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Today we debut a new recurring feature from another great manga critic, to join Danielle Leigh’s Manga Before Flowers (which is awesome, in case you don’t follow it). To crib from her Manga Recon bio, Michelle Smith has been a contributor to Manga Recon since 2008, and began serving as Senior Manga Editor in January 2009. She has also been writing manga reviews on her blog Soliloquy in Blue since 2006 and has amassed a diverse and extensive manga collection. She’s a musician, a math person, a voracious reader, a competent cook, and a new homeowner. Basara tops her list of favorite manga, and she shamelessly exploits all opportunities to urge people to read it (she also often comments on Manga Before Flowers as “jun”).
So here’s her review of The Quest for the Missing Girl!
By Jiro Taniguchi
Fanfare/Ponent Mon, 333 pp.
Takeshi Shiga is a mountaineer. Twelve years ago, when his best friend, Sakamoto, invited Shiga to participate in a climbing trip to the Himalayas, he turned it down. Sakamoto ended up dying on that trip, and Shiga has felt guilty ever since, and has faithfully kept a promise to his friend to look after his wife and daughter. When, in the present day, he receives a phone call from Sakamoto’s widow that her daughter Megumi has gone missing, he comes down from his mountain refuge to Tokyo to look for her.
A tip from one of Megumi’s friends leads him into Shibuya, an area filled with bars, clubs, restless adolescents, and adults willing to pay a schoolgirl for her company. Shiga is completely foreign to this world, but nonetheless plows on, defying the police and refusing to be thwarted by any obstacle, no matter how impossible surmounting it may seem.
Taniguchi doesn’t tell the story in a completely chronological way. Rather, in response to events, the characters lapse into flashbacks that fill in essential backstory. These transitions are seamless, and slight tweaks of character designs make it easy to tell whether one is reading about the past or the present. Aside from this, the plot unfolds in a fashion reminiscent of hard-boiled detective fiction. Shiga uncovers tips that lead elsewhere and follows each with dogged perseverance, narrating along the way. The tale is fast-paced and engrossing, though a little too straightforward to succeed as a truly compelling mystery.
There are also many parallels between mountains and Shiga’s personal life. It is implied that Shiga has feelings for Sakamoto’s widow, but keeps his distance despite some possible interest on her end. The distance is even more literal when Shiga absconds to the mountain “refuge” where he lives and works. Likewise, his relentless search for Megumi, culminating in an impressive physical feat, is atonement for the difficult climb on which he failed to accompany his friend all those years ago.
Taniguchi’s art is truly outstanding. Like another of his works, The Walking Man, The Quest for the Missing Girl features many panoramic panels of scenery, cloud-strewn mountain vistas giving way to garish and crowded city streets as the backdrop of the story shifts to an urban landscape. I also enjoy his realistic style: no enormous eyes or improbable hair here. Less successful is Taniguchi’s depiction of emotion in the faces of his characters. Perhaps some of this can be attributed to Japanese restraint, but the reaction of Sakamoto’s widow to his death seems to lack true raw grief. The presence of dialogue bubbles saying, “Sob!” only reinforces the oddness of the response.
On the whole, reading The Quest for the Missing Girl is a unique manga experience. It’s very different from most of what is currently available, both in its subject matter as well as its artistic prowess. As a mystery, however, it lacks the complexity that I’ve come to expect from that genre.
The Quest for the Missing Girl is available now.
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