Window Washers in Space
I don’t know about you, but I am scared of heights. Few things freak me out more than seeing those window-washers hanging off the edges of skyscrapers with nothing under their feet than empty air, and nothing holding them up but a slim cable. Imagine, even more so, what window washers will be like when mankind makes its eventual move to outer space.
That is the basic premise of “Saturn Apartments,” which sees a future where the entire planet Earth has been set aside as a nature reserve, and the human population has been moved to an artificial enclosed ring system in geosynchronous orbit. The ring itself is split into three levels, the upper level where the wealthy make their homes, the lower level where the poor are, and the middle level which seems to be set aside for public services like schools and hospitals.
The story follows Mitsu, who has just graduated school and is set to replace his father as a window washer for the ring system. This means he suits up in a spacesuit and rappels across the ring-structure until he gets to his client’s window, where he washes it. It is a dangerous job, due to the threat of meteorites and running out of air, or even having your lifeline cut as happened to Mitsu’s father. Of course, because the window-washing service is expensive, it is almost entirely the upper level that can afford the luxury, while the lower levels survive in only artificial light and no view of the outside world.
“Saturn Apartments” is essentially a “job manga” in the same was as the Science Fiction series Aria, where the story revolves around Mitsu and his various clients and his struggles to fit into the world of his father. There are a few reoccurring characters, like Jin who had been Mitsu’s father’s partner and now is showing Mitsu the ropes, and Sachi, a girl who lives in a cleaning-machine that perpetually crawls the surface of the ring, as is set up as a possible love interest for Mitsu. But mostly the stories revolve around the quirks of Mitsu’s clients, and the various reasons why they shelled out the massive amount of cash required to get their window’s cleaned.
The art is, of course, simply beautiful. Iwaoka Hisae is more than just a manga artist but has also achieved recognition as a fine artist, participating in Murakami Takashi’s “Tokyo Girls Bravo” exhibition. Her artwork walks the balance between ultra-detailed and simple, with people’s faces being little more than round shapes with mouths, eyes and noses dotted in, but then ring-system itself is fully realized and completely believable. Iwaoka definitely subscribes to the “dirty future” style of Science Fiction, where all that machinery and tubes and gears that keeps everyone alive in a hostile environment needs to be maintained by somebody still willing to pull on a worksuit and gets their hands dirty for a low wage.
One odd thing about Iwaoka’s art is that it is difficult to tell anyone’s age. Her main character Mitsu looks like he just got out of Elementary school and is about nine or ten years old, but then in another seen he is sitting at a bar with Sachi (who looks the same age as Mitsu) getting drunk. Maybe this is the way the world works in the future, but it can be a bit disconcerting not being able to reconcile the character’s apparent ages with their behaviours.
But that is the most minor of minor complaints, and all in all “Saturn Apartments” is a satisfying comic. It will be interesting to see if the next volumes are all “Customer of the Week” or if Mitsu, Jin and Sachi’s characters and story arcs will be further developed. Either way, I will be on board to see what happens.