Title: Twin Spica
Author: Kou Yaginuma
Publisher: Vertical Inc.
Volume: Volume 10 (of 16), $10.95
Vintage: 2006 by Media Factory in Japan, November 1, 2011 by Vertical Inc.
Genre: Science Fiction, drama
Twin Spica is a science fiction drama focused on the future of the Japanese space program. After a devastating accident during Japan’s first manned spaceflight, the program suffered a huge setback and received a lot of negative press. To promote the space program and move on from the tragedy, Japan created the Tokyo National Space School (2014), a vocational high school to train young space scientists and astronauts. The story’s main focus is on the pint-sized Asumi Kamogawa, one of the students training to become an astronaut, who is frequently visited by what I think is supposed to be the ghost of one of the astronauts from the failed spaceflight several years prior. Asumi’s childhood friend Shinnosuke Fuchuya also joins the program, and they become friends with the spunky Kei Oumi, easygoing Shu Suzuki, and quiet (and often ill) Marika Ukita. All five of them have dreams of going into space, and they work hard together as their friendships grow stronger, supporting each other through the rigorous training. As volume 10 opens, their dreams appear to be in danger. Their training is put into overdrive, and they are made to compete against robotic astronauts in a series of endurance tests. Obviously, being human, they are little match for the robots that can work endlessly, even if the robots’ precision work is a bit slow. Kids are kids, and they find themselves wearing out and losing to the robots, which leads them to believe that their future as astronauts is being challenged. Realizing that as humans they have a valuable skills the robots lack, they combine their experiences and pass them on to the next teams, giving each subsequent team a boost against the robots, and end up giving quite the show. Their passion even melts the heart of one of the robots’ designers, whose beliefs about human astronauts are stirred up thanks to a few words from Asumi. With that trial out of the way, summer vacation looms, and the five friends decide to take another trip together to Yuigahama. Realizing that they’re growing up and things will soon be changing for all of them, they vow to return to Yuigahama every summer for the rest of their lives. During their trip, Marika begins to open up a bit more, Asumi learns a little bit about her father, and romantic feelings begin to blossom strongly between Kei and Shu. After sharing some fireworks made specially by Fuchuya, the gang camps out under the stars, where Shu announces to everyone that he will be going to America as a chosen member of the astronaut program. While everyone reacts in their own way to this announcement, Marika decides it’s time to tell the others the truth about her illness. Back at school, everyone prepares to say goodbye to Shu, reminded every day that he will be leaving soon by the crowd of press agents outside the school, and the growth of fans inside the school.
I’ll say right off that while I found Twin Spica to be cute and an enjoyable read, it failed to pull me in. It could be that I’m jumping in so late in the game, and therefore haven’t had a chance to grow attached to these characters. Or it could be that I’m more partial to similar stories with more action and tension in them, like Gunbuster (which is about a training school for piloting space mechs that are needed to fight giant insect-like aliens). Twin Spica seems to focus more on the emotional side of things, which is fine, and I would probably benefit from having read previous volumes. However, I have not, so all I can do is describe this single volume for you. What struck me most about the book was how simple the character design was, but how much emotion it was able to convey. The characters, particularly the children, are drawn in a cartoonish, less realistic style, with large round heads, and round, wide open eyes. It’s charming, in a way, and reminds me a bit of Saturn Apartments in its style. In comparison, the background and scenic elements are quite detailed, and often evoke a wide range of feelings (again, reminiscent of Saturn Apartments). When the kids are being tested against the robots, they’re put on a very long solar panel array to fix damaged panels, and the visual impact is clear – it’s a big job for these kids to handle, particularly the tiny Asumi, but despite the long expanse of work ahead of them, they are not deterred in the slightest, and trudge forward to prove their capabilities. There are many panels showcasing the starry night sky, the place that draws these kids, that pushes them to do their very best. So that one day they can be up there among the stars, instead of looking at them from far below. Their dreams are up there, and the characters are frequently drawn looking up at the sky toward their future. The characters themselves are well defined, though I get the feeling the progression has been rather slow, judging by their current status ten volumes in. Their friendship has definitely grown as they struggle forward together, facing the same trials and working toward the same goal. It’s clear they’ve bonded over their shared dream, even without them knowing why each of them has decided on their current path. Although their initial motivations may be unclear, their current motivations are not, as they all want to move forward together as much as possible (though obviously Shu jumps ahead in this volume, and now there’s evidence that at least one of them may get left behind). They have formed very strong bonds, and that is one of the highlights of Twin Spica. If nothing else, this is a story of true friendship, and those elements are conveyed very well by Kou Yaginuma.
Before I go, I wanted to let those know who are interested in such things, that I started a Tumblr account, though it’s mostly so I can follow some other people with interesting things. I’ll also likely use it to post some of my favorite comic and manga covers, or maybe even some interesting panels. I haven’t really decided yet. All that’s up there right now are scans of the covers that I got signed at Star Wars Fan Days. Anyway, here’s the link.
Review copy provided by Vertical Inc.