Under the guise of postmodern human life lays a undisputed mystery, searching for an undiluted answer to living the good life. This would be the purpose one has to endure to escape out of adolescent life and try to cultivate under harsh conditions of the financial needs of surviving in the adult world. Do I stick with the status quo and live a stable life with hardly any trouble despite the boredom that goes with it? Or try to luck out by giving a big middle finger to it and indulge myself into in a lifestyle that will practically make life difficult but will make my experiences more interesting? Welcome to the stage of young adulthood.
There are manga that have delved into this subject matter in a variety of different ways with their storytelling or even art styles. What many consider to be one that encapsulates this in the slice of life genre is Solanin. Written and drawn by the much-beloved, and arguably the most melancholic, Inio Asano, it is considered to be the most accessible manga in his bibliography. In Solanin, it is a fairly simple story of a young adult couple who want to pursue their dreams of being musicians and try to cope with any hindrances that prevent them from accomplishing that goal. There are no abstract or obscure plot structures in Solanin, unlike in most of his other works. If there are people who are interested in starting out in Inio Asano, this would be the best one, both in quality and attainability.
In discussing the quality of Solanin’s story, one has to fully acknowledge the amount of depth Asano puts into the realism of it. All of it is prevalent from the atmosphere it portrays from the dialogue that involves numerous monologues from the character Meiko. What also helps is the panels that are just colored black with soliloquies describing Meiko’s despair or confidence that she says to herself. This helps in giving the atmosphere a sense of dread and vulnerability to the reader by feeling what the character is feeling at that exact moment. The significance of their reason for existing in the manga is to represent despair itself in a minimalist interpretation of it; that it is pure nothingness in physical and mental form.
These subtle and distinct measures that Asano incorporates into the story and artwork help with tremendous effect in establishing a pathos to the emotions that the characters portray. Realism is what he wants to be seen as an obvious backdrop. There are no sudden obvious inclinations of a miracle being pulled through the tragedy because that would not correspond fully on how real life is. However, that is not to say the whole story is filled with angst-ridden anguish throughout. It can be conceived as a tone that is neither happy or sad, just in the middle ground of both emotions where you can’t feel one sided about either emotion. This is what makes Solanin special in that regard, in that although there are definitely notable moments that entail tragedy, it isn’t overbearing to where it feels overly bogged down by it. Asano knows full well how to invoke realism into a story like Solanin and achieves it with great care and precision.
Pacing comes at a slower and methodical speed in each chapter, with most of them ranging at a 14 page length. This, I would argue, is where a few of the big problems Solanin has from it becoming a masterpiece. Because of the short amount pages that we get from each volume, some of the plot arcs feel a little rushed, especially near the later portions of the story. For instance, we see Meiko wanting to become a guitar player for Taneda’s band who, as far as we’ve been given, has no experience with the guitar. Yet, somehow, plays it with no problems. Either she knew beforehand how to play without Asano telling us so or there was not enough to build up even a montage of her trying to hone her craft. Nevertheless, when the chapters focus more on how Meiko and Taneda rekindle their relationship and their internal struggles, the pacing is nicely done the way it is.
Our two main leads, Meiko and Taneda, make up a majority of why Solanin’s story is very engrossing. As I’ve said before on the manga’s realism, Meiko and Taneda really feel like actual human beings rather than pure caricatures of one. People may criticize Meiko in calling her idiotic for her actions in leaving her job in order to lounge around doing nothing to find her purpose in life. But that really should not be characterized as an actual criticism based on actions characters make that are rooted on their intentions. They make our leads more empathetic for us to relate to, and that should be important for a writer to invoke from the story that they are portraying.
Another aspect to be admired from them is how their romance is depicted pragmatically, without any superficial tropes you typically see in any romance story. Young love usually does not bode well in the future because of the difficulties that couples face through fear of where their relationship might go in the future. Here in Solanin, we see a couple that are both madly in love with each other and yet they are afraid of each other as well. Almost as if they are hesitant on wanting to give up on being in the single life and having to rely on the anxieties of being a couple. Asano obviously has great knowledge of youth culture and there is no question that he puts that in great detail when constructing Meiko and Sanada as characters.
Asano has a distinct style to his artwork. At times it can be seen as your typical manga character drawings and then later it would transform into something abstract and almost unidentifiable. His work for Solanin is one of his less obscure creations, since it’s more inclined in giving us an actual depiction of life in Tokyo. Although there are notable scenes that are drawn very beautifully, not a whole lot of the manga is drawn with real awe-inspiring aesthetics. Sure, on the one hand, it can be construed as Asano invoking minimalist aspects to fit the tone, but even with that in mind, it never resonated completely with me.
Realism, when done right, can be an impacting literary tool for readers who want to experience a story that feels close to home. In many respects, Solanin hit the right notes to be given a high recommendation for anyone who have yet to encounter a work by Inio Asano. Not many people can stomach realism in stories in a continuous sitting. But once you have encountered one that captures the true nature of human life, only the word “triumph” can describe its impact.