Through pain and arduous effort, one can reach the top of the world. Standing where no man has ever set foot before, there is an exhilarating feeling of success. This is what Mori Buntarou trains, works, and lives for.
His climb to the top starts when he transfers to a new high school. Despite his lonesome and solitary nature, Mori's classmates persuade him to climb the school building. Without a harness or hesitation, he begins his scale to reach the top. Edging past the point of no return, he halts when he is faced with a final intimidating obstacle—a horizontal overhang. Adrenaline courses through him, and Mori jumps for the final hold at the summit.
From there, he casts his eyes upon something that he normally would not have seen—another peak, another goal. With an awakened passion and newfound purpose in life, Mori explores the breathtaking sport of rock climbing.
The saying ‘’A picture paints a thousand words’’ is truly exemplified by this manga. While the amount of dialogue in-series isn’t exactly low, the main character speaks rarely throughout the whole manga; yet that is its biggest feat. While manga, like anime, is a visual medium, most works don't utilize their visuals to full extent, only going as far as to present scenarios in a very bare-bones and basic manner. That's where Kokou no Hito shines, as it manages to tell the story solely through its astonishingly utilized visuals - be it the visualization of psychological struggle or metaphorical imagery that adds a symbolic layer
to the scenarios that our protagonist faces.
I think it should first be mentioned that expecting a traditional sports manga when going into it is a mistake; the series is more akin to titles like Ping Pong, where the actual sport takes a backseat to the exploration of the cast. Yet Kokou no Hito is different in a way, since the whole manga focuses on Mori Buntarou’s mentality, and his alone. Our protagonist is shy by nature, and soon after transferring schools, he gets into mountain climbing - this is a rather traditional setup, but that’s not all there is to it.
Initially, Sakamoto Shinichi was responsible for the artwork whereas Yoshiro Nabeda was responsible for the writing - a fairly common constellation for serializations; but due to, at least to me, unknown circumstances, Yoshiro Nabeda left the project after volume 3, and Sakamoto Shinichi was now not only the illustrator, but the author as well. I believe this worked to the series’ benefit - the first two volumes were rather clichéd in their structure, but once Sakamoto Shinichi took over the writing, the series evolved; turning over from a traditional sports series to an atmospheric, introspective character study.
That’s where the visuals get important - while in most cases, characterization is done through dialogue and actions, Kokou no Hito does it through the art; since Mori fails to talk back to people due to his shyness, and is reluctant to talk in general, his personality and mindset are brought forward solely by metaphors. Instead of just blandly showing us his inability to reply, his thought process is visualized; to provide an example, in an instance where a character stubbornly demands Mori’s keys, Mori fails to deny the request and simply stands there, awestruck - yet what is actually shown to us is Mori pointing a remote at her trying to metaphorically “turn her off”, followed by him sitting on the floor writing possible replies on notes. This impressively conveys his struggle to find the right words and him wanting to escape the situation. And yet Mori, in reality, just stands there doing nothing. This was just one of numerous examples, and the series truly makes successful use of this technique. Kokou no Hito also utilizes its art to create a fitting atmosphere - be it landscape shots from the mountain-top to create a sense of irrelevance and scale or small moments like Mori breathing in fresh air and simply feeling alive. Although it is perfectly utilized, the atmosphere creates an issue within the series - since the writer changes, the tone of the series alternates rather abruptly; this causes the transition from volume 3 to 4 to be rather jarring, and can break the built up immersion in the previous volumes, although I personally am able to overlook that since once you get used to the new direction it takes, it becomes a way more captivating series.
The change in author also caused several subplots to be scrapped, and some characters that were planned to be relevant later on were treated very poorly by the plot; this feels especially odd considering the level of insight the series gives Mori and its thematic exploration, creating a stark contrast between the very well crafted and almost amateurishly written sides of the series. That does not mean the series goes downhill though, as it manages to create several compelling subplots and exciting twists - since this series is about mountain climbing, an inherently dangerous activity, there are bound to be fatalities, and the way the series portrays the cruel apathy of nature is truly chilling; people die on several occasions throughout the series, yet those deaths are not dramatized in the slightest, rather, they are presented to be natural events, which makes those moments even more haunting and depressing. This ties really well into the series’ theme of human irrelevance to nature, how small and meaningless we are in the grand scheme of things. The manga addresses this in an intriguing way, presenting the mountain and the act of climbing as both a strenuous and demanding, yet desirable and fulfilling thing; throughout his journey Mori faces many challenges and cruelties in the mountains, yet he never backs down, always chasing one peak after another - he doesn’t have any concrete reason, the only thing he knows is that it gives him a sense of liberty, being isolated from the humans he does not get along with.
The aforementioned ties profoundly into the series’ symbolism, most notably the meaning of the mountain and the rope. Whereas the mountain’s symbolic meaning is vague, the rope’s is pretty simple and straightforward - human connection. Once you link ropes with a climbing partner, your life lies in their hands and theirs in yours. If one falls, both die; severing the rope means severing your connection to another human, and that theme is poignantly presented in Kokou no Hito. The mountain’s meaning deserves more focus than I can give in this review.
A big criticism this series often receives is the underwhelming sidecast, especially in comparison to the phenomenally characterized protagonist; while this criticism isn’t necessarily wrong, I feel like it’s missing the point of Kokou no Hito - it’s an autobiographical work through and through, detailing the life journey of Mori Buntarou, so I do not see why a sidecast with more focus is necessary. I agree though that a few characters could have been handled with more care, especially Yumi and Miyamoto. What is often forgotten is that Kokou no Hito did have a few side characters that, while only having a short appearance in the series, were handled in an absolutely brilliant way, perfectly showcasing what the series can achieve in terms of atmosphere and thematic exploration.
Another aspect I want to address is the conclusion - Kokou no Hito has probably the most impressive final act I have witnessed in media; the narrative shifts completely, switching between the last climb and the memories and thoughts of our protagonist, giving it a very unchronological and confusing feel. Indeed, many people need a reread of the last two volumes to fully grasp what's presented, but this makes for one of the most absorbing and cathartic conclusions I have seen, being simultaneously inspirational and cathartic.
Yes, this series is flawed, but I truly believe that its positives more than overweigh its shortcomings; it’s insightful on a very personal level, detailing the life of a fully fleshed out and explored protagonist, while presenting themes that are relevant to all of us. Kokou no Hito is a journey, for the protagonist and the reader alike, and it’s a journey I would love to embark on time and time again. It fully absorbs you into the mountains, making your crave for fulfillment yourself, and that is the greatest feat a work of art can achieve.
-Oyasumi Punpun for capturing the same emotional beats
-Neon Genesis Evangelion for an anime that is similarly structured in narrative and has a strikingly similar protagonist
-Ping Pong for another psychological/sports series that conveys similar thematics
Its a sort of coming of age story, that is to say, we watch as this young aimless boy becomes a man through the many trials and tribulations he faces, through the mountains he climbs and the people he meets. From the inception he is ostracized from those around him (largely by his own accord) who has no clear goals in life. As fate would have it, he is bullied into climbing, and in turn he develops a deep love for it. Death, betrayal, disloyalty and sacrifice follow Mori on his passage to adulthood and Kokou no Hito is able to present the harsh
realities of life. Suffice it to say, this is far from a heartwarming story, at every turn in Mori Buntarou's life he meets adversity and every interaction with those around him acts as character defining moments which are often not for better but for worse.
This isn't simply a story about mountain climbing, which seems to be a common criticism. While largely prevalent, climbing acts as a means of escape for Mori. Atop these mountain peaks Mori is finally able to escape society and reality as each climb not only acts as a physical crucible, but a psychological one. All of which slowly, yet inevitably, leads to the maturation and growth of Mori who by the end of the series has taken a complete 180 out of his introvert shell. In the end Mori no longer climbs to escape reality because he has come to terms with it, because there is now something not on the peak, but on the ground waiting and calling for him.
At heart, Kokou no Hito is an intricate story that exhumes a very realistic setting. Despite being on the extreme side of this scale, there should not be a single point in this story where one could consider something unrealistic or unfeasible. The painstaking amount of detail the mangaka - Sakamoto Shinichi - puts into this story guarantees this. From mountain climbing to the characters on the ground, Kokou no Hito delivers a very realistic and detailed notion of the harsh realities of life. The romantic side of the narrative beautifully juxtaposes this harsh world. Instead of retreating to the top of mountains, relying on mountains for a brief reprieve, he is able to find a place on the ground to belong. The detail Sakamoto puts into Kokou no Hito can be seen in every chapter. Despite the story having jumps in its time frame, everything is explained meticulously. Mori is shown at work and his work-life is explained continuously, all of which is an attempt for Mori to save money to climb the mountains he loves. Not only this, but the detail in describing the many mountain climbing techniques and limitations gives even the ignorant reader - such as myself - a base of knowledge and understanding as to why and how everything happens. These are only small examples of the detail Sakamoto puts into the entire series.
Similarly, the art is truly majestic, which is very important in a series like this. The detail put into every aspect of the manga's art is a sight to behold. Whether it's the double page art spreads of the beautiful mountains or the characters themselves, every aspect of the art is detailed and unique offering a very easy way to immerse the reader in the story. The biggest aspect being the arts realism which compliments the fact that this is a realistic narrative. Characters are drawn perfectly, they are not ripped behemoths nor are they weak boys, they are drawn realistically and they are, for the most part average yet unique. No two characters look the same. Similarly, the climbing utensils and equipment all look realistic. Of course, the mountains and weather are no exception. Mountains are drawn to perfection with excruciating detail and the snowy biomes and weather are masterfully drawn. Kokou no Hito has some of the most beautiful and detailed art in any manga I have read.
As previously mentioned, this is a coming of age story and as such a very large emphasis in regards to characters resides with Mori Buntarou himself. He is a character with phenomenal depth, development and backstory. For the most part, this provides us with sense and reason to every action Mori makes. We understand why Mori is socially withdrawn, we learn why he wants to climb and we understand why he begins to open up as the narrative progresses. Many characters inevitably die, in either a literal or metaphorical sense. That is to say, while some characters simply die others die in the sense that what they believed in and what they aspired to do has died and they are no longer what they once were. Regardless of how characters die, it presents us with a very realistic approach. These deaths end up being tests of Mori's strength and resolve. By the end of the manga it is beautiful to see how far Mori developed, which is really what the series is about. While the main focus resides on Mori, other characters are developed for better and for worse. As mentioned, some of these characters meet a literal or metaphorical death. It's understandable how they can be criticized but regardless of how they develop, their outcomes and actions are equally realistic despite being on the darker side of realism. While they are used to develop Mori they are more than that, often reaching tragic outcomes these characters represent what happens in life without the resolve to do what they dreamed to do.
Ultimately, Kokou no Hito is not your typical sports manga. It is a dark story about growth and maturation. It is a story with its emotional ups and downs which are both juxtaposed beautifully. It is important to note that the manga does not glorify any actions or outcomes within the series, it illustrates a painfully realistic scenario where life is full of consequence and hardship. It is a story that shows while dreams can be achieved, a herculean resolve is often required and even still there is a price to pay. However, that isn't to say there's no light at the end of the tunnel. But above all else, it is a story that isn't simply about mountain climbing, knowledge and passion of climbing is not a requirement to appreciate this manga.
Kokou no Hito is about Mori, a young, very angsty and lifeless man who initially transfers to a new high school. In 1-2 chapters Mori is goaded by a classmate into climbing up the school building and seemingly in a trance, he does so, almost killing himself in the process as he climbed up a small pipe 4 stories up. After being scolded heavily and slapped in the face by Onishii-sensei, he is encouraged to take up climbing and take part in a local contest, of which he initially refuses but ends up going through a series of events. Mori realizes rather unconciously, as he
is a very dense youth (not stupid mind you), that he feels alive by climbing and takes it up almost religiously and out of nowhere, as if climbing was meant for him all along. This dude also makes some funny faces sometimes. Mori then decides to take up climbing not really professionally, but as if its the only thing that matters in the whole world. Moving on-
Alot of things happen in and out of climbing to these characters, as there is a cast of sorts. It's very realistic, there is zero nonsense in how they interact and how events transfold between them. "That makes no fucking sense" will never be said to describe anything here. In fact its so surprisngly serious in parts it may completely take you off guard, as if you just got in the face with some of the stuff. It's pacing is all over the place, which is PERFECT for this type of story, as life does not always go fast or slow. Good atmosphere, basically. Now you may be thinking that this kind of story is not entertaining, as you are not a supposedly overly pretentious reader who needs everything to be dramatic and realistic and etc. HOWEVER you would be surprised how entertaining someone climbing rocks is. It is. I say beforehand I enjoy every manga I review but I very much doubt others would disagree with me on this for the most part, but don't let my perceived minor uncerainty shake you just try it for yourself its bretty good.
So the characters are fantastic, the plot is a very human drama about life and death, moving on, things of that nature. It's hard to swallow, it very much is. That's another adjective that you can use to describe the entire manga, "heavy." Everything is heavy in this manga. Even the art style is heavy. Elaborating on that the art is very good
It's very difficult to make the review standout so I think most of the time at the end of these I will right a paragraph that is a thinly veiled "read it read it read it" statement. I loved reading this and if you are in the mood surely you will as well, I don't really believe that someone is only an "action reader" etc. rather you just have to be in the right mood for certain stories. This is one of the best manga I have ever read. I found it by clicking the random button at batoto lol
This is not a typical sports manga. There is no friendship, no team spirit, no working towards the same goal. It's more psychological than sports.
The goal of climbing is not to beat the opponent, it is to reach the top of a mountain. That is usually done in a team of two or more people, so you would expect some team dynamics at least, but that is not the case with Kokou no Hito. The protagonist Mori Buntarou climbs alone and over the span of the story you learn about his past and why he pushes everyone away and isolates himself.
It starts like
any normal sports manga would. We have the amateur climber Mori who has great potential, we have the rival, we have the love interest, we even have a school climbing club. That all changes after a certain event that will show the real tone of the manga. Everything that can go wrong goes wrong. It tries to have so many harsh realities about life that it comes off as unrealistic sometimes, because they come out of nowhere and there is no explanation or foreshadowing for them. It tries to shock you and to make that effect stronger the author uses a lot of time skips. And I mean A LOT. Sometimes it is just a few days, but it can go up to years that just get skipped. It works a few times, but when you use time skips that often the characters suffer under it. It can seem annoying and can ruin the enjoyment of scenes, but there is a reason behind it. The time skips are the main reason the manga keeps you invested in it. When the story reaches a point where it seems boring or slow, the time skips hit hard and keep you on the tip of your toes wanting to read as fast as possible to know just what the hell happened in the time that was skipped. But time skips are not the only device used by the author. He uses a lot of transitions, metaphors, allusions and literal passages from poems and books. He tries to express extreme feelings of joy and euphoria in very weird and memorable ways and uses a lot of obscure art to back that up. The one that I liked the best was when the sun was rising over a mountain that was climbed by a character. To show just what he was feeling in that moment the author drew an orchestra that followed the sunrise with its performance. It was a new experience for me and really improved the manga.
But back to the characters. Because of the time skips characters change and characters that were introduced in previous chapters just disappear. The author tends to make his characters change completely in the blink of an eye. That is one of my biggest gripes with the story. It is unreasonable how the characters develop, because you are not there when they do. It is supposed to shock you, but you just cannot make a connection with the characters and thus do not care about their changes. The character that was developed the best is Mori, but even he suffers from that problem.
Well in conclusion I have to say Kokou no Hito is no ordinary manga. Its use of stilystic devices remind of a poem and really made the manga for me. If not for them I would have given it a 6-7/10, because of the sudden time skips and changes in characters, but as it is it deserves a 8/10. I highly recommend it if you are tired of usual sports manga and want something with more focus on the mind of the protagonist and with a more realism and mature themes.
Masashi Kishimoto's dazzling art is one of the main reasons why Naruto has become such a huge hit worldwide. If you like his style, you'll surely enjoy the following shounen manga, full of dynamic action scenes, as well as brilliant emotional dialogue.