So this arrived a little sooner than I thought it would, and turned out to be worth the wait as well. A little win-win situation right there. Even better is that after a bit of action at the beginning the book’s entire focus shifts to Fukumachi’s efforts to chronicle Habu’s solo, oxygenless climb of Everest’s south face in winter. The book has always been most compelling when it focuses strictly on mountaineering and that proves to be the case again here. Writer Yumemakura Baku still over-narrates his characters thoughts, but the detail he provides in Habu’s climb of the mountain, and the political circumstances that threaten it, are very welcome here. You really get a clear understanding of each man’s mindset and the challenges facing both of them. Fukumachi more than Habu, as the lesser-experienced climber’s difficulty in keeping up provides most of the tension here.
It’s all very, very serious and ultimately an engrossing read because of it. Which is why the humor on the last page could’ve ruined everything, but actually manages to work.
I’m not going to get into spoilers here since the setup for the conversation between Fukumachi and Habu at the end of the volume has a familiar setup. Throughout the volume, as well as the series itself, we’ve seen Habu presented as a meticulous planner who is consumed by his desire to climb mountains. He’s possessed of a tunnel vision in that regard that makes it difficult to relate normally to other people and miss small details and social graces. It’s what caused him to blow his second chance with the Everest attack team back in vol. 2 and we see it again here to a lesser degree.
That’s because for all of his planning -- years of it -- to climb Everest in this particular manner there was one minor detail that he didn’t consider. The only reason Habu realizes it is because after relating his whole plan for the summit attack to Fukumachi, the amateur climber effectively goes, “So you’re doing it that way…” There’s even a pause as the realization sinks in for Habu about this detail. A detail that would truly define his climb of the mountain.
The moment is played as dead straight as artist Jiro Taniguchi can manage it, and he makes Habu’s realization of this fact probably the single most furious image we’ve seen of the character to date. Yet it still plays into the moment so the humor isn’t defused. This would be a fatal error in any other circumstance, but not here. As I said before, all of this stems from Habu’s character. He’s a man so viciously single-minded in his approach to life that the fact that he’d overlook this kind of detail doesn’t surprise me at all. The humor from the moment may be unintentional, yet it doesn’t sabotage the book because it still springs directly from the character.
There’s also the fact that it sets up some real drama for the next volume as Habu will have to alter his carefully-thought-out plans and improvise a bit. I’m looking forward to seeing that, along with how Baku will be able to show us this since to do so would be to shift the focus directly on the veteran mountaineer and away from Fukumachi who has been the voice of the narrative from the beginning. There’s also the illegality of Habu’s climb to consider, along with what Fukumachi will do with Mallory’s camera, and how he’ll write all this up when he gets back to civilization. If he gets back to civilization. The fact that Habu has to improvise now could get him killed and we may be looking at two-hundred pages of the narrator dying a slow death on the mountain. Good times people!
Okay, I don’t think that’s likely but the fact remains that there’s a lot of interesting stuff to consider as we sit down and wait for the final volume. Vol. 4 may have arrived before 2014, thought I’d be VERY surprised to see vol. 5 make it out before 2015. Along with the last volume of “Blade of the Immortal,” I now have another manga to look forward to in that year now.