Manga-ka: Jiro Taniguchi
Publisher: Ponent Mon
Rating: Older Teen (16+)
Release Date: December 2008
Synopsis: “Mountaineer Shiga made a promise to his best friend following his tragic death in the Himalayas. Twelve years later and he is called upon to honor that promise. When 15 year old high school student, Megumi, fails to arrive home one evening from school her mother calls on her dead husband´s best friend for help. Shiga abandons his refuge in the mountains and descends to the city to look for the girl. With the police investigation at a standstill, Shiga has to go it alone. But the metropolis can be a much more hostile and dangerous ground than the mountains. What has happened to the youngster and will Shiga find her before it is too late?”
The Quest for the Missing Girl is as straight-forward as its title. There are no real twists or turns in the story and the characters never do anything unexpected. If you’ve already guessed that the climax will involve Shiga’s mountain climbing skills, go have a cookie.
The predicable story might be forgivable if there was at least an interesting atmosphere to the setting. While the story involves schoolgirl prostitution, it doesn’t really dive into this sketchy underworld (there’s not even any nudity and only a couple of fight scenes). It’s like the manga wants to have its cake and eat it too: it wants to deal with edgy subjects like pedophilia but also wants to hold it at arm’s length. I’m not usually one to advocate for more sex and violence in a story, but actually showing the sketchy, darker side of Tokyo in detail would have gone a long way towards creating some kind of atmosphere for the story.
Sometimes a dull story can be carried by interesting characters but that isn’t the case here. The lead is pretty wooden. Shiga is a good guy, perhaps a little too good. He doesn’t have any real flaws, except that he loved mountain climbing too much to give it up when the woman he loved asked him too. The woman, Yoriko, married Shiga’s best friend, a fellow mountain climber who later dies during a climb. Yoriko has a teenage daughter named Megumi, and the book toys with the question of whether Shiga or his friend is Megumi’s father. The three leads all follow pretty typical roles: Shiga being the hero and Yoriko being weepy. Megumi becomes slightly more interesting when it’s revealed that she’s not quite the good girl her mother thought she was, but the manga doesn’t really get a chance to explore it too deeply.
There are some interesting minor characters in this book, such as Megumi’s troubled friend Maki and a strange man named Yoshio. Yoshio is an adult who spends all of his spare time in Shibuya and has come to be accepted by the teenagers who hang out there. The two of them help Shiga with his search, but unfortunately disappear for the last third of the book, which is a shame because I found them to be more interesting characters than the leads.
The art at least is consistent and detailed. It’s not flashy, but it’s very clear, not just visually, but in terms of story-telling as well. One nice touch is how the climax is laid out differently from the rest of the story. For most of the book there’s a good sized gutter between the panels and the edge of the pages, but near the end when Shiga must climb a sky-scraper to rescue Megumi, the panels lose their borders and go all the way out to the edge of the page. It’s a nice way of making Shiga’s risky climb seem that much more larger-than-life.
While Ponent Mon did a good job with most aspects of the book, I was a little disappointed by the adaptation. The dialogue is extremely stilted and unnatural. There’s very little personality or difference in the way people talk, making it hard to care about the characters.
The Quest for the Missing Girl is hard to categorize. It’s not really a mystery, or an action or thriller story. It’s also hard to recommend, but there are worse ways to spend an afternoon.