Monthly Manga – Go with the Clouds, North-by-Northwest

Author’s note: What’s up, nerds! This is your captain, General Tofu, speaking. Our regular Monthly Manga host, Mythos, is not currently helming this month’s selection. Therefore, I have taken it upon myself to fill in for this month’s post, and then to slowly take over the series as if it was mine all along. Nothing sinister at all! Anyway, thanks for hopping in, and enjoy!

Sometimes, I just get the urge to go through a bookstore and peruse the manga section. (Obviously, we can’t really do that much right now, given the whole badness going on, but join me and journey into this mind palace we’re gonna create together. Just imagine you’re doing it.) Most of the time, I’m not going with the intention of grabbing anything specific. I’ll find volumes of series that I love, or that I’ve heard great things about, and I’ll happily grab them. Really, though, what most draws me to a volume or a series is the art itself. There have been numerous series that I knew nothing about, but I dropped some cash to buy a volume simply because it looked gorgeous.

Nothing quite fits this “that’s absolutely coming home with me today” status quite like Aki Irie’s series Go with the Clouds, North-by-Northwest. I literally had nothing to go off of for this series. Where the back of manga volumes usually give you a synopsis of what’s gonna happen in that edition, Go with the Clouds has…well, it’s better to just show you.

Yes, instead of anything even remotely descriptive about the plot of the manga, the back cover instead gives us a series of exquisitely-illustrated depictions of gear and food, as well as the Icelandic word for each of them. So that pretty much sold me instantly on the book. I still had no idea what it was about, but the aesthetic, style, and overall vibe I was getting from it was enough for me. And man, does it deliver. 

Go with the Clouds, North-by-Northwest is, for all intents and purposes, a story following 17-year-old Kei Miyama, a private investigator who lives with his grandfather in Iceland. He can also, for some reason, talk to machines. You would think that with a setup like that, we might have a stylish, suspenseful thriller series on our hands. In some respects, this is definitely true, as elements that lend themselves to the mystery genre are certainly present. Mysterious, unexplained familial deaths; the disappearance (and reappearance) of Kei’s younger brother Michitaka; a shady detective from Japan. All of these, as well as Kei’s established work as a private investigator, scream that this is surely where the story is going. Perhaps a hard-boiled film noir type of piece, set with Iceland as its backdrop. 

But the thing is, while Go with the Clouds does give us that sort of mystery thriller foundation, one would be remiss to say that that is the whole draw and heart of the series. The first volume of the series does move us in the direction of a strong build towards some important story beats, and it allows us to get a glimpse of our main cast, and how they might factor into the main mystery of the series. You would think, then, that the second volume, which is the furthest I have read, would continue that build. Instead, the entire second volume focuses on Iceland itself, as Kei hosts his friend Kiyoshi for a visit. Each chapter, they explore all that the country has to offer, from small, quaint bookstores, to magnificent geysers, to some incredible-looking natural hot springs, to the sheer power and majesty of the long, open roads of Iceland. It honestly threw me for a loop as I read through it.

While the mystery does allegedly pick back up in the third volume of the series, and I am definitely excited to get back into it, this volume-long diversion that we just talked about fully solidified what I love so much about this series thus far: its flow, and its attention to beautiful detail. Remember, I didn’t pick up the first volume because I had any idea about the plot at all. I grabbed it because I was enticed by the world that might lie within, and volume two is what I love the most about this series so far distilled into a single volume. Irie is not afraid to take her time in giving us the central mystery plot. Interestingly enough, at the end of the first volume, we get a brief address from her talking about the lead up to writing Go with the Clouds, and it’s pretty easy to see why this series is the way it is. I’ll just go ahead and let Irie speak for herself here:

Approaching a series with the goal to write about a concept or a sense of place is inherently different than looking to write about, say, a specific genre of work. While I only grabbed a few excerpts here, it’s so interesting to see that Irie did not write at all about the detective mystery aspects of the series, or planning anything like that. She wanted to “draw the soil”; to “make a story about underneath the earth surface.” And with those ideas in mind, it’s no wonder that the back cover of the first volume is filled with basic tools “[from] our everyday life,” or that so much focus in this series is placed on the world and the way that our characters interact with it, as opposed to the unfolding of a specifically human story.

It’s this overall sense of flow – that we don’t have to worry too much about the story all at once, that we can just stop and bask in the beauty of the world around us, and that Irie is able to so excellently convey a story that is as much about a sense of place as actual human drama – that is so exciting about Go with the Clouds. The ability for a series to set so much up and then so confidently put on the brakes to have us switch gears and take a different path is astonishing. And for a series as breathtaking as this, it makes reading through every volume an absolute joy. If you’re looking for a manga unlike anything else you may have read, I can’t recommend Go with the Clouds, North-by-Northwest enough.

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