In a small Nepalese shop, Fukamachi stumbles across a camera which may well be that of George Mallory, the celebrated mountain climber who was the first to attempt to conquer Everest. Mallory disappeared along with Andrew Irvine, during the course of their ascent in 1924, without leaving any indication of whether they reached the summit or not. So what if it was only on their return trip that they had their fatal accident.
Kamigami no Itadaki is based on the Baku Yumemakura novel of the same name. The manga series won the Excellence Prize in the manga division at the Japanese Ministry of Culture's Media Arts Festival in 2001 as well as the Best Art Award at the French Angouleme Festival in 2005. The original novel won the 11th Shibata Renzaburo Award in 1998.
The series was published in English as The Summit of the Gods by Ponent Mon/Fanfare from September 30, 2009 to March 26, 2015. A live-action film adaptation titled Everest: Kamigami no Itadaki was released in Japan on March 12, 2016.
“The sky sinks steadily until the foot of the mountain, until the first snowflakes begin to fall. The traces of the chamois are fading. I am happy, that I am still alive and gaze at my shivering hands. Then I’ll open my fist...” – Jiro Taniguchi.
Today, the 10th of February in the year of 2017, is a very sad day indeed. One of the most influential, ingenious writer of mature stories of all time, Jiro Taniguchi, did see the end of day. And as for today, I can’t help but feel a little saddened because his demise leaves a big void in both the Manga
industry and quality story-telling overall. But as I did skim through KnI’s (abbreviation for Kamigami no Itadaki) final volume of the German release once again, I encountered this statement after the actual Manga ending, which led to me surprisingly feel all the vibes this Manga did give me, all the feelings I did go through while reading once again, just after reading the final sentences of his afterword. It actually shows one of the biggest strengths of Taniguchi once again, a juggler of words who can create subtle poetry through all of his Manga, by a simple and ingenious combination of artwork and powerful dialogues/monologues. And ironically, these words do not only make up a fine closure for each character’s wishes and desires in the mountains, it also adds a sense of closure to Taniguchi’s life, finally reaching the roof of the world and go even further beyond.
Starting to read Taniguchi’s (argueable) Magnum Opus after reading a lot of Manga which are aimed at young adult and older teens is like experienced a fresh breeze coming straight out of the Manga’s spine, captivating you with a sophisticated and mature story from start to finish. A lot of its quality shows from the subtle, but still emotionally very striking character-conflicts and ideals, which get shown superbly by the amazing combination of text, exact understanding of human emotions and masterful artwork to cover it up. Additionally, seemingly straight-forward and overused methods of elaborating and explaining character-motives and internal struggles like four chapter long flashbacks into their past are easily forgiven by just how genuine and convoluted they are with the main story, never feeling out of place or even a little too long.
As the main subject of the story is alpinism, a lot of readers may be a little deterred by it, since a lot of details and insights of this form of sport isn’t spread widely through society. But as the Manga can expand widely on different topics of alpinism and the procedures while actually climbing a mountain, it actually manages to explain every single needed detail to the reader and actually awakened some kind of enthusiasm in me for the sport and what kind of determination it does involve. This might also be the case, because of the Japanese novel which this Manga is based on (by the author Yumemakura Baku) and its incredibly attention to detail.
Taniguchi is an absolute master when it comes to how to detect the perfect mixture of narration, dialogues, monologues and artwork. Since there is a lot of text and information to be covered from the original novel, this Manga needs a perfect composition of both text-based and visual storytelling. A lot of Mangaka would fail to express the plot by either emphasizing one of the aspects too much. Finding the correct balance between visuals and written text was no big challenge for Taniguchi, as the text never distracts from actual happenings from the story, when the artwork tells an even bigger picture than the text does. Crowded places in Japan, the narrow alleys in Kathmandu and the howling wind on top of the mountain manage to get me as intrigued into a story as this Manga did. On the other hand, when Taniguchi decides to drop in more information, for example through the means of an actual narrator or goes for longer dialogues, I’ve not even once encountered a chapter where the Art did distract from the written information which gets delivered. The ascents of icy cliffs in winter, as well as the long marchs towards the summit get depicted through a variation of different angles of perspectives and accompanied by the narrator describing the thoughts of the ones ascending, making for a very diverse and very enjoyable read through all the climbing experiences, while also being very grounded.
A common problem a lot of stories have with a set-up being (almost) as good as KnI’s is, that they actually don’t manage to exploit its well-executed beginning and end up being marked underwhelming in our memories because of that. However, this is a problem which will surely not occur during your read through this work of Taniguchi, since in this story he has perfected the usage of a steadily increasing ‘arc of suspense’ and makes use of the perfect 'by the book' timing to lead his story to the grande finale, while also providing worthwhile input with the short after story following it. Some might argue that a by the book arc of suspense is not necessarily a sign of quality by any means, or that a book/manga with an absence of one can still end up being good and they’re absolutely right, a lot of experimental works in the Anime/Manga medium renounce an arc of suspense by definition and end up doing so well in spite of that. However, as I’ve already stated, KnI does read like a tale of rivalry and ambition written in a very worthwhile piece of literature and follows the basic rules for creating a absorbing and thrilling story step by step, absolutely mastering what it’s trying to achieve with its narrative. The deliberate incorporation of the narrative framework in the beginning, very similar to ones in Novellas, gets utilised to the fullest during the final pages, creating one of the most cathartic endings I’ve ever experienced so far.
Inner conflicts, pressure and intriguing thought-processes the main characters go through the story are unique qualities I've already talked about, but I have yet to touch on the main characters themselves. Fukamachi, our protagonist, is an avid sport photographer, working for alpine magazine. He finds himself troubled and torn between different goals and relationships to keep up with and a seemingly impossible riddle to solve, haunting both, his conscious and sub-consciousness for wherever he goes. Over the course of the story this Manga manages to beautifully show how we not only see Fukamachi being confronted with new acquaintances and challenges over the course of his journey to solve and his discovery of why he exactly values to solve this riddle so highly over so many other things in his life, but the author allows us to see and understand the inner-conflicts and questions being raised by Fukamachi himself, developing him throughout in a convenient, relatable and deliberate manner.
Habu Jouji, the second main character and undoubtedly the best one in the whole story, definitely is the highlight of KnI character-wise. His consistent journey to constantly top his concurrence, lack of determination to anything else but alpinism and incredible backstory help us to see Habu not only as a character in fiction, but to stand right beside us while we’re reading as some kind of guiding and the initiating key-figure of this story. Also the approach Taniguchi took to illustrate his way of thinking, behaviour, desensitization and inability to grasp the feelings of different acquaintences surrounding him through his climb of life is remakable in its own right, namely painting a picture of Habu by the narration of the said people surrounding him and slowly get to know different impressions of him as time progresses. His characterization is honestly one of the best ones I’ve ever seen in any kind of medium.
As you’ve already seen in all of this review, my appraisal for KnI almost sees no ends, but it still just barely didn't get the adjective "flawless" by me, even though it came very, very close. Volume 3 did drop in quality a little bit, especially compared to the following two volumes to come, as it essentially just worked as a setup for what's to come and did get entangled a little bit too much with a subplot halfway through. Habu and Fukamachi, their interactions and mutual influence, especially und Fukamachi's outlook on life, are the prominent focus of KnI and provide an introspection almost unrivaled by its complexity and genuity. Nonetheless, this does definitely not mean that side characters aren't good at all, quite the contrary, since most of them offer enough substance to still feel genuine and human, even though they didn't receive as much focus as they would in some other Manga.
These minor flaws I did find while reading through this Manga are extremely and dare I say so, utterly negligible by the sheer amount of greatness this Manga offers in every category. If you’re looking for a mature, poetic and incredibly enclosed story with themes like escapism, pressure inflicted by both society and oneself, ambition and self-discovery, KnI might be the raw gem you’ve been looking for in all of your life, as it raises its greatness above the clouds and maybe even further beyond.
I sincerely hope that this review got at least one person to read this wonderful piece of art on this sad day, where one of the greatest storyteller did decease from our world and hopefully this Manga will finally climb as much in the popularity ranks as it truly deserves.
Rest In Peace Taniguchi Jiro.
From the master Jiro Taniguchi himself comes the greatest and most gripping high altitude stories you will find.
I love Taniguchi's work, the detailed background, soft flow of the reading, the calm moments. His work is poetic and outstandingly beautiful.
For summit of the Gods, it was the first time I was reading a story of his that had a faster pace, lots of action and suspense. And as always he does it brilliantly.
Story: It's about alpinism, it's about the mountains, the cold, the solitude and being one with a hostile environment.
I knew not the slightest thing about mountain climbing and I still LOVED discovering the
passion of these men who are ready to die for their love of the sport.
Plot --> a photographer for an outdoor adventure type of magazine, Fukamachi stumbles in a shop on a camera that could have belonged to Mallory. Mallory attempted the ascension of the Everest summit in 1927 but disappeared with his colleague Irving and no one knows if they actually made it to the top or not (if so they would have been the first ones on record).
While he's investigating Fukamachi finds out he's a lot more interested in finding out about the man who found the camera Habu Joji and piecing up his past.
We follow the investigation of Fukamachi on both the origins of the camera, how it was found and the mysterious Habu who's been hiding in Nepal for many years. In the alpinism world, he used to be a prodigie, capable of climbing many dangerous summits with ease but he disappeared one day without leaving a trace.
I never imagined a story on the mountains would be so addicting. But it's so well put together, the tension, the emotion, the hard work it takes to carefully, one step after the over claim a difficult summit. It takes courage, it takes instinct and incredible mental strength. Habu Joji is absolutely fascinating with his love for climbing, like nothing else matters. You look at mountain climbing with new eyes after this series. People die every year practicing their passion and the emotion really transpires in the series. I loved this story to bits, I would even give it an 11 out of 10.
Art: it's Jiro Taniguchi. Expect only the best. The backgrounds in Nepal and in the mountains really were my favorite but everything is stunning. Only fault I can find is a lack of diverse facial expressions but that's also his style of having mostly stern characters.
Characters: I gave it only 8/10 because although they were all amazing, some weren't really necessary to the plot. And again, it's sad that there isn't a more diverse ray of facial expressions. I loved the complexity of Habu Joji's personality and all he's been through. Fukamachi was for the longest time just and observer, I couldn't really relate too but he has a lot of development.
Enjoyment: Can't you tell? I loved it. Only thing is, I find Taniguchi's works to be a little mentally taxing, it sucks you into the story so much that sometimes it's a bit overwhelming and I often had to take breaks to read something lighter.
But it's well worth the read because it's epic and amazing. I have never felt so gripped by a manga series before, it pulls you in until you're completely obsessed by it. It took me a while to get over this amazing story.
If there's one thing you should know it that you should read it. It's my favorite manga and I have found no other like it. Taniguchi is a genius and the writer Baku Yumemakura knows how to write an extremely compelling story.
I love this manga.