Slice of life stuff about what happens after university and before you settle into the rest of your life. In the afterword, Inio Asano talks about her belief that "the most important messages in our lives don't come from musicians on stage or stars on television. They come from the average people all around you". Doesn't include comic book writers in that list, I notice. But then, she (or maybe a he now) wants to draw manga that is "true" to herself. Is art just about representing the lived-in experiences of the circle around you? Is the best art reducible to autobiography? To be fair, some of my favourite comics (Maus, Blankets, Fun Home) certainly fit that description...
Reading through Sandman at the moment for an upcoming thing I'm involved in – originally a kind of hate-reading since I didn't much like the series, but now I'm getting into it – and Neil Gaiman believes something very different. He is a fantasy / horror writer after all, so it's expected that he would want to go on about the "truths" buried in the myths and stories that structure our lives. So far I don't think he's all that successful at it (blood-sworn allegiance to Pratchett, Whedon, Wolfe, rep to the death etc.) But the point stands.
Did Asano go through the bereavement her protagonist Meiko goes through in the book? I don't know, but if not, then that injection of fiction (of myth-making) is an untruth that serves to reveal truths about the characters. A device maybe, a narrative trick (and not a hugely innovative one – imagine Sandman will do something similar at the end). But Naruo is the carrier of a set of attitudes that spreads enlightenment across the rest of the dramatis personae. A fictional tragic hero as much as (if not more than) a real person.
I quite liked the fact that this ideal boyfriend is stuffed in the refrigerator in order to provide the girlfriend with motivation for her subsequent music-making activities. The problem is that the dude is by no means the wise and noble truth-speaker the book sets him up to be. I shouldn't need to point this out, but disappearing for five days without telling the girlfriend you live with (and who pays your rent!) is a textbook example of a dickish move. Also, there's very little trace of irony in the scene where Meiko's mother basically hands responsibility for the care of her daughter to her boyfriend (patriarchal assumptions and contracts alive and well, I see!)
Sounds like I'm hating on this quite a bit. I actually found it quite affecting, particularly as I am in exactly the same age and situation as the characters, and it IS true to life, it DOES have an important message. I liked the way the book was set out, with friendships drifting across and apart, as if everyone was in their own boat trying to float the same way. I even liked the earnest crappy poetry of the conversations and monologues, which aims at some deep and meaningful self-awareness but often comes across confused and ridiculous. Because there IS a truth to that as well. Those emotions and sensations are very effectively evoked. I've spent a bit of time in Tokyo, and I recognise the places and people in Asano's pages.
A note on the craft: I've read quite a lot of anglophone comics, but I'm not a veteran manga reader, so it was interesting for me to see the differences in the way the page was used. For example, the fact that each chapter was only ~12 pages long (rather than 22) and had an average of 4 panels a page (rather than 6). But it's almost all in B&W, which I guess makes it easier to churn out on a weekly basis. It's also really common for scenes to end in the middle of the page: probably designed to keep you reading, but also a great way to loosen up the transitions and have text run over to the next scene (very awkward when comics do that over the page). In several chapters in Solanin, a dramatic episode unfolds alongside a comic one, before being united at the end – a very satisfying balancing act. Finally, the book often enlarges captions to panel size, white on black. Still rare in comics (although apparently Si Spurrier is fond of doing this as well). Momentary blinks, pauses for thought, or a way to highlight thoughts of particular significance. In one scene, these black panels alternate with panels of the protagonist lying in bed trying to explain how she feels to her friend. Speech bubbles run into the captions, and it's like she can say only a fraction of the things going through her mind. It's a brilliant way to use the language of comics, and it's true as well.