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solanin by Inio Asano (a J!-ENT Manga Review)

December 19, 2008 by  



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“In your mid-20’s, the beginning to one’s adult life of having to have your own place, wondering if you are happy with the job you have or even questioning your love for the person that you are with and whether it can stand through the test of time.  ‘solanin’ is one of those manga that is more realistic, well-drawn and well-written, that you just appreciate every page because there is always something that you can relate to or just find a beauty within each panel.  Asano Inio’s ‘solanin’ is fantastic!”

(C) Image courtesy of Inio ASANO/Shogakukan, Inc.

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MANGA TITLE: solanin

STORY AND ART BY: Inio Asano (浅野)

FIRST PUBLISHED IN JAPAN:  Shogakukan, Inc.

PUBLISHED IN USA BY: VIZ Media, LLC

RATED: T for Older Teen

Maiko Inoue is a recent college grad working as an office lady in a job she hates.  Her boyfriend Naruo 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.

Life is never easy.   And that first year out of college and trying to find a career and getting a feel of whether the career you chose is what is right for you.  Finding the right apartment, wondering if the person you are in love with will be there forever.

“solanin” by Inio Asano features a beautiful artwork that captures Tokyo, from it’s buildings, the homes, the walkways and scenery and just drawn with quite a bit of detail of just Tokyo that I found quite enjoyable.  But as the artwork is part of the enjoyability of the manga, the strength is also in its storytelling.

For me, I enjoy manga’s that capture the young adult life.  Many that are released as novels in Japan but to have it in manga format that deal with that important time in the lives of normal people but presenting a situation that people can relate to.  Stories such as “Asunaro Hakusho” which go into college friends and their love triangles, “Tokyo Friends” which features a woman from a farming area who needs to make a life in Tokyo to pursue her dreams and joins a rock band as the main vocalist to “Wakamono no Subete” which goes into friends who went separate ways in adulthood and choosing different paths in life which are normal and some that lead to a life of crime.

These three examples are storylines featured in graphic novels that have translated well into live drama series in Japan.    But “solanin”, it was well-featured on paper, via ink and an awesome manga it turned out to be.

According to writer/artist of “solanin”, “I drew solanin when I was about 24 years old.  I had just graduated from college and I was feeling a bit insecure about my ability to succeed as a manga artist and whether I would be able to continue to draw manga that were true to myself.  In my anxiety and impatience, I felt that all I could do in my manga was try to get a true depiction of the times as experienced by my generation.”

And that is where “solanin” shines.  It’s true depiction of human life and things that people go through.

“solanin” is a refreshing storyline that focuses on the character of Meiko.  Meiko is just tired of her life working a job as an OL (office lady).  She’s had enough and quits her job but she has a year or so of savings to help keep her on her feet but at the same time, her boyfriend Naruo crashes at her apartment and works as a part-time freelance illustrator but his dream is being in the band and for them to succeed with their music.

But like anywhere in life, some may pursue that life in music but others need to find that job to help pay the bills.  The first arc of “solanin” focuses on the relationship between Meiko and Naruo.  The second arc features Naruo going full force in making his dream for his music band happen.  The third arc is the plan if what if the dreams of not making it into the music industry doesn’t come into fruition.  If you can’t make it as a musician, what kind of job do you do next?

And the fourth arc which is just shocking and I definitely don’t want to ruin it for anyone because it’s so powerful.

Asano does a great job of making you care for these two characters but also showcases other characters (Naruo’s bandmates) and Meiko’s female friend and just how everyone is also trying to live life and focus on their passion with music but struggle of having a full-time job.  A job that they may not even enjoy but do it because they need the money.  Especially because they are in their mid-20’s.

For Meiko, she just wants a carefree life away from the workforce and feels that she can enjoy life more by livng free and learning that sort of freedom comes with a price.  For Naruo, there is just a bittersweet moment when he sees a band member (from a band he once idolized) now working for the corporate structure of the label and has changed.  It became an eye opening situation of how not all bands last forever, nor do they become financially successful.

The storyline progresses as you see these individuals grow as people but having to assimilate into the working force and grow farther away from the things that they love and knowing it’s time to grow up and say goodbye.  The progression of the characters not only makes the reader start to enjoy these characters but slowly build them from young adults who enjoy their freedom to young adults knowing that they have to change their lives and then leading up to an unexpected situation that is just so shocking.

First, let me just say how pleased I am that Viz Media bundled everything into one Viz Signature graphic novel, you definitely get your money’s worth with this thick manga graphic novel that features awesome artwork and a very cool, realistic storyline.

Second, this manga is for both men or women.  You get to see the perspective of life through Meiko’s eyes but also the eyes of Naruo and also both sides of the coin with the male and female friends.  “solanin” is a manga storyline that doesn’t focus on teenage love, this is a storyline of young adults and again, because of it’s realistic storyline, I definitely enjoyed it because it’s so different of what’s out there.  There is no supernatural powers, nothing feudal, nothing suspenseful, no guns, no fighting or action-scenes.   It’s a storyline that slowly progresses in human relationships, young adult angst and normal feelings that many people have and how one deals with those emotions.

My reason for enjoying this series is because it’s so different from what’s available in the US for manga releases.   Granted, these type of realistic storylines can be found on Japanese dramas or film but to have it featured beautifully on a manga and Asano really focusing on character development but also the sign of the times, “solanin” is just a fantastic title for those looking for a different manga that they are accustomed to reading.

Highly recommended!






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