Saturday, March 8, 2014

Mountain Climbing and Kokou no Hito

As a manga reader, I find that the older I get, the more seinen manga that I read. Mostly I think it's just a maturity concept: There is only so many boob windows that I can take in shonen and so many pretty boys in shojo.

So it makes sense that my return to manga would be from a seinen title and also from a mountain climbing manga. Kokou no Hito is a seinen manga, based on a real Japanese mountain climber, written and drawn by Sakamoto Shinichi. This manga was a way for me to see if I am a fan of the mountain climbing sub-genre, and also a way to reapply myself to some serious and emotionally challenging topics.

One of the major downsides to reading a manga straight through is that the flaws are easier to see. The same can be said for reading any serialized fiction or magazine. When you have a week or months between releases, you can just remember your visceral reaction more than the gaping plot holes or the jokes that didn't really hit home with you. So it should come as no surprised that I have been reading this manga for over a year with breaks.

It should be said out right that I am not a mountain climber, but I find myself very compelled to read manga that deals with them. It's the same visceral response that gets me to read sports manga or manga that deals with deep emotional trauma. There are thrills of life or death situations, emotional exploration and frustrations. I reacted to Kokou no Hito in a similar way as to Gaku. There was a gut reaction to the drama playing out on the page that I instinctively knew was coming. I always have a very strong reaction to a high action manga; Umizaru and Gaku being very good examples of this. The main difference that Kokou no Hito had was that Sakamoto made Buntaro rather unlikeable.

In every manga I have read, there is always the emotionally handicapped young man. Every now and then you get a young girl who is the emotional void to mix things up, but this manga is all about Buntaro. Buntaro is the quintisential emotional handicapped manga protagonist. Most of the manga is a constant push-pull relationship he has with the people around him and his instinctive need to climb. There is almost a fish-bowl like quality to watching his story play out before you. Buntaro's dysfunctional relationships and the handful of healthy ones are highlighted through the numerous mountain climbing trips he takes.

And yet that was one of the glaring problems I found with this manga. It seemed that almost every person that Buntaro came in contact with turned out to be an awful person. Maybe five people ended up with redeeming qualities, and the rest of them just ended up being selfish users who popped in and out of his life. Any person who seemed to have genuine affection for him seemed to be doomed to either die or have horrible things happen to them.

For mountain climbing manga, one of the main and very obvious themes is how the climber pushes against the modern world surrounding them. The pull of the mountain is something to be admired but also misunderstood by people with Type B personalities. Buntaro's inability to connect and function with other people. On that regard, he could almost be labeled on the autism spectrum (but I would never come out and say that he has autism, just that there are some similarities with their inability to function socially). There are so many points in this manga where Buntaro is forced to interact with others and ends with the other person bluntly pushed away or somehow finding either affection or anger with him.

Following along with this theme, there is an almost Tolkien black-and-white division of characters in this manga; with Buntaro being the only gray character. There is such a noble quality to Buntaro in his scientific pursuits, and yet he is constantly pushed toward his selfish climbing ambitions. He will show such love and affection on his family and then brush off others in the same chapter. In that regard, we can see a little of Sakamoto's judgement of Buntaro coming through the pages.

Through this manga, I was really taken and then returned at the same time. I was taken with the thrill and the emotional responses, but and I returned to the real world with what I considered the black-and-white rendering of some of the characters. That being said, this manga was great and the drawing and writing are worth the read. Enjoy being lost in Buntaro's world and how he and the mountain encounter the world around them.

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