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Manga / Kokou no Hito

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Kokou no Hito (Japanese for "Solitary Person", also known as The Climber) is a seinen sports manga which was serialized in Weekly Young Jump from 2007 to 2011, written by Nabeda Yoshiro and drawn by Shinichi Sakamoto, based on the novel of the same name by Jiro Nita, a chronicle of the adventures of real-life solo mountain climber Katou Buntaro.

The protagonist, whose name was changed to Mori Buntarou, is a highly introverted young man who shuns contact with pretty much everyone. Upon transferring to a new high school, a classmate's dare instills in him a love of climbing. The story chronicles Buntarou's life as he joins the school's mountain climbing club and grows up to pursue climbing professionally. Though ostensibly a sports manga, the series is similar to fellow seinen sports series Ping Pong in that it's mainly a character piece and Coming of Age story that uses its sport of choice as a metaphor to discuss issues such as isolation, fear of intimacy, depression, and the way which one should lead life. For this reason it is also frequently compared to Takehiko Inoue's Vagabond, due to the similarities in themes and the main characters.

Though initially a collaboration, Nabeda Yoshiro left around the end of the third volume, leaving Shinichi Sakamoto in charge of both writing and art duties.

This series contains examples of:

  • Aborted Arc: The subplot of Buntarou's friend Mizuki committing suicide at first seems like a key component of the story but gets dropped around the fourth volume, without any real elaboration of his relationship with Buntarou or development of what led to it.
  • Anachronic Order: The story eventually begins to jump around in its chronology quite frequently, alternating between the past and present very often, skipping to the future and gradually showing the audience what occurred in a series of flashbacks.
  • Art Evolution: A particularly notable example. Early on the art showed promise but was rather rough; characters often looked like they had parts of their skulls missing, and the anatomy and proportions of characters were often wonky (like a tendency for characters to have overly long and thick necks). Around the fourth volume, the art begins to become much more polished and consistent, and near the story's end it boasts some of the most impressive art in the entire industry.
  • Beard of Sorrow: Buntarou grows one after he finds out Miyamoto has become a complete and total failure, a bum who lies about his accomplishments and who stole his money, which makes him lose faith in people and isolate himself.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Buntarou is unable to save his kohai Takemura, who dies in an accident. He is painstakingly able to achieve his lifelong dream of summiting K2 solo, but he loses several fingers and toes as a result of his recklessness. Despite that, he survives, miraculously finding a fixed rope left behind by a prior summiting team, and is able to make it back to his family. The final chapter shows him smiling while thinking of Rokka and Hana, signalling his growth; he doesn't need to go back to mountains anymore, because he's found a place where he can belong.
  • The Bus Came Back: After being absent for several volumes, Buntarou's old high school rival/friend Miyamoto returns to the story in volume 10. It turns out that he's basically a freeloading bum. He tricks people into thinking he made an impressive climb without outside help, steals Buntarou's money and runs off, and hasn't done anything meaningful with his life at all since Buntarou last saw him. He never went to France and could have been close by the entire time.
  • Career-Ending Injury: Buntarou successfully climbs and returns from the summit of K2 but the injuries he's incurred from the experience have effectively killed any hopes of continuing his career as a mountain climber. In the epilogue, we see that just hiking up a steep hill has become incredibly taxing for him and it takes all his energy merely to get to the top of a small boulder. Unlike many examples however, this isn't played for tragedy but rather, satisfaction at no longer needing such extreme sports to be happy with his life.
  • Cast of Snowflakes: Gradually transitions into this trope as the art gets better.
  • Central Theme: No matter how hard you try to shut yourself away from people, you will not be able to escape society or having to make connections with others. No man is an island onto himself after all.
  • Cerebus Syndrome: The story has a very sharp change in tone and writing style after Buntarou's teacher Onishi dies, morphing from what appears to be a typical idealistic high school sports series about Buntarou learning to trust other people via the climbing club, into a more cynical and psychological character drama that explores Buntarou's difficulties with pursuing mountain climbing while having to navigate a society he doesn't feel comfortable in or wants to be a part of.
  • Character Development: Most notably with Buntarou, who starts the series as an extremely introverted and lethargic loner and ends up as a much more well-adjusted and functional family man.
  • Coming of Age Story: The main focus of the manga is Buntarou struggling to pursue mountain climbing and all the challenges he faces as someone who wants to be alone, and finding that escaping from society and being a "solo climber" in life isn't really all that easy.
  • Cool Old Guy: The climbing store owner.
  • Cute Sports Club Manager: Subverted. Yumi appears to be a straightforward example of this, but the controversy surrounding the climbing club leads to it shutting down. With her reputation ruined in the aftermath, Yumi turns to prostitution to pay the bills.
  • Disappeared Dad: Niimi's father abandoned him and his mother after being ostracized and publicly shamed shamed for the climbing incident he was involved in. He eventually becomes this to his own son Keiji after he dies in the Alps training climb, leaving his girlfriend Momo to raise him by herself with some help from Buntarou.
  • Doom Magnet: One of Mori's main sources of grief and a big reason why he wants to be alone is that the people he involves himself with tend to have bad things happen to them; Miyamoto quits school and becomes a bum, Yumi has her reputation ruined and becomes a prostitute, the entire expedition team for the K2 East Face ends up dying, and by the end his kohai Takemura dies as well. It's eventually subverted with Hana and Rokka.
  • Early-Installment Weirdness: The first few volumes are similar to a lot of sports shounen (despite being serialized in a seinen magazine) with a loner protagonist joining a school club, introducing his rival, a potential love triangle with the Cute Sports Club Manager, and most of the other trappings you'd expect. It isn't until volume 4 that the series morphs into the more unique psychological drama that it's known as.
  • Extreme Doormat: Mori is so lethargic and awkward that he's frequently used by people, and even when falsely accused he says very little to defend himself.
  • Friendless Background: Niimi was too preoccupied with mountain climbing to make friends, and he was seemingly ostracized due to his father's reputation anyways.
  • Foil: Miyamoto to Buntarou. Buntarou is heavily withdrawn, socially awkward, tries to rely on other people as little as possible even if it's more dangerous or inconvenient. Miyamoto by contrast is a popular athlete, boisterous, and overconfident. The contrast is heightened later in the story: while both of them quit high school to ostensibly pursue mountain climbing, they took completely different paths. Buntarou takes it extremely seriously, to the point of living in privation and being content as long as he can pursue his passion. While a lot of horrible things happen to him, he grows and develops as a result of this into a more well-rounded person. Miyamoto, on the other hand, never actually took the pursuit seriously and is shown to have turned into a freeloading bum who hasn't done anything meaningful with his life whatsoever, to the point of lying to other people to impress them and stealing money.
  • Genre Shift: Begins as a typical sports shounen manga, but eventually turns (rather abruptly) into a more adult psychological drama.
  • Gut Punch: Onishi's death is a very shocking event given the manga's relatively optimistic tone before then, and sets the stage for the much darker, psychological storytelling the series is known for.
  • Hanging Our Clothes to Dry: Happens to Hana, who gets caught in a snowstorm and has to be saved by Buntarou.
  • Hidden Depths: Kurosawa at first appears to be a cynical, unpleasant journalist primarily motivated by his self-interest, and Oonishi hates him because he thinks he left a woman to die to save himself. It turns out that this attitude was his way of coping with his grief and guilt over that woman, his fiancée, forfeiting her life during a climbing accident so he could live, and the main reason why he lied about it was that he couldn't forgive himself and wanted everyone to hate him as much he hated himself.
  • Hopeless Suitor: One of Buntarou's coworkers, Shibori, is interested in him but Buntarou is so afraid and uncomfortable of intimacy with other people that she never really had a chance. Though it's subverted as she and his boss are just trying to use him, which Buntarou discovers when he walks into them having sex and discussing their plans.
  • Humans Are Flawed: Nobody's perfect, but few people in the story are truly irredeemably terrible.
  • Jaded Washout: What happens to Miyamoto, who goes from being a popular athlete at school to a high school dropout who hasn't done anything worthwhile with his life, lying about his accomplishments, borrowing money from people and never returning it, or even just stealing it, as Mori finds out much to his disappointment.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Miyamoto is abrasive, cocky and jealous of the attention Yumi is paying to Mori, but he still cares for his well-being and tries to inspire him to compete so that both of them can get better at climbing. Eventually he's Put on a Bus and this is subverted by the time he comes into the story again, where he's seemingly nice but has basically become a freeloading failure who steals money from other people; whether this is Character Development or Characterization Marches On is kind of up in the air what with the new direction the series took after Nabeda Yoshiro's departure.
  • Loners Are Freaks: The main character is extremely lethargic and quite possibly depressed, and the main theme of the series is his desire to be isolated from others (symbolized as his desire to climb mountains alone) and how society keeps constantly beckoning him back.
  • Lust Object: Yumi serves as this for Buntarou and Takemura. Buntarou overcomes this eventually, but Takemura's desire for Yumi is one of his main sources of angst up until his death.
  • Loser Son of Loser Dad: Niimi's main motivation for becoming a climber is to clear his father's name, given that he was discredited and ostracized for being the only survivor of an expedition to the K2 East Face and claiming he got to the top despite having no proof.
  • The Maiden Name Debate: Discussed. Buntarou mentions that Hana dislikes the idea of being expected to be the one to change her name when she gets married, hence why he chooses to take hers.
  • Messy Hair: Mori's hair is unkempt and wild.
  • Miles Gloriosus: Miyamoto eventually becomes this, lying about having gone to France and become a great climber despite the fact that he never even left Japan and became a worthless bum after impulsively quitting high school, and going so far as to "cheat" climbing a difficult peak by using gripping utensils without people knowing. Takemura and Mori are initially fooled, but Yumi knows it's bull and has to break the truth to a heartbroken Mori.
  • The Rival: Subverted. At first Miyamoto appears to be the mandatory shounen sports rival, but he's Put on a Bus around the fourth volume. He resurfaces years later, but he's revealed to be a washout, irreverent bum who hasn't done anything meaningful with his life. He cheats at climbing a wall to impress people, lies about going to France to be a mountain climber, and even steals other people's money.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: Adachi is one of the few people in Buntarou's life who appreciates him and is willing to give him a chance regardless of his awkward demeanor and unkempt appearance, getting him a job as part of the research team at the university he works at and supporting him in his marriage to Hana.
  • Rescue Romance: Buntarou's romance with Hana starts with him saving her from dying of hypothermia in the middle of a snowstorm.
  • Rule of Symbolism: One of the manga's most famous aspects is the author's use of visual metaphors to convey Buntarou's (and other characters') states of mind and perceptions of the world around them.
  • Setting Update: The real Katou Buntarou was born in the Showa era (year 1905), which is also the time period of the original novel. The manga takes place in a contemporary setting, presumably around the same time the manga was published in 2007.
  • Scenery Porn: Par for the course, as a major theme in the manga is the awe that nature inspires and the gorgeous vistas one gets from the top of mountains.
  • Ship Tease: There's some of this between Yumi and Buntarou and Yumi and Miyamoto. It's eventually zigzagged; Yumi performs sexual acts on Buntarou after the Time Skip when they meet each other again and Buntarou struggles with his lust for a while, but eventually gets over it. It's also implied that Yumi and Miyamoto have an affair eventually, but it's not implied to be a wholesome relationship at all.
  • Socially Awkward Hero: Buntarou is horrible with people and utterly lacking in social graces, which tends to make him unpopular and gets people suspicious about him.
  • Stern Chase: After Mori gets back from the climbing simulation in which all the K2 expedition team died, he's confronted by an old man named Kiriya. It's revealed that Kunieda, whose real name was Yasufumi Murata, had killed his son because he caught his girlfriend cheating on him with her. Kiriya tells him that he'd been chasing Murata for 8 years, with the man skipping towns, changing his name, etc just to avoid him.
  • Symbolic Hero Rebirth: In the end, Buntarou successfully completes his climb to reach the summit of K2 and falls down exhausted, content with dying while knowing that he's completed his lifelong goal. But then, an image of Rokka leads him to the southeast ridge where a previous team had left a rope behind which he uses to climb back down. In the final chapter, despite surviving the experience, it's noted that the "immortal" Katou Buntarou nonetheless did perish on the mountain; because he's returned with a new appreciation for his life and no longer needs to single-mindedly pursue the highest peaks to be at peace with himself.
  • Time Skip: Employs these pretty liberally, with the first one being skipping 2 years after Oonishi's death.
  • Took the Wife's Name: Upon marrying Hana, Buntarou takes up her surname.
  • The Ghost: Buntarou's parents are mentioned twice in the story but do not appear otherwise and have no significant role in the plot.
  • Undressing the Unconscious: Buntarou does this to Hana when he finds her in the snowstorm to make sure her wet clothes are off of her.
  • Very Looselybased On A True Story: Katou Buntarou was a real solo mountain climber who was quite famous, and who had a novel written based on his life by Jiro Nitta. While the manga is inspired by the novel (already a dramatization rather than strict history), it strays very far from real life facts, not the least of which is that Katou was born in 1905 and the manga takes place in modern times, and also the manga's version of Katou survives his last expedition and makes it back home to his family, unlike the real one who died along with his climbing partner.
  • Whatever Happened to the Mouse?: Hara Keito is another would-be "solo climber" Mori meets early on in the story who has a dangerously low sense of self-preservation, and attention is drawn to his resemblance to Mori's friend Mizuki, making him seem like a potentially important side character. However, due to the change in direction of the manga after the departure of Yoshiro Nabeda, he is not seen again. That is, until near the end of the manga, when he was found dead during Buntarou's K2 East Face climb in chapters 149-150.