Review: Solanin by Asano Inio

This week marks the release of one of the more
highly-anticipated manga of the publishing year, A Girl on the Shore from Asano Inio. In 2010, I reviewed an earlier
piece by him, Solanin, and I wanted
to revisit that work before I wrote about his latest comic.

Solanin is a slice
of life comic about the lives of a bunch of mid tweny-somethings who are out of
college and trying to figure out what they are doing with their lives. Meiko
Inoue, the main character, quits her office job to live off her savings, while
her boyfriend Naruo Taneda works a part-time job that can’t pay rent. Meiko,
discontent with laying around, and the feeling of stagnation in her
relationship with Naruo, pushes him to get his college band back together to
record an album and pursue their dreams. Things play out in a fairly expected
manner until in a quick and static chapter, Naruo dies in a motor vehicle

What strikes me about Solanin
in general is how much time Inio spends in the heads of his characters in the
first two-thirds of the comic, and how Inio uses Naruo’s death as a catalyst
for the action of the remainder. I think as a whole, the book suffers for that
lack of balance – Solanin spends much
of its time in the weeds, and the ending feels rushed by comparison. His quirky
male characters seem to be there to offset the moody darkness of Meiko, but
mostly they seem like a distraction rather than humorous.

But it’s clear that while Inio is developing as a creator
and hasn’t completely gotten his feet under him, Solanin shows the promise of his later work. The use of metaphor of
Solanin is a decent example;
throughout the comic, Meiko’s parents send vegetables to her in Tokyo from
rural Japan, which rot because they never get eaten. That idea of decay, the
dispersing of relationships and death of friendships that happens because time
happens, and not because of any big explosion, is resonant. Inio also uses music
as a driving force, one that keeps the group of friends together after Naruo’s
death and continues to help his survivors build new relationships and grow.

The illustration for Solanin is a bit
shaky in places, but it’s an indication of what’s to come in A Girl on the
. Inio’s faces are expressive and wide, but backgrounds feel traced
from photographs, at time to a distracting degree. There are points where it
seems the image of popular actor or talk-show host has been cut and paste right
into the page, which feels odd given the rest of characters’ detailed drawing.

Solanin is, at its
best, a comic that explores the listlessness and sometimes hopelessness of that
time in your mid-twenties, when you aren’t truly young any longer, and you
start to realize that with each decision you make, you shut doors on alternate
paths. In that mindset Inio’s own angst about graduation and finding success
as a cartoonist is palpable. Solanin
is a somewhat rocky introduction to Asano Inio’s cartooning. But it’s a book
that continues to hold up since its original publication 10 years ago, and it’s an excellent way to start reading Inio’s manga before picking up the new work that is coming out
for the first time in English in 2016.

Solanin is published in English by Viz Media. They will also be publishing Goodnight Punpun, Asano Inio’s most recent comic. Volume 1 will be released in March.

A Girl on the Shore is published by Vertical Comics.

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