By Hisae Iwaoka
32 pages, black and white (with color pages)
Published by Viz
It’s fun watching Viz fully embrace the power of online comics. After all, it’s letting them release Rumiko Takahashi’s Rin-Ne simultaneously with Japan. With the launch of their version of IKKI magazine, we’re getting a wide collection of off-beat and different comics and (presumably) letting them build up an audience and good word-of-mouth as people check out the stories for free. Now that IKKI is full of all sorts of different comics, I have to say that I’m glad all these new series are available. If nothing else, it means that I now know that I’ll buy any Saturn Apartments books that are eventually released.
Mitsu just graduated school and is ready to start his new job—replacing his father who disappeared and presumably died performing the same job. With Earth now an off-limits nature preserve, all of humanity lives in the Ring System, a massive apartment complex that circles the planet 35,000 meters above the surface. Mitsu is one of those who work in the underbelly of society, cleaning the windows so that the rest of humanity can still look out and see Earth and the stars. Already, he’s received his first job, cleaning off a set of windows so that a young couple can have a beautiful view for their wedding.
Saturn Apartments reminds me of a strange-but-good mixture of two other manga series. Like Planetes, it looks at the grubbier part of the future. It’s not all glitz and glamour; for everyone who gets to enjoy the beautiful artificial gardens, there’s someone else that has to take care of the machinery operating it all. Through Mitsu, we see just how dangerous a job being one of the window washers truly is, and how much time and effort it takes for what sounds like such a simple job. It’s not a fun job by any stretch of the imagination. At the same time, though, there’s a touch of Aqua and Aria here, too, in that Mitsu’s job brings him into contact with all sorts of different people who live in this new society. Add in Mitsu’s hopeless optimism and slight wonder at some of the more amazing sights that his job brings him into contact with, and it makes Saturn Apartments a wonder-inducing, uplifting book. Certainly not what I’d have pegged for a book about menial workers, and in a good way.
Hisae Iwaoka’s art is beautiful, a stripped down, simple look. Don’t be fooled by Iwaoka’s style to think that there isn’t much effort put into the pages, though. I love how Iwaoka draws Mitsu, with his open face and expressions. His tiny eyes seem almost lost in the expanse of his face, and the end result is a character that looks innocent and fresh and worried all at once, stumbling through his new job. Looking at drawings of Mitsu, you can’t help but wish him well as he’s draped in his space suit and preparing to head to outside the Ring System. The Ring System itself is drawn fantastically; the images of the stairs descending into the depths of its bulk just ooze atmosphere. You can almost hear the grind of machinery and the clanging of metal parts there. Even better, when Mitsu gets his first real look at Earth from outside, it’s drawn so beautiful that you can easily understand Mitsu’s fascination and wonder. It’s a huge, expansive two-page spread, and Mitsu looks dwarfed in comparison to everything around him.
I love that this initial 32-page chapter has already made me fall in love with Saturn Apartments and count the days until the next installment. Hopefully we’ll see collected editions before too long, because I’ll definitely place them up on my bookshelf in a place of honor. Until then, though, I’ll be more than happy to check in every week at IKKI so that I can get my fill. Viz’s Signature line has spawned a lot of great books, and IKKI is more than ready to add to that list. I’m hooked. Highly recommended.