Twin Spica, Vol. 1 through 6

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.

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8 Responses to Twin Spica, Vol. 1 through 6

  1. VucubCaquix says:

    You know, you’re making it really difficult for me to save any money whatsoever.

  2. Elineas says:

    Twin Spica has a very throwback feel to it, concerned as it is with young students training to be astronauts.

    First qualitative statement and I’m already sure this is right up my alley. My love of coming-of-age stories that are subdued in execution is showing. 😀 Plus, I’m currently in the correct part of the world where I can get the entire series for dirt cheap! Bless Taiwan’s low price levels and Tong Li Publishing’s penchant for licensing EVERYTHING.

    • A Day Without Me says:

      Subdued is a good word for it – no one is screaming, no one is having stupid communication mix-ups, no one is accidentally grabbing boobs… basically, everyone in the story actually behaves like a normal human being. They work hard, they get embarrassed, they struggle with motivation, they worry about their family, they get crushes… These are characters that you feel as if you could actually meet them someday, that they could be real people.

  3. Wraith says:

    Twin Spica is one of my favorite manga coming out in English (the other top contender being Berserk). It’s one I didn’t actually expect to get licensed, so I picked up the Japanese releases, even though they don’t have furigana, which makes them very slow reading for me. The announcement from Vertical that they had this made me very happy.

    I’m kind of surprised you’re already having trouble getting volume 7, since it came out so recently. That could mean that it’s selling better than expected, but I bet they’re doing very small print runs, so it’s hard to say that means too much.

    I’ll look forward to your comments on volume 7. Since I’ve read the entire series I don’t want to comment to much myself at the moment, so I don’t spoil anything.

    I will say that the locker room scenes you talk about do rather diminish as the series continues. It’s not beyond belief to think that they’re either from editorial pressure, until the mangaka got popular enough to resist, or just the mark of an inexperienced mangaka bowing to genre staples (it is his first publication).

    On a side note, there’s also an anime and a live-action drama based on this series.

    • A Day Without Me says:

      My guess is that they’ve been doing fairly small print runs – the only time I’ve actually seen it in stock anywhere were at the bookstores who were at Anime Boston’s booths. Also, Vertical is still pretty niche, especially it’s manga department, and especially compared with powerhouses like Viz. At the same time, to have already run out of stock less than a month after it was released is pretty amazing.

      It does surprise me that this was the manga-ka’s first full work, honestly, because it is so well-written.

      I’ve been waiting on watching the anime because I don’t want to spoil myself at all. Do you know what volume it covers up to, roughly?

      • Wraith says:

        The anime covers up into volume 6, to the survival training exercise. The manga wasn’t near finished at the time the anime was made, so the anime has a kind of anime-only non-ending ending, if that makes sense. Nothing it in will be spoilerish for you at this point.

        Do wait on watching the live action, if you’re planning to, until you’ve read the entire manga, though. The story there is very heavily altered (no Lion-san, for instance), but it brings in elements that happen throughout the entire series.

  4. Pingback: Twin Spica is Getting a Digital Re-release, and You Should Get It (Maybe Even If You Already Have It) | GAR GAR Stegosaurus

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