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Inio Asano has made a name for himself with his deft handling of dark topics and compelling examinations of the shadowed corners of the human soul. His portrayals of depression are particularly skillful, ranging from the poetic to a raw realism that cuts to the bone. Downfall, a semi-autobiographical tale of a manga creator’s spiraling crisis of self, is his latest masterpiece in despair.
Kaoru Fukuzawa has completely centered his life around being a manga creator for decades. But as his latest series draws to a close and sales begin to tank, he realizes that he barely has a life outside of his manga. This existential crisis leaves him locked in a bitter bout of depression and saddled with a crippling case of creator block. Suddenly bereft of the daily grind of deadlines, Fukuzawa is forced to face his crumbling marriage and the possibility of mediocrity.
He feels like no one, not his wife, his editor, interviewers or the fans, are really listening to him. In an effort to console himself, Fukuzawa begins to hire escorts, and even seems to find a kindred spirit with one. They bond over a disdain for manga, and he starts to feel like she’s the only person in the world who hears what he’s saying.
But that feeling of salvation doesn’t last, and once again he’s alone and unheard. Eventually Fukuzawa has something that could be called an epiphany, although it’s not a clarifying moment that leads him to the light. Instead, peering into his own abyss has taught him to embrace the crass commercialism that sent him on this spiral in the first place. This new focus on marketability finally breaks him out of his slump and allows him to embark on his new series. But when faced with the heartfelt emotions of a long-time fan, Fukuzawa must face the terrifying fact that after all that, he is still fundamentally unheard and alone and no amount of sales will ever change him.
Inio Asano’s works can’t be called comforting in the classic sense, but they offer a certain sort of catharsis and the relief of knowing you aren’t the only one who feels this way. During a conversation at the Toronto Comic Arts Festival in 2019, Asano mentioned that reading manga has helped him through difficult times, and he hopes his own manga will help others in the same way. So whether you read Downfall as a cautionary tale or a commiseration, know that you are not doing it alone.
Read a free preview of Downfall by Inio Asano here.
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