Jiro Taniguchi is a wonder to behold. You could read one of his books, marvel at the artwork and not even have to read the dialogue. I’m not saying you will follow every window but you could get by without them. The man is a modern wonder. He hasn’t written a magnus opus (well, I think he has but I’m not everyone) but there’s a world in all of his books. I’ve written before about this effect in his books where you try and peer around buildings and people because you want to see more. I am happy to read and write about Taniguchi for as long as I can keep reading his stuff. With that, I commend to you, The Walking Man.
Well, what can I say about The Walking Man? Really, there’s not much to say about the plot. A thirty-something salary man spends time reading, buying essentials, spending time with his wife, meeting people going about their business. While walking. That’s about it, in essence. There really is nothing else to it. So, what is left to describe? Plenty, in my book. The first thing to say is the timelessness of the story in that it could happen at any time during the last forty years of Japan’s history. It’s take place in a prefecture in Tokyo but not in the actual city. There’s no large architecture, no identifiable buildings. The city has railways, trams and modern canal rivers. But this is where the measurable world stops. Other than that, no other modern conveniences come into the view. So the Man goes about his life and we stop worrying. Without a forward moving narrative, Taniguchi forces us into outward viewing habits. Streets are examined, landscapes are considered and the full luster of Taniguchi’s world is on display. Oddly, for such an outside view, my mood during this has been introverted. I find myself asking fundamental questions about myself. Am I really happy in my life? Do I take time to appreciate what wonders are around me?
There is a stillness to Taniguchi’s work here that is similar but not entirely the same as, say, Quest for The Missing Girl or The Ice Wanderer. In Quest, the events dictate the scenery and in Ice Wanderer the location dictate the events, hence the scenery. I know this sounds weird but every time I read this and it comes to the park scene, I swear I can hear birdsong. Plus, when it snows, I can feel the snow. When the Man goes to climb a tree, he stops and takes in the view, and it’s a great view, going on and on into the distance. When was the last time you read something like that in a manga?
Is it fair to try and describe the characters in a story that eschews normal narratives like plot construction and character arcs? The Man is a good solid character with a quiet disposition. He’s our guide but he is not the primary player. His wife seems to not mind his figaries, sometimes coming with him. The rest of the people are people who the Man encounters on his travels. Children, elderly ladies, fellow walkers are all passengers in this book. The Man is a conscientious citizen who helps his fellow man but he’s not above, ahem, breaking and entering a public pool to go for a swim. But no harm, no foul in this case. I like when he comes home from the local bar slightly tipsy and, rather than subject his wife to a chorus of “Honey, I’m home!”, he decides to walk it off. In doing so, he learns, as do we, of the wonder of the night. I can go on but I’m just spoiling the book.
Now, there is one thing that, well, I’m not so happy with about in Walking Man. The last chapter, titled 10 Years Later, is literally set ten years later. The Man is still the same as is his Wife and everything else. But for this final chapter we have narration. In the other chapters, there is dialogue but that’s about it. Having narration, I feel, adds an element to the story that’s not necessary. I do realise this story was written ten years in real life and yes, authors can and do change their minds about things. But if this is the case then go back and add narration to all of the chapters or remove all of it. It’s just not needed. But it’s just my whims, and it shouldn’t detract from this amazing work.
In the final analysis, this is unlike anything I’ve ever read. Once, I asked a schoolmate so very, very long ago now, what would a graphic novel or comic look like with no narrators boxes or dialogue. Aside from the final chapter and the odd bit of dialogue, I believer I’ve found it.
The Walking Man, as with a lot of Taniguchi’s work published jointly by Fanfare UK/Ponent Mon. They do wonderful jobs at packaging and presentation. Walking Man is present flipped to read from left to right but don’t let that put you off. I implore you to enjoy this for yourself. It’s really that good.
This review is presented as part of the Jiro Taniguchi Manga Movable Feast for the month of March 2012. More info can be found here.