Like the last review posted, this was handed in as an assignment, so do note this is a tone entirely different than I usually use. Also, this was written in quite a rush, so it’s a pretty poor piece. Regardless, for the sake actually updating with content once in a while, please bear with something half-baked such as this.
Asano Inio. Solanin. San Francisco: Viz Media, 2008.
Serialized in Shogakukan’s Weekly Young Sunday from 2005 to 2006, Solanin is a seinen manga title that has since been published in English, French, and Taiwanese. In 2010 a live-action movie adaptation was released in Japan. Originally bound in two volumes, the English release under review collected the entire work into a single volume. The manga is rated for Older Teens (16+), due to some mild nudity.
The manga focuses on a group in their mid-twenties, beginning two years after (most of them) had graduated from university. The primary character of the manga is Meiko, who is introduced while she still has a job as an office lady (a particular office job in Japan meant for women, where they are assumed to quit once ready for marriage) and living with her boyfriend, Taneba, the other primary character of the work. Taneba plays in a band, formed in his university years, while working part time as an illustrator. The story follows them, Taneba’s band mates, and friends as they struggle against the tedium of everyday routine, starting with Meiko quitting her job. This struggle is presented largely through the conflict between the needs to live in urban society and their simpler love for playing music together.
The first half of Solanin is largely spent giving a character-by-character treatment of the five characters of focus, elaborating on their place in the group and how they make their living. This is sort of awkward, making the beginning handful of chapters a sort of meandering feel until the narrative buckles down for the latter half. This leads to the early chapters a bit rough, where the intentions going forward are fairly vague and uncertain. This causes the first half to feel rather indistinct and rather disengaging. Strictly speaking, those aren’t very good qualities, though fixed in the latter half. Of interest, however, is in how this reflects the ongoing issue featured through all the characters, especially Meiko, where finding satisfying direction in post-education life is difficult and unsure. This pattern of the pacing of narrative reflecting the state of psychology happens consistently in the manga.
Asano brings to bear a fairly distinct visual style, with a flair for a cast whose faces are varied in shape, and often with details unusual to manga. This is especially noticeable in the characters other than Meiko and Taneba, where self-identification is less important. This extends further to affect Asano’s use of backdrops, often very detailed and populated with a great deal of objects, ignoring any sort of convention for the economy of effort, particularly in the scenes regarding the necessities of life, versus those that focus on the characters during scenes of music performance. This lends to a strong sense of claustrophobia, of the characters being small as compared to the setting they live in, highlighting well their difficulty in integrating with society, and its position as antagonist to their efforts to both eke out a living and find fulfillment with their place in life. To contrast, those scenes where the band members are absorbed in music playing, the backdrops often disappear or become much less busy, focusing purely on the emotions felt in this music playing, where they are able to temporarily chase away the drudgery and tedium of daily existence, becoming larger than the world.
At the end of the day, Solanin contrasts itself from more shounen titles about music, such as BECK: Mongolian Chop Squad, first by featuring a much older cast, weary from the effects of adult life, but more importantly, does so by shifting the focus away from more naïve, reckless themes about wish fulfillment or success and onto the theme of finding a place of belonging within the oppressive system of society without breaking out of it. In this way, the manga maintains a strong dose of cynicism towards big dreams of glory, while still holding optimism towards the ability to find fulfillment nonetheless through smaller, more personal aspects of life, making the manga much more appropriate for those in their adult years, already involved in the day-to-day tedium of being in the full-time workforce. There is no doubt that Asano writes this manga specifically for such an audience.