by Kou Yaginuma
published by Vertical; $10.95 US
I found myself wondering, as I started this latest book, whether the series was going to keep my interest over its remaining volumes, since it’s not particularly short, and that’s a significant commitment when there are so many other books I also want to read.
I was complaining, in my review of Book 3, that we didn’t see enough of the astronaut training, since I didn’t want another generic schoolkid manga series. That’s addressed here, as the kids are put into spacesuits and set to training underwater, as well as getting practice with robot arms and zero gravity. That serious emphasis is undercut by pee jokes, though, as well as a somewhat artificial moment of drama, as Asumi struggles with a previously unrevealed weakness.
I found myself much more interested by other elements in this volume. I didn’t notice an overwhelming connection or theme to the chapters, but I was intrigued by the introduction of protestors who don’t want any more rocket launches, especially from their home island. The space kids are a little too young to have much of a big-picture worldview, but they’re about the age where they’ll start learning to consider more than their own wants and needs. Living away from home will also drive that maturing process, especially if the separation is forced, as in Marika’s case.
And that’s the other thing that kept me involved. I’m less interested now in perpetually cheery Asumi and more in the mysteriously alone Marika. We still don’t know her secret or understand her family structure, although more hints are given. (Not enough for us to figure it out, though.) I suspect the scene of her throwing out pills was meant to seem brave, but I worried that it was foolhardy. She seems so young and selfish sometimes, although it hides deeper concerns.
Artistically, the characters remain themselves. I did notice that at times, single sentences in English were split across word balloons; when the bubbles were joined, this sometimes caused the reading not to be completely smooth. There’s a similar jumpiness in the art occasionally, with camera point of view hopping around. The panels are more images in themselves instead of working on the level of the unit of the page. Flow doesn’t seem to be what Kou Yaginuma is aiming for; instead, it’s emotional impact. That may be why my favorite piece of the book was an extra, unrelated story in the back about a chance meeting between former school friends who dated.
It seems that I’m not nearly as tired of this series as I feared, with Marika’s story bringing me a new perspective. But I am done with Mr. Lion, as he seems out of place to the story I want to read, about young people reaching for the stars. I know he’s necessary to provide a sense of history these kids couldn’t have, but I’m beginning to hate the sight of his silly face. Especially in his focus story this issue, which is otherwise full of incompatible melancholy.