Title: Saturn Apartments
Author: Hisae Iwaoka
Publisher: Viz Media (Sig IKKI)
Volume: Volumes 4-5 (of 7), $12.99 each
Vintage: 2009 by Shogakukan, November 2011 and May 2012 by Viz Media
Genre: Science fiction, slice of life
Mitsu is training to take the first-class technician test. Jin is working the poor kid to the bone, leaving him utterly exhausted at the end of each day. This leads to a new batch of friends when Mitsu passes out in front of a precision steel factory. He finds that the workers share a similar familial camaraderie to the window washers Guild, and he makes note of the pride the factory staff has in their work, despite the troubles the company has had. This gives him the confidence to give his all in his job, and during his test. When he ends up passing, he feels like the test must have been too easy, not realizing that only three others in the Guild have ever passed it. Things continue as normal, while on a routine job, Mitsu spots and admires Kageyama’s work on the ring. Unfortunately, during a patching job, Kageyama passes out with only Mitsu there to help. As Mitsu attempts to pull Kageyama to safety, his suit catches on a rupture and puts the man into even more danger. Mitsu is consumed by guilt, and though Kageyama is perfectly fine, Makoto lashes out at Mitsu and demands the boy quit. During his hospital stay, Kageyama gets some bad news. His anemia is getting worse, and the constant exposure to UV rays while working on the ring is causing him to slowly lose his sight and also weakening his immune system. If he does not quit his window washer job, he will go blind, or worse, die, leaving behind his beloved wife and child. No one is happy about this, of course, especially Mitsu and Makoto, but Kageyama assures them it is no one’s fault. Meanwhile, Sohta is still working on a way to make his dream of sending someone to the surface come true, but one problem after another keeps popping up. First, a new neighbor moves into the apartment next to where Sohta and Nishimaru work on their secret (and illegal) project. Morishita even turns out to be a Public Peace Bureau Official (like a police officer or security guard), but he appears to be a nice, understanding sort of fellow. Then, Sohta is essentially pushed out of the research and development group, who plan on altering his design of the pod to be lowered to the planet’s surface, and is sent to run errands instead. One of these errands is to locate a steel provider so they can buy the material needed to make the capsule. The world is suddenly becoming a lot smaller. Back at Mitsu’s job, a newbie is hired on, and Jin gives Mitsu the task of training him. The new responsibility allows Mitsu to shine, but Yukishima’s carelessness makes him difficult to handle.
Now that he’s passed the first-class technician test, Mitsu can be left in charge to manage the other window washers. His first big responsibility comes when Jin has to go home with an upset stomach, leaving Mitsu in charge of a three day project to clean the windows middle-level windows. With Kageyama’s recent retirement, the other men have been working overtime and are on edge. So they are not thrilled to have the much younger (he’s sixteen now) Mitsu tell them what to do. Most do not respect him, and they’re anxious to get the job done in a hurry so they can finish early and take the third day off. Unfortunately, this means sloppy work, but when Mitsu asks them to do the windows over again, they brush him off or get angry. Unsatisfied with the job, Mitsu stays behind to redo the work, but ends up fainting from exhaustion and falling to the lower levels where no one can contact him. Frantic, Makoto goes to Tamachi for help, who intends to go right out and find the young window washer. Unfortunately, since he is no longer a washer, Tamachi doesn’t have the clearance for such a thing, and so must leave Mitsu’s rescue to others. Everyone from Makoto to Sachi works together to locate and rescue Mitsu. His dedication manages to impress the other workers, and they come to respect him (if a tad begrudgingly). Even Makoto learns a lesson from the ordeal – he’s not as alone as he once thought. Meanwhile, Sohta’a plans for the descendant device move forward.Through Mitsu, he contracts the steel factory to build the capsule, decides to get Fujiki to use his t-shirt material to make a parachute and other things to cushion the pilot’s fall, manages to get both Tanuki and Kimoto (clients of Mitsu from the upper-levels) on as sponsors, convinces Mayu (another of Mitsu’s clients) to make a walkie-talkie that will reach the surface, and even decides to send Mitsu down to Earth as his pilot. He just has to remember not to get so excited and caught up in his venture that he neglects his wife.
Saturn Apartments remains a lovely, slow paced, beautiful story of friendship, loneliness, longing, and life. It’s remarkable how this massive ring that stretches all the way around the Earth can be such a small, insular world. Through Mitsu, Sohta finds nearly everything he needs to build and launch his descendant device. The friends Mitsu has made through his work are going to help Sohta’s (and Mitsu’s too, in a way) dream come true. A single, unassuming window washer could bring together the group that will put the first explorer on Earth after all these years. But that’s for the upcoming volumes. Tamachi gets a lot of room to shine this time around, as Iwaoka treats readers to a view of his rather amusing home life. Opposing that is a glimpse into the nightmares that prevent him from returning to his window washing days. He’s distraught that he was unable to help Mitsu when he was in trouble, but at the same time he’s too afraid to return to that life. Iwaoka excellently expresses this on the normally expressionless Tamachi’s face. Though speaking of Tamachi’s home life, there’s also a lot of focus on family in both of these families. Kageyama’s in particular, who must deal with their main source of income losing his job and spending a good deal of time in the hospital. Their bonds are very tight, and they get through it all just fine. Then there’s Tamachi and his grandmother, which….really just needs to be seen. Sohta and Kayo, of course, whose relationship is a little strained due to Sohta’s obsession with his capsule project. Fortunately some advice from Morishita gets Sohta back on track. And finally, Jin and Haruko, who must deal with some updated news on Haruko’s health (which has been affected by a surprising source). It’s hard to describe just how delightful a read this series is. The characters, the art, the story, it all has a special charm. In fact, I feel like Iwaoka’s artwork has become more detailed since her first volume of this series. The story has formed quite nicely, its structure at last becoming solid and clear. They’re going to Earth, one way or another, with everyone working together to make that dream come true.
Review copies provided by Viz Media.