Solanin (of 1) (Mania.com)

By:Greg Hackmann
Review Date: Monday, December 15, 2008
Release Date: Tuesday, October 21, 2008

I'm not ready to call any manga flawless -- but Inio Asano's solanin comes damn close.

Creative Staff
Writer/Artist: Inio Asano
Translation: JN Productions
Adpatation: JN Productions

What They Say
College graduates struggle to cope with the real world. Music offers refuge in this modern manga with an American attitude.
Meiko Inoue is a recent college grad working as an office lady in a job she hates. Her boyfriend Shigeo is permanently crashing at her apartment because his job as a freelance illustrator doesn't pay enough for rent. And her parents in the country keep sending her boxes of veggies that just rot in her fridge. Straddling the line between her years as a student and the rest of her life, Meiko struggles with the feeling that she's just not cut out to be a part of the real world.

Meiko Inoue is a recent college grad working as an office lady in a job she hates. Her boyfriend Shigeo is permanently crashing at her apartment because his job as a freelance illustrator doesn't pay enough for rent. And her parents in the country keep sending her boxes of veggies that just rot in her fridge. Straddling the line between her years as a student and the rest of her life, Meiko struggles with the feeling that she's just not cut out to be a part of the real world.

The Review!
Packaging:

Viz's packaging of solanin more than justifies its premium price: Asano's artwork is beautifully printed in an enlarged form factor and protected with an elegant softcover binding with a wraparound picture of Meiko.  It's also much longer than typical manga releases, combining the two Japanese volumes into one thick omnibus release.  The black-and-white artwork looks terrific; besides the larger page size, the printing is sharp and holds its contrast very well.  There are also six pages of vivid color artwork, printed here on non-glossy paperstock.

I have one niggle about this release, which is that a few pages in my review copy had text that looked very slightly smudged.  Even if the problem is present in other copies (I couldn't get down to the bookstore to check) it shouldn't prevent anyone from picking this release up -- it's just the kind of nitpicky thing that stands out precisely because the book is so well put together in all other aspects.

Artwork:

Asano's character designs took some time to grow on me.  I was bothered at first that the college-graduate-aged main characters looked kind of like overgrown adolescents, but after a couple of chapters it dawned on me that this was intentional (and is underscored by some of the minor characters that show up later in the manga, who're drawn with more adult-like proportions).  Asano's attention to detail is wonderful, especially when it comes to the manga's many cramped urban settings.

There are also a lot of small touches added throughout the manga that add a lot to Asano's absurd sense of style.  Even things as subtle as the full-page transition drawing between chapters, or the random poses that characters strike as they leave the scene, make the story feel a little bit more lively than it would have otherwise.  (Bonus points to Asano for working a photo of a man in polar bear suit chasing a Japanese woman into one panel, which ranks as my favorite manga non sequitur of the year by a big margin.)

Text/SFX:

JN Productions' translation flows smoothly without any noticeable grammatical errors.  The lettering in my copy is largely clean (with the exceptions noted in the Packaging section), using a simple sans-serif font for inner monologue and a comic-style font for spoken dialogue.SFX are touched up into English and honorifics are removed from the English script.

Contents: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)

There's a point in almost every college student's life, usually somewhere between the start of the fourth year and commencement, where he or she comes to the horrible realization that school is almost over with, and that at some point they're going to need to settle into a permanent career.  This transition hits some people harder than others; most manage to overcome their fears of the unknown, line up interviews, and wind up with a job that they're reasonably satisfied with.  Others are almost paralyzed by the pressure and end up trying to escape these important life decisions as long as possible: they turn into professional students, settle for low-skill jobs, or (in extreme cases) live solely under the support of their parents or significant others.

solanin deals with a group of twenty-something friends fresh out of a Tokyo college who've chosen this second way of life.  The central couple Taneda and Meiko -- and most of the people they interact with -- have decided to shirk the stresses of grown-up life by settling into dead-end jobs that give them a paycheck but absolutely no sense of satisfaction.  These lifestyles turn out not to be so sustainable in the long term, and the first signs of strain appear when Meiko gives her two-weeks' notice at the end of the first chapter.  Meiko's live-in boyfriend Taneda is even deeper into a rut (the two have started living together partly because he can't afford rent payments on his own) and takes several more chapters to reach his breaking point and quit his own job.

These changes put Taneda and Meiko under immense financial stress, because they're now put themselves in a situation where they're living off their savings in one of the most expensive cities in the world.  The bright side of this is that they've forced themselves to find a better way of living before Inoue's bank account runs out: Meiko encourages her boyfriend to give a recording career a shot, something he's always wanted to do but never pursued after graduation.  The effect of watching Taneda and Inoue finally starting to grapple with adulthood starts to ripple through the lives of their friends: his bandmates Kato and Rip get serious about shopping their demo CD to record executives, and Kato starts reconsidering his life of womanizing and refusing to finish his college degree.

Besides the tension between adolescence and adulthood that lurks below the surface, solanin is also a story about the evolving relationship between Taneda and Inoue.  Since this is a seinen work that starts after the couple have been together for a while, there's none of the nauseating will-they-won't-they dynamic that plagues a lot of manga that makes it to North American shores.  The two deal with much more complex (and arguably much more realistic) problems, like relationship-ending fights and parental acceptance.  Without giving too much away, Asano isn't afraid to show that things don't always work out as people plan, and I think the manga is stronger for it.

You might have noticed that I'm not talking about too many plot details here; this is the kind of story where the main plot thread is relatively thin, and a considerable part of it centers around a plot twist that I don't want to give away in my review.  That's not to say that the narrative isn't strong, which it is, but that large chunks of the page count have to do with other things than Taneda's sudden drive to make it big in the music business.  Even though they're secondary characters, Asano gives us more background into Kato's and Rip's personalities than some shonen and shoujo series do for their own protagonists.

Comments:

solanin isn't a title for everybody.  A lot of what resonated emotionally with me was Asano's pitch-perfect exploration of the "what now?" fear and loathing that precedes college graduation, which may not have as big an impact for readers who're too young to have gone through that process yet or too old to remember it well.  Another aspect of solanin that I loved, but that may turn off other readers, is that Asano doesn't offer easy solutions to Meiko's problems.  While she's more at peace with herself having passed through a bittersweetly absurd stage in her life by the end of the manga, it takes an emotionally devastating event to truly motivate her to grow up.  On top of it, not everything in her life is neatly wrapped up by the time solanin reaches its conclusion -- that's life, after all, but it's a choice that may frustrate readers expecting total closure.

But for readers who are into manga with this kind of emotional depth and slices of absurd humor, let's put it this way: solanin is only one of two titles I've ever reviewed where I sat down intending to sample a chapter or two and ended up reading the entire thing cover to cover.  For a manga that's 400+ pages long, that's no mean feat.  I can't recommend this release highly enough.



Mania Grade: A
Art Rating: A
Packaging Rating: A-
Text/Translation Rating: A
Age Rating: 16 and Up
Released By: Viz Media
MSRP: 17.99
Pages: 432
ISBN: 978-1421523217
Size: B6
Orientation: Right to Left
Series: solanin