Manga-ka: Inio Asano
Rating: Older Teen (16+)
Released: October 2008
Synopsis: “Meiko 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 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 part of the real world.”
With its hefty size and simple, yet eye-catching, cover design, Solanin drew my eyes to it with ease sitting on the store shelf. I’d read a few things about it here and there in recent weeks throughout the blogosphere, some good, some bad, but ultimately enough that I knew this coming-of-age story was just the kind of low-key, thought-stirring piece I was looking for.
Solanin follows the lives of a group of friends who’re just coming out of college. The main focus of the story is a girl named Meiko Inoue, whose working an office job she dislikes when the story opens. Yearning for escape from the mundane and a chance to find a new path in her life, Meiko quits her job and revels in the freedom it brings. But of course savings will only get you so far, and her live-in boyfriend isn’t much help either with his low paying part time job. This is a story about finding yourself but like most in this modern age, it comes with the restrictions that society sets in place.
I really enjoyed reading Solanin, the kind of reading experience that may not warrant much reread value but certainly made for a fantastic read the first time around. The characters are just your average young adults, ripe with ambition for some kind of accomplishment in their lives but ultimately trapped by their own insecurities.
There are some really great moments in the book, from sweet romance to tear-jerking moments of failure, but all are ripe with the kind of emotional impact you only get by something that feels really true to life. There’s no ritzy lifestyle, over the top theatrics or alien-evasions: there’s just people. They’re not perfect, they have flaws and as a reader you accept them along with everything else that makes these regular people so compelling to follow.
Meiko and her boyfriend, Naruo, will no doubt strike chords with readers who can easily relate to their everyday trials. I myself went through the paces of happy, a little sad and more-over, thought provoked as I read through. A book that makes me pause, set it down and invoke some inspired brain activity, is always welcome as far as I’m concerned. As a student coming to the end of my college years and a huge, wide world out there for me to make decisions about, the story resonated with me and was just the kind of hit-home story I needed to boost some creative thought. The manga-ka, Inio Asano, states their own reasons and inspiration behind the story’s creation, and while it comes as little surprise, it is nice to read and I agree with their sensibilities.
My only real complaint about the book took place about half way through, at the point the story hits its highest climatic crescendo. With so much building up, it got to a point where there wasn’t a single doubt in my mind about what was about to occur a full chapter before it did. Then I was right. This kind of predictability left a bit of a sour feeling, as I much prefer being surprised by unfolding events, but none the less, it set the story in motion for a new direction and ultimately one I thought worked well for the story. I don’t want to spoil the plot, because discovering the little curveballs they throw at you and life is half the entertainment, but as much as I enjoyed the first half, the second half had me rooting doubly for Meiko and my hopes for her future.
As the book from a visual standpoint, I don’t have much to say about Isio Asano’s artwork past that it was charming, a little average but a perfect companion to the story. The rounded faces and vibrant expressions brought the characters to life and I always liked taking the time to stop and notice the little details, be it the carefully drawn folds of Meiko’s pants to the dramatically rendered concert scenes. Viz’s job on the book was nice, with only a couple places where the grammar and spelling seemed to trip up a moment. I really liked the larger format, including the size and weight, and it was fun having a book that felt and looked as substantial as it is without being bulked down in hard cover and stiff binding like some larger books.
As a whole, I would definitely recommend Solanin for readers who enjoy a simple, slice of life story. There’s more than enough everyday drama to keep the pages turning and it’s near impossible not to get attached to this likeable cast of characters, through thick and thin. It’s subtle, it’s sweet and I’m definitely glad I gave it my time to enjoy.