August 27, 2009
Stories you can relate to on a personal level are some of the most powerful ones you’ll encounter, but sometimes, they can be a bit hard to swallow if they hit too close to home.
STORY – Solanin is about the quarter-life crisis: your quarter-life crisis, my quarter-life crisis. After graduating college, Meiko finds herself working as an “office lady.” The hours and pay are decent, but she doesn’t feel any connection towards what she does, her coworkers, or her boss. So she quits. How many other graduates find themselves wanting to do the same not long after starting their first job? We leave high school with the goal of finding something we want to do for the rest of our lives. We spend years in college or university trying to pinpoint what that is and to collect the necessary skills to pursue such a path. We graduate and find that the real world isn’t that easy. The time and money you spent on that degree may not help you get the job you want at all. All your work could have been irrelevant or the job you thought you wanted might not be what you expected after all.
Meiko flounders around her first couple of weeks without a job. She finds her freedom to be just as boring as her job had been. Direction is hard to find. “The rest of your life” is a scary thing to consider, but this story paces through a few months of that long journey. Solanin echos the twentysomething’s fears and worries very well, but is ambiguous in the answers it offers, if you choose to consider them answers at all. They are half-solutions, partially formed, and depend wildly on the person executing them. Solanin’s narrative feels very personal though, and despite that it’s very much a slice of life in that this is only a snapshot, the story feels complete. Growing up doesn’t happen between two predefined points. Meiko spends the story growing up, but that doesn’t mean she didn’t start long before the first chapter, and that doesn’t mean she’s grown up by the end. But she’s learned something.
The quarter-life crisis is a problem of self-identification, self-worth, and self-motivation. Who are we? Who do we want to be? What do we want to do? Why should we do anything at all? What is happiness? It is a coming of age problem that stretches on beyond the teenage years. So Solanin is about growing up, long after the ages at which we thought we’d already grown up. It is about life. It is about “saying goodbye to your past self.” We spend our whole lives growing up, always trying to figure out where exactly our childhood ended and when our adulthoods began.
CHARACTER – All of the characters in Solanin feel very real. Meiko could be anyone, absolutely anyone. The things she feels towards her job, the things she thinks and feels, her fears and doubts and hopes and pipedreams — I don’t know a single person her age that doesn’t think and feel at least half of the same things. This universality doesn’t detract from her identity though; Meiko is a person sorting out life in her own way. The decisions she makes are based on her own whims, and her failures and triumphs are hers to decide which are which. They could be anyone’s, but they are hers. The rest of the cast works in very much the same way. I feel like I could personally know Taneda, Kato, Jiro, Ai, or any of the others; they are all thoroughly convincing people and Solanin could have very easily been centered around any of them. The story details would differ then, but there would be very few thematic differences, if any. It’s fascinating that supporting characters could feel so in-depth and real despite only two volumes to develop in.
ART – Inio Asano has an oddly whimsical style. His girls in particular appear very childlike, which made it harder for me to see them as twentysomethings — kind of awkward for some scenes. Most of them were also very similar in design and body type, making them less visually interesting. His men were also rather young looking, but facial hair helped set a more convincing age range and widely varying body types made them seem more like real people. Regardless of stylistic drawbacks though, Asano’s artwork is very solid and all of his characters are wonderfully expressive; there’s a good balance between silly caricatures and serious faces as well. Many of the backgrounds felt like stock to me because the straight-up realism and details clashed a bit with the character art, but as the characters often interacted with their surroundings, it would have been impossible for all the backgrounds to be stock. Either way, all of the backgrounds fit in seamlessly and help emphasize that this is the real world — that these are real people facing their real problems in their own real ways.
OVERALL – Assuming I actually manage to scrape together all my credits and do it on time, I’ll be graduating college next spring. It’s easy to see why I could connect so well with the characters and story in Solanin. It’s every twentysomething’s story, even those that think they know what they’re doing (which, for the record, does not include me). My friends and I manage to talk about the future all the time without actually talking about the future, so it’s hilarious ironic that it takes a story like this to drive things in deeper for me. It isn’t like I hadn’t realized all of those questions and doubts before, but having them presented to me so clearly is like discovering them all over again. And it’s unnerving. And terrifying. And depressing. And something I’ll have to deal with again and again until I figure something out for myself. As I said, Solanin doesn’t really offer any answers, but there’s some kind of reassurance in that too.