Friday, February 7, 2014

Manga Review: solanin

This is a comic I've seen in bookstores and wanted to read for years (since, goodness it must be high school if I was actually in a bookstore on a regular basis) but didn't want to just blind-buy it, despite the fact I knew that several of my friends had enjoyed it. So as soon as I saw it at my new local library system (and convinced them to give me a library card) I immedately checked it out and got to reading.

solanin by Inio Asano

Meiko and her boyfriend Shigeo are recent college graduates and life just isn't quite working out the way either of them had hoped. Meiko is unsure of what to do in her life, she doesn't want to move back home but doesn't like her job as an office lady either. Shigeo's illustrator job doesn't pay enough for him to live on his own but that isn't his real passion, his band was but it seems like even that is fading these days. As Meiko quits her job to try and figure out what she wants to do they and their friends continue to muddle through life and make the best choices they could.

Sometimes I come across a work and think "I read this at the prefect time in my life, it just relates so much I feel like it was meant for me" and this was one of those times. My life is rather different in a lot of ways from the gang in solanin, sadly I am not living near a bunch of cool friends, but regardless this work really resonated with me in a way I don't think it would have been able to do in high school. Like the characters I too find myself in that weird doldrum you sometimes get in your 20s, where you bounce back and forth between going "I want a job that will let me do what I want, no compromises!" and "well, if I could get an okay job and do what I want in my free time that would be okay too" on a daily basis. I've also discovered the weird, uncomfortable lethargy that comes with unemployment, what you would think feels like a vacation instead feels pressing, as if the entire universe is leaning in to see what you'll decide to do next, and even when you do go out to do something for "fun", like say go to the zoo, you feel even more out of place than you started.  Asano mentions in an afterword that he created this story when he was 24 and was worried that he might not be able to create a manga that was true to himself as he wrestled with becoming a professional manga-ka. I don't know what other works he's created, his name is new to me, but not only do I emphasize with his motivation for creating the manga (as someone trying to make it in a freelancing career herself) but I think he wildly succeeded in capturing "just a small part of their futile daily lives. The only thing that's certain is that they can never return to the days gone by."

I am also rather amazed that Asano was able to write this story and pull it off without sounding too melodramatic since that tone would have completely killed the story. And there are some rather dramatic turns in here, life is unexpected after all and I think he accidentally nails that feeling of how your life plans can completely change from week to week, day to day even. I think the fact that I read this in several sittings helped, at I believe around 400 pages it would be a lot to take in at once, and switching to some of the side characters for a chapter or two was also absolutely the right thing to do. Not only does it help with the pacing, since then you can have events happening without it seeming like Meiko's (and Shigeo's) lives are completely packed every day but it also reinforces what I think the main theme of the story is: you're not alone, a lot of us have no idea what we're doing or how we're doing it yet we have to just keep moving forward everyday.

A quick note about the art, since I really did like it and didn't want to write this review without touching on it even once, like everything else I feel like it's the perfect compliment to the story. The settings are fairly detailed and realistic and the character designs, while simple, also lean more towards realism than cartoony. There's a great variety of faces and people and everything has this amazingly clean look to it. From the line art to the smooth grayscale shading (despite what the cover looks like it's rather sparing in the use of screentones, that picture of Meiko is just blown up ten times or more from where it originally appears in the story)

In case you couldn't tell, yes I whole-heartedly recommend this story, no matter what age you're at. Actually it's a bit funny, I discovered recently that one of my libraries has almost, if not all of, Nana so I was reading that alongside of solanin and it's interesting to compare the stories since they're both about young, 20-somethings with a lot of the characters as members of a band. So far I think I like solanin better, although when I get around to reviewing Nana I'll talk about that more, but I am sad that unlike Nana this story doesn't have an anime since I would love to hear solanin sometime.