In comparison to the majority of manga that tends to be released, full of action and excitement, this single volume is a much simpler affair. You could even argue that it is minimalist when you compare it to so many of the titles available to English-speaking readers.
The Walking Man in the title is an unnamed salaryman who, in the opening chapter, has just moved into a new house with his wife, who is also unnamed. He goes out for a stroll, encounters a birdwatcher, has a pleasant chat with him, and when he returns home discovers that the previous owners of the house have abandoned their white dog, so he adopts it. That’s the entire plot of the first chapter. Next, he walks the dog, it snows, he picks up a horseshoe, returns home, and decides to name the dog Snowy. That’s the entire plot of the second chapter.
Indeed, this is not a manga to be reading if you are expecting any kind of great plot. The book is full of brief chapters in which the man goes for a walk around town and something trivial will happen. There are even some chapters that have no dialogue in them at all, leaving translators Shizuka Shimoyama, Elizabeth Tierman and Kumar Sivasubramanian with little work to do. For example, one of the chapters sees the man following the same path as another man, and copying his journey, without a word spoken. Reading it, you find that part of you thinks it is slightly whimsical, and another part of you thinks, “Is this stalking or what?”
Instead, the main appeal of the manga is Jiro Taniguchi’s artwork. There is one scene where the man climbs a tree to retrieve a toy some children are playing with, and then he just sits in the tree and enjoys the tranquil view of the town. Some of the art is a bit more experimental, as is shown in one chapter when the man is hit in the face by a football, breaking his glasses. Thus we see through his true vision, sometimes blurry and sometimes shattered when he puts his glasses back on. It is all very nice and peaceful, with one or two surprising exceptions, such as the moment when the man decides to go skinny-dipping in a closed public pool.
However, there are some extras in this manga that go beyond this. The Walking Man contains three extra stories in it, although annoyingly the book and the online information doesn’t explicitly say which chapters are the bonus stories. For that matter, Amazon lists the book as having four extra stories in it, rather than three for some unexplained reason. However, you can tell by changes in the artwork that it is the final three chapters in the book. One of these stories follows a man looking back at an affair he once had, and thus features a sex scene. Neither the book nor the publisher’s website give the manga an age rating. Other extras in this title include all the colour pages used in the original work.
One of the other appealing features of this work is the author himself. Jiro Taniguchi (1947-2017) is perhaps an obscure name to most British people, but on the continent his work is much better known and respected. He was honoured in France when he was made a Chevalier of the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres in 2011. One of his titles, A Distant Neighbourhood, won an Angoulême award and was turned into a live-action film by the Belgians. Another of his works, The Tales of Botchan, won an Osamu Tezuka award in Japan. He was one of manga’s greats, but sadly overlooked by us on this side of the channel.
The Walking Man is generally speaking a nice, quiet, enjoyable read. The only objection truly worth mentioning would be the price of the book. It is a high quality production: hardback, colour pages, good quality paper, but for a single book a RRP of £25 seems a lot.
Read an extract from The Walking Man on the publisher Ponent Mon’s site here.