*Twin Spica Book 1 — Recommended

Inspired by the To Terra… Manga Moveable Feast this month, I’m looking at some more modern stories of young people in space.

Twin Spica Book 1 cover
Twin Spica Book 1
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Twin Spica, which originally began serialization in 2001, is the story of Asumi, a plucky young girl who wants to make it into space school so she can become an astronaut. She’s got an uphill climb ahead of her — no money, her tiny size, and her lack of family support. Her mother’s dead and her father, a former flight engineer, has issues we only learn about later. Both she and Japan are working to overcome tragedy. Japan’s first native spaceship crashed (in 2010, ironically, although the events of this book are 14 years past that) in a populated area, killing many civilians.

Asumi’s round head, cute demeanor, and expressive body language make her look younger than the 14 years old she’s supposed to be. She’s accompanied by an imaginary friend, Mr. Lion, who resembles an amusement park escapee in an animal mascot costume, which doesn’t help. Her struggle to follow her dreams in the face of obstacles is a common, uplifting manga story, but I still found the undertones of history overcome by hope and hard work an enjoyable read. The art has a slightly European air to it, by my eyes, a little bit of Tintin-like clear lines mixed into the traditional manga look, especially when it comes to her father.

Where American stories about astronauts emphasize their risk-taking, especially when it comes to their lives, this one tells us that “the most important qualities an astronaut needs are perseverance and a cooperative personality.” That’s very manga and very Japanese in priority. It’s not wrong — being cooped up together in a small space does require cooperation — but it puts a new light on why Asumi is well-suited for her goal.

The two backup stories included, “2015: Fireworks” and “Asumi” were published first, and they shed significant light on revelations only briefly mentioned in the main story. The first has a 5-year-old Asumi meeting Mr. Lion while the second shows how she dealt with her mother’s death. (These stories are a bit more mystical than the main sequence.) Both focus on the aftereffects of the spaceship crash, not her life choices moving on. Overall, this book reminds me that there is hope for the future and exploration, even if it comes at great cost and much hard work. I like Asumi, and I want to watch her succeed.

There are 16 volumes, lengthy but appropriate for such a detailed series. The title comes from a binary star in the constellation of Virgo (is the Virgin a reference to our young heroine setting out into the world?), as memorably explained by Mr. Lion to a younger Asumi on a starry night. If you’d like to read more manga about young female astronauts, try The Voices of a Distant Star, if you can find a copy — it’s unfortunately out of print.

MMF Notes

In comparison to To Terra…, this story is much more focused on the individual than the society. The world is one we easily recognize, no different from ours except in the more open possibility of space travel, but still within a government organization that seems familiar. Although Asumi is reminded of the importance of teamwork during her exam exercises, it’s clear that it’s her journey, and only her skills and faith in herself will see her through.

Also, the events here are much more realistic. There are no mind powers or supercomputers with human personalities. Mr. Lion, the oddest element, is easily explainable as an imaginative figment, or her talking to herself, or even an artistic device. We aren’t supposed to believe he really exists, and he only appears when she’s alone with herself. It’s no different, to my mind, from someone being inspired by Superman or Robin Hood to achieve great things.

While To Terra… looks backwards — everyone wants to return to their home planet because of history — Twin Spica looks forward, towards exploring the stars. I enjoyed it much more, because it felt more as though I was reading it for enjoyment, to share Asumi’s struggles and find out what happened next in her life, instead of for homework, because I should be familiar with an important older work.

15 Comments

  1. […] She then provides a thoughtful critique of the story’s more dated elements — especially its portrayal of women — and a positive assessment of its artwork and heartfelt themes. Draper Carlson also furnished me with links to her site’s original review of To Terra, penned by Rob Vollmar in 2008, and a brand-new review comparing To Terra with a newer Vertical release, Twin Spica. […]

  2. […] Cafe) Michelle Smith on vols. 1 and 2 of Switch (Soliloquy in Blue) Johanna Draper Carlson on vol. 1 of Twin Spica (Comics Worth […]

  3. I just finished reading Twin Spica last night and loved every second of it. Great review and I agree with everything you said in your review. Here’s hoping volume 2 comes out in a timely manner.

  4. Book 2 is due out July 6, so only a little more than a month to wait.

  5. […] Dacey Toriko – Brigid Alverson Yuri Hime – Erica Friedman Real – Connie C. Twin Spica – Johanna Draper Carlson Neko Ramen – Michelle Smith Sarasah – Kristin Bomba […]

  6. […] really liked the first volume of Twin Spica, so I’m confident I will continue to enjoy Book 3 (Vertical, JUN10 1151, $10.95). […]

  7. […] surviving the admission tryout challenges shown in Book 1, Asumi is off to Tokyo Space School as this volume begins. Twin Spica Book 2 […]

  8. […] that I’m well into this series about a girl who wants to be an astronaut, I’m finding the pacing a bit odd. Twin Spica Book […]

  9. […] dream. Ed and I chatted about manga in general and Vertical’s current titles. I would like to see Twin Spica on the New York Times Bestseller list for manga. The series deserves it. I did pick up volumes 3 […]

  10. […] manga readers, I recommend a two-pack: the fourth volume of Twin Spica (Vertical, $10.95), about a young girl working to become an astronaut, and the latest chapter of […]

  11. […] latest edition of Manga Out Loud features Ed and I discussing Twin Spica, the shojo-esque series about a girl who wants to be an astronaut. (Four volumes are now […]

  12. […] in this category included Twin Spica, Saturn Apartments, Kingyo Used Books, and Chi’s Sweet Home, but each had a caveat that made […]

  13. […] and her friends are now second-year high school students. Part of their astronaut training includes a three-day wilderness survival test. Mr. Lion takes a trip back into his memories and […]

  14. […] Shay’s Story (Del Rey, $10.99), which I liked more than I thought I would. I quit reading Twin Spica because it wasn’t moving fast enough for me, but Sean Gaffney caught me up to date on Volume […]

  15. […] also go over the news that Twin Spica will be going out of print from Vertical before covering what we’ve been reading lately, […]

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