Comics Time: Solanin


Inio Asano, writer/artist

Viz, October 2009

432 pages


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It’s important not to oversell this book, because author Inio Asano clearly realizes how important it is not to oversell what happens within it. A slice-of-life story involving the amiable but aimless lives of a small group of recently graduated college classmates and the band that alternately provides them with a potential avenue for personal growht and a means of staving off exactly that, Solanin is the Goldilocks of twentysomething pop coming-of-age comics: Not too angsty, not too twee, not too cutesy, not too arch, but just right. The emotions and concerns of its main character, happily unemployed Meiko and her unhappily underemployed boyfriend Taneda, strike me as finely observed and plainly told. The conviction that you must be overestimating your own talent; attempting to fix in someone else a problem present in you as well; the humor-based rhythms of a long-term relationship; the automatic bump upward in feelings of maturity that takes place when living on your own; knowing you must find some direction for your life, yet only really knowing it in the abstract, yet somehow still feeling just as pressured by this as you would if it truly were an immediate matter of life and death; your first real peer-to-peer conversations with your parents; the powerful presence of art and leisure activities, as much of a staple as food and showers; the simultaneously comforting and discomfiting way that life can quickly fill a hole left by trauma or tragedy…it’s all just laid out there, as if all the characters and the author and the audience alike can do is simply take it as it comes. It feels leisurely and true.

Amid the overall high quality proceedings, there are some stand-out moments here, too, from a judicious few playful formal tricks with captions and speech lettering, to a series of kick-ass rocknroll pin-up poses in the Jaime mode that you’ll wanna scan, print, and hang on your wall, to some really fine and sensitive writing surrounding a pivotal plot twist that could easily have thrown the whole project out of whack like an overloaded washing machine. And if the characters are all a bit glamorous-looking compared to their scrupulously realistic plights–beautiful, button-nosed, sloe-eyed women and stylish, bespectacled, well-coiffed men, drawn with the lovely machine-precise slickness I’ve come to associate with the kinds of mainstream manga that find their way to readers like me–well, you know, that’s okay too. It’s fun to watch idealized versions of ourselves beset by the same problems we face. If you liked Gipi’s Garage Band, or the non-fighting parts of Scott Pilgrim, or the non-astronaut parts of Planetes, this one’s for you.

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