So you want to be a rock and roll star– a review of Inio Asano’s solanin

There’s a saying that goes something like “life is what happens to you while you’re waiting for something to happen.”  For a lot of us, that could probably also describe that time right after college when you’re supposed to be an adult with a job and all of that but you don’t want to let go of your youth and childhood.  It’s just all part of that passage from childhood into adulthood, even if we don’t want it to be.  In solanin, Meiko Inoue is in that weird nebulous time of her life– two years out of college and ready to quit her boring and repetitive office job.  She feels that an office job isn’t for her but just how much thought has she put into what she’ll do next?

solanin has been compared often to Bryan O’Malley’s Scott Pilgrim.  With solanin, Inio Asano has created a story about music, growing up and the importance of our relationships with one another and, in those ways, I guess Asano’s story can be compared to Scott Pilgrim without the video game realism.  Since I love O’Malley’s stories, I thought solanin would be perfect for me, featuring its cute lead character Meiko on the cover.  But from the start of the story, the comparison just seemed wrong; it’s a too easy comparison to make because it’s only more of a surface comparison.  Looking at O’Malley’s work, solanin is probably more comparable in tone to his Lost At Sea, another story about characters drifting on a more metaphysical level.  The comparison I’m surprised that’s not making the rounds yet are the similarities of Asano’s story to Brian Wood and Ryan Kelly’s Local and their New York Four.

Like Wood, Asano tries to look at that transition period of our lives.  Meiko starts out doing the stuff that she thinks an adult should be doing.  She’s merely going through the stages, fulfilling some unwritten pact that everyone needs to be an office drone after college.  Her live-in boyfriend Naruo is going through the same thing as he tries to figure out if he wants to/has what it takes to be a serious musician.  College may try to prepare us for the real world but there’s nothing like really living on your own to get you to figure out just who you are.  Meiko is like Wood’s Megan, only less self destructive and willing to face up to reality rather than running away from it.  Both characters do face the same questions and conflicts but they come up with different answers.

As I was reading it, solanin became a book that I did not want to finish.  I would read a chapter or two of it and then put it down for a couple of hours.  It’s not because the book was bad; far from it actually.  I just didn’t want to race through it.  Asano’s storytelling has an easiness to it that would make it far too easy to hurry through the book.  Instead, I wanted to spend time with Meiko and her circle of friends, enjoying their good times and sharing in the bad.  The tragedy of Naruo is particularly difficult to get through, spanning a couple of chapters.  Asano tells that part of the story in such a heart-breaking way as he flashbacks to the beginning of Meiko and Naruo’s relationship even as things are going horribly wrong.  These are moments that you don’t want to read because you just don’t want to see bad things happening to these characters.  That tragedy is balanced by Meiko figuring out what she wants to do and moving forward.

solanin is what I wish a lot more comics and manga were– stories about realistic people and their problems.  Asano’s story and art focuses on reality and easily draws the reader into the book.  Meiko, Naruo and their friends are as real as fictional characters can get and do remind me why I don’t want to be 23 years old again.

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