one of my favorites. But, it certainly makes for some emotional turmoil and I’m interested in seeing how his death continues to affect the others. Limdo in particular is understandably hard hit and I want to see what he does. This volume also reveals more about Urumiya—the twin brothers Hagus and Teg—which I was looking forward to, but I hope to learn even more. Watase’s art is much more consistent and even in Volume 7 than it was in the previous volume.

Naruto, Volume 1 by Masashi Kishimoto. For various reasons, I’m always afraid to start a ridiculously popular manga series, but I finally decided to give Naruto a try. I think I’ll probably end up reading at least a few more volumes, too, because I enjoyed the first book more than I expected. It’s got fighting and humor and interesting characters. The character designs are fun and their interactions are great. Naruto makes me grin as does his instructor Kakashi, who I think is fantastic. Although, I do hope that Sakura ends up being more than just a boy-crazy, token girl character which is how she comes across in this first volume.

Skip Beat!, Volumes 3-5 by Yoshiki Nakamura. Overall, I’m not particularly taken with the art style but Nakamura throws in some great glares and the visual gags are fantastic. Some of the plot elements are just plain silly but I really enjoy seeing the acting stunts Kyoko manages to pull off. It’s really a very amusing manga and I’m enjoying the series. There is a potential romance developing between Ren and Kyoko which I’m not all that interested in—I much prefer Kyoko’s spunky and over-the-top revenge antics, even when they blow up in her face. Plus, it looks like she’s starting to want to get into showbiz for herself now and not just to get back at Sho, which is nice.