The Summit of the Gods, Volume 2

~written by Baku Yumemakura
~illustrated by Jiro Taniguchi
2001 Japan Media Arts Excellence Award Winner
2005 Angoulême Prize Winner

The second volume of The Summit of the Gods, a five volume manga series written by Baku Yumemakura and illustrated by Jiro Taniguchi, was originally released in Japan in 2001. The English-language release of The Summit of the Gods, Volume 2 was published by Fanfare/Ponent Mon in early 2010. The series is based on Yumemakura's 1997 award-winning novel The Summit of the Gods and has won several awards itself, including a Japan Media Arts Excellence Award in 2001 and an Angoulême Prize for Artwork in 2005. I will admit right now that I love Yumemakura and Taniguchi's The Summit of the Gods. The manga is easily my favorite work that Taniguchi has collaborated on. The series has gorgeous artwork, characters that are larger than life but who remain human in their imperfections, and an engaging story.

After returning to Japan from Nepal, journalist Makoto Fukamachi has been doggedly pursuing the enigma of the man he believes he met there--a legendary Japanese mountain climber named Jouji Habu. Initially, Fukamachi was interested in a camera he is convinced is in Habu's possession. It may very well be the same camera that George Mallory brought with him on his assault on Everest in 1924. If true, Habu has his hands on an important piece of mountaineering history. But as Fukamachi's investigation proceeds he becomes more and more interested in Habu himself and what drives the man as a climber. While Fukamachi's personal life is unraveling he throws himself into his research, tracking down anyone who might know anything about Habu and his current whereabouts.

While I personally find Fukamachi's persistent research to be interesting as he slowly pieces together disparate clues and leads, what I really love about The Summit of the Gods, Volume 2 are the stories that he uncovers. As unlikeable as Habu can be, and with as many enemies as he has made, his accomplishments as a mountain climber are unquestionably phenomenal. Fukamachi delves into many of Habu's feats: his disastrous and yet astonishing foray climbing the Grandes Jorasses as well as his notorious participation in a group summit assault on Everest and several unfortunate incidents relating to it. But as amazing as Habu's achievements are as a climber, it's Taniguchi's stunning artwork that makes them a reality for the reader. From the largest mountain vistas to the smallest crack in ice or rock, Taniguchi's attention to detail is superb. The pacing and timing of his panels make the climbs both exhilarating and terrifying.

Nature and the mountains can be glorious, but they can also be extraordinarily dangerous. Taniguchi's artwork expertly conveys this. Both the figurative and literal gravity of the situations that the climbers face can almost be felt reading The Summit of the Gods. When something goes wrong, even the smallest something, the repercussions can be devastating. And at times the events that unfold are entirely outside of human control. Saying that a climber fell--such a small and simple word--is easy enough. But the enormity of the human drama and the story surrounding that fall, what happened to cause it, and what happens as a result of it, is intensely engrossing. It is clear that the characters in The Summit of the Gods are effected deeply; the impacts can be seen in their changing relationships to each other, to climbing, and to the mountains themselves. The Summit of the Gods is an incredible work.

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