A Zoo in Winter
written by Jiro Taniguchi
It’s easy to get lost in the city when it’s depicted by Jiro Taniguchi. He captures streets and buildings, and especially neon lights, with such style and depth that it often feels as though you are standing with the characters in A Zoo in Winter, his memoirs about young adulthood in 1960s Japan. Even more captivating to me are some of the interior images. Most notable is a panel at the top of page 61 of the book, where our protagonist finds himself in the deserted studio of the manga offices he’s gotten a job in. It looks so amazingly lifelike—right down to boxes shoved under desks—that you get an immediate sense of how affecting this time was to him. It’s just one panel—and it’s probably a minor panel, at that—but it perfectly captures the sheer depth of the artist’s vision here. It’s beautiful, as are so many panels throughout the book.
A Zoo in Winter details the artist as a young man, and in the book he’s known as Hamaguchi. Hamaguchi begins work at a textile manufacturer when he’s just barely an adult, and he’s fairly soon tasked with chaperoning the boss’s daughter (who refuses to stop seeing the man she truly loves, despite being forced into an arranged marriage). Hamaguchi tries to keep tabs on her, but she’s too smart for him…or maybe, as we learn later, she has the benefit of love on her side, something that makes her craftier and more cunning than Hamaguchi could ever expect.
Hamaguchi later comes to work for a manga company, and here we see his spark and his creativity come to life. Throughout the book, we see slow, gradual developments in Hamaguchi’s character, and we see how he begins his own emergence as a manga creator. Later, when he begins to fall in love, we see the book come full circle, and what had seemed like a series of small, slice-of-life tales reveals itself to be a well-plotted, carefully orchestrated memoir. The writing is every bit as subtle and nuanced as the art is bold and invigorating. This is a truly masterful book, a wonderful journey through the past, and a warm, loving book about the author’s life and career.