The Song Is Over: Inio Asano’s Solanin

October 7th, 2009 Posted by david brothers

Inio Asano’s Solanin is about a young girl stuck in that period of time where youthful dreams give way to cold reality. Meiko, the main character, is forced to confront that she may not grow up and get to be whatever she wants to be, and may have to take what she can get.

Meiko’s struggle and listlessness is very easy to relate to. Meiko is at a point in her life that I think most, if not all, of us go through. She’s graduated from college and is working a dead-end job that she doesn’t enjoy. She feels like her live-in boyfriend is freeloading, just a little, and while she’s not unhappy, she isn’t in a very good state of mind, either. She needs a change, but she doesn’t know which change or even how to figure that out. So, at the beginning of summer, she quits her job and decides to live off her savings for a while.

Her boyfriend and friends are similarly familiar. Her boyfriend is Naruo Taneda, and she simply calls Taneda most of the time. He’s accepted post-college life as something that’s endured. He goes to work at his freelance illustration job, accepts the crap hours, and deals with the crap pay.

Kato is a slacker, still fooling around in his sixth year of college. His girlfriend tolerates it, because she knows that adult life sucks. It’s boring and it’s long, so she might as well let him have his fun before she has to really crack the whip.

The word for Solanin is “melancholy.” Meiko’s thoughts are spelled out in a monologue over the course of most of the chapters, and she’s equal parts unsure and hopeful. When she finds something that can give her the get up and go that she needs, she embraces it, but even that isn’t enough, and she soon falls back into old habits.

The characters have embraced the idea of “it is what it is.” No one is particularly satisfied by their lot in life. Meiko struggles to find something to give life meaning, Taneda noodles around in his band, and Kato dreams about betraying his girlfriend. Rip, another of their friends, isn’t sure if he’s happy in his life, either, but he tries to make the best of it.

What’s interesting about Solanin is that since the majority of the cast is searching for ways to be happy, every smile is a worthwhile one. They take happiness where they can get it, whether it’s through dumb pranks or genuine breakthroughs. When Meiko watches Taneda and the band perform their new song, she smiles and says, “Yes. This is how it should be.”

Really, every emotion is earned. While there is one telegraphed and basically cliche twist partway through the book, the payoff for it is excellent. The scenes where the band performs are powerful and portrayed as raw emotion. The band’s rediscovering what they love, and through that, trying to find happiness.

Solanin is about coming to terms with real life. As kids, we are told and taught and assume that we’ll have these exciting lives where we own our own business, act in movies or plays, sing, write novels, or do something exciting for a living. In reality, though, most of us will spend our time working toward making someone else richer. Over the course of the book, Meiko learns that you have to take happiness where you can get it. A life of pure bliss doesn’t exist, it’s a child’s dream, and you have to grow out of a thirst for that before you can enjoy life as it should be.

There’s a powerful image toward the end of the book, of Meiko bent over, her head touching the ground. Nothing’s visible except for her figure collapsed on the ground. It’s one of my favorite images in the book, in part because of what it represents. She came to terms with what life is about and has finally decided what to do.

Solanin is very good. Maybe it’s because I’m around the same age as the cast of the book. I like to think that it’s because Solanin is very good in and of itself. It’s some 400 pages long, but I burned through it in a couple of sittings. I wish I’d read it last year when it came out. However, Asano has a couple more books coming out this month– What A Wonderful World! volumes one and two. I’m definitely going to check those out just because Solanin was so enjoyable.

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New People opens in San Francisco

August 15th, 2009 Posted by david brothers

You know what’s weird? At some point over the past few months, probably after I finished Monster and started Pluto and 20th Century Boys, Viz Media became my favorite comics publisher. If they had Yotsuba&, I’m pretty sure I could just read Viz’s books and be happy for the rest of my life.

The NEW PEOPLE shopping complex/cultureplex opens up today, and it has a heavy Viz presence. There are four stories, including the Mezzanine. The bottom floor is a 143-seat underground theater called Viz Cinema, which is showing a Bleach movie, the first of the 20th Century Boys trilogy, and Death Note currently. Above that is the first floor, which features food and Blue Bottle Coffee. The Mezzanine features New People the store, sounds kinda gift shop-y, with merch geared specifically around the New People complex and fancy Japanese tech goods.

The second floor is all retail, with a mix of stores that feature gothic fashion, lolita fashion, or both, and some fancy looking kicks. Take a look here. The third floor is the SUPERFROG gallery, which is described as “providing a direct link to emerging artists that draw their inspiration from Japanese popular culture.” It looks pretty interesting, and will probably be one of my first stops. Currently, it’s displaying some work by Yoshitaka Amano.

I’m definitely going to be making my way over there in the next week, if not tomorrow. I want to check out the first 20th Century Boys, since it covers up to the books I’ve read so far, and check out the SUPERFROG gallery. It’s in the heart of Japantown, so I can hit up Kinokuniya, too.

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Must-read Manga Linkblogging

August 13th, 2009 Posted by david brothers

Kristy Valenti has a wonderful look back at Oh! My Goddess!, a series I remember always being curious about but unwilling to break out of my “Anime should be about FIGHTING! and sometimes being sad but mostly FIGHTING!” mold as a teenager. Not that I’m any better now, of course, since I re-watch Ninja Scroll a couple times a year. Anyway, it looked interesting, and I liked the idea of the cosmology/theology/bureaucracy in it, so her look back is very welcome. She does a good job of explaining its place historically, too, which is always fun to see when someone’s talking about an older series, where “older” here means “pre-Naruto explosion.”

Kate Dacey sat down and read and reviewed all of the current Shonen Sunday manga chapters. Shonen Sunday is one of Viz’s TWO online manga endeavors. IKKI and Shonen Sunday are aimed at two different markets, more or less, with IKKI seemingly being a bit more mature and Shonen Sunday being aimed at the teen-ish market. Kate’s observations seemed dead-on to me when I read a couple of the installments, so bam! Take her word as holy writ and go and read.

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