Review by Roy Boyd
Jiro Taniguchi’s The Quest for the Missing Girl might be an unimaginative translation of the original (Japanese) title, or the publishers may be jumping on Stieg Larsson’s Millennium bandwagon (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, etc.) Either way, there’s not much of an actual quest. Our hero leaves his mountaintop retreat – he works in a mountaineering refuge, he’s not actually a hermit – to find the missing daughter of a couple of old friends. But while the word “quest” might suggest a long journey, he effectively boards a train and arrives at his destination, although we do get to see the transformation from the bucolic countryside to the bustling metropolis, primarily through the train window.
The art is fairly typical for the more detailed Japanese material in that it’s impossible not to look at some of the many impressive skyscraper-filled cityscapes without feeling sorry for the poor background artist that had to draw all those lines. Although the artwork is good, it’s weakest during the climactic climbing scenes, when it often looks as if someone has overlaid their drawing of a climber onto someone else’s drawing of a skyscraper. That’s probably exactly what was done, but the trick is to not make it so obvious. There’s also an issue with some of the climbing poses looking very odd, which probably is the case in real life. And as cool outfits go, our poor protagonist is lumbered with a leotard and climbing shoes that look like ballet slippers: not quite as cool as The Matrix’s long black coats.
While the planning stages are often some of the most thrilling in any heist movie (and that’s basically what this is) here the considerable space devoted to that stage of proceedings suffers from being dull and technical, and probably only of interest to someone that’s a keen rock climber. Though, to be fair, that’s probably a sub-genre of manga. And therein lies another of the big hurdles facing a book of this nature: the glacially slow pace of mountaineering or rock-climbing. Unless you have accidents, which our man does, in spades, it’s all a bit like looking at pictures of a weirdly attired character striking Spider-Man poses against a wall.
The by-the-numbers plot ticks all the right boxes. We even have a bit of a Vader twist (the new dance craze sweeping the Empire!) with hints there might be more to the relationship between our hero and the eponymous missing girl than previously thought. The story doesn’t necessarily resolve these issues, but just throws them in for a bit of emotional depth.
For a book that touches upon child prostitution and abduction, Taniguchi handles the subject very sensitively, mainly by staying miles away from it. This isn’t an Andrew Vachss crime novel, he doesn’t show any actual behaviour that would take this book into harrowing child abuse territory. Instead, this is an enjoyable, if undemanding, all-ages thriller that one could easily see adapted into a movie starring a rugged loner type.