Go With The Clouds North-By-Northwest Volume 3

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Story & Art by Aki Irie
Edited by Daniel Joseph
Translated by David Musto
Produced by Grace Lu and Tomoe Tsutsumi

 

Go With The Clouds really goes with the flow. It’s such a strange, unfocused series. Its second volume took a complete detour from the murder mystery the first volume set up. Instead, it spent its entire page count basking in Iceland’s beautiful nature and exploring its interesting culture. Just as suddenly as it became a different series in its second volume, it changes again in the third. The mystery surrounding Michitaka is given a clearer focus, and his true nature slowly starts to unravel. Every piece of the story presented in this book coalesces in the same direction and towards the same narrative goals. Yet once again, Aki Irie finds ways to sprinkle in more tidbits about Iceland’s culture, and lovingly draw the majestic fields blanketing the country. Even with the story shifting towards its investigative plot, Irie’s interests still clearly lie in the land and culture of Iceland, and they relish any opportunity to celebrate what the country has to offer. 

This volume can be divided up into two sub-mysteries, each presenting their own interesting theme and social commentary. The most satisfying, for me, was Kei investigating the kid who ran away to a hostel that acts as a safe haven for vagrants. It was nice to see Kei’s sleuthing skills make a return after last volume’s detour into tourism, reemphasizing his initial characterization as a perceptive problem-solver. However, this story also reveals the limits of Kei’s emotional intelligence, following up on his previous inability to recognize Michitaka’s deceptions. While Kei’s able to use his powers to deduce Jon ran away because he couldn’t admit his feelings for his step-brother Alex, he incorrectly assumes that Jon doesn’t want to come out as gay. On the contrary, coming out is a non-issue for Jon because his family and friends are very progressive, and he was socialized in a culture that normalized same-sex relationships from when he was very young. Kei’s basically speechless as he realizes his assumptions were wrong, and this serves as a reminder to reevaluate whether your biases prevent you from really understanding the interiority of other people. 

Truthfully, I think this entire three-chapter story was meant to explore the fallacy of biases, while serving as an excuse to laud Iceland’s progressive LGBTQ politics. Kei isn’t the only one who falls into the fallacy of assumption; Jon is also surprised that his parents already knew how he felt about Alex, and underestimated how understanding and supportive they’d be of him. That said, Kei’s flawed understanding of the situation is the most important narratively and thematically. Before Kei meets Jon, his interactions with other people in the hostel characterize it as a seedy place that makes it seem like an unruly party hub. At first, Kei’s limited interpretation is treated tonally as justified through the art and framing, until he slips up in his evaluation of Jon’s situation, after which egg’s on his face for completely misunderstanding the why of what’s going on. In reality, the hostel is just a communal safe house for people to come and go as they please without any judgement, and the presence of queer folk or people taking drugs or having sex doesn’t mean anything bad is going on there. For most, it’s just a refuge for folks to take shelter from society and have some fun. Ironically, if there’s anything or anybody that makes the place dangerous, it’s the person Kei suspects the least – his own brother, Michitaka. 

The second mystery, and the one that may very well be the driving plot of the story henceforth, involves Kei investigating a woman on the run from a man who won’t stop calling her. Well, this isn’t so much a mystery as a thriller plot, because we’re quickly made aware that Michitaka is the culprit. This story forces Kei to reconcile an uncomfortable truth about his brother that he tries to compartmentalize as just coincidence; almost like a betrayal of his deductive integrity. We really only see the budding seeds of that character arc here, though, whereas more insight is given on Michitaka’s psychology. Through his interactions with Kei, Freyja, and Sara we come to understand that he’s clingy and co-dependent on others, demanding they dote on him to an almost childish degree. He throws a tantrum when they express independence or refuse to cater to his whims, lashing out in violent or threatening ways, which often culminates in him comitting murder. These characteristics have been evident about Michitaka ever since his introduction, so the reveal of his parasitic and murderous nature here shouldn’t be too surprising. Still, Michitaka’s story is a fascinating tale of enabling abusive behavior through positive reinforcement and failing to set boundaries, while also a great character study of a sociopath who feels entitled to someone’s attention at all times. 

This exploration of Michitaka also gifts some of the coolest imagery in the manga yet. Michitaka’s power is seemingly to sever the flesh of his victims inside their own skin. This is depicted by showing a person’s flesh being sliced up, segmented, and separated from the rest of their body, seeing the flesh and bone inside. The imagery is gruesome despite being bloodless, and the impact of the severing process is well-communicated by the jagged impact effects that swirl around a person’s body as if they were being sawed right through. In general, Michitaka is given a lot of artful moments that highlight the malice behind his doe-eyed facade. Early on, he switches from a sharp and glassy-eyed rendering to a soft and blushing design between panels, signaling how differently he presents himself towards people he detests and those he wants to adore him. Irie’s character art is generally strong across the board, but the emphasis they place on exploring Michitaka’s double-faced personality and visualizing his powers is a real stand-out highlight of this volume. 

While Irie doesn’t draw quite as much of Iceland’s nature as they did in previous volumes, they still find excuses to draw the grassy hills and plains of the countryside. The simplicity of Irie’s linework and the fullness of the landscape he depicts is breathtaking, as is the loving care he puts into detailing the flowers among the grasses during close-up shots. There’s also a point where Kei visits the Seljalandsfoss waterfalls just ‘cause, and Irie masterfully uses the contrast of dark black solids, thin sketchy lines, and the negative white space of the page to beautifully render the waterfall and the caverns, limiting their screen tones to just accentuating the shadows. It’s so hard to communicate running water with just linework alone, but Irie accomplishes this task masterfully thanks to their understanding of contrast and shapes. As the seasons enter winter in the series, Irie also manages to portray beauty in the snow-covered landscapes of Iceland through scatterings of squiggly lines that communicate their texture and fluffiness. Irie’s ability to draw snowstorms in both day and night is particularly praiseworthy. They make great use of splotches of white dots and carefully sketched lines to break up the grey gradients or the black solids that make up the sky, effectively illustrating snowflakes falling in the wind. Irie’s beautiful landscapes and delicately detailed renderings of the natural world continue to be among the series’ strongest qualities. 

Go With the Clouds seems to have finally found the right compromise between its mystery-thriller plotting and Irie’s fascination with drawing the landscapes of Iceland and sharing fun facts they find interesting about its culture. The storyline with Michitaka and Freyja is fraught with danger and intrigue, and I’m especially curious what Kei’ll do when he finds out the truth. Of course, I’m also interested in learning more about Iceland’s famous landmarks and cultural tidbits, and seeing what ways Irie’ll find to write their story around them. Go With the Clouds continues to enchant me with its setting and idiosyncrasies more and more with each successive volume. It’s rare to see a manga that truly devotes itself to a real-world setting, and takes full advantage of exploring it with a reverence that feels completely genuine. The story really compliments the setting, and for all it has going for it, I think that’s the best compliment I can give.

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