by Inio Asano
published by Viz; $17.99 US
Solanin has little in common with how many readers think about manga. It’s a self-contained volume, slightly larger in size than the usual manga digest and much thicker. More important is the content, a story about young adults seeking to find themselves and their directions in life. If the book was described to me, I would be more likely to guess Top Shelf or Drawn & Quarterly instead of Viz. I welcome seeing this diversity from them as part of their Signature line.
Meiko graduated from college and took an office job while waiting for her “epiphany”, when she figures out what she wants to do. Her boyfriend, a freelance artist, moved in with her, but she’s tired of him, just like she’s tired of everything else. She knows what she hates, but she doesn’t know what she loves.
Her days are defined by boredom, especially after she quits the job to figure things out. She thinks she’s getting the freedom she needs, but she wastes her time hanging out at home, too apathetic to try any of her dreams or fancies. Her boyfriend’s also part of a band that doesn’t do anything but rehearse, and most of the other members have similar reactions to things. They claim “depression” because they’re too sensitive to deal with daily life.
Simple faces with detailed emotion convey every feeling in a way the reader can easily relate to. And most will have gone through this or known those who have. When I first heard about this story, my jaded side thought “why do I want to read this when I lived it?” But I found myself caught up in their uncertainty about life. I enjoyed the book more, having survived it and come out the other side. It gave me perspective that made the story richer as the characters discuss various philosophies and purposes.
The question of “what is happiness” is something everyone has to determine for themselves, and Meiko’s mom seems to have the right idea, saying it can be simple if you don’t make it hard for yourself. Bandmate Rip finds his own kind of contentment, while Meiko struggles for the strength to forge a new direction.
At first, she piles her drive into her boyfriend, encouraging him to pursue the music he loves, but that’s not a long-term solution for her, and fate makes that clear. That particular event was the most disappointing part of the book for me, because I got the feeling it was going to happen before it did, and I found it a little heavy-handed and cliched. But the point is to more fully develop Meiko. She tried to break out of routine, of settling for what she had, but while she had enough determination to make that choice, she didn’t have enough to keep pushing through to the next step. She too easily settled back into a new routine. It took shock and the removal of the guy she was clinging to to really make her change stick.
While Meiko is often aimless, the book is not. If you like Honey & Clover, try this for a more realistic, less wacky take on sometimes similar happenings. And be sure to linger over the outstanding art capturing the band’s stage performance. It captures music and energy wordlessly.
Here are a few more reviews:
- “like Scott Pilgrim but without the video game realism, and twice as much of the drama” — Christopher Butcher
- “a classy, beautiful book and at over 400 pages, a bargain to boot” — Greg McElhatton
- “exactly the kind of book that fans of manga who want to read mature, adult work have been hoping for” — Matthew J. Brady
Another Inio Asano work, What a Wonderful World!, has just been offered for order through the Previews catalog. Two volumes, 210 pages/$12.99 each, JUL09 1105 and JUL09 1106. They’re due out in October. (A complimentary copy for this review was provided by the publisher.)