Staff Picks: Downfall

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Friday, March 26, 2021

The plot appears simple as we feel it is about someone who finds success at a young age and then by middle age is facing a crises of confidence and direction.  However, it is about what is the meaning of life when you have achieved what you wanted and found that you are still emotionally and mentally empty?

Downfall is the most recent graphic novel created by Inio Asano and was published in North America in 2020.  Asano also wrote and drew the young adult graphic novel Solanin.  Asano is known for dark and brutally honest psychologically driven stories that are drawn with exquisite detail in dark straight lines. Reading reviews of Downfall, I was struck by how many stated it was the worst graphic novel that they have ever read.  There is fair criticism this is a depressing graphic novel and the protagonist is unsavory, but that is the point.  This is a hard novel for someone young and idealistic or middle-aged, happily married with children to understand.  This is a story about a middle-aged man in a mid-life crises who although has gained the freedom to live life for the short term without financial worry finds that he still consumed with not knowing himself or what is his place in life.  Kaoru Fukazawa is the lead protagonist and he is a successful manga writer and artist who has finished a lengthy series which he is not proud of because it is not what he considered serious and instead it was light-hearted and fun.  This could have been the story about an angst filled artist seeking the truth and in many ways it is, but Asano creates a character who is so filled with self-hate and exudes disdain for everything around him that it is difficult to walk with him through his story. It can be said that books with an abhorrent lead character are meant to reveal to the reader what is dark and bent in themselves by challenging their notions of right and wrong as they explore the story. The plot appears simple as we feel it is about someone who finds success at a young age and then by middle age is facing a crises of confidence and direction.  However, it is about what is the meaning of life when you have achieved what you wanted and found that you are still emotionally and mentally empty?  The artist in the story is marvelous at creating uplifting fiction, yet is unable to create a better life for himself and ironically creates sappy sweet stories when his own life is dark, selfish and self destructive.  This is the life Fukazawa has to live:  One of complete hypocrisy and self-hate when he has a gift of creating joy and happiness for others through his art and not by his actual self (Submitted by Shane)

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