solanin Review


For anyone who has ever faltered or drifted….

Lately I haven’t had a lot of time for anime… or my blog. I just started working a new job last week, and its keeping me fairly busy, yanking my ass out of bed in the wee hours of the morning to go freeze myself through a commute. I do like my new job; it just is taking up a lot of time.

Given how much time I am out of the house now, along with the fact that my poor little laptop just isn’t doing so well, I haven’t had very much time to watch anime. As such, I’ve been reading more manga as of late, mostly of the re-reading variety. In the past few days alone, I’ve re-read four different manga. One of them was solanin.

I feel that it is necessary for some reason to mention right off the bat that solanin is a long manga. Because of it’s length, it may initially inspire a bit of bafflement, as the story doesn’t seem to really be doing anything at the beginning. But the fact is that that is the nature of the manga; Meiko, our main character, doesn’t really know what she’s doing with her life, working aimlessly as an office lady and without any motivation. She hates her job, but doesn’t see there being much of an alternative. Likewise, her boyfriend doesn’t really like what he’s doing, doesn’t make much money, and has taken up residence with her more out of a lack of other ideas than out of any romantic intent.

However, Meiko decides to quit her job one day, sick of the malaise she’s drifted into, and it jolts her boyfriend, Taneda, into getting back together with his friends from college with whom he had been in a band. But even with these developments, the two continue to float along more or less sans direction. Meiko quit her job, but she doesn’t have any idea of what she wants to do instead. And Taneda may be having some fun with the band, but their reduced income is constantly lurking in the background.

So there’s the storyline, really – young adults trying to find their way in this modern reality we have in industrialized countries, a reality that the youth of Japan have been struggling with since the economic slump of the 90’s. A reality that many young Americans like myself have had to contend with since our own economy tanked a few years ago.

One of the great things about solanin is that it’s quite realistic. Yes, there’s a band, and I was a bit skeptical when I realized that as I was reading, but this isn’t Beck, this isn’t Gravitation. It isn’t a rags-to-riches tale we have at hand, with a fairy godmother in the form of a sympathetic and energetic record executive. This is about average Japanese people who are dissatisfied with their own lives, yet either lack a vision of what they would like for their lives or lack the means to achieve that vision.

There also isn’t quite an “ending”. I mean, there is a point at which the story closes out, but a lot of stuff is left open-ended, which, let’s be honest, is a lot more like life than stories which tie up every string and tuck it away neatly. Tragedy strikes, and Meiko is forced to snap out of her new malaise, the one she develops even after she takes the drastic step of breaking away from the life which was leaving her cold.

solanin is sad and honest and even uplifting, uplifting in the way that one appreciates as an adult but would have found stifling as an adolescent.

One of the things I still find myself most impressed with in solanin is Inio Asano’s portrayal of Meiko. I honestly thought that Asano was a woman, just based on how spot-on his depiction of her was, the fact that it really felt like I was inside the head of a young woman. Most male manga-ka are not this good at that (which is part of why so much yuri makes me cringe). So imagine my surprise when I realized that Asano is a man! Kudos for actually getting that women are people, too.

For American reader, solanin is available from Viz. There is also apparently a live action movie adaptation, although it isn’t available commercially in English, nor was I able to locate a fansub of it. If anyone is interested in subbing, it though… let me know. I’m willing to buy the region 2 DVD and rip it.

Of relation to the movie, Asian Kung-Fu Generation did a single called ‘solanin’ for that movie.

Caddy C actually did a review of solanin last summer, which you may wish to check out as well.

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9 Responses to solanin Review

  1. I spilled my own bottle of internet ink on this manga. I’ll take this opportunity to comment about the film.

    The actress who played Meiko… I thought she just has bad luck with me. I thought she was too plain to play Hachiko in the 2nd Nana movie… and too cute to play Meiko here in Solanin.

    For most of the film I never bought into her performance which affected my appreciation for the rest of the cast’s which was a shame because I thought they all did well.

    But then the concert happened, and all was fucking well. Wow.

    • adaywithoutme says:

      Did you do a post on the manga? Or are you referring to your own comment on Caddy’s review? Just curious, since I would be interested in reading a post you did of it if you did do one of it.

  2. Martin says:

    Ooh…another one of my favourites! Apart from the obvious ‘directionlessness’ ofthe story I can’t find any reason NOT to recommend this. Maybe as a fellow anxiety-filled twentysomething with no burning ambitions I can relate to the characters more than most, but still…the attention to detail and obvious affection Asano has for his characters shine through. I guess it’s not trying to make a bold statement or present answers to their situation; it’s just showing life as it is and perhaps subtly reminding the readers that they’re not alone in having no answers.

    I found the film faithful to the novel but somehow lacking. I don’t know what it was. The leads were great (like GL above I thought the actress didn’t look ‘ordinary’ enough to be Meiko but she sure as hell convinced me by the end) but it didn’t have me utterly gripped like the GN did. It’s still worth watching though – I believe the charmingly-named Randomfaggots subbed it, and it’s in DVD quality (in case your ailing laptop makes this an issue).

    • adaywithoutme says:

      Oh, glad to hear there is a sub available; admittedly my own search for one was made problematic by Tokyotosho’s April Fools’ prank… Even if it is a bit lacking, I’m still curious to watch it.

      I’m hoping to see more of Inio Asano’s work in English… his stuff just hits all the right notes, it seems. I’m going to re-read What a Wonderful World! next, probably, although I’m a bit leery since it is one of those manga where I find I have trouble enumerating why it is I enjoy it so much.

  3. idiffer says:

    nice review. although i couldn’t really appreciate the manga, despite being in a similar situation as the chars.
    anyway, use this site to find asian movies. tokyotosho sucks at that.

  4. Pingback: Suggested Reading March 27th-April 3rd 2010 « Black and Blue Socks

  5. Caddy C says:

    Thanks for the link! 🙂

    I was also surprised that Asano is a guy. I guess I shouldn’t make assumptions like that, but his characterization of Meiko was just spot-on. I also read the first volume of What a Wonderful World and was struck with the way a couple of the women in that volume were written. I liked that volume as well, but it wasn’t nearly as cohesive as solanin so I didn’t continue it.

    I think this is an absolutely perfect way to describe solanin:
    solanin is sad and honest and even uplifting, uplifting in the way that one appreciates as an adult but would have found stifling as an adolescent.

  6. odorunara says:

    I read this back in the summer before I came to Japan, and I loved it. Part of why I loved it is that I’m still finishing getting through some shojo manga, and it was one of the first ones I read about people my age. I thought it also captured the feel of economic crunch and aimlessness that so many people of my generation experience. The art was amazing, too. Thanks for reminding me of this work!

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