Sometimes I read a book or see a movie and it seems like a more mature version of something I had seen before. But, the maturity that is brought to the project allows it to transcend the familiarity and ends up revealing the shortcomings of the other. A Zoo in Winter treads some familiar territory, but does so with such skill and nuance that there is no real comparison. I was left with the feeling that I had just read something special -something that had been crafted with love and care.
Set in 1966 Kyoto, young Hamaguchi is working for a textile manufacturer while dreaming of becoming an artist. When an incident at the zoo forces him to make some tough decisions, he moves to Tokyo. An old friend arranges an “interview” at the studio of the famous mangaka, Shiro Kondo. Here he discovers both the long hours of impending studio deadlines as well as the exhilaration that comes from meeting the strange and interesting people who make up the Tokyo nightlife.
While it might be tempting to compare A Zoo in Winter to the wildly popular Bakuman (both are stories of youth in pursuit of careers in manga), that is tantamount to comparing Beethoven’s 5th symphony to Walter Murphy’s Fifth of Beethoven. While both are musical pieces that cover similar themes, I think it is safe to say that the Murphy’s piece (while quite danceable) lacks the subtlety and nuance of the original. I think a better representation would be to say that, while A Zoo in Winter deals with a young man working towards a career in manga, it is more about chasing down a dream, regardless of the potentially more realistic outcome.
A Zoo in Winter is full of broken dreams, unfulfilled promises, and the rough back side to the shiny prospects that lead people along the chase. Hamaguchi discovers along the way that, in order to succeed, he has to find the beauty in the roughness, learn from the mistakes of others, hold on to his belief that promises will, one day, be kept.
Jiro Taniguchi channels his beginnings in manga and his youth spent in Tokyo in the 60’s to fill in the details of this book. Taniguchi has lost none of the feelings of youthful longing, blindly innocent love, and the acidic taste of excitement that comes from being on the verge of something great. There is palpable emotion through this book that left me with that same sense of desire.
At just over 230 pages, A Zoo in Winter appears rather slim. However, it a dense read, with the art begging the reader to slow down and absorb everything from each panel before moving on. All the faces are full of emotion, and the backgrounds are all fully realized in detail. It is difficult to tell which tells the story more…is it the art or the words?
Jiro Taniguchi is a master of his craft (Five times Eisner Award nominee, Twice winner at the Angoulême Festival, France, the Shogakukan prize, and the Osamu Tezuka Culture Award) and this is a showcase of his mastery. Readers may be familiar with some of his other works including, The Summit of the Gods and A Distant Neighborhood. A Zoo in Winter deserves the same recognition.
I cannot speak highly enough of this book. It is beyond a “recommended read”. I would declare this a “destination book”. This is a book that you should go out of your way to find. If it is not available at your local comic shop, ask them to order it (it is available in Previews), or order it from Amazon.
What are you doing still sitting there reading this??? Go get this book!!!!
A Zoo In Winter