Sun: 62. Kevin: 0.
Yesterday I got a graphic novel in the mail! Solanin, a one-shot manga by Inio Asano. It is about a group of friends in their twenties, fresh out of school, unemployed and penniless in Tokyo in the middle of an unprecedentedly terrible recession. They strike a difficult balance between their dreams and the demands and responsibilities of new adulthood: Meiko is supporting her live-in boyfriend Taneda through a soulless office lady job, Taneda struggles with his job as a part-time illustrator, Kato hates how he looks in a suit but needs a desk job to pay tuition for his sixth year of school. What brings them all together now is what brought them all together in the first place: in college they were a band, they were members of the music club; they played all these awesome shows and rocked the fuck out and had Dreams and Ambitions and the future was dazzling and glorious in front of them. And now they're still meeting twice a week and still banging away at the same old instruments, but seriously, what for? No more school festivals, now, no more student concerts--they don't play live anymore, they're not good enough to record. They do it because it feels real, because it's a connection to their past and their dreams, but the moment they put down that bitchin' '76 Fender they're back to the world of photocopiers and convenience store aprons and perverted salarymen, of looking for work and lying around in their dingy little apartments all day and watching the money run out as everything they've ever wanted to be, whatever it is they want to be, if they ever find it, vanishes into thin air.
My, doesn't all this sound familiar.
What's really fascinating about the art is that none of the characters are drawn to look particularly heroic or attractive. Unlike the Scott Pilgrim series, which elevates the role of the post-undergrad everyman to that of a superhero in an epic cosmic struggle, the protagonists of Solanin are ordinary people. Dorky, lovable, idiosyncratic ordinary people, but ordinary nonetheless. Their doubts and fears over whether they'll ever have a future as a band are accentuated by the fact that none of them look like rock stars. The frontman wears a ridiculous pair of Buddy Holly glasses, his groupie girlfriend has freckles, the bassist is obese, and the drummer looks like he'd be more at home in a metal band; these guys are the total antithesis of JRock. They lack verve, style, and confidence, and their ambitions are plagued by doubt; when they talk about what they do, they look and sound like a bunch of close friends throwing around one of those impossible pipe dreams that they know they'll never actually do. And yet, whenever they get together and play...they are transformed. The rock-out faces these guys put on look like portraits from the Cleveland Hall of Fame. Six days a week Taneda's just a goofy dork with bad posture and low self-esteem, but put a guitar in his hands and he channels Hendrix. Draw away all their doubts and fears and insecurities, and these guys are the face of absolute sincerity. A sincerity priceless, magical, and transcendent--it makes them, for a brief moment, so much more than who they are.
Even if, as they constantly fear, they're really not all that good.
I read the whole thing in one go. I can't say more about the story--which is excellent--without spoiling anything, but it's pretty evident that whoever sent me this manga knows me very well. Someone must have read through it one day and thought, "Hmm, this reminds me of something erf_ wrote in his livejournal." I certainly had that feeling every five or six pages...
The return address on the envelope is in Columbia, Maryland, and the sender is simply marked as "CHEN." I assume, then, that this is a random gift from Heather, Cynthia, or Eric. Whichever one of you it is, domo arigatou! I enjoyed it a lot.