The Walking Man (Fanfare/Ponent Mon)

A man simply walks around his neighborhood and loses himself in the hidden joys around him in this slice of life graphic novel.

 

 

160 pgs. B&W; $25.00 (hardcover)
(W / A: Jiro Taniguchi)
 
There’s a tendency among comics fans in general and manga fans in particular to misuse the phrase “slice of life” as shorthand for any story that doesn’t involve anything supernatural. Slice of life, in a pure sense, is supposed to be about the mundanities of day-to-day life, rather than, say, the wacky hijinks of a group of high schoolers.
Jiro Taniguchi’s The Walking Man, however, is slice of life in the absolute purest sense possible. It is, quite literally, about a man who walks, a middle-aged Japanese salaryman who we follow as he spends the odd afternoon or evening simply wandering around his neighborhood and basking in the everyday details that harried businesspeople often overlook. In a series of vignettes, we watch our nameless lead (protagonist hardly seems the right word in a book with literally no conflict) as he watches birds, adopts a stray dog, splashes in puddles, lays in fallen cherry blossoms, scales a tall hill, finds new shortcuts through alleyways and neighbors’ backyards, skinny dips in the neighborhood pool after hours, and on and on and on. Nothing really “happens” in the grand scheme of things: other than one callback late in the book to an occurrence in the first story, there are no real consequences to his actions, nor are there any insights into what observations he’s making through colorful prose as narration is virtually nonexistent. All that “happens” is, well, life, and in watching the lead wander around his daily life with such a pleasantly explorative demeanor, you can’t help but ponder what you might just be missing in the world around you at the moment.
Our Walking Man isn’t interested in explaining his thoughts or in connecting with strangers he meets through his travels. In fact, the rare occasions where Taniguchi deviates from the formula, when the Walking Man has conversations with people who are not his wife (and he usually just tells her some variation of “I’m going for a walk, see you later!”) or the sudden arrival of narration in the book’s final chapter, they feel jarring, out of place. The lead seems much more at home in his silent state, as in one chapter when he encounters an old man slowly walking along and decides to follow him. Occasionally, he’ll pass the old man, and the old man will speed up to regain the lead. There’s no sense of threat or danger, just two men goofing around while sharing nary a word before they finally part ways. It’s that kind of a book.
A book this silent and this beholden to a feeling of place would fail miserably without an artist capable of conjuring up a world that feels real and lived-in. This is where Taniguchi shines. His artwork falls on the European-influenced end of the manga spectrum alongside Akira’s Katsuhiro Otomo, with photorealistic backgrounds and normally proportioned humans whose facial features are just cartooned enough to make them blank slates for the reader to see themselves in. His frequent aspect-to-aspect panel transitions do more world building than straightforward storytelling, but it’s never difficult to follow the “action,” if one could describe anything in this book as particularly active.
If this all sounds about as thrilling as sitting on the front porch watching your neighbors do yardwork, well, that’s kind of the point. The Walking Man is a hard book to recommend outright because it’s a book not only for a certain kind of reader, but also for a certain kind of mood. But thanks to the pureness of Taniguchi’s vision and the quality of his draftsmanship, it’s about the best example of a book for that kind of mood as you’re likely to find. Sitting down to read the book, I’ll admit that I was a bit harried myself, and charged through the early pages of the book. By the end of it, I was a little annoyed that the book as a whole never built up to any sort of grand point, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have a distinct urge to get off the couch and go wander around my own neighborhood to see what I might be missing. I think Taniguchi would consider that a win. | Jason Green

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