Review, Jirō Taniguchi memorial edition: K

Attempts at dividing Jirō Taniguchi’s († February 11, 2017) oeuvre into earlier ‘genre’ manga and later ‘mature’ manga are perhaps futile, as his two works in the mountaineering sub-genre show: K was first published in the late 80s, i.e. around the same time as Chikyū hyōkai jiki (Ice Age Chronicle of the Earth), but his other mountain climbing manga, Kamigami no itadaki (Summit of the Gods) – much longer and not written by Shirō Tōzaki – did not begin serialisation until 2000, long after Aruku hito, Chichi no koyomi, and Harukana machi e. Maybe this means that Taniguchi had a special fondness for the topic of mountaineering.

Language: German (originally Japanese)
Authors: Shirō Tōzaki (writer – credited as “Shiro Tosaki”), Jirō Taniguchi (artist)
Publisher: Schreiber & Leser (originally Futabasha)
Year: 2021 (originally 1988)
Number of volumes: 1

Pages: ~290
Price: € 17
ISBN: 978-3-96582-053-1

Simply “K” is what the protagonist calls himself. A Japanese climber living near the Himalayan and Karakoram* mountain ranges, his identity and past are unknown, but his mountaneering skills are famous. He is the one to go to when a near-impossibly difficult expedition needs to be undertaken to the highest peaks of the earth, no matter how steep the walls of rock and ice, or how adverse the weather conditions.

And that’s how each of the 5 chapters plays out, more or less: someone (or something) goes missing in the mountain, then K is asked to rescue him. After some hesitation, he agrees, ventures out to the mountain, almost dies there in the rescue attempt, and – spoiler alert – always succeeds in the end.

For such a repetitively structured story to remain interesting, a great deal of realism and clarity in the depiction of the action is crucial. When conveying the spatial situation the climbers are in, their gear, movements, and the effects of the weather, it needs to be made clear to the reader what is at stake. Is the character about to fall off a cliff? Is he about to be hit by an avalanche? Is he in danger of freezing to death? In this, Taniguchi’s highly detailed drawings succeed. Particularly his landscapes – normally bleak, uniform masses of rock and snow, but rendered here in a great variety of techniques, such as different kinds of hatching and screentone – almost appear three-dimensional.

Then again, it should also be mentioned that Tōzaki and Taniguchi rely a lot on captions to tell the story. In a kind of solemn past-tense voice, the narrator often tells us what K is doing exactly, and why. As a result, K is unusually wordy for a Taniguchi manga.

The five chapters are self-contained, and there is little overarching development in the manga. In the final chapter, we learn a little bit more about K’s past, but he still remains an inscrutable character. Perhaps it is just as well that the series ended there, instead of dragging on and becoming boring. Consequently, what we have here is an action-packed, exciting little oddity that shows how Taniguchi could draw pretty much anything.

Rating: ● ● ● ● ○

* Some reviewers of this manga only speak of the Himalayas, but apparently, Himalaya and Karakoram are two different mountain ranges. The K2, which the first chapter is about, lies in the Karakoram range, not in the Himalayas.


2 Comments on “Review, Jirō Taniguchi memorial edition: K”

  1. […] Martin de la Iglesia revisits K, an early manga from Jiro Taniguchi and Shiro Tozaki about a “Japanese climber living near the Himalayan and Karakoram mountain ranges” whose superior skills make him the go-to guy for tricky mountain-top rescues. [The 650-Cent Plague] […]

  2. […] K by Shirō Tōzaki and Jirō Taniguchi: another adventure/action manga in which the sadness surrounding the mysterious protagonist remains vague. Nowadays, a story about Himalayan mountaineering would have to deal with environmental issues, but that was not the case in 1988. None of the three themes dominate. […]

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