Manga: Kokou no Hito

The last time I did a complete manga recommendation was in… MARCH. HOLY CRAP. I’m sorry. Ahahahahahahaha—Forgive me.

This is a series that was recommended by Emma, who stumbled across my blog some time ago and direct-messaged me a few mangas to read. Thank you so much, Emma! XD Totally looking forward to going through the rest, but this one particularly stood out just because it’s on the topic of Mountain Climbing.

Manga: The Climber 「孤高の人」 Kokou no Hito

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       Koukou no Hito volume 1 and 2 covers

Kokou no Hito is a Seinen, Mature, Psychological, Sports, Drama manga series written by Sakamoto Shinichi and Nabeda Yoshiro, and illustrated by Sakamoto Shinichi. It is very loosely based off the original, 1973, 2-volume-novel by Nitta Jirou. The manga was serialised from 2007 to 2012, spanning 170 chapters later published into 17 tankobon volumes.

I’ve been referring to the series as “Kokou no Hito” all the while, so the title will be shortened to KnH throughout this post.

On his first day of transfer to a new high school, loner Mori Buntarou is cajoled into climbing the school building. Despite knowing that one misstep could be his death, he climbs, and upon reaching the top, Mori is struck by a sense of fulfilment (“YOU’RE ALIVE!”), sparking an adrenaline for rock climbing. KnH follows the story of introvert mountain climber Mori Buntarou, partially based on real-life mountain climber Katou Buntarou, dedicating his entire life to professional mountain climbing, with the ascent of K2‘s East Face as his goal.

WARNING: Mature, soul-searching themes. Some NSFW, mostly just nudity. Realistic, detailed art. Cursing. Occasional long-explanations and bodies of text.

It is extremely hard to write about this manga without spoiling anything. I’ll do my best, but warning for potential (small) spoilers throughout.

I don’t remember the last time I was, honest-to-goodness, EXCITED to start on a manga series. It’s always been pretty spur of the moment or “Oh yeah, someone recommended this, maybe I’ll just start it now since I feel like it.” First search after the recommendation—Holy crap, the art is gorgeous! And it’s on MOUNTAIN CLIMBING?! It was something to look forward to after final assignments.

If you’re familiar with the anime series Free!, I thought Mori’s love for mountains was similar to Haru’s love for water. Maybe even a little more obsessive. I’m not even kidding. It’s amusing, yet intriguing, how their passions are so straightforward in child-like wonder.

Another way I thought Mori and Haru were similar was in that the both of them were quiet and socially-awkward. And the black hair. But the similarities stop there.

KnH is a breath of fresh air from a lot of other sports series. There’s always that underlying emphasis on teamwork and camaraderie… and then there’s Mori who wants to go through climbing alone. Even Haru had the rest of his teammates and friends, but not Mori. KnH just kind of, throws it all out the window. It was great being able to experience a big part of a story on the ‘Solo’ side of the ‘Solo VS Team’ theme. That really gave me the chills. And not just because there’s snow and ice. Teehee. (sorry)

It’s interesting how sometimes the story is told in flashbacks as compared to everything in running order of what had happened. For example, you get a glimpse into what the character’s mind is like when their memories are shown, while on a climb themselves. Memories, experiences and character shape a person. I thought this concept was wholeheartedly portrayed throughout KnH. You really get to experience the sense of connection or contrast between what the characters feel and their memories.

[Spoiler alert for this paragraph] KnH basically follows Mori’s life from high school to adulthood, so main character development is pretty much expected. But it’s so darn crazy how much development actually happens. I was honestly surprised at how IMMENSE Mori’s character grows throughout KnH. It’s great! I also loved how previous characters made a comeback in the story. It just emphasizes how unfortunate he is at interpersonal relationships when many of the minimal relationships he’s had continue to haunt him even when it seems like he’s left them behind. 

KnH was fairly even-paced with very steady, albeit slow, development that keeps you guessing on what is going to happen next. I didn’t feel much of that HOT-BLOODED ROAR OF EXCITEMENT present in other sports manga. Probably due to how soul-searching, thought-evoking, psychological and real it was, there was always a heavy, sometimes depressing, feeling to it.

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Chapter 118 cover

The art is realistic, detailed, gritty, and so frigging beautiful. My breath was taken away at how gorgeous certain scenes of the mountains and scenery in the manga were, just like how your breath can be taken away when you see beautiful scenery on top of a mountain or high building. Sometimes the high contrast makes it hard to figure out what is happening in certain mountain scenes, but the mood portrayed through this style is intense.

There are parts in KnH (usually the beginning of chapters) where lengthy explanations and wall of text fill up the page for an explanation on the different mountains or famous climbers etc. And then there are pages where there is no text at all and everything is told through art. This contrast was pretty cool.

Imagery is a HUGE part of this series. I honestly found it a little hard to connect with such a…  socially-inept, different… character such as Mori. But with how he felt being in close proximity with others was like being stuck in a snowstorm at high altitude… I totally get the idea. Mori lives and breathes mountains. Yep, I totally understand that.

Manga is something that is “read”, “seen” and also “felt”.

If everyone else has these sensations with this work, it would make me very happy.

– Sakamoto Shinichi

I’m pretty sure I can check all 3 boxes many times over. Thank you again for the recommendation, Emma 🙂

You learn so much about the sport of rock/mountain climbing and even get a glimpse into a psychological aspect of it through this brilliant manga. If you’re interested in reading up on the real Katou Buntarou, whether you’ve finished KnH or not, here’s a brief biography of the guy himself. No spoilers since the manga’s story is different.

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