A Distant Neighborhood 1 by Jiro Taniguchi: A

distant-125Forty-eight-year-old Hiroshi Nakahara is a businessman with a love of alcohol and little time for his family. One day, in 1998, as he is returning home (hungover) from a business trip to Kyoko, he accidentally boards the wrong train and ends up traveling to Kurayoshi, the town in which he grew up and which he hasn’t visited for many years. With some time to kill before the next train to Tokyo, he wanders around, checking out the building that used to be his family’s shop and paying a visit to his mother’s grave. As he’s asking his mother, “Were you happy?” something mysterious occurs and Hiroshi wakes to discover that he’s back in his fourteen-year-old body but with all of his adult knowledge and wisdom intact. Not only that, the family shop and neighborhood has returned to its previous condition, his deceased mother and grandmother are alive, and the date is still four months before his father’s sudden disappearance.

At first, Hiroshi acts merely as an observer, attending classes and making mental notes on the eventual fates of some of the friends he encounters there. In time, he begins to feel a zeal for learning and exercise that he’d not possessed the first time through his adolescence and relishes a feeling of liberation from his various adult responsibilities. His accomplishments in sports and academics attract the notice of Tomoko Nagase, the prettiest girl in his class, another difference from his past. Nagase has big dreams and it’s in deciding to help her that Hiroshi begins to take a more active part in this second chance he’s been given, resolving too to prevent his father’s disappearance.

Hiroshi doesn’t have an easy time passing as a fourteen-year-old. Aside from his drastic scholastic improvement, he’s singularly unimpressed by some things adolescent boys tend to be keen on (like nudie mags and cigarettes), occasionally lets slip details that he shouldn’t yet know, and demonstrates far more perceptiveness about the adults in his family than he originally did, as we can see in flashbacks of his oblivious past self. His emotional reaction to being scolded by his mother again is very touching and there’s also a particularly nice scene toward the end of the volume where Hiroshi is given the opportunity to ask his grandmother how his parents met, information he’d evidently never thought to inquire about before.

It also seems as if Hiroshi’s experiences reliving his past are going to help him become a better person in the future. When Nagase confesses her feelings for him, he accepts, but it’s abundantly clear that he sees her as a daughter and is still thinking only of how he might help her. After their first date, during which they see a movie involving Men Having Grand Adventures, he insists that women can do the same, and reassures her that a time will soon come when women can be “wonderfully independent.” This is in marked contrast to his treatment of his real daughters; in one of the odd moments where Hiroshi experiences a disembodied glimpse of what’s going on in 1998, his sees his wife and eldest daughter, Ayako, discussing a boyfriend he knows nothing about and declaring that Hiroshi will never consent to let Ayako move into an apartment. “Obviously! A single girl your age can’t go living alone!” he thinks.

Jiro Taniguchi’s art is never anything short of gorgeous, and A Distant Neighborhood is like his other works in that it offers plenty of beautiful landscapes, detailed illustrations of buildings, and a middle-aged protagonist (at least at first). Facial expressions can be a little stiff at times, but I felt that emotion was better conveyed here than in The Quest for the Missing Girl.

The overall feel of the story is initially similar to The Walking Man in that Hiroshi is merely taking in his surroundings without interacting much. Eventually, though, it becomes the most emotional work by Taniguchi that I’ve read. It’s also seriously engrossing; I could’ve read another 200 pages easily.

Review copy provided by the publisher. Review originally published at Manga Recon.

The Quest for the Missing Girl by Jiro Taniguchi: A-

When asked whether I’d like to contribute a guest post to Comics Should Be Good, I said, “I’d be delighted!” In fact, I’m actually going to be doing an occasional feature for them called Blue Moon Reviews, so please check it out! Here’s my first review for them!

Thanks again to Danielle Leigh and Brian Cronin for the opportunity.

The Walking Man by Jiro Taniguchi: A

From the inner flap:
Who takes the time these days to climb a tree in bare feet to rescue a child’s toy? To stop and observe the birds? To play in the puddles after a storm? To go down to the sea to put back a shell? The Walking Man does as he strolls at random through urban Japan—often silent, often alone—with his vivid dreams that let time stand still.

There are eighteen walks in this collection and some similarities among them. Many feature encounters with the elements and with neighborhood animals, for example, a few are entirely wordless, and some involve running into the same people multiple times in the course of a stroll.

The art is the real star of The Walking Man, though by his actions, the nameless protagonist proves himself to be gentle, thoughtful, and kind. One of my favorite panels occurs in “Around Town,” when the walking man is looking at a fairly busy part of town. The page, and his view, is suddenly interrupted by a narrow panel of a train whizzing past. Sometimes, as in “A Nice Hot Bath,” you’ll get chapters with pouring rain in practically every panel. I also love “A Shattered Landscape,” in which the walking man’s glasses get broken, and Taniguchi draws fractured images (if he has them on) or blurry ones (if he takes them off). The best part about that chapter is when his wife also tries them on at the end.

Taniguchi also excels at visual storytelling. The Walking Man is probably the best example you could find on showing the readers something rather than simply telling them. Early on, the family dog, Snowy, who is the only creature whose name is revealed, unearths a seashell in the garden. Later, in the story called “Down to the Sea Again,” the walking man and his wife take a trip out to the coast to return the shell. By the way the wife walks and explores, and how she hops up on a concrete barrier to walk along, one can see how well-suited she and her husband are. In the chapter “Lost and Found,” Taniguchi uses clues like a panting dog and the removal of the walking man’s coat to indicate how hot it is outside.

The stories cited above are among my favorites, but I also quite like “The Long Trail,” in which the walking man and an older fellow keep passing each other on a trail, but end up walking together by the end. Really, there are no bad parts, though I didn’t like the final chapter, entitled “Ten Years Later,” as much as the others. It’s the only one to feature narration of the walking man’s thoughts as he walks, and I found I liked it better without.

The Walking Man is sure to appeal to anyone who has ever enjoyed taking life slowly and simply admiring their surroundings.