Standing at the crossroads
“Solanin” is good. Really good. Really, really good. Inio Asano has crafted a perfect little story that summons up raw emotions and captures that stage in life when you stand with one foot in adulthood and one foot in childhood, and you wonder if your body has enough strength in it to drag both feet solidly on one side. And what it will mean if you do.
Meiko is in her mid-twenties. She works at a job she hates (that pays well), and lives in Tokyo with her boyfriend of six years,Taneda (which her parents don’t know about). Taneda is in a band that only practices but never plays live, and pretty much relies on Meiko to take care of them. Meiko sees a path stretching out in front of her, but she is pretty sure it isn’t one she wants to take. Is this what life means as an adult? To work for pay in a soul-crushing career? Or to be completely irresponsible and still act like a teenager like Taneda? In the end, decisions must be made, and some of those decisions we get to make of our own free will, and some of those decisions are thrust upon us by circumstances.
I don’t know if everyone has this same dilemma. Some people seem to leap feet-first into adulthood—career, wife, house, kids—without batting an eye or ever looking back. I didn’t. I graduated college, fooled around in bands that never went anywhere, went back to college just so I could put off the real world again for awhile, dabbled in this and that, all the while shying away from that Big Bad Wolf known as adult responsibility that lurks around the corner.
Maybe because of my own experience, “Solanin” was a story I could relate to. And I don’t want to give away any spoilers, because discovering the story is part of the wonders of this comics, but I was happy it didn’t end on a fairy tale. The band doesn’t suddenly strike gold proving that the slacker’s route was the best after all. The whole story was just really … real.
And Asano’s art is beautiful. There is a fantastic balance between the stylized, simplistic faces of the characters and the richly detailed world they live in. The art is for the most part realistic, but Asano slips in the occasional manga trope just as a reminder that these are cartoon people in a cartoon world. The shading is also impeccable. The blacks and grays are rich, and the artwork has a great sense of depth-of-field and perspective.
Most of all, I loved the characters. Meiko is not gorgeous. She isn’t sexy. She just looks like an average girl, the kind that you might pass on the street every day. When she crys, she gets ugly. When she smiles, she glows. And her friends are the same. Some are overweight, some are funny looking, some are pretty. One the whole they are just—average.
As Asano says, “There is nothing cool about these characters. They’re just your average 20-somethings who blend into the backdrop of the city. But the most important messages in our lives don’t come from the musicians on the stage or stars on television. They come from the average people all around you, the ones who are just feet away from where you stand. That’s what I believe.”
That’s cool. I believe that too.