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Summit of the Gods Volume 1

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Summit of the Gods Volume 1 by Jiro Taniguchi published by Fanfare / Ponent Mon

Summit of the Gods Volume 1

© Jiro Taniguchi

The Bottom Line

Based on a novel by Yumemakura Baku and drawn by the great manga artist Jiro Taniguchi, Summit of the Gods is an absorbing drama. You don’t have to care about mountain climbing to get drawn into the story of Habu, a haunted champion climber, and Fukamachi, a photographer who finds himself uncovering the story of Habu's life while on the trail of a mystery in Nepal.

Taniguchi’s intensely detailed art captures the danger and grandeur of the mountains, but Summit of the Gods is more of a human story than an action story, with Mount Everest providing the backdrop to a story of obsession and drive.

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Pros

  • A gripping drama
  • Lovingly detailed art by one of the great contemporary manga artists

Cons

  • The translation by Fanfare-Ponent Mon is on the stiff side, with some sloppy touchup.

Description

Guide Review - Summit of the Gods Volume 1

I don’t get the appeal of mountain climbing. It's like climbing a steep hill, which I hate, except it goes on for days and sometimes you die. Why do this? Because it's there, yes, but there are lots of random objects I don't feel the urge to walk on. It's to the credit of Yumemakura Baku and Jiro Taniguchi that the mountain climbers in Summit of the Gods come off as sympathetic in their passion for scaling impossible slopes, rather than just crazy. Although they're crazy too.

The story works by starting with the characters rather than the mountain. The first half of Volume 1 contains almost no mountain climbing at all. Instead it follows Fukamachi, a photographer who, while in Nepal following a failed attempt at Everest, comes across what he believes to be the camera carried by George Mallory on his doomed 1924 expedition. The hunt for the camera leads Fukamachi to Habu, a grimly determined climber who disappeared from the public eye after a tragedy.

By structuring the opening chapters as a mystery — is it really Mallory's camera, with film still inside, and how did it travel from the slopes of Everest to a Kathmandu junk store? — Baku draws the reader into the story of Habu. Through a series of flashbacks told Citizen Kane-style, through other characters, we follow Habu's victories as a climber in Japan, his frustration at being too poor to tackle the same exotic mountains as his fellow climbers, and his rivalry with Hase, another ambitious young climber.

Gradually, mountain climbing comes to dominate the story, with lengthy, intense scenes of the characters scaling sheer walls and hiking across snow-covered slopes. The mountains are lovingly rendered by Taniguchi, one of the best contemporary seinin (men's) manga artists. Taniguchi, one of the rare seinin manga artists widely translated into English (The Times of Botchan, The Walking Man) and a three-time Eisner Award nominee, combines meticulous detail with expressively human characters. He's the perfect artist to illustrate a rugged story of man against nature.

A year after the publication of Baku’s novel, Mallory's body was finally recovered on the slopes of Everest. His camera was missing. The coincidence hardly seems surprising, because Summit of the Gods feels real. It's easy to forget that it's a fictional story, and not a manga documentary about real climbers.

Above all, Summit of the Gods succeeds in expressing the characters’ love for climbing. It's a story that wouldn’t be out of place in Shonen Jump magazine — a hero who's insanely passionate about something and wants to be the best — but told with an adult sensibility and the knowledge that great passion can also be great madness. Whom the gods would destroy, said Euripedes, they first make mad. Is there any more perfect madness than risking your life to do something just because it's there?

Shaenon Garrity is a manga editor, writer and comics creator. She is the author of CLAMP in America, and the creator of Narbonic.

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Disclosure: A review copy was provided by the publisher. For more information, please see our Ethics Policy.
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