Inio Asano has an extraordinary ability for capturing the brutal experiences that are almost universal to the human experience. From the loss of innocence and the exploration of puberty and love in A Girl on the Shore to the heartbreaking complications of a relationship between two people drifting aimlessly through life in Solanin, Asano’s works are often times heartbreakingly honest. Asano’s latest manga, Downfall, tells a somber story of a man who has found himself becoming increasingly dissatisfied with his life and his passions, tackling a subject of melancholy and conflict of identity regularly encountered by creatives.
Downfall follows the life of Kaoru Fukazawa, a manga artist in his mid-to-late 30s who has just finished printing the fifteenth and final volume of his popular manga series Goodbye Sunset. After the series’ completion, Fukazawa finds himself in a spiraling identity crisis, struggling to produce a new manga that will resonate with general audiences, battling the feelings of inadequacy that are fueling the breakdown of his marriage, and discovering that his dream life as a manga artist has left him unfulfilled. As Fukazawa starts focusing on the disconnect between his works and his readers, he begins to drift through life amidst a storm of uncertainty, a romantic interest in a young college student, and disconnection between his creative desires and the expectations of his audience.
The story of Downfall, as mentioned before, is heartbreakingly honest. Fukazawa’s lack of inspiration and dissatisfaction with the current state of his life is something almost everyone has confronted in their life, with these feelings most likely resonating more the older a reader is. While there’s no over-the-top shonen-esque violence in the pages of Downfall, the emotional pain and fear felt by Fukazawa practically radiates off the page (a particularly poignant occurrence throughout the story is Fukazawa’s obsessive checking of social media to see what his fans are saying, both good and bad, as a substitution for real human interaction).
By the end of the manga, Fukazawa’s questions of inadequacy and self-doubt remain unanswered, leaving readers with a thematically similar dissatisfaction and desire for something more emotionally meaningful. In a world of increasing social isolation and expectations, readers will find themselves empathizing with, and maybe even seeing a reflection of themselves in, Fukazawa.
Artistically Downfall is, like many of his past works, incredibly detailed, conferring a sense of haunting loneliness and a loss of identity against a larger world. Shots of buildings or outdoor fields are beautiful and almost photorealistic, while characters are unique, and expressive in their appearances, as seen in the sense of dishevelment conveyed by the long strands of hair that provide a barrier between Asano and the real world.
Noticeably, the artwork in Downfall seems to be ‘darker’ than pages found in earlier works, which reflects the manga’s themes of losing one’s identity and feeling alone in one of the most populous cities in the world.
Asano’s work has always stood as a shining example of the versatility of stories that can be told through manga, and Downfall is no exception. The story, while tense and depressing, captures the feelings of aimlessness and negative comparisons of our lives against our peers that’s becoming increasingly widespread in modern societies, regardless of location. While some may feel that the lack of any concrete resolution to several plot lines presents a disappointing ending to the story, others may recognize the thematic impact and importance of the lack of resolutions in relation to Fukazawa’s emotions.
Regardless of one’s stance on the ending, almost every reader will walk away from Downfall asking themselves the same uncomfortable question: Just how much of Downfall is an autobiographical expression of Asano’s own experiences and true feelings towards the medium? Readers may never get a direct answer as to whether the story is strictly Fukazawa’s or inspired by Asano’s life, but Downfall is a must-read tale that offers a glimpse into the mind of a man who’s unsure of his legacy, his future, and whether he made the right decisions in life in a manga that will undoubtedly hit emotionally close to home for many readers.
A review copy of this manga was provided by VIZ Media.
- An uncomfortably relatable story of loneliness and doubt
- Beautiful and moody artwork further drive home the story's themes
- Some readers may be put off by the lack of resolutions to certain plot points