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Saturday, December 29, 2012

Initial Thoughts: Twin Spica

Spoiler warning: The following post contains spoilers for the first two volumes of the Twin Spica manga.

When Kamogawa Asumi was just a baby, her mother was grievously injured when a rocket crashed to the ground. Five years later, having been in a coma all the time, Asumi's mother finally dies, and the little girl struggles to come to terms with the death of a mother she barely remembers. In the midst of her turmoil, she meets "Lion-san", a strange figure wearing a lion mask and claiming to be a ghost. Lion-san helps Asumi to bury her mother's ashes, and finally, Asumi reaches her own decision: "When I grow up, I'm going to be a rocket pilot." (Source: ANN)
Twin Spica is not new in its focus on characters who love outer space and want to discover the stars. Planetes, a personal favorite of mine, as well as Moonlight Mile and Space Brothers, all follow the same path. What separates Kou Yaginuma from this distinguished pack is that his series centers around a young girl named Asumi Kamogawa, who despite her size and personal tragedies wants to pilot a rocket into space. Like the protagonists of Space Brothers, Asumi has the dream to be an astronaut; arguably, she has a lot more obstacles in her way to get there.
There is nothing fast-paced or particularly action/adventure about Twin Spica; it is the Aria of astronaut manga, content to explore characters and settings than quickly push ahead any major plots. What plot twists there are slowly unravel over the course of each volume until they reach their peak emotional impact. Once you realize this, you'll find a greatly enjoyable read in the pages of Twin Spica.

I've seen a lot of reviews mention the covers of Twin Spica, especially the first volume. I admit, Asumi does look very young on the cover and it does not suggest at all what kind of manga it actually is. Would you blindly buy a manga with a cover like Twin Spica's first volume expecting there to be rocket ships and space missions and men with lion heads? Probably not. The second volume's cover is luckily much more fitting, as we see Asumi in her classroom surrounded by things directly tied to her dream - a globe, a chalkboard, a space suit, et cetera.
Like the covers themselves, Twin Spica is more than what it seems on its surface. It's a young girl going for her dream of being a rocket pilot, yes, but it's also about other things, like love - the love between a father and his daughter, or between a woman and her dead lover, or even a young girl's love of the cosmos. It's about leaving home and growing up with the unlikeliest of friends, like the quick to punch Kei, the icy Marika, and the off-kilter Shu Suzuki (I like saying his whole name!). Twin Spica is as much a coming of age story as it is a slow burning space race for Asumi and her classmates.
It is also about grief and loss; a layer of these covers every chapter, as it's from these two things that the story originated, with the crash of the Lion shuttle. So many events stem from that one tragic accident, some of which only come to light by the end of volume two, but it is clear that this has shaped the world as Asumi knows it. It has created a web that has drawn in her, her father and mother, her classmates, Mister Lion, and even her old teacher Suzunari - and it is through this tragedy that all these people are connected.
You can even look at the shape of Japan's space program for further proof, twelve years after the crash. They operate on an almost shoestring budget; just making a new spacesuit for Asumi's small body has their budget in crisis mode. However, they have also brought along the advent of space schools for younger students already focused on space exploration - as if training them at an earlier age will prevent the next Lion disaster.
However, this is not to say that Twin Spica is a depressing series, not at all. It is actually a manga imbued with much hope, in the form of Miss Asumi and her never-ending aspirations to touch the stars. There's something empowering about reading a narrative centered around a young girl who makes her own decision to be a rocket pilot and works so hard at that goal, even with her own personal history of loss and sadness from this very space program. She finds motivation to move forward in herself as well as her family and friends and the mysterious Mister Lion, and this is what makes it so easy for readers to cheer for Asumi and want to see her succeed in her endeavors.
In fact, the only real downside I see to Twin Spica has nothing to do with its story. I sometimes - really, rarely - find the art to be a little sloppy or oddly drawn. Take, for instance, Asumi's teacher Mister Sano, who holds a grudge against her father. His neck is freakishly long and for me, it's rather distracting. Why is his neck so long? I don't know. However, I can forgive things like odd necks when so much of the rest of the art angles between very good and brilliantly done.
Now, I know not everyone has a budget for manga and I understand this. I'm a college student! However, sometimes when we hesitate to buy quirky, unique series like Twin Spica that most mainstream publishers would never take a chance on, it has real consequences - like Vertical letting the series go out of print because of low sales. It's lucky that they even finished the series and took the losses on the chin instead of dropping it (like, say, Viz and Gintama, an arguably more popular series than Twin Spica).
All I'm asking is that you please consider buying Twin Spica! Have your library or school order the series. Suggest it to a friend who is known for buying physical manga books. Ask for the first volume as a birthday present. It is definitely worth your hard-earned dollars. I know I'll definitely be re-reading this series at least once when I own the whole thing.
I'd love to write more about Twin Spica - the artwork, Mister Lion, the series' view on space travel - so please look forward to more posts about this excellent manga!