Soil: Atsushi Kaneko

I’ve been reading this series since I happened across Volume 1 on the shelf of a bookstore that stocked a lot of off-the-beaten-path manga way back in 2004. I was poking around looking for something else published by Beam Comix and the cover caught my eye. I hadn’t read Kaneko’s previous series BAMBi, but there was something about how the faces were simultaneously attractive and somehow grotesque. And the obi promised me a “twisted mystery”. So obviously I had to buy it.

After reading the first book, I realized that yes, the mystery was twisted and yes, if I followed it as it was serialized, I would go crazy with the waiting for how it all ends. So I bought subsequent volumes and let them sit on my shelf, waiting patiently for the series to end so I could devour it in one gulp. That end finally came with Volume 11 this January. For those who could get the book, a thing I was having trouble doing. But finally, two weeks ago, it was in my hands, the end, the answers to all the questions.

Except that there weren’t? Any answers, I mean. This is a series that definitely needs a re-read for me. There is a *laht* going on here. The basic idea is that the idyllic suburban town of Soil New Town is turned upside-down and inside-out with a strange blackout and the disappearance of the Suzushiro family, who were, by all accounts, perfect. So perfect that their neighbours really, really hated them. And instead of a family in their family home, there is a pillar of salt in daughter Miyuki’s bedroom. A pillar of salt that matches the pyramid of salt on the school grounds, also found the morning after the blackout.

Detectives Yokoi and Onoda are sent to the bedroom community to figure things out, but naturally end up being part of the mystery. A very Lynch-ian mystery, lots of Twin Peak-y action here. And some really great details at every turn. Kaneko doesn’t overlook a thing. You pull out threads, only to find they are attached to other threads, which are in turn pulling out other threads, unravelling a sweater within a sweater of sorts. To the point where I was wondering if there could possibly be any real conclusion to the story or if it would just be a reduction ad infinitum, thread after thread after thread until we get back to the beginning. Which is actually sort of how it all went down. I don’t want to say too much about the story since everything is basically a spoiler and will take away from the pleasure of teasing out all of these threads. But I can tell you that the story you thought you were reading at the end of Volume 1 is not the story you are reading.

Regardless, whatever the story, it is well told. Kaneko has a great sense of timing, spacing the panels perfectly to create the effect he wants. Near the end, he pulls out all the stops and crams tiny panels into a page layered with sound effects, a busy, overwhelming technique that makes the ending feel all the more immediate and present. And I love his strong, sharp lines, the thick gloom in the interrogation scenes created by the contrast between the white space enclosed in these clear lines, encroached on by the surrounding blackness.

And given the impossible scope of the story he’s telling, Kaneko gets to have a lot of fun drawing a lot of impossible things, giving the reader too much to linger on. The house full of bizarre garbage in Volume 8 is a particular treat, with fish in shoes hanging on the walls and coffee cups glued to the ceiling (don’t worry, it’ll make sense when you get there and it’s no spoiler to hear about it before you do). So when he pulls back to give the reader a full page with a single image, it’s almost overwhelming. The sudden focus on one scene and your heart stops a little. He holds you there, gives you time to catch your breath and then pulls you back in, filling your eyes with more details, your brain with more threads.

I’m going to need to read this at least once more to fully grab onto the ends of all those threads. Flipping through the first pages of Volume 1 after turning the last pages of Volume 11 cleared a few things up for me, and I have no doubt that a full re-read will lodge some of the tinier details more firmly in my brain so that I can pull out even finer threads and see even more detail in this carefully plotted out tale. Because a story this meticulously put together is worth it.

UPDATE: If you read French, here’s an interesting interview with Kaneko. He talks about his process when he created SOIL towards the end, and his thoughts on the series, as well as his other work.


  1. Ah, your review really made me curious. I saw this at one of the second hand book store here, and yes, the cover was intriguing. I’ll take a look once again when I visit the store this weekend. Hopefully it’s still there. Ha…

    Btw, nice blog! Keep on writing!

    1. It’s definitely worth checking out. For me, the art alone was worth it, but the story was over the top and engaging in a very satisfying way.

      And thanks for the kind words! I’ll keep writing as long as I keep reading.

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