A child’s world is one of reliable laws that define what is meaningful and worthless, success and failure, black and white. In comparison, the adult world, often viewed in youth as the ultimate freedom, is just one grey smear of dilemmas in which nobody can give us definite answers. Meiko learns that when she quits her boring office job. An act intended to liberate her from soul-destroying drudgery, it instead puts her straight into another prison: stuck in perpetuity before daytime drama and computer games.

For readers in a similar situation, Solanin will provide great comfort. It surveys life’s ironies with a wistfulness and nostalgia that could only come from an author bleeding his memories onto the page. The creator, Inio Asano, came up with the story when he was twenty-four and his primary aim seems to be empathy; to reassure his readers that life is frightening and inexplicable not just for them, but for everyone. The cast of twenty-somethings groping their way from a nondescript past into an uncertain future allows us to reassess our insecurities from the objective vantage point of our armchairs. We can then do things like smile knowingly at Meiko’s bafflement when joblessness turns out to feel like being a corpse. ‘It’s funny,’ she muses. ‘Didn’t I quit my job because I was sick of being one of the living dead?’

Solanin thus has the allure of astute observation, but it also stumbles easily into cliche. When Meiko finds a stray balloon anchored to her balcony, she releases it and watches it drift above the cityscape. The next panel declares: ‘I gave my two weeks’ notice today.’. Presumably, the balloon, once fettered and now soaring the limitless skies, provided the corny inspiration she needed. Another example includes her boyfriend Taneda’s epiphanic ramblings that turn zoo animals into grandiose metaphors for his trapped existence. He also has obvious dreams about meeting dead ends in a vast forest. Luckily, Solanin has strong enough foundations that it can carry these heavy lumps of juvenility without sinking into mediocrity.

And let’s not forget Asano’s art is a generous gift. Character designs blend realistic hair and clothes with cartoony wide eyes and broad mouths. His sequencing of panels seem awkward at times, with speech bubbles frequently breaking the lines in a disorganised cloud, but he compensates by interspersing the narrative with rich, cinematic spreads awash with lifelike detail and breathtaking lighting (the live concert sequence at the end is beautiful). He also likes romantic close-ups that accentuate thoughtful expressions. If this were a movie, we would be watching Asano’s camera pan like a soft caress over his characters’ faces.

Solanin will appeal to those who like their drama unfussy and nurtured in the rich soil of personal experience. There are interesting paradoxes of everyday life that Asano summarises perfectly without floating off into pompous abstractions or simplistic resolution (these guys don’t do anything as crass as finding direction in a flash of inspiration). And whatever he does, he remains anchored in frank truthfulness and a strong vein of hope that we all need from time to time.

8 / 10