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Aug. 12th, 2009 @ 04:52 am k-on: the later years
Current Music: Gomu - おっくせんまん!(Okkusenman)
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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.
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dd2guy
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From:virtualstar
Date:August 12th, 2009 03:51 pm (UTC)
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Ha, you read Solanin! I love that manga. I read it two years ago and, I noticed it was published in America last time I went to the bookstore (and also noticed it was the only manga I recognized). I really, really like it.

It's so good. I didn't think of you when I read it though, because I don't think I knew you, really. Wow. That was a while ago.

It's weird, Solanin, now that I think about it, was the last manga I really read, before I offically stopped reading manga. It's a good manga to be the last one.
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From:erf_
Date:August 12th, 2009 07:12 pm (UTC)
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It's really not a good manga to quit on, given its message.
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From:virtualstar
Date:August 12th, 2009 08:52 pm (UTC)
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Yeah it is - I still haven't really read a better manga (with maybe an exception for an autobiographical manga I read about being a post-grad art student. I see a pattern…).

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From:erf_
Date:August 12th, 2009 10:14 pm (UTC)
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I thought if you were going to quit manga, you'd do it on a particularly terrible series. As in, "Argh! This manga is so awful I never want to read another manga again!"

Like this one.
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From:virtualstar
Date:August 12th, 2009 11:14 pm (UTC)
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No no. Here, read this. That is why I stopped reading manga (and also a link to the scanlated version of Solanin).

http://virtualstar.livejournal.com/36087.html

I would want to stop on a good series anyway, then I would feel satisfied, rather than feeling like I wasted most of high school and some of college.
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From:user_undefined
Date:August 12th, 2009 10:25 pm (UTC)
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Close to home! Close to home! Augh, augh, augh!

...May I borrow it?
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From:erf_
Date:August 13th, 2009 07:08 am (UTC)
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If it gives you another excuse to visit me, you absolutely may!

Assuming I don't give it away first.
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From:user_undefined
Date:August 13th, 2009 04:16 pm (UTC)
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I tried to loan you "Blessed Unrest," but Des brought it back to me when she came to Maine in July. I SHALL ENDEAVOR AGAIN TO BRING IT TO YOU.
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From:soullessthinker
Date:August 13th, 2009 12:03 am (UTC)
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I'll try to find it...
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From:saberslashalpha
Date:August 13th, 2009 02:20 pm (UTC)
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From:oceanruins
Date:August 15th, 2009 08:19 am (UTC)
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Wonderful! I'm glad. It's a joint gift from me and my sister. I suggested it, and my sister happened to have a second copy in her collection which was a fortuitous coincidence.

One of the things I felt reading this manga, was that it isn't necessarily whether their band is any good or not. In fact to be 'good' in such a music world would have demanded that they become some kind of backup band for an idol or totally change their sound - what they were - and thus becoming something that didn't have any meaning for them. And in that kind of life, if that's what being successful means, then who really wants to achieve success? I also think that because they were into being a western-influenced band at a time when that was not all too popular (at least in this comic world) they never really had any chance of winning over the popular mainstream.. Speaking about having unfulfilled (unfulfillable?) dreams..
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From:erf_
Date:August 15th, 2009 09:19 pm (UTC)
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That's a good point.

And in that kind of life, if that's what being successful means, then who really wants to achieve success?

Allegorically, I think that point represents the crux of any recession-era quarter-life crisis--even your craziest, most ambitious dreams are vulnerable to that kind of disillusionment once you realize what fulfilling them entails.

(A related aside: Japanese music is great...but oh man, the Japanese music industry sucks.)

I suspect the manga is also getting at the point that having the dream is just as beautiful and precious as achieving it.