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A Distant Neighborhood Volumes 1 & 2

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A Distant Neighborhood Volume 1

A Distant Neighborhood Volume 1

© Jiro Taniguchi / SHOGAKUKAN

The Bottom Line

Forty-something Tokyo Businessman Hiroshi Nakahara mysteriously finds himself thrown back in time and into the body of his fourteen-year-old self in the critical weeks before his father's departure from the family. Will the choices he makes during this "re-do" change history?

A well-trodden plot device is used to great effect in the first two volumes of Jiro Taniguchi’s beautifully-illustrated meditation on youth and entropy. Moments of slightly-turgid, overemotional writing and some production concerns do little to derail this interesting "What if I...?" story.

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Pros

  • Beautifully illustrated, with storytelling never taking a back seat to the art
  • Intelligently written without constantly reminding you of that fact
  • Characters that are relatable without feeling clichéd

Cons

  • The lead's reflections on his mother and family occasionally dip too far into "maudlin"

Description

Guide Review - A Distant Neighborhood Volumes 1 & 2

A Distant Neighborhood's Hiroshi Nakahara reflects the audience this story is squarely aimed at: in his forties, harried by work and family, and reaching what Westerners call a mid-life crisis. When the Tokyo businessman boards the wrong train and finds himself heading towards his hometown, he realizes that it's the anniversary of his mother's death twenty-odd years ago and uses the opportunity to pay respect to his deceased mother at her grave and reflect upon his life. After awakening in the cemetery without realizing he'd fallen asleep, Hiroshi is 14 again, thrown back to the weeks before his father's departure and his mother's death.

Realism makes A Distant Neighborhood work. There's no fantastical sequence when Hiroshi is transported to the 1960s - he's simply there. A bit of hand-waving on the script's part combined with a personal angle that uses the Sixties as a backdrop creates an immediacy rarely found in manga.

The metaphysical nature of Hiroshi's choices when it comes to altering the past sells the premise further despite being undermined by writing that tries way too hard to tell us about his feelings for his mother. I'm unsure if the problematic narration is from the original text or the translator, but I prefer this to come across without characters stating their feelings outright every dozen pages.

This is a vexing issue with art as strong as Taniguchi's. His eye for detail and ability to capture the human form are immediately apparent, but it's his storytelling that stands out. Taniguchi is unafraid of letting a reader rest on a moment for a half-beat extra, drawing them in with a panel or two that manage to get a point across wordlessly. His motifs of sky and earth, the way we see Hiroshi relishing bits of his childhood, even the selective use of angles that reveal the differences in the points of view of a young teenager and an adult - all of these touches build to great effect.

For such a fantastical plot, A Distant Neighborhood's overall tone is sedate, creating a stronger work. Taniguchi has created a domestic drama about choice, avoiding pratfalls that others have found in similar plots. The script can get too florid, but there's a lot to be said for a comic featuring an adult Japanese male who addresses his emotions.

A Distant Neighborhood may overstate its case, but it's an assured work that deserves a wider audience.

Kevin Church writes comics for print and the web. You can keep up with him on beaucoupkevin.com and agreeablecomics.com.

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