October 17, 2008
What a great book this is. It’s hard to ignore the fact that it’s targeted directly at me and my age group. You could call this title a slice-of-life title, but it differs from other English releases that fall in that category since most of those are set in high school or are Yotsuba&! This title just deals with being a regular adult in the real world with nothing in particular to do. It doesn’t approach the subject as anything but what it really is: just some 20-somethings trying to figure out what they want to do with their lives and not really doing anything spectacular other than living. I read a lot of manga, and I read a lot of novels, and there is certainly an escapist quality to a lot of what I read. “Solanin” is different because it doesn’t try to take me anywhere. It just shows me, for all intents and purposes, people who are probably my friends.
The main character and her boyfriend have been together for six years and have been living together lately for practical purposes, but neither has any intention of getting married. After realizing she has a lot of money in savings, the main character decides to quit the job she hates and see what direction life takes her. It doesn’t take her anywhere in particular, but she hangs out with her other friends, and periodically we get to see their lives in chapters of their own. They’re not doing anything really, either, and range from guy who runs his father’s corner store to guy who is still in college and his girlfriend. They do have a band together, and there is a little push in the direction of making their band successful… but the music isn’t really the focus, which was a relief since I was worried they were going to make it big or something. No, the focus is just on living and being happy with your life, and it’s wonderful because it’s so simple.
The characters are constantly questioning whether or not they are happy doing what they do, and what they would do different, and what difference life makes to them. This is not repeated so much that you get tired of the theme, but it’s something you have to keep in the back of your mind while you read. About two thirds of the way through the book, something pretty serious happens, and yet as sad as the event is, the focus doesn’t shift. I don’t even think a message about taking happiness for granted comes up after that happens, but it seems like the themes stray more towards making decisions and the results of these decisions for the last third… but maybe not.
What happens in each chapter? Well, after the main character quits her job, there might be a chapter where she enjoys being outside in the middle of the day, or goes to spend lunch break with her friend. There’s a chapter about one of the boys in the band dating a younger girl behind his girlfriend’s back, and his girlfriend forgiving him for it. One is about the main male character’s job. More than one contains serious conversations between the main male and female characters about the direction their lives are going in. A few are flashbacks to college. A few are about the band and what direction the members want it to go in. One is a performance by the band. The book is full of little things that would seem mundane, but are actually pretty touching. Then again, I’m the target audience, so maybe it resonated more with me. It’s got touches of humor here and there, but it’s not even humor that carries it, like it carries certain parts of things like Flower of Life. It’s just carried on the strength of its characters, which is interesting considering the fact I finished the book not knowing a whole lot about any of them. You see them for brief periods in their lives, and you know where their friendships stand in relation to one another, but you feel like a stranger even at the end, since… well, you are. It’s definitely unique.
Something else I really liked it was that the relationship between the main male and female characters was so… well, solid. It wasn’t overtly romantic, it was a comfortable partnership, and neither one really felt insecure about the other. Even when one of them verbally threatened the relationship at one point, I didn’t really feel the threat since… well, it’s the kind of relationship that can’t be threatened. You know the pair isn’t going to break up. Perhaps this has something to do with the female’s stoicism and the fact that it’s not always clear what she’s thinking in most situations. Whatever it was, I’ve never really seen a relationship like theirs in manga before, nor even in a novel, where the dynamics would have to be explained rather than shown visually.
It’s simple, and yet its probably one of the most touching volumes I’ve read this year. It’s a celebration of the average young person, and I couldn’t help but fall in love while I read it. The major event that happens at the 2/3 mark really sealed the deal for me, since not only did it break my heart, but I could not believe it happened. And everyone kept on living their lives. Perhaps some would find it mundane, but for me, it’s truly amazing.