by Jiro Taniguchi based on a story by Yumemakura Baku; translated by Kumar Sivasubramanian
published by Fanfare/Ponent Mon; $25 US
After reading Book 2 recently for the Jiro Taniguchi Manga Moveable Feast, I’m thrilled that I had a chance to dive right into the third volume. It’s because we hosted the MMF that the publisher provided an advance digital review copy; the book is due out in May.
For those who haven’t so recently read the gripping mountaineering mystery — involving determined climbers, a photographer in Nepal trying to find one of them, and the question of whether George Mallory was first to reach the peak of Mount Everest in 1924 — this book is well-suited to catch you up. The first chapter begins with a summary of the early failed attempts by the British to climb the summit in the 1920s, combining recreations of historical photographs (with period gear) with the gorgeous scenery that underlies the entire book. Mallory is praised for his “force of will and psychological strength”, drawing parallels with the modern climber Jouji Habu. Much of his backstory was told in Book 2, but here, we find out his plans for the future.
Although the events involving Mallory are long passed, and we’ve been given summaries in previous installments of what happened with the doomed third attempt portrayed here in detail (or if you’re interested in mountaineering, you may already know the history, or be able to look them up easily), I found myself caught up in the situation. I wasn’t thinking about the fate of the characters; instead, I was slowly moving with the climbers up the cliffs as they struggled to reach the highest point on earth for the first time ever. The realistic art really helped put me in those moments, and reading this story as a comic meant I could linger as I wished over particular vistas or panels. It was a welcome reminder of the mystery that permeates the series.
The rest of the book returns us to Kathmandu, the capital of Nepal, where Fukamachi, the photographer and climber, is attempting to find Mallory’s camera and determine what happened to him. There are also rumors of the presence of Habu, a legendary mountaineer from decades past. As the middle volume of the series, this books shows us events escalating and excitement building, particularly in a sequence involving a rescue from criminal activity. In other segments, actual legwork takes time — time on the character’s part, to find the right people and connections, and time on the reader’s part, as she watches the characters prepare and persevere. In both, the scenery is beautiful and, to this US reader, exotic.
My only criticism of the work is how it treats the rare women in the series in such old-fashioned style: they’re mothers or love interests, there to reward or hinder the men, but with little character or motivation of their own. I suppose, though, that’s that a relatively realistic treatment of the attitudes that go along with the drive for macho achievement, such as being the first person in the world to climb a particular mountain.
Various mysteries are revealed in this book, including Habu’s intentions, but that just becomes a cliffhanger (heh) for the next volume. There’s no word yet on when that might be coming out, but I eagerly await it. In the meantime, here is a short preview of Book 3, or here’s a description of Book 2 with lots of sample pages.