Ink & Paint XIII: The Walking Man, by Jiro Taniguchi

Have you ever taken a walk with no destination in mind, for the sheer pleasure of the journey? That’s the essence of The Walking Man, Jiro Taniguchi’s simple yet absorbing departure from the conventions of Japanese manga.

There are no musclebound fighters with rage-contorted faces, no magical girls in frilly outfits, no angsty androgynous princes or ditzy coeds in this comic. No bone-shattering martial-arts slugfests, no spurting blood or severed limbs.

What you get is a slightly-pudgy, bespectacled office worker…taking a walk. Stick with me here. I know I’ve probably just lost any readers under the age of 30, but the artist’s execution of this prosaic concept is really a thing of beauty.

The Walking Man is a gentle call to slow down. We follow this unassuming salaryman as he wanders through the neighborhoods and countryside of his town, and as each episode unfolds, we begin to notice little details along with him–all the things we rush by every day in our hurried lives and never see.

He gets lost–a lot–but it doesn’t bother him very much. He accepts his disorientation with calm good cheer and discovers more nooks and crannies of his world filled with small wonders. The flight of a bird,  the unfolding of a flower. Taniguchi’s clean, precise drawings are nearly photographic in their detail at times, and they really shine when his character stumbles upon some magnificent panorama, like a sunset view from the branches of a tall tree, with the city spread out below.

Sometimes the Walking Man revisits a bit of his youth in these walks. It’s clear he still treasures those memories and cultivates a playful, mischievous frame of mind that pops out every so often in surprising ways. He climbs a tree. He scales the fence at a local community pool and takes a late-night dip. He sprints up the stairs of a tall apartment building, perhaps to see if he still can. In one episode, his glasses break, and he spends the afternoon enjoying the fractured scenery.

The Walking Man is married, and happily so. Sometimes his wife accompanies him on his little jaunts, and there’s no doubt this couple is perfectly matched. They adopt a stray dog who provides another excuse to hit the road and who sometimes pulls our hero into more interesting adventures. There’s very little dialogue, just a few snippets of conversation here and there between the Walking Man and his wife, or with someone he’s met along the way. More often than not, it’s a simple admission after gazing around an unfamiliar locale: “Ah, I’ve lost my way.”

I suppose one reason I found this manga so attractive is that I have a lot in common with the Walking Man. I’m a middleaged, bespectacled office worker (striving to avoid the pudginess), and I enjoy nothing so much as taking a long walk for no reason other than the joy of experiencing nature and discovering interesting little things about the world around me. And I certainly need to slow down more often. There’s a tranquility blended into Taniguchi’s suburban neighborhoods and rural landscapes that soothes the spirit like a taste of cool water in the heat of summer, or a sweet sip of cocoa in January. He shows me streets and country lanes very much like the ones I’ve meandered in Korea and Japan, and I think, Yes, it felt just like this. Perhaps I’ve walked along this street before.

The Walking Man is available in one volume as a full-color paperback–it’s expensive, but  if the cover is any indication, it’s beautiful and worth the investment for serious fans. You can also find it online in black-and-white at http://www.anymanga.com/walking-man/001/001/ . There is some brief nudity in chapters 6 and 16 (swimming, and in the bathtub), but otherwise, the content is suitable for all ages.

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