by Kou Yaginuma
published by Vertical; $10.95 US
After surviving the admission tryout challenges shown in Book 1, Asumi is off to Tokyo Space School as this volume begins.
I like the quiet, deliberate pacing with which this story is told. It gives events a certain gravity that emphasizes the emotions. Asumi is receiving a chance at her greatest wish, but that comes with sacrifices, such as leaving her home. Mostly, that means her dad, who can’t travel with her to the entrance ceremony, but she also says goodbye to Mr. Lion, her guide/imaginary friend/educational ghost? Although she’s physically small, she’s quickly growing up, even though her size causes trouble for her — equipment is standardized, and anyone outside the norm doesn’t fit, literally.
The pacing also allows for text that explains the science fiction concepts, the ways Asumi’s world differs from ours, without disrupting the story. Just as physical settings are shown through establishing shots, so are the contextual settings, providing needed background and emotional pauses.
Like Asumi, I also went away to school at the age of 15. The small moments, after her father’s farewell, where she acknowledges her homesickness but won’t give in to it, were quite reminiscent and powerful. In her case, she’s got two other girls to keep her company, and much of this book transitions into a school shojo, following Asumi through classes and workouts and making friends. The goodness of her heart and the purity of her dreams makes her a charming young lady to follow on adventure.
The plot twist this volume involves her family ties and someone who holds a grudge. Two bonus stories flash back to Asumi’s childhood, shedding more light on her drive and desires, as well as Mr. Lion and what he gave her. And she’s even more adorable as a second grader, all round head and tiny limbs and smile or tears. The second, “Our Stars, Leaf Stars”, shows two little girls trying to be friends in the face of the life-changing rocket ship accident and tells us more about how hard the years since have been for her father.
On one level, this is a rather straightforward student-growing-up story with a light science fiction overlay, but the emotional component is more subtle and realistic than what that description suggests.