Solanin 1 — rage against the machinePosted: November 1, 2015
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.
Boring Facts (as opposed to fun facts)
A cool thing to note is the first shot of Meiko’s neighborhood on page 2 (below, first pic). In my book, the sky is colored a bright blue while all the rooftops of the houses look drab and similar – an obvious “society is boring; let’s break out of the shell” message. The cool thing is how the same exact scene reappears in the last page of the chapter – albeit with the balloon that floats away from Meiko’s balcony.
Perhaps more interesting are the panels right below these two. In the first one, the city shot hovers above a panel where Meiko is looking at vegetables from her mom while sitting in the hallway. Her hair is down, she has a cigarette in hand, and she has a troubled look on her face. On the last page, Meiko’s expression (pic at top) is totally different. Her hair’s out of her face, and instead of looking down at the ground, she’s looking up at the sky. Maybe the balloon thing is too heavy-handed and obviously symbolism, but this hairstyle and setting change are what really make the scene.
P.S.: The balloon on the last page is actually impossible to see in the scanlation version, defeating the purpose of the panel in the first place. I had to draw it in… BUY VIZ BUY VIZ BUY VIZ