The first scene has Meiko and Taneda making some small talk in the morning… again. Then Taneda goes off to work, and Meiko goes down to the river outside her house, cracks open a beer, and exclaims… “Ahh… the freedom!” She goes on to list all the cool things she can do with her massive amount of free time:
I can go for a leisurely walk whenever I want. I can do the wash when the weather’s good. I suck at cooking, but now I’ve got the time to try something fancy. And… And… It only took me a week of drifting through the days with no purpose to realize that aimless freedom is absolutely boring.
At night, Meiko goes to the recording studio that Taneda and their college pals frequent. Her friend Ai asks Meiko about her future, and Meiko has a brief flashback showing Taneda’s surprised reaction to her quitting her job. Meiko and Ai walk up to the recording room where Taneda and his best friends Rip and Kato are playing some dumb music (pic above), while Ai mentions how good it is to have the college gang back together again.
During the afterparty at a nearby bar (izakaya), Kato and Rip fool around talking about their futures while Taneda sits quietly. While they all talk about not “slaving for the man,” Rip has taken over his family’s pharmacy and Kato is in his 6th year in college. After they leave, Taneda confesses to Meiko that he’s really worried about their future (while puking), and Meiko promises to stop lazing around.
The next day, Taneda buys himself a plain diary and Meiko a flashy one, and Meiko remarks, “He really knows me well.”
A pretty straightforward chapter, and a nice introduction to the rest of the cast. It’s obvious that they’re all very good friends – almost enviously so. Meiko and Ai really open up to each other, Rip and Kato fool around literally on top of each other, and the guys can all let go and sing about dicks.
The character designs are impressively different. Last time, I wrote about Meiko’s hair as dynamic: Many manga and anime series have hair as the defining characteristic that differentiates characters, but here Meiko changes her hairstyle yet stays clearly distinguishable from the other characters. In this chapter, we’re introduced to Ai, the other main female character. Her hair is short and dyed, and her eyes are small — physically, she can’t get any more different from Meiko.
The male characters are no different. Taneda has dyed hair, but otherwise looks pretty normal. Kato is fat, has messy hair, and has a really wide face. Rip is the biker drummer dude with a beard, and looks much older than the others. Just like with Meiko, they all have enough traits unique to themselves that changing one thing won’t destroy their identity. (whereas if you took Goku’s hair away… who is he??)
Maybe this lack of defining characteristic is what defines a well-drawn manga. Eyeshield 21 does this well too, but character designs for Hiruma and Kurita are just so unrealistic and exaggerated that I can’t compare them to Meiko and Taneda… but it works in that universe. I guess the exaggeration aspect is missing for Solanin. Yes, Rip’s character is exaggeratedly “cool” and Kato looks little more than your stereotypical failure ronin, but at least they still look like human beings.
tl;dr It’s really impressive that Asano can give his characters so many identifying features while drawing them realistically.
Something to note, though — Meiko and Taneda are by far the most normal of the bunch, in looks, personality, and everything. It’s supposed to make me relate to them more, I guess?
But going back to Meiko’s hair…
Meiko Inoue (Meiko) and Naruo Taneda (Taneda) are shown living together. Taneda gets home from work in the morning right before Meiko heads off on the commuter train to do her average office lady things at her average office workplace. A cutesy looking coworker makes annoying smalltalk with Meiko as she fixes the printer, then Meiko gets chewed out by the boss: “Don’t stand there with that stupid look on your face and disrespect me! You think that because you’re young, you can act like you’re still in college. Well, let me tell you about the real world!”
As Meiko eats lunch in an alley with a stray cat, she remarks,”When Taneda and I first got to Tokyo, …back then the sky seemed so vast. And now, the sky above me… is low, and narrow, and heavy. There’s a demon lurking in Tokyo.” After lunch, Meiko’s boss passes her a note inviting her to dinner, causing Meiko to leave early for home. Looking at a sleeping Taneda, Meiko says she wants to quit her boring job. Taneda, who’s actually awake, tells her to follow her heart: “Don’t worry. I’ll take care of things.”
The next morning, Meiko sees a balloon caught in her balcony. As she lets it go and watches it float away, she decides to quit her job.
This is such a fitting introduction to the series. It almost feels like a small summary/representation of the whole manga: Some light-hearted banter between Meiko and Tanada starts things off. Then, conflict between Meiko and her boss leads into Asano’s commentary about boredom vs. dreams. At the end, Tanada wakes up with stuff all over his face, saying stuff that gives both Meiko and the reader a bit of hope for a less boring life. This is Asano’s formula – slice-of-life story filled with comic relief focusing on mundane things. The conflict is never between characters, but always between the characters’ choices between their current stable lifestyle and the riskier lifestyle they truly want.
Cast into that mold, it feels like this chapter is boring. There’s nothing really interesting going on, and after Meiko says she quits her job in the very last panel, I feel like the conflict is resolved. A “rides off into the sunset” or “lives happily ever after” ending here would make for an exceedingly average story, but there aren’t that many ways to write a good ending to a story like this. In a sense, Solanin is a story told entirely after the happily ever after.
So plotwise, this chapter does nothing to draw a reader in. Good thing Asano is an amazing artist. Every panel is drawn so beautifully and really exhibits Asano’s attention to detail. For example, Meiko’s hair is dynamic, but there’s no doubt that Meiko is Meiko in every Meiko scene. When she puts her head down on her desk, a bang falls over her eyes, but it’s still obviously her. She ties her hair up at the end (pic above), but it’s still obviously her. Meiko’s eyes, freckles, and facial structure all help me identify her as a character, and it’s all subtle differences from other people in the chapter.
Solanin is a level 10 bag vendor in the blood elf starting zone, and I’ll be starting a fanfic about his relationship with his on/off girlfriend Silanna.
Silanna was looking for a bag and she bought one from Solanin.
Continued in chapter 2…