I swear this is a post I’ll actually write.
I keep putting off talking about Twin Spica because I had wanted to check out volume seven before doing a post on it, but I’ve had a hard time finding volume seven in stores and it is currently on back-order at Right Stuf, so… looks like I’m going to talk about it without volume seven!
I’ll also admit a leeriness regarding writing about a manga that hasn’t wrapped up yet, at least in a review-style post. However, Twin Spica has truly captivated me thus far, and so I feel a real desire to write about it, as I wish to encourage others to give it a try.
Twin Spica has a very throwback feel to it, concerned as it is with young students training to be astronauts. Admittedly, this may be my own social background speaking, as I am grounded in a culture in which astronauts and space are very 1960’s and Cold War. It could very well be that this is not the case in Japan, given that Japan did not participate in the space race. So rocketships, etc. do not bring to mind the same allusions in a Japanese person that they bring to my mind.
However, the art of TS also gave off a nostalgic feel to me, as it is simple and rather soft overall. It certainly isn’t retro, but it also doesn’t look definitively 21st century, either. Its fairly down-to-earth (no pun intended!) although it saves visual flourishes for some truly lovely two-page spreads, generally featuring the sky in some fashion.
I just… I really love this manga. It follows a small group of Japanese children enrolled in the astronaut program at Tokyo National Space School, the first of their kind, with Asumi Kamogawa as our heroine. Asumi is a bit odd, and has never truly fit in anywhere, but it seems to have bothered her little, as she has dreamed since she was a small child of going into space. Her social isolation is powered in large part by the presence of a ghost who wears a lion mask and encourages her to aim for the stars.
But for Asumi, an ambition to become an astronaut is a little strange, as she lost her mother when she was a baby in an accident involving the Lion, Japan’s first rocket. The rocket failed about a minute after take-off, and crashed into Asumi’s hometown, killing many. It also continues to have affects on many of the characters as well as the larger society.
I find the way in which the Lion disaster serves to frame the story very interesting, as it is done much more effectively than I am accustomed to seeing in manga. It isn’t rare for a big disaster that happened in the past to be used in stories as a trope. But in TS, the past tragedy goes beyond simply giving the heroine a tragic past or giving people something to be upset about. Asumi lost her mother, her father lost his job, and it granted her a ghost, which in turn gave her a socially awkward childhood, but Asumi is a happy young woman overall. Others protest the space program, feeling that it is foolish given the Lion disaster and the fact that the government could be spending money on the ground on its citizens instead. Minor characters have their own lives changed forever by the fallen rocket. And the school itself came into existence in an attempt to burnish the image of the space program. The tragedy is thoroughly integrated into the fabric of the story, and it has more power because of it.
When I stop to consider the “tragic” aspects of the different characters lives, I’ll admit that TS seems like it should be melodramatic. But it isn’t. The characters are depicted too well for that, and the ways in which they have dealt with and reacted to their circumstances elevate the proceedings above mere melodrama. Asumi has had a lot in her life to overcome, but she’s got a fierce spirit and determination, as well as a largely optimistic outlook. Of course, it is also simply satisfying to have a smart and tough character for once who is a girl. Asumi’s father is hardworking and as supportive as he can be of his daughter in the aftermath of his wife’s death and his own job loss. Rejected by his father for his dream’s, rich boy Shu works hard and affects a laid-back attitude. Marika skews more closely to stereotype by being an ice queen, but her placement in a varied cast prevents her from coming across as a tired trope.
Our only outlier thus far is Kei as far as characterization goes, as she is fairly one-note to this point. Asumi’s childhood classmate Fucchi’s characterization has also been a bit scant, but he has a lot more than Kei does, if only because of his own history with Asumi. Kei is the wealthy girl who is played as not being the most academically astute, although this is fairly relative given that she makes it into such a competitive program in the first place and manages to make it to the second year. Given the general arc of storytelling in TS, though, I expect to see some more development on her front.
Another minor criticism I have are the locker-room scenes featuring the girls. They really aren’t gratuitous in and of themselves, but they feel a bit jarring in here given the presence of adolescent panties cheek-by-jowl with things like dead mothers and bullying. It makes sense when we are regarding the diapers astronauts must wear, but it serves more often to remind one that this ran in a seinen magazine.
Even if you aren’t much a fan of manga featuring teenaged casts, TS is definitely worth a look. It is yet another strong title in Vertical’s impressive fold, well-worth the slightly higher price-point. I can only hope that Vertical continues to license such excellent titles.