From the stack: Solfège

June 2, 2007

Given the amount of praise I’ve heaped on the manga of Fumi Yoshinaga over the years, it seems only fair to note when she doesn’t entirely deliver. And while the concept of “mediocre Yoshinaga manga” still suggests a higher general level of quality than many mangaka could muster, I still found Solfège (Juné) disappointingly average.

In it, a pompous but talented music teacher, Kugayama, takes an interest in a dim but promising young singer, Tanaka. Given his lack of academic promise and musical ability, Tanaka has set his sights on admission to music school. Kugayama overcomes his natural apathy to tutor Tanaka in music theory and arranges voice lessons for the boy with a friend. When Tanaka’s troubled family life threatens to derail his ambitions, Kugayama takes Tanaka into his home.

Of course, their relationship turns sexual, and complications ensue. Surprisingly, they’re the kind of complications you’d expect to emerge from an illicit-by-definition student-teacher liaison. Not so surprisingly, Kugayama feels the loss of their separation more keenly than he would have expected, which leads to some rather dire consequences.

If that all sounds rather linear for a Yoshinaga outing, it is, which is one of the disappointments. There are none of Yoshinaga’s usual narrative meanderings, and the plot ticks along with craft but without much surprise.

Another shortcoming is in the area of characterization. I’m used to Yoshinaga’s creations leaping off the page, and while the portraits here are solid and serviceable, there isn’t much leaping in evidence. Since the cast lacks specificity and quirkiness, the opportunities for character-driven comedy are minimized.

It’s just so straightforward – perfectly competent in execution, but never really coming to life. Anyone expecting a visit to the warmly weird, richly rendered world Yoshinaga usually composes is in for something of a letdown.