A Distant Neighborhood Volume 1
The latest translated manga by Jiro Taniguchi follows a plot familiar to most science fiction fans. In A Distant Neighborhood, a middle-aged business man finds himself reliving his life as a teen, with the potential chance of doing things over, better.
By mistake, Hiroshi Nakahara gets on the wrong train and finds himself in his home town on the anniversary of his mother’s death. After he visits her grave, he returns to town to discover that he’s become his 14-year-old self. He’s about to enter eighth grade, the year that his father disappeared from his life.
While there’s a strong component of “what if” in this volume, a lot of second chances and different choices, the real appeal is the way the book captures a different time and place, a small Japanese town 40 years ago. That’s Taniguchi’s strength, beautifully detailed art that the reader can get lost in. As in The Walking Man, he uses it to firmly establish the settings his characters move through, which here means the fantastic premise becomes solid through the realism of the art.
The pacing will seem sedate to those who already know the premise (which is anyone who’s read anything at all about the book, especially if you need to order it, as most readers will). The first 60 pages simply cover Nakahara traveling back in time and visiting again with his family, relishing the comfort of home he’d forgotten. He’s a very easy-going protagonist, spending his time looking around, pondering, and remembering. That’s the appeal of this book and the artist’s style: reflection.
When Nakahara goes to school, we’re introduced to a bunch of fellow students as he thinks about how they ended up years later. He’s beginning to accept what’s happened to him and even enjoy it, and the chapters become moments in the life of a schoolboy: sports, girls, classes, smoking, fighting, sneaking alcohol.
This isn’t the complete story — book two is due in the fall. I mention that because many of the questions Nakahara asks himself, including the core ones of the reasons for his father’s disappearance and whether the past can be changed, are raised but not resolved in this book.
A PDF for this review was provided by the publisher. Preview pages are available at their website.