Astra Lost in Space Volume 1
I had hopes for Astra Lost in Space, based on the premise, about a class trip set in the future with space travel. When an accident occurs, the group of students has to figure out how to survive and get back home.
It’s a classic setup with lots of promise for character development and exciting adventures. I anticipated something that fans of classic manga science fiction like They Were 11 or Twin Spica might enjoy.
Unfortunately, what I got in this first volume by Kenta Shinohara was so based on stereotypes and caricatures that I had a hard time finishing it. This might be the kind of manga that’s better read in chapter installments instead of big chunks, or picked up when the reader wants some light entertainment without thinking too much.
The first student we meet, Aries, is cute, outgoing, and scatter-brained, the kind of girl that exists for other people to take care of. Within the first four pages, she’s almost forgotten her passport for her trip, spilled her suitcase in front of a kindly older alumni, and had her bag stolen so a guy could rescue it for her.
She’s on her way to planet camp, where a group of students are taken to another planet and dropped off for a five-day camping trip. However, with this group, a mysterious sphere transports them into deep space. Thankfully, they find an abandoned ship and start solving various problems, like figuring out where they are and how to leapfrog their way home.
Beyond Aries, the other girls are a shy, bespectacled quiet girl; spoiled, rich Quitterie; and her younger sister Funicia. It doesn’t make sense for a group of high school students on their first trip alone to another planet to have a cute kid with them, so they’re given the mission of “caring for and teaching a younger child.” Plus, she has a hand puppet that says rude things, much as in The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service.
The boy students are a pushy wannabe leader who keeps having to rescue Aries; a prodigy who already has his pilot’s license; a kid with a ski cap, hair in his eyes, and a bad attitude; a knowledge-stuffed and super-handsome botanist; and a high-spirited younger boy.
The characters all appear in familiar manga style, with Aries in particular looking too young for her stated age. The boys wear popped-collar jackets while the girls are in mini-dresses. (It’s like school inspired by classic Star Trek.) The spacescapes, however, are artistically impressive, as is the sequence where the kids are swallowed up by the plot gimmick.
The book is best when the students are foraging on another planet, allowing for imaginative creatures. I also liked the bits of survival information, obviously extrapolated from Earth camping. Conveniently, someone always has a bit of knowledge or a special skill whenever it’s needed.
There’s lots of running around and silliness, mixed with flashbacks to make everyone more sympathetic. The captain kid is trying to make up for a similar (but planet-bound) camping trip that went wrong, so he continues to flash back to life lessons. Aries is just happy she has friends, regardless of the danger they’re in. The rich girl with the ridiculous name is secretly lonely.
Kids who haven’t previously seen stories and characters like this before will likely enjoy the space adventures, since plenty happens quickly, but anyone older will likely find it too familiar (and with the traditional gender division, somewhat off-putting, as seen in the brokeback pose on the cover). You can read a preview at the publisher’s website. (The publisher provided a digital review copy.)