Technically Asano’s Solanin is a seinen (men’s) comic, but the ideas explored in it will speak to both genders and a wide range of ages. The story revolves around Meiko and her boyfriend Taneda, who live in a small apartment in Tokyo. She hates her job as an office girl and he is barely getting by as a part-time illustrator. Both wonder where they are going with their relationship, their careers, and their lives, even as they fight against complacency and boring adulthood. Together with a trio of friends from college, Meiko and Taneda explore what it means to grow up and if doing so means giving up on who you long to be.
Asano’s storytelling is spot-on. He takes his time, letting his characters each tell their own story in chapters of about 20 pages. Though the characters are all in their mid-20s, their issues will be familiar to all adults. Reading about Meiko wanting to quit her dead-end job even as I, at almost 36, am also considering a career change, was heartening and thought-provoking, especially knowing that my father struggled with the same decisions after he retired from the military at age 49. Meiko and Taneda’s attempts to keep their relationship on the right track are equally realistic and, while not romance novel romantic, anyone who has ever been in a long term relationship will empathize. By allowing more of his characters than just Meiko and Taneda to speak, Asano gives us an even wider perspective on the group of friends. We see just how much one person’s life can affect that of his or her friends, even if they act as though it doesn’t.
Mid-way through the story, Asano moves away from slice-of-life storytelling and into more straight drama. That bugged me a little at first, but I was so quickly caught up in that drama that any concerns I might have had were washed away. By the end of the story Asano is back to slice-of-life and I could see why he had added the dramatic sections. In every life, no matter how ordinary, drama will show up and create disorder, sadness, and hardship. It is in how we deal with that drama that we show who we are. The very ordinariness of his characters is what makes them so identifiable and I appreciated Asano giving me the chance to see how ordinary people deal with hard times.
Asano’s art is as ordinary as his characters and therein lies its strength. If he had made Meiko a great beauty or Taneda amazingly handsome, readers would lose the ability to identify with them. Instead he makes his characters look like anyone you could see on the street, albeit with a comic art twist to them. They are distinctive, so we never have to worry about telling one from another. Asano’s panels are equally simple, mostly just rectangles and squares, but it is how he uses the space within those panels that is amazing. He plays with perspective, focus, and shadow like a master musician playing his instrument. Each one is used to perfect effect, creating a page that is appealing to the eye and gripping emotionally. VIZ has done him justice, too, in their release of his work. Combining what had been two volumes in Japan into one oversized edition, they allow his art to be show to its best effect. The translation is strong, the art is printed clearly on the pages in crisp detail and the color inserts are perfectly rendered. (Asano’s decision to use a lime-green background for those pages is an unusual and effective touch.)
This work may have originally been published as a men’s title, but I think it speaks to both genders and to older teens as well as adults. It is a masterful work that shows just how much men and women are the same, with the same fears and worries, the same hopes and dreams.
NOTE: This review was previously posted at an old blog of mine, Fujoshi Librarian.