Celebrating Inio Asano, The Master of Melancholy

Sometimes, the dark isn't so bad


If there is an expert of evoking the melancholy, it’s Inio Asano. It’s clear just from opening to any one of his pages; characters occupy the panels, but there’s still a lot of space distancing them. Reading them always fills you with a strange feeling, sucks you in, leaves you feeling strange and distorted. No other author’s work makes me feel particularly this way, for everything that he creates, and there is something worth celebrating about that.


Today is Inio Asano’s birthday, and he’s certainly done a lot of work that’s worth noting! In all of his stories, what about them creates that kind of mood every single time? 

Many series that I end up reading usually end up extolling the virtues of humanity. People can be inherently heroic, focusing on people that do good deeds, pushing past struggles with hard work or determination, things like that. Asano’s work doesn’t really have any of that, and isn’t interested in showing off people’s heroics. More the opposite, really. Asano’s characters all feel like they’re floating in water; they aren’t constantly driven enough to want to struggle and swim to shore. They’re drifting; even if they have a purpose, that doesn’t mean they aren’t burdened with other problems too. Sometimes they go under and drown. Sometimes they take people with them. Most of the time, they’re floating, just surviving the day to day.

They’re all people with their own problems, who act one way in public and feel another in private. None of what they do is shown to be particularly glamorous or heroic, just people doing what people do. We know people like that, and sometimes we are those people. That cuts deep, just in pure relatability, because this is something that we understand. Even the dreamlike, more fantastical elements are still rooted in something that feels like watching real life and real people. Goodnight Punpun is how letting the past distort you and viewing yourself as a monster can turn you into one. Solanin is coping with how adulthood doesn't always match up with your dreams. Dead Dead Demon's Dededededestruction is living the day-to-day in a national crisis, and how people react to something or someone that is completely foreign to them. Not particularly cheerful things to look at, but not foreign either. 

His characters are like people, and people are flawed. Asano’s work doesn’t show his characters in a constantly good light, or even something to strive towards. They can be petty, manipulative, cruel. Most often than not, they’re selfish, and are only out for themselves and further their own personal objectives. 

There is nothing particularly pretty about this, and they drag their melancholy across the pages, into other characters’ lives. Their actions affect other people, and most times, they are fairly unrepentant. It’s the frequency of this kind of thinking, The self above all else, something ugly, but can we really say that we don’t feel like that sometimes?

However, people aren’t painted as always terrible, all the time. Asano’s stories aren’t grimdark, even if they deal with very unhappy themes. His characters have friends, people they’re close to, family. They encourage each other, give each other advice, try to make each other happy. It doesn’t always work, but sometimes it does. People aren’t always there to cause problems, but to help each other as well. People are strange, but there's a reason why people keep reaching out. 

It isn’t as if his characters have no bonds at all and are truly alone, but that they struggle to communicate. Dealing with other people is hard. Putting yourself out in the world can be embarrassing and uncomfortable. Through the good and the bad, Asano takes to highlight both. There is a comfort in his dark sense of reality, because the world can sometimes feel small when you get caught up in yourself and your problems. Reading his stories are often a reminder that our problems aren't always unique, that other people share the same darkness too.

Sometimes life isn’t all that happy. We all love stories of heroes, but that doesn’t mean we have the energy or fortitude to be heroes ourselves. Often times we’re all just people, people going through daily lives, just trying to survive. Having fun, hurting, being hurt, supporting, existing in the day to day. Asano’s work unearths that reality and grips tight, digging up all the things about that, both good and bad. Sometimes that’s painful, but it's a pain we all share. It's looking into the shadows and saying, "You're not alone."

What do you think of Asano's work? How has it affected you? Let us know in the comments!


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Noelle Ogawa is a contributor to Bubbleblabber and Cup of Moe. She can be found on Twitter @noelleogawa.

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