Story & Art: Inio Asano
Publisher: Viz Media
If I must recommend a manga based on the theme, “coming-of-age,” Solanin would be my pick. It’s the manga for college students, young adults who have no idea what the hell they are doing with their lives, and just 20-somethings who feel lost and confuse as ever. Solanin clearly depicts the mood swings that the younger generation is experiencing right now, which is why I like this manga so much.
The Mundane Is Our Reality
Solanin focuses on the lives of good for nothing twenty-something-year-olds living in Tokyo and are “productive” members of society despite feeling dead inside. The main female lead, Meiko Inoue, works at a second-rate company that she hates and has a strong desire to quit even though she receives a decent salary. Her boyfriend, Naruo Taneda is a part-time freelance illustrator, but he doesn’t really like his job because his real passion is music. Like Meiko and Taneda, the rest of the cast also have boring lives that they aren’t too happy about, but they do their jobs regardless in order to survive.
In the opening scene, Meiko narrates how she feels about her current situation:
I’m just your average office worker in Tokyo. But I’m still young and dissatisfied. Constantly disgruntled by society and adults. I have no idea what to do with myself. And while I wait for my epiphany, I feel the toxins collecting in my body. There’s a demon lurking in Tokyo.
According to Meiko, she doesn’t seem to have any purpose in life and this notion applies to the rest of the cast as well. They don’t have any passion towards what they are doing. They are passively waiting for something to happen as oppose to putting themselves out there in order to achieve their goals or dreams. And as they wait, “toxins” gather in their bodies implying that their bodies aren’t getting any younger. As time moves forward and their reluctance to make a change continues, these characters are wasting their youth when curiosity, adventure, and “recklessness” is at its peak. For Meiko, she accepted an office job because it’s a safe and convenient route after graduation. One would assume that she is happy since she has a steady job. However, it seems that she is a washed-up adult and is regretting her life choices.
It is also interesting how Meiko states that there’s a “demon in Tokyo.” We begin to question, what or who is the demon? In one perspective, the demon foreshadows a bad omen in which case the death of Meiko’s boyfriend, Taneda. Or the demon she mentioned is the self-doubt and the criticism from others. It is this negative energy that prevents these characters from going after their goals or at least taking the leap to change.
Rather than continuing this mundane lifestyle, Meiko and Taneda started changing their habits and mindsets. The first thing that they decided to do is write in daily journals. A journal is a form of creative expression and a way to mark up their progress towards achieving happiness.
Meiko quits her job despite not having a future plan, but she knew her place wasn’t there. Her mother, boyfriend, and her friends were concerned because they think it wasn’t a wise decision to leave her financially stable job. However, Meiko realizes that the only opinion that matters is your own. She goes along with her intuition despite feeling scared and uncertain about the future. In fact, her mother suggested that she returns home, and Taneda also asked her to break-up with him when he realizes that they will struggle more with their lives now. However, she refuses to accept the easy way out and demands to figure out her life on her own free-will.
Although she isn’t sure what to do with her life, Meiko encourages Taneda to pursue a music career. Even after graduating college, Taneda and his band continue to play music for fun by having a band practice every month. Rather than doing it just for fun, Taneda starts to seriously pursue music by recording demos and mailing them off to record labels and companies. Creative professions like art, music, or writing aren’t very financially stable in comparison to other career choices such as doctors, lawyers, and business owners. Creative careers are driven by passion and creativity, and there isn’t a guarantee that you will be successful. In fact, pursuing such a career goal is a bold move. One could assume that Taneda’s musician dreams would be tough to accomplish, especially since he’s a bit older and may not be able to attract a young fan base with his music. However, he is still motivated to try, though. I don’t think the main lesson of Solanin is that following your dreams will instantly grant you fame and fortune, but instead, follow your dreams so that you don’t live a life of regrets and “what-ifs.” If you don’t actually go out there and try something, it would always be left as a question mark, and you will be recalling those “what-ifs” as fantasies rather than memories.
A Harsh Reality
However, life does throw curve balls at people, and the story of Solanin is no exception to that. There’s plenty of suffering and sadness conveyed within the characters. After failing to reach a record deal, Taneda becomes frustrated because the “now what” factor is put into play. He eventually walks out on Meiko for a few days in order to really think about his life and what he wants to do now. He comes to realize the answer and reason to stay in Tokyo: his love, Meiko. There’s a scene prior to this one where Meiko’s mother talked about how kids nowadays take the difficult road to happiness, but she states that there’s actually a simple and easy way to achieve it, and it seems that Taneda discovered it.
Taneda’s death is abrupt. He gets into a car accident while riding his scooter and he instantly dies from his head hitting the ground on impact. Inio Asano sets up Taneda’s death as the turning point for Meiko to develop as a character and to move the plot along. His death gives Meiko a sense of purpose in regards to moving forward in her life. It also gives Solanin that defining message: “There’s no guarantee that you will have a tomorrow so do whatever you set out to do today.”
When Taneda passed away, the first thing that came into my mind is whether he wanted to die or not. I questioned whether that thought has ever crossed his mind because there were moments where he felt that being with Meiko seemed a bit overbearing and a hassle. When Meiko decided to quit her job, Taneda was a bit shock despite stating that he will “take care of things” (even though he said this while half asleep). For awhile, Meiko was the breadwinner in their relationship, but now there’s pressure on Taneda to be a man and it’s taking a toll on his well-being because now his girl, Meiko, is relying on him as oppose to letting him be a lazy bum. I’m all for independent, career oriented women, and when a woman’s man isn’t at his all-time best, I do think it is the woman’s job to give a little push or some words of encouragement. Meiko did the right thing in regards to encouraging Taneda to follow his musician dreams. However, I don’t think it was a wise decision to leave her job without any plan and also putting some “unwanted” pressure on Taneda, expecting him to handle things. So now coming back to the topic of Taneda’s death, it begs the question, “Was this an easy way out of all his hardships?” To some degree, “yes.” Taneda doesn’t need to feel obligated to take care of Meiko now. However, right before the accident, Taneda realizes what’s important in his life and he changes the way he sees his relationship—not as an obligation, but a wish, a desire, a want to be with Meiko. It appears at that point in time, thoughts of suicide ceased to exist for him. Yet it is ironic that once you figured out the next step in your life or make a grand decision, life throws a curve ball at you out of nowhere; in the case of Solanin, Taneda’s death drastically changes the lives of Meiko and her friends.
Now I could go on and on about my thoughts on Solanin, but I do think it is a manga you should read for yourself. At the end of the manga, Inio Asano wrote an “Afterword” describing the thought process behind Solanin:
I drew Solanin when I was about 24 years old. I had just graduated from college and was feeling a bit insecure about my ability to succeed as a manga artist and whether I was able to draw manga that were true to myself. In my anxiety and impatience, I felt that all I could do in my manga was try to get a true depiction of the times as experienced by my generation.
…But the most important messages in our lives don’t come from musicians on stage or stars on television. They come from the average people all around you, the ones who are just feet from where you stand. That’s what I believe.
Inio Asano’s “Afterword” really puts Solanin into perspective, and I agree that it does capture the lifestyle and mindset of this millennial generation. I can relate to the characters of Solanin and even the author, Inio Asano. I am around the same age as Inio Asano when he was writing Solanin. I graduated college and I feel a bit insecure about the direction my life is heading. I also want a career path that is true to myself and my principles. So just like Inio Asano and his Solanin characters, I feel a bit confused and uncertain about life and adulthood. However, like Meiko and Taneda, you gotta figure it out, one step at a time, and as long as you keep walking, you will get to where you want to be eventually because if you don’t take a step, you will never get anywhere.
Anyways, I feel like I have rambled far too long about Solanin. You should just go buy the manga and read it. It’s amazing and I could go as far as to say it was life-changing for me.