Time to dust off my poor, neglected blog! After a month of silence, I'm glad to be back—moving and freelance writing assignments have been keeping me busy. And what better way to come back to manga blogging than with a super-sized review of Vertical's new Twin Spica?
The story: For as long as she can remember, 13-year-old Asumi has wanted to become an astronaut. But, since her mother died a few years ago, she's reluctant to pursue it as a career, lest she leave her dad alone.
But, when she's selected for further testing by the new astronaut-training high school program, her dad tells her to follow her dreams. Can Asumi and her team survive the mentally and physically exhaustive examination process?
Reaction: Take one part astronomy, add a sympathetic heroine determined to persevere and round it out with a compelling cast of supporting characters, and you've got Twin Spica. Kou Yaginuma has created a fascinating alternate future for Japan, where tragedy becomes the foundation of both the protagonist’s story and her country’s entry into the space race.
While I didn't care for the glossed-over physical violence between Asumi and her father (it further complicates their already-strained relationship), I was pulled in by Asumi’s classmates and her mysterious friend, Mr. Lion; the bits of scientific fact peppered throughout; and Asumi’s back story.
By volume’s end, I found myself wanting to see Asumi deal with more hardship. Not out of some misplaced sense of sadism, but because she has an amazing ability to overcome even the toughest of hurdles. She’s a really remarkable character, even in comparison to the oft-used shojo trope of down-on-their-luck, yet-plucky heroines overcoming adversity.
Deep thoughts: In my real-life work, I’ve had the opportunity to work with astronomers, influencing my reading of Twin Spica. About a year ago, I interviewed a San Diego State University professor about his research on the death of a large star; Asumi’s passion for the stars reminded me of my conversation with Doug Leonard (embedded below).
Of course, the main tragedy in Twin Spica also reminded me of the Challenger explosion years ago; the incident has continued to influence space exploration efforts in the United States, much as it does in this story.
Artwork: Yaginuma’s character design is his greatest strength; from the petite Asumi to the self-assured Shu Suzuki, the cast here is wide-ranging in looks and personalities.
There’s a dichotomy of settings in this story, with the main storyline taking place in a sterile, one-room environment, in comparison to Yaginuma’s expansive backgrounds of space and its role in his characters’ imaginations. He’s also deft at portraying the emotional hardships the teams experience during testing. Lastly, flashes to Asumi’s personal tragedy throughout the story help build an unexpected emotional crescendo.
The verdict: Highly recommended. There’s a lot of heartfelt emotion balanced with space-based science in this tale of a young girl’s desire to visit the stars. Asumi’s single-minded dedication to her childhood dream is admirable, with a promising ending to this introductory volume. As soon as I finished this book, I found myself already longing to read more. Twin Spica will be available in the U.S. from Vertical.
Review copy provided by the publisher.