Review: Saturn Apartments Vols 1 & 2 by Hisae Iwaoka

Title: Saturn Apartments Vols 1 & 2

Author: Hisae Iwaoka

Publisher: Viz

ISBN: 978-1421533643 & 978-1421533735

May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

Mitsu has just started working as a window washer, a dangerous job that five years earlier led to the loss of his father. As Mitsu struggles with being the new guy—making mistakes, struggling to keep up, petty workplace resentments—he also discovers the simple pleasures of befriending his coworkers, enjoying time off and getting to know his absent father through the eyes of his colleagues.

Review:

Mitsu is a window washer on a gigantic apartment complex 35,000 feet above the surface of Earth.  The planet has been evacuated and declared a nature preserve in a last ditch effort to save what native life remains on it.  The complex is segregated into stratified social classes.  Those from the lower levels, like Mitsu, must obtain passes to visit the upper levels, where the structure’s wealthy residents live.  Mitsu is trying to follow in his father’s footsteps, even though Aki was killed in a tragic accident five years earlier.  What he finds is that washing windows isn’t as easy as it sounds, and that understanding his co-workers can be even more difficult.

This is a slice of life series, and the chapters meander along as Mitsu learns the ropes of his trade.  He’s accepted into the guild because of his father, which earns him some animosity from a co-worker.  Fresh out of school, Mitsu’s biggest challenge is learning how to get along with others.  It doesn’t help that he feels pressured to live up to his dad’s reputation as a hard worker. 

Wow, window washing 35,000 feet up is hard, dangerous work!  I can’t imagine doing it! I love the story concept, and find the idea of evacuating everyone on the planet to a huge, orbiting apartment a fascinating concept.  I never once considered that the windows would get dirty, and need to be cleaned to allow sunlight to filter in and brighten up the place a bit.  Forcing the apartment population into a class-based social structure adds complexity to the plot, too.  Like any resource, there’s a limit to the amount of natural light available, and the more affluent residents get a lot more exposure to it than the poorer lower levels.  A lack of natural light leads to sickness and weak immune systems.  The units of the wealthy residents have vast windows, and they can afford to have them cleaned.  People like Mitsu have tiny little apartments, with no windows to the outside.

Saturn Apartments is a character-driven story.  Mitsu is struggling to deal with his father’s death, as well as trying to do a job he can be proud of.  His first day on the job almost ends in disaster, but afterwards, he feels that he has a better understanding of his father.  After getting a look at the earth outside of the apartment complex, he is awed by its beauty, and he is determined to someday go to the surface.  He knows that his dad must have felt the same way.  For the longest time he thought that Aki committed suicide and abandoned him, but after being outside, he realizes that he was wrong and that his father really was the victim of a fatal accident.

I love the character interactions.  Mitsu tries to keep himself apart from his neighbors and not be a burden on anyone.  They aren’t so willing to let him do that,  which adds all kinds of complications to his life.  His customers are surprising demanding, too, and each of them affect his life in a different way.  Though they are often a pain to deal with, they also enrich his solitary life for the better.

The art is kind of weird.  I don’t know how else to describe it.  The characters have big round heads and tiny little eyes and at first they looked so odd to me.  As I made my way through the first two volumes of the series, though, I found them very expressive and very unique.  Hisae Iwaoka has a distinct style; it’s not smooth and clean, but instead has a rougher texture that make the illustrations visually arresting.

I found my introduction to Saturn Apartments a pleasant experience, though there were a few moments when the pacing was just a tad too leisurely for my tastes.

Grade: B

Review copies obtained from Amazon (Volume 1) and from publisher (Volume Two)