Daily Graphic Novel Recommendation 61

Saturn Apartments

by Hisae Iwaoka
Genre notes: day-in-life, sci-fi
7 vols
ISBN: 1421533642 (Amazon)

In Saturn Apartments, the earth has been abandoned for decades, existing now as a global nature preserve. Whether due war or pollution or a humanitarian attempt at a Babel-like house to scrape the heavens, the reason for the current state of the earth is, seemingly, apart from the interests of the series. All that matters is that the earth has been abandoned and all of the remnant humanity dwells on a great ring encircling the earth in low orbit, pretty much smack in the middle of the stratosphere. While never explicitly referred to within the text as the Saturn Apartments, the ring does make the earth resemble Saturn a bit. Or at least maybe Uranus. The ring itself is divided into three strata: upper, middle, and lower sections. The middle section is devoted to public works such as schools, parks, government, and scientific endeavors. Elites live in the upper reaches of the ring while everyone else is shuffled into the lower division.

Saturn Apartments’ primary narrative conceit is that somebody’s got to wash all those windows. Dwellings that sit on the epidermis of the ring have windows that look out into the reaches of space (everyone else has to content themselves with artificial light and skies) and, even in space, a film of dust gradually accumulates. Those with the money to do so hire window washers to help them keep their perspicuity. As washers require space suits, months of training, and hours to pressurize in order to clean windows, it’s rare that anyone from the lower levels has the opportunity to clean their windows; ironically, it’s these grime-caked windows of the lower levels that face the earth and the spectacular view that such portals could provide.

Iwaoka’s protagonist is Mitsu (the orphaned son of Aki, a washer who fell to earth in a window-washing accident five years earlier). Mitsu has just graduated high school and is accepted into his father’s guild, where he encounters all of Aki’s old friends and co-workers. Mitsu is both diligent and distracted, the presence of a hard-working father he barely knew weighing heavily on his life and direction. He’s a little bit lost, a little bit unformed, and pretty uncertain about his purpose in things. He’s eager to find and prove his place within the guild but until he discovers himself for who he is, he’ll never be able to confidently chart his own personal destiny.

It's a wonderful series that absents itself of all pretensions, simply presenting a warm-hearted, optimistic tale of how a boy made charming wholly on the strength of his determination to do a job well could interact with his severely broken society for its ultimate good. Saturn Apartments is rather a call-to-arms for sincerity, diligence, and dreams—yet it never felt (to me at least) naive or didactic or saccharine. One of my favourite small books over the past several years.

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