I saw a positive review of this manga somewhere at one point, and on impulse I dropped it into my Amazon cart before checkout. The biggest reason why I didn’t have to think about risking starting this series or not, was because Viz had released this two volume story as a single volume. Instant gratification! I can get the entire story in a single sitting without rolling around in agony while waiting for the next release. Plus lately I’ve been trying to look for new types of manga to try, and this series didn’t sound much like anything I’ve read recently. My only concern had been that this story might end up being too serious, luckily that wasn’t the case.
Solanin features a group of friends that went to college in Tokyo together, they met in the music club where the guys formed a band. Now it’s a few years after college and they’re all struggling with what their dreams once were, versus the reality of the direction their life is going. Meiko became an Office Lady right out of college, and worked her job for two years before deciding to quit and take the summer off. Kato is still in college, he is in his 6th year and the other students regard him as the loser they hope they’ll never become. Billy (aka Rip) has gone to work in the family pharmacy business as a clerk. Ai became a sales woman at a clothing store and is currently dating Kato. Taneda is working part time as an illustrator and still holds hope that someday he won’t have to conform to the hell that is the life of the white collared worker of Tokyo. He is dating Meiko, they’ve lived together for the past year, and he relies on her to be the primary breadwinner of the relationship.
I honestly probably can’t do this series the justice it deserves in my review, but I’d still like to try and talk about Solanin anyway. This is one of those manga series that I’m in this hobby for, a gem I accidentally stumbled across that made me look at manga in a different light. The series I end up cherishing the most are probably the ones I can relate to the most, and as a 24 year old that finished up college a few years ago, Solanin hits a home run in that department like no other. I like a lot of things about my life right now, but what I miss more than anything are lazy comfortable summers. I sometimes play with the idea of becoming a teacher so I can get summers off again. So when Meiko up and quit her job for the summer to fulfill exactly those goals of freedom, I was really excited for her. As much as I dream of having a summer off, I don’t feel comfortable enough with my position to act on it, so to see a character take that leap felt gratifying.
In college I still thought of myself as a kid even though I was over 18, but now, even though I haven’t changed much in the last few years I can’t think of myself as a kid without cringing. Because lets face it I’m an adult now, even if my heart doesn’t recognize it. All my life road choices have been greatly reduced, and now the path my life is going to take is far clearer to me than it was 4 years ago. Now I don’t think that’s a bad thing necessarily, but it does feel a little disturbing. This series represents that underlying worry really well, it was actually drawn at a time when the mangaka (Asano Inio) wasn’t sure if he could actually make a living off of his dream. I’ve almost never felt so much of a mangaka’s life represented in their work as I do with Solanin.
Although all the talk about worrying about life may seem too somber to be an entertaining read, the series really doesn’t get bogged down by it. The characters are great, and do ridiculous things that fit right in with how real friends joke around. There is a lot of joy in the scenes where everyone is hanging out together. Asano can make the characters have hilarious expressions without having to resort to distorting their faces to get across the humor. Oftentimes in manga characters will make faces, and take on forms that are completely unrealistic, but these unnatural forms get across the humor of the moment better. I’m impressed that this mangaka can have me chuckling so often without having to resort to those tricks. I really like the art style, both the characters and their surroundings feel realistic in a way that’s both comforting and startling.
I HIGHLY recommend Solanin, this series has a special place in my heart. Although keep in my mind that this series feels like it was made for people in my position in life. I can’t tell if I would have liked this series as much if I were still in high school, I’m not sure I would be able to relate as well. At the very least if you’re a fan of manga and you’re in your 20’s I really think you should give this series a try. But that isn’t to say if you’re not younger or older you won’t enjoy this series, it probably depends on your mindset more-so than your age.
After reading Solanin I immediately grabbed It’s a Wonderful Life! by Asano. That series is also great and gets across a similar message as Solanin, although it uses a different approach. There are many characters with different stories that are tied together by small ovelaps in their lives. It’s an approach I like a lot, but I definitely prefer Solanin in the end. I look forward to reading everything Asano has ever created.