The Summit Of The Gods – “Because It’s There”

Published On October 19, 2010 | By Richard Bruton | Comics, Reviews

The Summit Of The Gods Volume 1

By Yumemakura Baku and Jirô Taniguchi

Fanfare / Ponent Mon

I’ve written before about how Manga scares me. Not because it’s unreadable (far from it), not because there’s nothing good (far, far from it) but because there’s simply so much of it and I often don’t know where to start to get the best out of my limited reading time. Over the last few years I’ve been toe-dipping, mainly with Drawn & Quarterly’s Geikiga Manga reprints and the home-grown Manag of Sweatdrop Studios. But the Manga shelves in any comic shop still look like some mysterious land of far too much to choose from to me.

Worse still for me is the problem of authentically reproduced manga – the books that maintain the original presentation of Japanese Manga and insist on formatting the pages from right to left, back to front. It’s almost a cardinal sin to mention my discomfort with reading Manga this way, much akin to someone complaining that they can’t watch subtitled films.

But to me it’s far more intrusive than subtitles. Reading this way means I have to force my eyes to flow in a direction they just don’t want to go. I can do it but generally find that it continually breaks the narrative rhythm of a comic, as I find myself accidentally reverting to “normal” left to right across the page regularly, bringing me right out of the story.

So, having said all that, just how good a Manga do you think Summit Of The Gods was that I found myself still making these mistakes yet, by the end of the first chapter, I just accepted it, got on with it and kept going, needing to read on, no matter how contrary my eyes decided to be?

(It doesn’t matter that it’s formatted to read right to left – it’s thrilling, epic work. From The Summit Of The Gods Volume 1 by Yumemakura Baku and Jirô Taniguchi, published by Fanfare/ Ponent Mon)

The answer, obviously, is very, very good indeed. Given the choice, I’d still rather read it “correctly” for my Western eyes/brain/coordination, but if right to left is the only way I can get it, then so be it, bring on Volume 2 later this year and then give me the remaining 3 unpublished volumes as soon as I can get them. The story and my desire to follow it through far outweighed the trouble with reading in the original format.

The Summit Of The Gods is a five volume mountaineering epic, adapted from an award-winning Japanese novel, Kamigami no Itadaki, and is absolutely wonderful. I was engrossed from the start and read it cover to cover in one sitting. My only disappointment? Not being able to reach out and pick up Volume 2 straight away.

(The simplest of discoveries, but one that sets Fukamachi on a quest for the truth. From The Summit Of The Gods Volume 1 by Yumemakura Baku and Jirô Taniguchi, published by Fanfare/ Ponent Mon)

Summit Of The Gods Volume 1 starts with an enthralling discovery. In 1993, Makato Fukamachi, photographer for a failed Japanese expedition to climb Everest, discovers an old camera – a Vest Pocket Autographic, exactly the model carried by George Mallory on that fateful 1924 expedition when he and his climbing partner, Andrew Irvine, disappeared on the North-East ridge on their final ascent, just a few hundred meters from the summit.

The camera was never found in all the years following Mallory’s expedition to to Everest and Fukumachi is filled with a burning curiosity – what if the camera’s film could finally reveal the mystery that mountaineers have pondered for decades – could it possibly show Mallory and Irvine atop Everest, three decades before Hilary and Tensing?

His search for the truth takes him through Kathmandu, finding more and more to the mystery. His attention soon turns to Jouji Habu, legendary Japanese climber, who’s somehow connected to the camera’s discovery.

The majority of Volume 1 is given over to Fukamachi interviewing Habu’s former colleagues, who paint a universally damning portrait of a driven, single-minded man, whose life and thoughts revolved around climbing, whose coldness and demanding manner drove away climbing partner after climbing partner. But as the interviewees speak we realise that this man must have been amazing to watch ascending a rock face, seemingly invincible, sheer grace and determination rolled into one.

(The two true stars of Summit Of The Gods; the majestic, threatening montains and Jouji Habu, determined, obsessed genius of the rockface. From The Summit Of The Gods Volume 1 by Yumemakura Baku and Jirô Taniguchi, published by Fanfare/ Ponent Mon)

We read, fascinated, of his young life, his introduction to climbing and his discovery that he had an incredible talent, an ability to climb seemingly impossible routes. But something happened in the 80s, Habu broke off from a Himalayan expedition, rumours flew around that he caused some terrible, as yet unrevealed incident and he disappeared from the climbing world. I imagine future volumes will see Fukamachi investigating this event in far more detail, I shall be waiting to see.

(Incredible landscapes and a perfect sense of beauty mixed with danger infuses the climbing sequences in The Summit Of The Gods Volume 1 by Yumemakura Baku and Jirô Taniguchi, published by Fanfare/ Ponent Mon)

The mountaineering sequences, told in flashback through the stories, anecdotes and reminiscences of the interviewees are simply stunning. Taniguchi’s flawless artwork communicates every bit of the grandeur of the mountains, the excitement in watching Habu climb, the incredible danger and the immense thrill of doing battle with the rockface.

Mallory’s famous quote, the response to the question ‘Why do you want to climb Mount Everest?’ –  “Because It’s There” is quoted right at the start, and everything in The Summit Of The Gods reflects this, perfectly and magnificently. But Mallory’s quote also crystallises the obsessions that permeate the book – of Habu’s obsession to climb, of Fukamachi’s obsessive desire to uncover the truth, of any climber’s obsession to conquer. That the artist can lay all this out onto page after thrilling page of climbing sequences is almost as breathtaking as the scenes he’s drawing.

The Summit Of The Gods is yet another step in my long introduction and immersion in the world of Manga, it’s a wonderful, truly epic piece of work. According to Fanfare/ Ponent Mon Volume 2 should be out sometime in November.

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About The Author

Richard Bruton
- Started in comics retail aged 16 at Nostalgia & Comics, Birmingham. Now located in Yorkshire, he's written for the Forbidden Planet International Blog since 2007. Specialising in UK Comics and All-Ages comics, Richard's day job in a primary school allowed him to build the best children's graphic novel library in the country.

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