As part of this week’s Jiro Taniguchi Manga Moveable Feast, we welcome a guest reviewer, JE Latosa, who self-describes as “an avid reader of comics and manga hailing from Manila in the Philippines.” Thanks, JE! Your memories of how you found The Walking Man and the emotions it evokes in you make me want to reread the book.
I don’t specifically recall the exact moment I decided to buy The Walking Man by Jiro Taniguchi. At some point six years ago, my comics buying habits were just starting up again. I had been a lapsed comics reader for most of my 20s, having only gotten back to buying single issues and graphic novels when I was already five years out of college and earning a steady paycheck.
I had rekindled my love for comics by buying some single issues back then and eventually delved further into collections and graphic novels. Since I had to catch up on stuff, my initial thoughts were to go and brush up on the internet as to what everyone was reading, and I tried to narrow my search to best-of lists from random sites. So I looked continuously for comics sites in the hopes of knowing what people were considering as their favorites, and I think it may have been reading up on the synopsis for The Walking Man in the now-defunct site Read Yourself Raw’s recommended manga that I decided that I needed to see what the fuss was all about.
The book itself is very simple in its premise, as it explains itself clearly in the title. The story is all about a man walking across what seems to be suburban Japan, experiencing a variety of things in these jaunts. There’s an odd conceit in a manga that’s just about an everyday person going out and experiencing small and simple things in life, and seeing that description touted as one of the more extraordinary examples of manga probably pushed me further to buy and read it. I couldn’t really find a copy being sold where I lived, so I had a friend buy it for me in the US (along with more comics, of course) and bring it back home to me. I took the book home, pored through it, and I can personally say that reading the book provided me with a very basic and relatable experience that allowed me to enjoy it quite thoroughly.
I’ve always had a fascination with Japanese culture, and this seems to have started at an early age. I was weaned on sentai shows being shown on local TV in the 80s, as well as with Japanese robot cartoons, these being my earliest brush with Japanese culture. In high school, this evolved into an obsession with anime, particularly with the rise of Dragonball Z and my habit of renting English-subtitled VHS copies of the series. Eventually, in college, I decided to take my fascination further by taking a lot of electives in Japanese language and culture; I did get a minor in Japanese Studies after graduation, although sadly most of what I learnt at the language front has gone by the wayside, hence my need to pursue English-translated manga. In general, I still hold some sense of awe and wonder at experiencing Japan as a whole and still wish to expand on this further maybe by learning the language again, or maybe even visiting the country at some point in the future.
In any case, this intersection of my fascination with Japanese culture and life, along with the rejuvenation of my comics habits, might explain why I enjoyed The Walking Man so much. Here you saw the salaryman meandering through Japan, interacting with kids and animals and trees, enjoying nature and open spaces and talking with people from all walks of life. The story didn’t really have any action or even drama but just displayed a steady rhythm comprised of small and seemingly melancholic experiences. I sometimes have bouts of these, where I just feel something remarkably and inexplicably wonderful about living in my city and traveling back and forth in its various locales, all despite the hazards of pollution, bad weather, and even crime. I find myself returning home in the late evening, and I look up and suddenly see the nighttime sky and a smattering of stars, which is a surprise living in the city. I smile to myself a little whenever I see young kids playing on the streets, or old people doing odd things at odd places. These are just random events that seem to crystallize our notions about what we feel is important and what we want in life.
The Walking Man seems to be entirely about that experience, about appreciating small things in the midst of the bustling and sometimes confusing thing that is life. The main character is your average salaryman, who probably has all the various struggles he has to contend with each day: slogging through work, listening to complaints, having to find the time and money to enjoy what he earns. The daily grind can be unsettling at times, and yet here such a person is finding small moments of zen in the most random things. The walks come to be a form of meditation, a way of tuning out the irritating stuff and coming to grips with existence. It is comics in that it is a form of escapism, but this escapism is less of the superhero and fantastic, and more attached to the reality of everyday life. The things and experiences depicted in the book are ones that can truly happen in this day and age, and I think Taniguchi’s intent in this book was to show precisely how such small and seemingly insignificant things and events become magnified by how much we attach our own sentiments and priorities to them. It became easy to see myself in the main character, with my own thoughts about everyday life and my own struggles, and in that sense, the whole story becomes a relatable one (at least to me). There’s just that simple and stripped-down nature to this book that surprised me in how much you could experience despite what seemed to be very little activity.
I’d guess that the people who’ll get the most satisfaction out of The Walking Man are probably those who are already at or a bit beyond the same stage in life as the salaryman in the book: those who experience and question the pressures of living each day and struggle to see happiness in what they do. In my perspective, the book tells us to see great things in the mundane. In a philosophical sense, the story grounds us in finding meaning despite our reality; true, there’s a lot of inexplicable and nasty things happening around us every time that may lead us to question things, but that doesn’t mean that someone can’t find his/her own small pockets of happiness here and there. There’s a depth in the story that grows on you as you come to encounter more highs and lows of your life, and for me, I guess that’s where the strength and potency of The Walking Man really lies: placing more emphasis on enjoying life in the steps and missteps, and worrying less about where you’re headed in the end.