It is nice to have the Viz Signature line around, because that imprint reliably delivers great manga that’s a little bit out of the ordinary. Solanin was one of the few manga to receive an Eisner nomination this year, and the recognition is definitely deserved. Solanin centers around the lives of a group of 20something recent college graduates and one perpetual student. Meiko works at a job she hates. She’s crushed in the subway on her way to work, and has difficulty listening when her boss yells at her because she’s distracted by his hideous nose hairs. When she goes home, she’s greeted by her boyfriend Taneda. He works part-time and aimlessly pursues his dream of music. Meiko’s horrible job pays well, and she’s saved up some money. One day she abruptly decides to quit.
She lazes around and tries being domestic, but quickly realizes that too much freedom and time can be boring. Taneda can’t deal with the idea of being the breadwinner, and their relationship begins to suffer from the strain. Meiko encourages Taneda to pursue his dream of making music. Their circle of friends includes other members of Taneda’s college band. Rip is the drummer with a love for motorcycles. He has the most settled job, working in his parents’ drugstore. Kato is a chubby sixth year college student and bass player who has somehow managed to attract the devotion of a girl named Ai. Although Meiko is the unifying character Solanin frequently makes detours that show readers the inner worlds of Taneda, Kato, and Rip. This is a literary device that I enjoy in novels, and it definitely contributed to the depth of character development in this manga.
The art in Solanin is great. The characters all have distinct looks and facial expressions. Meiko’s freckles and whispy hair give her a girlish look, while Taneda’s shaggy bangs and thick glasses make him look like a striving hipster. The attention to detail found in the backgrounds is something I don’t tend to see in much manga. I felt like I’d be able to walk into Meiko’s apartment and know where everything is — the low coffee table, malfunctioning air conditioner, and guitar leaning against the corner wall. There were small details in the way the character’s interacted with their environment that made the world seem a little surreal. Bunnies with Xs for faces appear on key chains and Taneda’s CD. Rip deals with a customer at the drugstore who keeps thinking that the statue of a frog in front of his store is a mailbox. Meiko watches a bizarre bear attack training news story on TV. Taneda has a “me summit” where all the aspects of his personality wear a different slogan on their t-shirts.
Towards the end of Solanin Meiko begins to come into her own in an unexpected fashion. She’s still supported by her group of friends, but the conclusion is bittersweet. Solanin captures the restless feelings many people have as they move into adulthood. Most of the time I’m fine with reading manga purely for its shallow entertainment value, but it was refreshing to read a work like Solanin that doesn’t rely on stock characters and cliched plot elements. I felt like I’d finished an entertaining novel when I put this manga down, simply because of the depth of characterization and the obvious skill and care that went into the work. Solanin is also packaged attractively as an oversized paperback volume with jacket flaps.