Life is never ordinary. What begins with a college dropout bored of her mediocre routine soon becomes a fantastic series of vignettes about the unexpected ways that lives intersect. Filled with magical realism in the face of the cold reality of modern life, at their core these stories are about discovering something precious in the chaos of existence. A dream recaptured. A life on a new track. The absurdity of death. Laughter in the face of reality. With this series of intersecting vignettes, Inio Asano explores the ways in which modern life can be ridiculous and sublime, terrible and precious, wasted and celebrated.
Asano Inio is the unsung Aesop of our time. He weaves his set of ideals and his take on life into his manga, teaching and inspiring us time and time again.
In this compilation of short stories, Inio tries to teach us one thing, saying it directly on the first and last pages of the second volume: "This world that we live in is gentle yet sad, fun yet sorrowful, strong yet ephemeral..." / "...but as long as you're alive, something good is bound to happen. I'm sure of it."
Each and every one of the stories shows struggle. They show how terrible "ordinary"
life can be. Two friends separate because one becomes "popular." A father who is too engrossed with his job to go back for even his child's birthday. A couple with a hollow relationship.
Each and every one of the stories shows hope. Sometimes, bullies can be real people. Sometimes a person can realize their worth. Sometimes two people can make up.
Each and every one of the stories doesn't overdo the hope. The working father doesn't suddenly quit his job to spend time with his son. The hollow relationship stays at "casual talk" level. The two friends are still separated. But at least there's a glimmer of hope.
And that's what separates Inio from other mangaka. You can be as inspirational as you want, but if you don't pull through and deny your readers that ultimately "happy" ending, it's no good. "Happy" endings often ruin anime and manga for me. I don't want to see a tragedy with a deus ex machina ending (lookin' at you, After Story...). When bad things happen, they happen. There's no miracle. What a Wonderful World doesn't show a utopia because it isn't meant to - this world is wonderful because there is a glimmer of "hope", not because everybody gets to live happily ever after.
The main appeal of this manga is in its bittersweet story and the themes Inio has placed in it - the chronicles of the struggles, dreams, and ambitions of regular people. That said, though, the other aspects aren't lacking at all. The art is top-notch, the characters are amazingly deep, and every single panel has a purpose. Even if you aren't a fan of realistic manga, this work of art would still be appealing.
In the last chapter, tragedy strikes. The ultimate tragedy - something almost worse than death. But in the midst of this, Inio devotes his only two-page spread to show that there is hope. Even if life after this tragedy is like hell, one day, something good will happen.
I think we're widely considered to be one of the most disillusioned, apathetic and cynical generations throughout history. Marked by post-cold war disenchantment, a renewed atheism and heavy materialism.
In Literature and many other works of fiction, especially post world war fiction, there is a rising trend in satire, irony and general darkness. Works like American Psycho and Almost Transparent Blue paint characters that lead broken and vapid lives putting on facades and leading meaningless existences.
David Foster Wallace (a writer who I very much admire) once wrote a critique of such cynical works of fiction as empty. He proclaimed that a new literary movement called
New Sincerity needed to arise, reviving the old Romantic idealism of the 19th century. He saw a need for honesty and pure emotions in literature and disliked the disillusionment towards truth and reality as seen in many postmodernist works.
Inio Asano draws the truth in all purity on his pages. Life is depicted honestly with all its ups and downs in Subarashii Sekai. There may be cynical characters and losers depicted but they still engage in life and continue living it.
Asano reveals a truth that many writers may not grasp about our generation, or maybe even humanity as a whole. Even though we may lose direction and basically wander around meaninglessly in life (or at least that's what existentialists would like to believe), even when we become addicted to hedonism and chase after nothing but instant gratification, our humanity will never diminish in any way. Cynics, misanthropes and the losers of society all have feelings. No human of any background is easy to read or psychologically empty. Even if we pull facade after facade and don ourselves in the latest fashion, wear a mask in front of our friends and family or develop nihilistic thoughts, we are still humans that feel.
This is definitely a more idealistic work in the Asano canon though, many other works do have nihilistic qualities to them. Yet whether idealistic or cynical, the aspect of reality is still present in Asano's work. The twisted couple in Umibe no Onnanoko, despite being initially touted as the stereotypical disillusioned youths, are psychologically complex and 3d in their motivations. Oyasumi Punpun may be a surreal and satirical mirror of reality yet it still remains as human as any other of her works (maybe even more human).
I've seen the dystopic visions of people such as Orwell or Huxley. As an optimist and a fan of Inio Asano I have extreme faith that society may become a bureaucracy and humans may become oppressed, but our saving grace is that we'll always be as multi-faceted and complex as before. Brainwashing, Soma, Big Brother or Room 101 will never be able to eliminate this complexity in any way.
(After much thought I have decided to change certain points.
1. Sincerity is stupid if you are stupid (Harry Frankfurt - On Bullshit)
2. Actually a lot of people are sincerely stupid
3. There's a difference between sincerity because you can't gauge societal standards (a sleazebag whistling a girl in the street is still 'sincere') and sincerity because you have witnessed things so sublime or clear (Philosophy, Art, Sciences, Literature, Music, Maths) that you cannot be bothered about societal standards (e.g. Wittgenstein, Spinoza, Dan Schneider, Borges). The former is called bigotry, the latter, self-actualization. A lot of problems right now can be attributed to people who are stupidly sincere in the wrong direction.
4. Apathy and Cynicism can't exactly be gauged in previous centuries. Anyway since our population level is unprecedented there isn't really any comparison as to more vs less cynical
5. But more self-awareness is definitely a yes, due to Internet etc... just going to the reddit confessions page will make you significantly more self-aware than anyone about 100-200 years ago
6. As analyzed by Pierro Scaruffi, oppression, due to evolutionary pressure, and since there is a possibility that consciousness and intellect is also determined through biology, may cause significantly more multi-faceted and complex humans. But the best is still the good old standard development of free humans. It's better to have us discover it properly than to hope for winning the evolutionary lottery)
When it comes down to authors who can make the mundane appealing, you'd be hard-pressed to find who could fit the bill like Inio Asano. He's one of the few mangakas out there who can take something mundane like a slice-of-life setting and really turn it into a unique experience that other mangas just can't compare to. To get a good idea of what I'm talking about, let's look into Subarashii Sekai (What a Wonderful World!): the first manga of his to ever come to the West. Subarashii Sekai can be succinctly described as the manga equivalent of a book from the Chicken Soup for
the Soul series in that this is a series of stories about the lives of various people and what keeps them around to live another day.
Well, I don't think it's entirely fair to say that Subarashii Sekai is a compilation of stories since there really isn't much story to be found. This may be a bizarre thing for me to say, but please hear me out. Subarashii Sekai consists of 19 chapters, each chapter being a vignette taken from the lives of people just like you and me. From these vignettes, we get to see what it is that these people go through on an otherwise daily basis and what it is that keeps them going. That's not all that we get to experience, however. There's also the chance that we get to see an unusual day in the life of some random bloke and what happens when they decide to go against the current of their otherwise miserable lives.
Despite the fact that Inio Asano is known for his cold and unflinching portrayal of reality, Subarashii Sekai is one of his more optimistic works and it has a worthwhile message to be found: life is a precious gift that shouldn't be taken for granted. This is a manga that anyone who's gone through or is going through some tough times in life needs to read at some point, if only because of the fact that it's something that's sure to brighten their day if only by a tiny margin. Subarashii Sekai also serves as a great introduction to the rest of Inio Asano's works like Solanin and Oyasumi Punpun.
On the subject of how well Subarashii Sekai holds up to Asano's later work, I prefer Solanin and Oyasumi Punpun, if only because of the fact that I could connect to the both of those on a much deeper and more personal level than I can with Subarashii Sekai but that doesn't mean that this manga isn't worth reading. Despite the fact that Inio Asano's improved his craft by a conisderable margin, Subarashii Sekai is still a worthwhile buy and is definitely something that you should have in your shelf and the messages it has are worthwhile no matter where you are in life. That's all for now. Feedback is always welcome and with that, I'm out. Peace :)
"I look up into the clear blue morning sky. It makes my eyes hurt. And suddenly, I feel something nostalgic underfoot. It's the dawn of a new day, and the first thing I do is step in some shit."
Asano Inio's serial debut Subarashii Sekai is an interesting anthology of loosely linked short stories about people caught between prolonged adolescence and adulthood, trying to resist the pressures of a fast-paced society as they stand in the midst of their failing aspirations and relationships.
Protagonists include a college dropout, a bullying victim, and other characters that many readers will be able to relate to on some level. At
the opposite end of the spectrum, we are presented with a mob fugitive in a panda mascot suit and Tepodon, a pet turtle that, upon realizing there are times in life when we must "move on, despite everything", even at the risk of making mistakes, flees his tank to become a half-man, half-turtle-like creature. Well, Tepodon might be explained as a manifestation of the college dropout's subconscious. But surreal elements like this are an integral part of what is otherwise a brutally realistic setting. Perhaps distracting from the overall realism, they illustrate how life can be strange sometimes while providing a bit of comical relief. In a twisted sort of way, a few of these stories are rather on the funny side.
The manga ultimately refrains from judging its characters' actions and in some cases teases the reader by having them come back for a cameo in a later chapter. It is implied that the dropout went back to school, but we can't be entirely sure of it. Either way, she seems to be doing okay. "Wonderful World" depicts the world as a cruel place, but all things considered, the title is not meant to be ironical. As a matter of perspective, the world can be wonderful.
With a series comprised of nineteen independent stories, there are bound to be chapters which stand out and chapters which pale in comparison. However, this is a manga about how we are better off focusing on the good. And at its best, Subarashii Sekai is nothing short of brilliant.