Sunday, November 7, 2010

Saturn Apartments

Mitsu has just graduated from junior high school, and he is ready to take on the same job his father had before he died: window washer.  Washing windows is an incredibly dangerous profession in the future world where Mitsu lives, though; in fact, his father died on the job.  Earth is no longer inhabited by humans - it has been evacuated in order to preserve it as a nature preserve, and humans now live in a huge ring-shaped satellite structure that orbits the Earth, 35 kilometers up in the air.  Washing the windows from the outside involves pressure suits, safety lines, and being very, very careful.  The wealthiest residents live in the upper levels, which receive the most natural light and have windows that are safer and easier to clean.  The residents of the lower levels, however, suffer from illnesses related to the lack of sunlight, and as their windows are the most dangerous to reach, cleaning them is so expensive that most cannot afford it - and the dirtier windows allow even less sunlight to filter inside.

Mitsu's first day on the job is an eye-opening experience.  The view of the Earth is extraordinary, but he can't help but think about his father's fatal accident - particularly when he learns he is to clean windows in that same location where his father was working on that horrible day.  There are issues with envious co-workers, unreasonable clients, and Mitsu, who has been so very alone since the death of his father, has some fast growing up to do.

This is a delightful, bittersweet coming-of-age story with unforgettable characters, a disturbing yet fascinating premise, and absolutely gorgeous artwork.  Teens, particularly those who enjoy dystopian science fiction, are sure to enjoy this, and it has great appeal for adult readers as well.  My 11-year-old daughter read this, and while she found bits of it to be a little confusing, she adored it, and it was fun to talk about the book together.  I am so pleased that this is only the first in a series.  The story does have a satisfying conclusion, but it left me wanting to know more about the characters and their disturbing yet compelling world.

This is one of those complex, character-driven graphic novels that I want to shove into the hands of those readers who think that manga and graphic novels are a genre, rather than a format.  There is such a wide variety of wonderful stories told in this format that those readers who avoid graphic novels, believing they are only about superheroes or silly jokes, are doing themselves a great disservice.

This manga is available in a lovely printed format as well as free online!

Saturn Apartments, Volume 1 by Hisae Iwaoka; translated by Matt Thorn (Viz Media, 2010)

Source: My public library

Also reviewed at:
Book Dragon:  "Younger readers will enjoy the adventures; adults will recognize the deeper meanings (and warnings) of a not-too-far future in peril."
Dawn of the Read: "A great science-fiction manga, but also a fine exploration of work life, loss, and the burdens of adulthood."
Suite 101:  "Readers have experienced the stuck-in-place struggles and will relate to the manga's characters. Enough humor is interjected to keep the manga from being totally serious, but it remains a touching a meaningful story."

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