Friday, 20 March 2009

Sequential Sonic Youth – Solanin by Inio Asano

Solanin is the first of Inio Asano’s comics to be translated by Viz for the English Manga market. One of his earliest published efforts, it serves as a logical introduction to Inio’s work, collected here in one chunky, attractive volume.

Solanin follows Meiko and Naruo, two twenty-somethings doing their best to come to terms with adult life. Both fresh out of University, Meiko is two years into an office job she couldn’t care less about, whilst her boyfriend Naruo is struggling to make ends meet in his job as an illustrator. Both find themselves at odds with the world, doing their best to reconcile their dreams with the reality of day to day life in modern Tokyo. Determined to escape the monotony, Meiko quits her job to contemplate life at a slower pace and it isn’t long before Naruo follows suit, resurrecting his band to pursue dreams of making music for a living.

When the inevitable financial pressures begin to hit home, cracks start to show in their relationship. What follows, is a deft examination of life, love, friendship and the arduous process of finding ones place in the world. With more than a few twists and turns along the way, Inio weaves a dramatic web that will hold your attention for the duration of the book’s 420 pages.

Whilst Solanin doesn’t exactly break the mould of the ‘growing pains’ template, it does succeed in presenting a very sincere account of those difficult first steps into the ‘adult’ world. Compared to something like Red Coloured Elegy, which deals with similar themes in an altogether more symbolic fashion, Solanin could perhaps come off as a tad simplistic. However, I feel it’s important to view the work in the context in which it was created.

Written when its creator was a mere 24 years of age, it’s clear that Inio is exploring themes pertinent to his own life at the time of writing. It’s easy to draw direct parallels between Naruo’s desire to make it as a musician and Inio’s own real world struggle to become a successful manga artist. As his afterword suggests, he wants little more than to capture a true account of the times as experienced by his generation.

There are some particularly arresting moments in Solanin, especially towards the tail end of the book, when Naruo’s old band give their final live performance. The raw passion and conviction literally drips off the page, all driven home by mantra like captions repeating over each panel… “the song is ending”… “the song is ending”… “the song is ending”… The significance of which will only become apparent to you having read the book.

It’s transporting, affecting, and pitched squarely at the heart. Inio understands the experience of becoming absorbed in the moment, when, in the heat of performance, the crowd almost seems to cease to exist. His stark profile shots of Meiko, sweat dripping from her face, telecaster slung low as she wrings the final notes from her guitar, offers the reader a fleeting glimpse of the personal space that opens up and engulfs everything, rendering the outside world completely insignificant.

The sheer emotional weight that Inio manages to convey in the space of two pages is impressive and it’s a prime example of the impact the medium is capable of in the right hands. If anything, Solanin’s strength lies in its ability to convey genuine feeling. The simplicity and directness of Inio’s approach is by far the book’s greatest triumph, imbuing it with an emotional intensity that borders on the romantic. Solanin isn't exactly ground breaking, but it is a heart felt and honest account of the trails and tribulations of growing up, one that definitely deserves your attention.

Review by Matthew Dick.

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