Baby, the stars shine bright.
In volume eight, Twin Spica easily reminds me of why this is *the* currently publishing series of choice for me. While Chi’s Sweet Home has its own delights, and the impending release of the long-awaited seventeenth volume of xxxHolic has me excited, Twin Spica easily surpasses everything I’m following at the moment. It also overtakes most manga I’ve read in the past few years, period (the sole exception is the quietly excellent solanin).
Volume eight is more of a return to form for the series thus far, as the previous volume faltered somewhat with its focus on the less-engaging Marika and more fantastical elements. It feels a bit odd to put it that way, given that this is a series featuring a ghost with a lion costume’s head, but as I said in my previous review, Marika’s circumstances come across as overly contrived and ultimately many aspects are not introduced in the understated and slow fashion that said ghost was.
The narrative gets away from Marika this time around, returning us more fully to Asumi, while also granting wayward rich-boy Shu much more development, albeit in not quite the same intimate way that we have come to know Asumi. Even Kei gets in on the action a little bit, although this was a point upon which I chafed against the developments – throughout the story, it has seemed that Kei comes from a fairly wealthy family. However, in this volume she buys a secondhand camera and telescope, and then we finally get a peek at her homelife. Kei’s family owns a sweets store, and they live above it. While they certainly look like they’re comfortable, it clashes with the previous image of Kei as a rich girl badly.
I’m also a bit leery of the fact that Kei’s development as a character may come largely as a result of her crush on one of the other characters. While it is nice to see her finally getting a bit more serious about her studies, I do hope it goes beyond the fact that her crush is so hellbent on getting to space himself. Either way, it is a welcome change, although I am a bit baffled as to how she’s made it to the third year of the astronaut program if she is a straight-C student as she herself even states. Or, how about how she got in in the first place? Given how selective the school was, its always been strange to have her around filling the role of the standard doesn’t-do-well-at-school character.
The real world is starting to leach into the story as well, which is to say, characters are starting to acknowledge the glaring fact that most of the class will not make it into space. There are also nods from the greater world of the story as well, such as when one of Fuchuya’s relatives asks him if he’s thought about college and also remarks that he’d like it if he took over his business.
What sticks after the main story portion of the volume ends, though, is ominous yet tiny incidents involving Shu. They’re scattered just enough to avoid being over-the-top, but there are also just enough of them to make one wary of what is to come. Will Shu be the first one to find his dreams out of reach?
As usual, Twin Spica does at times teeter on the edge of melodrama, but the presentation prevents it from spiraling over the edge. Some of what happens is a bit absurd given the degree of its tragedy, but Yaginuma’s down-to-earth protagonists and simple style give the proceedings the levity necessary to avoid seeming ridiculous. Shu’s a doting son to his ailing mother, while his father is a self-centered politician who has remarried and who has forbidden his son from seeing his former wife. When Shu angrily returns to the house after learning of his mother’s death, his father slaps him for being disobedient and missing school. He also eventually disowns Shu entirely when the boy fully embraces his will to be an astronaut. And, we, the audience, nod along – yes, yes, this is awful, instead of wondering if it would’ve just been enough to have a sick mother or a disapproving father. Or wondering why it is necessary that multiple characters have such similarly overly sad pasts and circumstances. Its all in the execution.
Following the usual Twin Spica material, there is a one-shot sandwiched between the Giovanni’s Ticket portion of the volume and Another Spica, Yaginuma’s memoir-type content for Twin Spica. It is entitled ‘Guide to Cherry Blossoms’, and while it deviates wholly from Twin Spica, it nevertheless fits well with the material that comes at the end of each volume. Like with Another Spica, its a short, slice-of-life story, ending in a ‘bang!’ type moment. However, this being Yaginuma, its more like a soft “oh…” moment than a BANG!, but I digress. It also serves as another reminder that while Twin Spica is about children, it really isn’t meant for children. I’m sure a child could enjoy the story, but there are too many of these nostalgia-tinged moments for them to be the primary audience, and I suspect that the full weight of them would go over the head of most young folks still making their way through schooling.
I should note that, once again, Vertical presents an excellent product. While its become so common to find numerous typos and grammatical errors in many other manga publishers’ books, Vertical continues to meet a high editorial standard. Pictures are reproduced properly as well, with none of the faded look that sometimes appears in manga publications (Yen Press’s release of Kobato., I’m looking at you). My only complaint is that the cover for my copy is cut just slightly too small, with the first page showing past the edge of the cover. However, its a very minor complaint, and hardly reason to get upset.
I’ll close with saying that I really cannot recommend this series enough. Good thing volume nine just came out; I hope I can get it soon!