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Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Solanin -- "Every band has its story, I suppose." So says Meiko Inoue, the lead character in Inio Asano's Solanin. Substitute "family" or "group of friends" for "band" in that quote, and you begin to see how universal Solanin is, as it tracks the lives of the members of the band, their dreams and hopes, and where those dreams and hopes intersect with everyday reality.

The universal sophistry of youth is its belief in its own invincibility, and at least some of the members of the band possess that in spades. Coupled with the restlessness of people in their early-to-mid 20s, you can see how a group like this would be drawn together by their common love of making music. Whatever it is that brings people together, there's almost always forces aligning to force them apart, and of course those forces are at work in Solanin. The bittersweet tone of much of the book comes from where those opposing forces -- coming together and falling away from each other -- collide in the smallest moments of their lives. Meiko is living with her boyfriend Taneda, who is really the glue that holds the band together. The domestic scenes of their relationship ring familiar and true, as does the vague need for something else -- for more -- that threatens to dissolve their relationship.

The bulk of this 400-page graphic novel (part of Viz's Signature series) is the story of Meiko and Taneda and how they relate to and inspire the rest of the band members, but my single favourite moment in the entire story is an almost superfluous vignette involving the drummer, Rip. His day job is clerk at a pharmacy, and almost every day he deals with an elderly man who mistakenly thinks a frog statue in front of the store is a mailbox. The one chapter about the two of them brings enormous humanity and nuance to the story. Even if Rip doesn't get another moment to shine like he does in this one brief incident, that's okay. What we get in this little glimpse into his character is more than enough.

"Every band has its story," Meiko supposes, and at its heart Solanin is about Meiko coming to grips with her own story, and re-writing the band's. In its themes of aimlessness and looming maturity, Solanin certainly echoes Bryan O'Malley's Scott Pilgrim, and will appeal to readers who enjoy that series (like me). But Asano's approach is entirely different from O'Malley's, with meticulous images of the streets of Tokyo, and occasionally arresting glimpses into Meiko's secret heart. Solanin is about dreams, and life, and trying to bring the two together into a whole tapestry. In some places, Meiko succeeds. In some, she fails. The joy is found in-between, in the quiet moments Asano shows us that make up her life. Where she's been, and where she hopes to go in the future.

Buy Solanin from Amazon.com.



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