Rating: 5/5 – What If You Could Do It All Again?
by ComicSpectrum Reviewer Al Sparrow
It’s a question most of us have asked ourselves at one point in our lives: If you could go back and live your life again, knowing what you know now, would you do it? I know I’ve thought about it quite a bit, from both fanciful ideas like investing in Apple stock when it was dirt cheap to warning people I knew were going to die to take steps to avoid their fate. Would I tell myself to pay more attention to diet and exercise? Maybe not say some of the things I wished I’d never said to people, or say some things that needed to be said to others? Ask that girl or guy out? Stand up to that bully who tormented you in elementary school? Yeah, there’s probably a lot of things we’d like to change if we could.
But what if we could?
Hiroshi is a forty-something salaryman with a wife and children he barely sees or even acknowledges anymore. His life seems to be stuck on autopilot and he doesn’t notice it passing him by. One day he takes the wrong train and winds up back in the village where he grew up. He decides to visit his mother’s grave and pray, only to open his eyes and find out he’s back in his fourteen-year old body, about thirty years in the past.
After the initial shock dies down, Hiroshi is faced with predicaments both great and small. Humorous moments like discovering his fourteen-year old body can’t tolerate alcohol the way his forty-year old one could. Heartwarming moments like dealing with the prettiest girl in school – the one he never thought he’d have a chance with – developing a crush on him because he’s behaving more like a confident, mature adult. Serious moments like knowing the eventual fate and future of most of his classmates, and whether or not to steer them toward or away from those destinies. Overshadowing all this, however, is Hiroshi’s desire to prevent his father abandoning his family, and knowing the day is fast approaching when that event will occur.
Eisner-nominated Jiro Taniguchi’s award-winning work is beautifully published in a single hardcover volume. Slice-of-life is a difficult way to describe it, but also probably the best way. Little is made of the fantastical elements that provoke Hiroshi’s shift in time, as our attention is better spent finding out what he plans to do with that shift. I remember fourteen not being a particularly easy age, with a lot of my outlook and personality only beginning to take shape. That’s well-reflected in this book, as the confident forty-year old inhabiting Hiroshi’s fourteen-year old body shows the difference between the two ages. I could have used a forty-year old outlook from time to time when I was in junior high, I think.
The back cover of A Distant Neighborhood sums up the theme of the book perfectly: “You can go back again…but should you?” There’s so many things I know for a fact I would have done differently given the opportunity, but at the same time, what I did, right or wrong, made me what I am today. Given that, I wonder what I would actually want to change, and would I be wise enough to know whether or not it’s worth trying. Some of the best forms of entertainment leave you thinking about them long after you’ve closed the book, left the theater, or turned off the stereo. A Distant Neighborhood is definitely a story in that vein.
Reviewed by: Al Sparrow
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