Saturn Apartments (土星マンション) by Hisae Iwaoka
Saturn Apartments depicts a future where most of the population has moved to an orbital ring above the Earth’s surface with the wealthiest living at the top, the blue-collar living at the bottom, and the middle being a neutral territory. Predictably, the lower class is used for all the most dangerous work including manning the power plants, checking for damage from space debris, and washing windows. This is the story of a window washers guild, one of the few groups able to move between floors, go outside the ring, and gaze upon the Earth.
Ms. Iwaoka lovingly crafts a world where people are in a bubble of machinery and steel in the lower level where little natural light gets in and takes that detail all the way through to the breathtaking sight of Earth from the atmosphere. The dreams of those who dwell on the bottom floor, their lives and their relationships, are equally depicted with delicacy and a simply beauty.
Bright-eyed Mitsu is the catalyst for the story as he enters the window washers guild at 16, following in the footsteps of his respected-by-all father, Aki, who fell from the orbital ring while on the job. Those swirling around him have their own strife and stories: Mitsu’s partner and mentor the ornery Jin is devoted to his ill wife; Aki’s ex-partner Tamachi now working at the power plant, struggles to forgive himself; young and isolated Makoto can’t accept Tamachi leaving the guild or accept Mitsu as apart of it; Kageyama is a family man facing a decision about his future; and many others’ tales that are told within these seven volumes. Things come a head after an accident in the lower levels threatens everyone and the need for hope sways the balance.
Saturn Apartments reminded me of Twin Spica in that it was a slow and quiet space story that was utterly moving. And, just as Twin Spica was, Saturn Apartments is a testament to the human spirit.