Following the lives of five friends creeping steadily into the adult world of closing doors and lost opportunities, the cast of Solanin fight against what many people would call inevitability aka “adulthood”. They don’t want to go through repetitive motions earning money, they hedge committing too much in romantic relationships, and they drink like 19 year-olds in order to loosen up. But by making these mistakes they all come to realize what fires their souls; they come to find what makes life worth living.
Solanin is one of manga publisher VIZ media’s growing VIZ Signature book line. It’s a slice-of-life, T+ rated character study by master storyteller Inio Asano, creator of What a Wonderful World! and Nijigahara Holograph. Such was the appeal of Solanin that in 2010 it was adapted into a movie featuring acclaimed actress Aoi Miyazaki. In line with such writers and artists as Jeffrey Brown and Liz Prince, Inio Asano specializes in realistic stories resplendent with many small good times, and enormous tragedies. By the author’s own admission, he drew on the lives of her friends and what he considers to be the experience of his generation1. Traveling from rut to rut in the difficult journey of finding a purpose, the cast of Solanin encapsulate the few years right out of college. They joke around all the time, they have ideal futures that are at odds with their bank accounts, and they battle against their fears of a dead-end life like their parents have. Especially telling are the days, months, and years that weigh heavily on them as they grow farther and farther away from the college crowd. I defy anyone in their 20s to tell me that they haven’t felt, or heard their friends say, that they feel like they are falling behind everyone else their age. This is a truism of the post-college that I haven’t seen many authors really get when they write a story about people in their early 20s.
Solanin has a lot of heart and feeling put into each panel and segment of dialogue. Often times the behavior of the characters seems bizarre until the reader stops thinking of the book as a scripted story and more a stream of consciousness. Time slows down and pages stretch on and on when the characters become contemplative, while the story skips ahead days and even months when Meiko, Kato, Rip, Naruo, and Ai unquestioningly go about their lives. Primarily focusing on Meiko, a determined young woman and girlfriend of Naruo, the plot of Solanin pays special attention to the difficulties Meiko faces as a woman growing older, unemployed and unmarried in Japan. Meiko asks herself what she should do with her life, what jobs she can have now that she’s reaching her mid-20s, and if she wants to be in a relationship with a boyfriend who is so laid back that it’s almost irresponsible. She consults with her friend Ai on matters of money and how to find pride in her work. Of course they talk about each others boyfriends, but the approach seems less about testing whether they like their boyfriends and more about how to inspire them to make the best of their talents. It’s Meiko’s belief that if only they could all figure this growing up thing out, then they would be a force to be reckoned with.
Overall, Solanin is a very positive story that doesn’t pander to any preconceived notions of boys versus girls, or romantic entanglement versus career. Despite the tragedy that propels the story forward, Solanin is an exceptional slice-of-life story with a very proactive message. It’s a rare book that manages to find a balance between all of the conflicting directions that a person’s life takes them in, but Solanin is one such book. It’s saccharine to say this, and it will probably turn some people off of the book, but it’s nice to read a story where the plot doesn’t end in despair and resignation, but rather adaptation and joy.
1 Inio Asano, Solanin, (San Francisco, CA: VIZ Media LLC, 2013), “Afterword”.