Friday, July 1, 2016

YALSA top ten GNs 2011: Saturn Apartments Volume 1

Saturn Apartments Volume 1
Written and illustrated by Hisae Iwaoka.
Published by Viz (2011)

Mitsu has just completed school and is going to continue in his father's footsteps and start working at the window washers guild. Seems fairly normal, except for the fact that his dad was a window washer on a space station that houses all of humanity. Oh yeah, and his dad died while washing windows a few years ago.

The world that Iwaoka has created in Saturn Apartments is pretty interesting. The idea that Earth has been abandoned and that all of humanity now lives in orbit isn't necessarily new, but it's not one that I've seen frequently in comics. There is, however, one pretty gaping plot hole: why does there need to be a window washing guild in the first place. Couldn't robots do it better? Despite this I'm curious as to why people left the Earth, and how the space station itself functions economically and socially, but not enough to read a second volume.

The major problem I had is that Mitsu is basically a non-entity. He's incredibly passive, doesn't seem particularly bright, and doesn't really seem to have any interests or characteristics. If Saturn Apartments was an anthology about various people in the space station (the couple getting married, the scientist trying to breed Earth animals, the other window washers) it seems as though it would be more interesting. Now, admittedly Mitsu is fairly young and is still figuring out who he is, and for some people the story of him discovering himself would be enough, but I didn't feel there was enough of a character there to do the discovering.

Iwaoka's artwork is fairly standard manga-style for the backgrounds, and is generally pretty competent in those regards. The technology she draws, when it shows up, is well rendered and enjoyable. However, most of the indoors scenes look as though they could have happened in the present day. Given how much living space that each person (even the poor people) appears to have, I wonder exactly how huge this space station is (or, perhaps, the better question to ask is how many humans are still alive?). My major complaint in regards to the art is with the way that Iwaoka draws faces. I found the lack of detail she uses weirdly off-putting, as well as making it difficult to judge how old a character was and making me think that the characters were all about to fall asleep.

Years ago I read the series Planetes by Makoto Yukimura, which is about a similarly mundane space job (in that case they're garbage collectors). I really loved it, and was excited when I heard people mention a couple of other manga series were said to be similar. Those two being Twin Spica and Saturn Apartments. I found both of them to be huge disappointments when I originally read them, and rereading Saturn Apartments years later doesn't change my opinions about it in any way. However, if you want a less technical, more character focused science fiction story you might enjoy it.