MMF: solanin and That Horrible Disconnected Feeling

I have no idea what to do with myself. And while I wait for my epiphany, I feel the toxins collecting in my body.

I first encountered solanin by Inio Asano in one of those itty-bitty Animerica magazines crammed on the end of the anime aisle in Best Buy. The first few pages were given as a preview, and I was intrigued by the characters, so when the manga came out October 2008 I picked it up.

solanin by Inio AsanoThe release of this book was pretty timely. Earlier that year I had graduated from college (completely against my will, I might add). I had once imagined that upon graduation I would know exactly where I was going in my life, that there would be a plan, a path, something I could easily settle into and be happy with. Then the day came, and I discovered that the little piece of paper did not include a map for my life. I was on my own. I was totally screwed.

I found myself settling for a job that I did not like, that I did not want, but it was easy, and what else was I going to do? I knew I wanted to write, but how was that going to happen? I found myself getting sad a lot as I dug my rut deeper and deeper, the sides getting so high it was becoming increasingly difficult to pull myself out.

Meiko, the main character of solanin, finds herself in this rut, too. Recently graduated from college, she works in a boring office. Though she is technically an adult, she doesn’t seem to see herself that way, always referring to others as “adults” and “grownups” as if she isn’t part of that group. When she hits the end of her rope, she decides to just quit her job, and see where life takes her from there. This turns into a lot of her doing nothing, but she starts to ask other people the questions, “Are you happy?” “Are you satisfied with your life?” and finds out that no one really is, at least not all of the time.

I read solanin in one sitting. When I was done, I sat there, trying to sort out my reaction. The manga left me with a strange mix of feelings. First there was the good: solanin was a sort of revelation for me, that I was not the only one stuck in a rut, afraid to move, feeling slowly poisoned. I wasn’t the only one who couldn’t see herself as an adult, even though by all definitions I was. That horrible, disconnected, paralyzing feeling — I wasn’t alone in it.

solanin also made me feel horrible. Even though the manga made me feel relaxed knowing that other people feel this way, by the end it offers no real solution to figuring yourself out. As Meiko prepares to move out of her apartment and start a new job, a friend says to her, “Bet you won’t be able to stand it, and you’ll quit again.” Not only does she not deny it, she treats it as truth — she won’t be settled, she won’t have figured out what her happiness is.

But what upset me the most about this manga (there’s a spoiler in this paragraph, FYI) concerns Meiko’s boyfriend, Taneda. Meiko begins to push Taneda to take his band seriously again, and after being egged on he decides to go for broke — he’ll send a CD out to every record company and see if someone bites. If not, he’ll quit for good. It sounds inspiring… but in the end he fails, with the only company that responds asking them to give up their pride. After a disappearance, Taneda decides to go back to his old boring job, and back to living with Meiko. He tells himself he’s happy… until he realizes that he isn’t, and shoots on his bike past a red light into traffic. I understood Meiko’s disconnectedness, but I related the most with Taneda’s need to create his music, and his fear that if he tries to hard, he’ll only fail. I rooted him on, and when he literally crashes, well, that just made my chest tighten right up.

Isn’t it better to regret things you’ve done, than regret things you’ve never even tried?

I didn’t get any sort of epiphany from solanin. Instead it was more of an affinity — I didn’t just relate to these characters, I WAS these characters, trapped, confused, unsure of how to move forward. The best thing solanin did for me was point out that I wasn’t alone, that I wasn’t actually failing just because I didn’t know where my life was supposed to go from here. It also reminded me that even when your lost, you can’t just stand still: after Taneda’s death, Meiko ends her months of wallowing by picking up his guitar and deciding to join his old band. Music isn’t her dream, not like it was for Taneda, but it becomes something for her to do, to focus on. She finds a long sought-after connection, and even if it’s not necessarily moving forward, it’s still moving, which is better than sitting round letting the toxins collect. It may have filled me with an undefinable feeling (friends I lent it to didn’t fare much better, returning the book with an uncomfortable look on their faces) but I’m glad I read this manga at the time I did.

This post was written as part of the Viz Signature Manga Moveable Feast, hosted by Kate Dacey on The Manga Critic.

Reading List: A Storm of Swords, The Uglies, Sailor Moon

The new season of Game of Thrones aired on Sunday, and that re-inspired me to continue to rereading of the whole story. I dropped off on that partway through A Storm of Swords, not because the story isn’t interesting the second time around – far from it, I’ve picked up on so many things I didn’t notice/forgot in the slew of information. It’s actually because I was finding it too stressful to read again. The first time, I didn’t know what horrible thing were going to happen to my favorite characters – now I know, and I’m full of dread as I anticipate someone getting killed/raped/kidnapped/beaten up. But, I must make it through! (and I must read A Dance with Dragons...)

I’ve also started Uglies, the first book in another young adult series by Scott Westerfeld. So far Westerfeld is showing the same amount of writing skill as he did in Leviathan, but I also got so much more enjoyment out of Alek and Deryn’s characters. Let’s see if I wind up enjoying Tally and Shay as much.

I’m also finally going to pick up the third volume of Sailor Moon; I bought it a while ago, but it’s been sitting on my shelf, unread. I need to get through it so I can finally justify buying volume 4!

What do you plan on reading this week?

MMF: Personal Reflections on A Zoo in Winter

As someone who strives to create stories, who has that as her dream, I love any tale of how a writer or artist got his start. It’s what gets me reading introductions to craft books like Bird by Bird over and over again, and convinces me to give up oh-so-valuable shelf space to tomes like A Drifting Life. Reading creators’ starts and struggles fuels me — and for that reason I loved Jiro Taniguchi’s tale of his beginnings, A Zoo in Winter.

The manga starts, of course, with the thing all creators seem to get in — a horrible, awful rut. Taniguchi (calling himself Hamaguchi in this story) isn’t working in the job he expected. Instead of designing fabrics, he packs up and delivers merchandise — a horrible boring job for someone who spends his free time drawing everything he sees.

Hamaguchi is jolted from his rut when he becomes accidentally involved in helping his boss’s daughter elope. With blame and suspicion slapped on him, he visits a friend, who introduces him to the manga artist Kondo Shiro. Hamagushi is immediately put to work on the manga, and with hardly a second to think about it becomes an assistant.

The opportunity to work towards his dream comes as a sudden chance — almost unrealistically. But all these things are chance; for myself, by chance I went to a school where by chance I had a children’s author for a teacher, who by chance also taught in an MFA program, where by chance I’ve met even more teachers, and fellow blossoming writers, who have helped me learn and grow. It may be luck, but these are also things that are too easy to let slide by. Hamaguchi could have easily let himself be overwhelmed by the sudden intense job, or feel unworthy, and simply run away — an opportunity lost, maybe to never come up again. A lot of these things happen by chance, but even if you’re lucky to have something set in front of you, you still need the sense to grab at it.

A little later we meet Hamaguchi’s older brother. Initially visiting for the purpose of seeing if his little brother’s doing all right (and to convince him to quit), it soon comes out that Hamaguchi’s brother wanted to be a painter, but gave up on it to take care of his family. As he watches the assistants work, his comments sound patronizing: “Doing what you love for work. Sounds idyllic!” Then we see that not only has he decided against talking Hamaguchi out of his career path, but as they sit with Kondo and fellow artist Kikuchi he wistfully says, “This is…freedom, isn’t it?…Living simply…in tune with your feelings. That’s happiness.” We get the sense of regret from Hamaguchi’s brother, which has now come to the forefront because his younger sibling is following the dream he abandoned before it even started. This makes me wonder, what if I hadn’t been able to start this path? What if I felt I had to give it up? Would the regret run deep inside of me, or would I be able to cover it up? Then there’s Hamaguchi’s reaction, which is never fully verbalized. His brother ditched his dream for him, but he’s pushing forward without a thought. Anything could be swimming through his head — guilt, uncertainty, anger, pity — feelings that could stop any artist in his tracks if he let himself think about them too much.

Another moment I whole-heartedly related to was the fit of jealousy from Hamaguchi when it looks like fellow assistant Fujita might get his own manga published. He’s struck with the realization that he’s been wasting his free time and allowed himself to fall behind his colleague. He gets the same kind of panic I feel when I realize a classmate of mine has been published, or that a writer younger than I am has a best-selling book. His envy makes him act a little unfairly to Fujita (he prematurely tells another assistant, even though he suspects this man won’t react well), but it also serves as his first motivation to make his own story. I’ve learned that you shouldn’t compare yourself to other writers — some write more quickly, some just have an easier time finding success. But that doesn’t mean I don’t, and whenever someone I know succeeds, no matter how sincere my compliments the little green monster that lives in my brain says, “Well, now isn’t it my turn yet?” Yet that jealousy and anxiety, when you calm down a bit, can be an amazingly goo motivator to get you off your butt.

A Zoo in Winter is truly a story of beginnings, as we don’t see how this artist eventually turns out (though his bibliography, and this MMF, speak favorably for him). But it shows all the rough points creators find for themselves — ruts, confusion, jealousy, guilt — the important things that ever writer or artist goes through prove that this is what they love, this is what they want. I know I’ve felt all these things and more — here’s hoping I can keep carrying through.


This post was written as a part of the Jiro Taniguchi Manga Moveable Feast hosted on Comics Worth Reading.

Review Recap: Bride’s Story, Kamisama Kiss, Lou!

Three of my reviews went up last week. First was my review of the third volume of A Bride’s Story by Kaoru Mori on Suite 101. This is still probably one of the most beautiful manga I have, and even if the story isn’t always doing what I want it to, I love it.

On The Fandom Post I got up my review of Kamisama Kissvolume 7 by Julietta Suzuki, another very cute and fun volume.

Finally I posted another Suite 101 review, this one of a children’s comic called Lou! by Julien Neel. This one’s about a cute-but-crazy 12-year-old girl trying to fix the love lives of both her mom and herself. It’s really funny, really charming, and I wish I knew a little girl who I could buy it for.

I’ll get at least one other review up this week, plus something resembling a real post for this month’s Manga Movable Feast.

New Review on Manga Bookshelf – Soulless

The newest of my Manga Bookshelf column, Comic Conversion, went up today. This time I compared the novel Soulless by Gail Carriger with the manga adaptation from Yen Press. Unlike previous installments, I enjoyed both versions of this story. Now I’m trying to figure out what to do for future comparisons – I’ve already got two in mind, but I’m a little stuck after that. Any ideas?

Also, before I forget AGAIN, last month I posted two new reviews on Suite 101: Black Butler volume 8 and Friends with Boys, a graphic novel by Faith Erin Hicks. I’m getting ready to pick up the pace on my reviews again, so expect a couple new reviews next week – and if I don’t post anything, hold me to it!

Osamu Tezuka MMF: Buddha Volume 1 – Importance of Milieu

One of the things I’ve learned about constructing a story is that you want to be sure to introduce your main character as soon as possible. And yet, in the entire 400-page first volume of Buddha by Osamu Tezuka, we only see Siddhartha, the Buddha of the story, twice, and as a small baby.

So, why does Tezuka choose to start the story this way? It would seem that he’s giving Buddha a slow start by putting the focus on other characters first, especially ones who will only die before the “real” story of Siddhartha gets underway. Tatta remains a major player, as does the Brahmin monk Naradatta. But can’t their stories be told through dialogue or flashback? By including this volume, essentially a stretched out prologue, what exactly does Tezuka accomplish?

A bit, actually. This part of the story is told through the eyes of Chapra, a slave; Tatta, a pariah; and Naradatta, a Brahmin. Chapra and Tatta are of the two lowest classes, and thus are perpetually treated unfairly, hardly viewed as human and not even allowed an attempt to better their situations. The Brahmin monk is of the highest class, who would normally also look down upon slaves and pariahs. But as he travels with Tatta he becomes humbled by the boy’s pure heart and selflessness. Combined with viewing Chapra’s determination to better the lives of himself and his mother, the Brahmin begins to understand the flaws of the caste system.

We see the beginnings of other problems in this volume. There is the war between Kosala and the Shakya kingdom, in which Kosala is perpetually trying to crush their neighbors. This creates hate between two sets of people, but also specific hatred for the character of Tatta, who becomes driven by a need for revenge against Kosala after everyone he loves is taken from him. We also meet Bandaka, a villain who will not only create problems for Siddhartha in the future, but is also the progenitor of another foe.

Buddha is a character driven tale, and it is a key part of the story to see how the infant Siddhartha grows into the Buddha history knows. But just as important as character – possibly even more important – is the milieu, the location and culture in which the story takes place. What the first volume of Buddha does is set up this world so that we understand the culture and the people. We see the issues that are caused by the way society is set up, and the world-spanning problems brought about by other characters. It is the world that Siddhartha will step into as he enacts change on his journey to become a Buddha.

It may seem unnecessary to spend so many valuable comic pages on the world before Siddhartha, but by beginning his story this way Tezuka wraps us up in the world. Had Tezuka told the story of the time before Sidhartha, of Tatta, Chapra, and Naradatta, through flashbacks, we may have understood the gist of what he wanted to get across. But then we would not have really experienced these scenes, and we would not feel so deeply tied into the heart of the story. By spending so much time on his world, on the milieu, Tezuka immerses us in the story of Buddha in a way that carries us through all 8 volumes.

This post was written as a part of February’s Manga Moveable Feast, hosted by Kate Dacey on The Manga Critic.

Reading List: Buddha, Graceling, Ouran

This is a new post I’m trying, where I’ll go over what books I plan to start and/or finish through the week.

First on the list is Buddha, the 8-volume fantastical biography of Siddhartha by Osamu Tezuka. I’ve read it before, but I want to re-tackle my favorite Tezuka manga for next weeks Manga Movable Feast, this time hosted by Kate Dacey on The Manga Critic. Of course, Buddha can get a little heavy (thematically and literally – these are pretty big books) so I might not make it through; probably should have started the reread earlier.

I also want to finish reading Graceling by Kristin Cashore. I originally picked this book up as a possible addition to my craft essay book list, but it’s not proving as useful in character development as I originally thought. Still, it’s an interesting book. I’ll give my full impression when I’ve finished.

Another book that I own but have been putting off is Ouran High School Host Club volume 17. I don’t know why I haven’t read it yet; I’ll get on that.

What books do you want to read this week?

New Digital Manga Guild Project – Chayamachi’s Collection: NOIR

The third project my Digital Manga Guild group worked on, Chayamachi’s Collection: Noir by Suguro Chayamachi, was just released this week:

Black is an expression, a color before which words can only hesitate.
Suguro Chayamachi returns with another set of short stories in her second collection, NOIR.
An unlikely friendship begins when a delinquent picks up a timid businessman stranded on the side of the road. Though they can’t understand each other there is something they each gain from this new, strange relationship.
Later, a teenager hires out help to break up his ex-girlfriend’s new relationship, but his new accomplice isn’t quite what she seems. In Nazi Germany, an artist is caught in treason when his son drops a book of paintings. And in England, a street urchin is given a special job, and while it seems simple there is a dark secret to it that could mean disaster for his friend.

Chayamachi’s Collection: NOIR basically follows the same pattern as BLANC, with 6 short stories (this time the first three are related) falling into different genres, but ultimately all being about people. Again, I really enjoyed working on this one, so I hope that it does well, and that DMG gives my group more manga like this to localize in the future.

You can buy Chayamachi’s Collection: NOIR on the Kindle or the Nook. Again, the link doesn’t seem to be working right just yet.

Fandom Post Reviews: Kimi ni Todoke 12 and Nura: Rise fo the Yokai Clan 6

This week two of my manga reviews were post on The Fandom Post.

First was the twelfth volume of Kimi ni Todoke, a truly fantastic shojo romance story. I’ve reviewed random volumes of this manga, and had to make up for the blank spots with library rentals. I love it so much that now I want to own all those volumes I’ve already read.

The other review was for Nura: Rise of the Yokai Clan volume 6. I’ve been reviewing this series for a while, and while it kept getting better it’s kind of evened out. Still, it’s a pretty decent shonen story, when they keep to the demon stuff and ignore the fact that the main character is still in middle school.

New Digital Manga Guild Title Released: Chayamachi’s Collection BLANC

It’s been a few months since another of my DMG group’s work has been released, but our second project just came out this week: Chayamachi’s Collection: BLANC by Suguru Chayamachi:

White is passion, a color that won’t yield to even the slightest imperfection.
From manga artist Suguro Chayamachi comes BLANC, a collection of six very unique short stories.
A young man takes it upon himself to find a lost cat’s home. Two delinquents bond after one has a near-death experience. A boy discovers the joys and pains of first love. One punk makes a dark decision to cover up his tracks. A familiar face has one teenager remembring the past. At a Yakuza funeral, loyalty to a friend struggles with loyalty to the whole.
Chayamachi’s stories explore that which makes humans so imperfect: friendship, love, and heartbreaking regret.

We had some trouble when our original translator went missing, but another translator, Jun Kayama, stepped in, and we were able to get the last two manga in our set done in record time. BLANC  was also fun because I really enjoyed the stories in this manga. Despite the fact that Digital Manga has chosen to label this as “yaoi”, BLANC is actually a collection of short stories that range different genres, like high school friendship, supernatural, and even something a little shojo-y. There are some BL overtones in a couple of the stories, but overall I would still recommend this to people who don’t care for yaoi (and not just because it’s something that I worked on).

Chayamachi’s Collection: BLANC is currently available on the Kindle and the Nook. It’s advertised as being available on the website as well, but so far it doesn’t seem to be working. I’ll post an update if I notice that it’s up.

The next project that will be coming out is Chayamachi’s Collection: NOIR. After that, it’s time to wait for our next set of projects.