In the first episode of Lyfeblerd, Cryptte decides to share with us a manga that’s truly dear to his heart. It looks like he might just be a real softie behind all that shrouded exterior.
The views, thoughts and opinions expressed in this podcast do not reflect that of Ayamba LitCast.
Hi, you’re listening to Lyfeblerd, a podcast about manga, manhwa, light novels and other types of comic books. I’m your host Cryptte, the ancient blerd, and I’m here to geek out on all the good stuff. So if you like what you hear, let’s go.
In today’s episode. We’re going to be discussing Solanin, a manga by Japanese mangaka, Inio Asano. It’s a slice-of-life, seinen drama with comedy. Sounds like a mouthful. If you have no idea what manga is, just think of it as Japanese comic books. Yes, they have a few different rules. How they’re read from right to left, popular tropes and stuff, but that says it all.
And as for seinen, manga genres are defined by their demographics as well as the content. So, seinen is content for adult males because of the adult themes. That’s where you’d find a lot of psychological horror, adventure, historical type content.
Solanin is a story about Inoe Meiko, and her boyfriend Naruo Taneda, as they try to figure out how to find happiness, what happiness. It also covers the lives of their friends, who I shall not name, but their dynamic is particularly nice.
If you’ve ever been to university or secondary school, any kind of environment where you’re away from home, living among friends and strangers, that’s the kind of setting you’d see here. And I think a lot of us can relate. Because a lot of us have been in those types of environments before. Naruo and his friends are in a band called Rotti and Inoe is probably their biggest fan.
The story revolves around how, like I said, they’re trying to figure out what to do with their lives, what direction to head in. Same questions every young person asks themselves after they finish school, once they enter the job market, just stumbling through life, trying to make things, make sense, and figure out where to head to, how to achieve their dreams. Figure out what their dreams are. I can relate. I think everyone can relate, but then there are other themes too, besides the pursuit of happiness. Like a coming of age story about the mundane. Asano-san is known for character driven, realist stories, and that’s exactly what Solanin is.
Strengths & Weaknesses
Now to write something like that, your characters need to live and breathe, and that’s exactly how they are in Solanin. Inoe is like your scatterbrained best friend or something. Taneda is the guy that had big dreams and everybody thought was cocky and probably is. Then he has his silly friends that are always fighting and always making noise and always cracking jokes.
Characterization is good. Like you fall in love with the characters. They’ll become your friends. They’ll become your family, but then it’s not just the characters. It’s also the situations they find themselves in. They don’t feel fake or forced. They’re situations that any one of us could have found ourselves in, or might have found ourselves in at one point in time of our lives.
They don’t pretend to know the answers to all their questions. There’s no perfect character that, I don’t know, has the perfect hair and flicks it every second. And the dazzling white smile and nobody there’s, nobody like that. I think these are the things that would make you fall in love with Solanin even more.
You just see real human interaction, relationships and how each character navigates the murky waters that is life. Writing’s also pretty good. Obviously I read the localized version, so I can’t really say if the Japanese is better, but I can say that I enjoyed the book. Sometime in 2017, a re-edition was released in Japan, which added an epilogue.
Now I think before then there were 28 chapters, so plus the epilogue that makes 29. The first time I heard about the revision, I didn’t really understand why anybody would, why you would need to add an epilogue to Solanin. The story ended really well in a good place. Nothing was required, until I read it. And I realized that somehow, Asano-san, was able to condense everything from the 28 chapters into that final epilogue.
It was like a coming home story. Like you’ve been gone for so long and needed to remind us of the characters that we loved and dropped. And we’re being reminded of, again, that these characters exist. These guys are living, breathing people. So like I said, it’s 28 chapters. If you’re a first reader that would probably take you an hour or two. If you’re not, maybe two or three days, but it’s definitely worth the read in my opinion.
As much as I’d like to say Solanin is perfect, I did have a small issue with its pacing. Especially around the beginning in the first volume. Volume One, the first 14 chapters, was a bit slow. But then I also think that Asano-san might have done it intentionally because as much as I feel it’s slow trying to figure out what should have been caught out and what should have been kept is really hard. Every tiny bit of the characters that you experience helps form your image of them in your mind. And so, cutting out these interactions might be difficult. How do you determine what should and shouldn’t be there. Okay, that’s supposed to be a criticism, but then maybe it’s not.
Solanin is one of the best mangas I’ve ever read. It’s right up there with my top 10 or maybe 15. It’s mainly because of the personal relationship I have with it. I can’t remember my state of mind when. I, okay.
So let’s dial back. I first came across it. Solanin when I watched the movie, the movie that came out in 2010 and I, I had no idea what it was. I had never heard of it before. It wasn’t even recommended to me. It was just a movie, someone had. I picked up, watched and I fell in love. It touched me deeply and it wasn’t just the movie. It was also the music. Especially the theme song by Asian Kung-Fu Generation, Solanin, which was written by Asano-san himself. But I never read the manga until a couple of months ago when I experienced some loss and all of a sudden I needed to read Solanin again. I needed to experience Solanin again, and I decided to read the manga. It was even better than I remembered from the movie.
Solanin makes me feel melancholy. I get lost in different emotions, um, feelings from different times that I have come to associate with the movie, with this song and it kind of like brings me to tears, a lot of the time. And it’s a personal experience that you probably won’t understand unless you experience it. But then if you do then you know exactly where I’m coming from. Just ask the hundred or so people (I know, I exaggerate) that have created Solanin playlists on Spotify or the guys hanging around on forums and YouTube videos talking about how Solanin changed their lives and how they always fall back on it whenever they’re going through tough times. Solanin is deep and I hope you get to, um, read it and experience the same things it has evoked in me.
Clearly, I like Solanin. But at the same time, I don’t think it’s for everyone. In fact, most of my friends have never read Solanin, or are not interested in it and I don’t see that ever changing. Solanin isn’t about big giant robots and samurais and big fights with special powers. It’s about human beings, living mundane lives and just being themselves.
While everybody has experienced this, not everybody wants to be reminded of it. Solanin is for those that don’t mind seeing themselves in characters that they’re reading about. Seeing the difficulties that they’ve experienced or are going through. Yes, you’re not the superhero and everything. Instead you’re just an ordinary person trying to figure out what to do with yourself.
As I mentioned before, Asano-san’s work is based mainly on character driven, realist, seinen stories. As a result, his stories might seem to revolve around the same content, but they actually don’t. Even with his art style, you can see differences like in Goodnight Pun Pun in which the characters there are depicted as crudely drawn birds.
If you pick up Solanin and you love, or you’ve read before, and you’re looking for other recommendations from Asano-san, I’d tell you to pick up a Goodnight Pun Pun, which is a story about a young boy and his life through elementary to high school and as a young adult. It deals with depression, sex, and dysfunctional family.
Then there’s also A Girl on the Shore, which is more about sex and relationships, but then to say anymore about that, we just spoil it. So, you should probably read that on faith. If you don’t like Solanin but then you’re open to other things. I would suggest you look at Dead Dead Demon’s De De De De Destruction, which, um, has some sci-fi alien stuff in it. But then it’s still a story about two young girls and less about the aliens. That could be something for you to check out if you are not really a fan of Solanin, but then you like sci-fi and you’re willing to give it a try.
My last recommendation for those of you that like Solanin or not, would be Nijigahara Holograph, which is a psychological horror, and if you know me well, my bread and butter. Definitely check that out. It’s about a girl that winds up in a well, and then the rest is history. So please, if you guys look for these things and find them and enjoy them, or don’t enjoy them, let me know.
So if you’re wondering where you can get any of these books, um, you should try Amazon. Amazon usually doesn’t fail. Both, uh, physical and digital or, you could try, um, Goodreads, Google Play for digital, and Bookwalker. Unfortunately, Bookwalker has most, if not all of his books in Japanese, so be aware, but yeah, that’s where you can get all of them.
If you’d like to grab your own copy of Solanin, follow our affiliate link below. Doing so would greatly help show.
Other manga to look out for by Inio Asano;
- Goodnight Pun Pun (volume one)
- A Girl on the Shore
- Dead Dead Demon’s De De De De Destruction (volume one)
- Nijigahara Holograph
Until Next Time
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Thanks and see you in the next one.