Saturn Apartments, Vol. 1
written by Hisae Iwaoka
In the future, mankind leaves the Earth behind in order to allow it to heal and become a nature preserve. The human race moves to a satellite ring around the Earth and society becomes divided according to how high the floor on which you live is. Mitsu’s father was just a window washer and they live in the lowest levels. After his father falls during a job, junior high school graduate Mitsu takes over the dangerous job of window washing. The team of window washers he works with are a motley bunch and Mitsu struggles to fit in. He also learns more about the people living in the ring as he peers into their rooms and their lives.
Iwaoka’s quiet story is not going to appeal to every comic fan. There are no overly dramatic moments and readers will not be moved to gasp in amazement. But the right person will draw Mitsu and his companions into his or her heart and be touched by this gentle tale. This first volume is mostly an introduction to the characters and their environment. We learn a lot about how Mitsu’s world works simply by following him through his days, though Mitsu is still something of a blank character by the end of the first volume. He seems to exist more to highlight how the other characters behave, rather than to act himself. But those other characters are intriguing enough to encourage readers to go along with things, much as Mitsu himself simply goes along with things as he begins to learn the new order of his life. And that life will be familiar in many ways to readers. In some respects, humans in Iwaoka’s future world have learned from their previous mistakes, especially in regards to environmental aspects. Nature is so revered now that even picking a flower is a crime. However, in fundamental ways people have not changed at all. Hard work and perseverance can only take the inhabitants of the lower levels of the ring so far before they are forced to admit that those in the upper levels will not allow them to progress further.
Fitting in perfectly with her soft style of writing, is Iwaoka’s gentle, yet rough artwork. Her thin lines allow for high amounts of detail where needed, but she doesn’t overload scenes with either details or screentones. She doesn’t make the mistake of creating a clean, pristine world. The ring, especially in the lower areas, is scuffed and obviously man-made. As Mitsu begins to see the upper levels of the ring, the obvious class differences emerge and Iwaoka shows living quarters that are more spacious, cleaner, featuring more decorations. Science fiction elements are competently handled, making the world of Saturn Apartments more believable and her cartoony-style humans are easy to identify with, which is especially important if an emotional story like this one is to ring true. Pair this one with other titles like Twin Spica (by Kou Yaginuma from Vertical) or Solanin (by Asano Inio from VIZ) for readers who want stories that grip the emotions gently.