Solanin (VIZ Media)

solanin-header.jpgSolanin follows a group of post-collegiate Japanese twentysomethings through meaningless jobs with a minimum of starry-eyes, a heavy helping of rock star ambition, and a surprising amount of tragedy, love, and honesty.



432 pgs. B&W; $17.99

(W / A: Asano Inio)


At some point, life calls each and every one of us to grow up. We are dragged, kicking and screaming in some cases, into the world of adulthood—beautiful and bitter and free. Except sometimes freedom is the last thing we’re actually prepared for. Sometimes, when presented with lemons and not guided in the direction of a handy appliance, we turn up our noses and ignore the fact that, yes, we can make lemonade and we just accept the lemons. Not only do we accept the lemons, we revel in the lemons. We quit our jobs randomly because we just don’t like them, we drink too much, we hurt people who love us, and our rewards are occasional flashes of truth and beauty and that the bed we’ve made is ours, no matter how uncomfortable it is. There’s a heady joy in leaving home and a healthy dose of danger in being able to do whatever you want. But the choice must be made—do we stay or do we go?

Solanin follows a group of post-collegiate Japanese twentysomethings through meaningless jobs with a minimum of starry-eyes, a heavy helping of rock star ambition, and a surprising amount of tragedy, love, and honesty. There are no beautiful and inexplicably blonde teenagers falling in love with older, brooding gentlemen here. No rags-to-riches tales of princesses or television actresses or strong, decisive men who are going to save the day. No, this book razes typical manga convention and starts us–she and he, both–out at the same point: zero. It also tells us that two zeros tipped over can equal infinity, and it’s this combination of hope and despair that gives the book exquisite tension at the plot’s ultimate climax.

The cover to Solanin. Click for a larger image.The star of Solanin is the jaded Meiko Inoue, aspiring adult and full-time office employee. Her live-in boyfriend, referred to as a gigolo by their friends and Naruo by his parents, is a part-time illustrator who sets off the main events of the book when he sleepily tells Meiko that he’ll help take care of them if she quits her hated day job. She’s got enough saved up to maybe last her a year, providing she stops splurging on things like shaved-ice machines and lets the boy take care of things like the broken air conditioning. So she takes him up on it, and retires after a sleazy pass from her boss. Except, as these things sometimes tend to turn out, Naruo was asleep when he said he’d take care of them. Not-so-hilarious misunderstandings ensue as he decides the way to go is to pursue rock and rollin’ and take his band to the heights of superstardom. Throughout this period, Meiko and Naruo are somehow both shaken up and bored enough that they’re toying with the idea of breaking up. Life, of course, counters with a huge event that makes the decision they reach both meaningless and poignant.

Meiko and Naruo’s collegiate friends and families round out the cast and we meet them in a series of sometimes poignant and sometimes humorous vignettes. In one such slice of story, Meiko has to have the conversation with her mother that, yes, her boyfriend is, in fact, living with her, and that may or may not be okay. The only definite she’s willing to share with her mother is that she sure the hell doesn’t want to talk about it, despite her mother’s refreshingly open views on the subject. Naruo is at the zoo while this conversation is going on, trying to figure out what he’s doing with himself and if it’s a good idea or not. Their friends are in similar situations—what do we do, who should we be?—but the conclusions they reach and the paths they end up taking, both pre-huge event and post-huge event, are touchingly realistic.

The art possesses a compelling simplicity, but every page has some tiny detail to be discovered, especially in the fledgling band’s rehearsal room and during performances. Interestingly enough, there are recurring visual themes throughout the book that bring us back to key moments in the plot. The book definitely contains some mature material in places and can drag at moments while Meiko and Naruo circle each other, but it’s something that anyone who has ever fleetingly wondered what it’s like to live alone again will recognize.

Ultimately, though, Solanin is about something we can all relate to: how we relate to each other, to ourselves, to the world. It’s about people we probably called last week or last year or five years ago to commiserate about our hangovers and plot new ones. It’s about all the bad decisions that we’ve tried to talk our friends out of making or insisted on making ourselves, and all the good decisions we’ve applauded in others and looked back on with satisfaction in our own lives. It’s a hot summer sliding into fall and endless days where your schedule just includes sleeping and empty time. It’s the best of times and the worst of times and the most ambivalent of times. It’s life and, yes, it’s beautiful and bitter and free. | Erin Jameson

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