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Blue Moon Reviews — The Quest for the Missing Girl

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.

Score: A-

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.

23 Comments

The manga reviews are some of the best pieces published on Comic Book Resources, and this one only cements that statement. Welcome to the blog, Michelle. ^_^

I would rate this a little bit lower than you do, perhaps a solid B. I thought it was a bit to unspectacular as a mystery, like you did, so I can’t really rate it as high. I also had high expectations for Taniguchi based on The Ice Wanderer, which I read last year and thought was excellent. Still, this is a good book, if not great.

Thanks, Johnathan! I’m happy to be here.

Greg, I confess that part of my score is that I really, really like buildings. So, any book that features many gorgeous panels of buildings gets a bit of a bonus from me. :)

[…] When asked whether I’d like to contribute a guest post to Comics Should Be Good, I said, “I’d be delighted!” Here’s the result! […]

Welcome, Welcome, Welcome! :-)

Lovely review to introduce the blog to you and of course I want to track down Jiro Taniguchi’s work immediately (I feel like such a bad manga fan for not reading more of these adult-oriented works. Although Fanfare’s works aren’t always easy to find — Diamond now seems to be the best bet to get new works they’ve released.)

Thanks! You know what I love about this site? People comment! Comments rock! :)

The only other Taniguchi I’ve read is The Walking Man, which seems to go in and out of stock on Amazon. When I first looked it was out, so I tried some other merchant who flaked on it, and then poof, Amazon had it again and at the lowest price around. For this one, I got it through my local comics shop, as I will probably do for Fanfare’s next Taniguchi offering, A Distant Neighborhood.

Welcome jun! I’ve only dipped my toes into the world of manga – my first and only manga was TOWN OF EVENING CALM, COUNTRY OF CHERRY BLOSSOMS after Danielle recommended it in one of her first reviews here (loved it) – but I love reading these reviews for additions to my future reading list.

Comments totally rock! I’m a total comment slut ….except I like to avoid controversy. I’m strange that way ;-)

Thanks, Mer! I have Town of Evening Calm, but haven’t read it yet. It and The Quest for the Missing Girl are aimed at the same demographic—called “seinen”—so you might end up liking other things in that category.

You and me both, Danielle.

Welcome, Michelle! Are you “jun”?

This sounds like a neat book. A problem with convincingly portraying emotion is a tough thing to encounter as a reader. The focus on setting might make it easier to get past, though. I’ll keep an eye out for it.

There’s a bunch of content over at Michelle’s blog–it’s worth checking out!

Comments rock! :)

Mostly, yes. ;)

Yes, Michelle=jun. The jun thing’s more of a remnant of my anonymous days before I started writing under my own name. :)

Thanks for the compliment about my blog!

Michelle, this is a pretty spectacular review, not that I’d expect anything less. I’m glad all these people are discovering your awesomeness! :D

Katherine Dacey

February 3, 2009 at 1:19 pm

Michelle:

Nice to see you getting a more visible gig to complement the work you do at PCS! This is by far your strongest review to date. I confess that I enjoyed your review of “Quest for the Missing Girl” a lot more than the actual book, which I found to be a big snooze.

Kate

Wow, thanks, Kate! Praise will always mean a lot to me coming from you. :)

Katherine Dacey

February 4, 2009 at 7:06 am

Glad to see you doing so well–looks like things are going gangbusters at PCS as well. I’ll definitely be adding your new review column to my RSS feed!

Michelle, welcome and thanks for the lovely review. Look out for a link on the “Quest” page of our site in the next few days. If you’re around NYCC come and visit on booth 2347 – everyone welcome – where I’ll have previews of our full 2009 program. Otherwise drop me an email through the site and I’ll add you to our mailing list.

I see the availability issue came up again. I am pleased to say we now have a distributor who knows what they’re doing and you should see all our titles made generally available over the coming months. Now I have an early morning plane to catch at the other end of an English snow storm, so I trust you’ll excuse me…

Thanks for the information and compliment, Stephen! I shall definitely be looking forward to A Distant Neighborhood when it’s released.

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