Twin Spica, Vol. 1
By Kou Yaginuma
Published by Vertical, Inc.
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Fourteen years after a catastrophic space shuttle accident that was responsible for numerous civilian casualties, Japan’s space program is finally getting back on its feet, beginning with the establishment of Tokyo Space School’s Astronaut Training Course. There, fourteen-year-old Asumi competes with other prospective students, hoping to be accepted into the program and perhaps one day join Japan’s first successful manned excursion into space.
Though this series finished its run in seinen magazine Comic Flapper just last year, its simple artwork and wistful tone make its first volume read like an instant classic. Even the volume’s cover art, with its innocent imagery and sepia-like warmth, evokes feelings of nostalgia. Also, though the story’s foundation is set firmly in hard sci-fi, it is its heroine’s poignant and occasionally whimsical inner life that really defines its voice. Asumi provides the heart of this story, and it is a strange and wonderful heart indeed.
With her mother gone and her father often working, Asumi’s only confidante is a self-proclaimed ghost with a lion mask covering his head, whom she refers to as “Lion-san.” Even as Asumi begins her teen years, Lion-san remains a constant in her life, serving as a source of insight into a world she’s never truly felt a part of. He also provides a walking, talking symbol of the disaster that took her mother from her–a memory that she has safely locked away in the depths of her subconscious. That the volume opens with a spirited conversation between Asumi and her ghostly friend establishes the series’ supernatural/psychological focus from the start.
Asumi is both idiosyncratic and relatable. As a child, she is quiet and baffling to others–leaning into her mother’s corpse to find out how it smells and later stealing the ashes in order to give her mother a better view of the sea she so loved. As a teen, her concerns are more typical, focusing on dreams for her future and her ability to make friends, but the lonely little girl is still there, seeking comfort and advice from her supernatural friend.
All that said, Twin Spica is hardly a one-woman show. Supporting characters shine in this volume, from Asumi’s lonely teacher (whose first love was also killed fourteen years ago) to the girls with whom Asumi completes her astronaut exam. Even Asumi’s mother, seen mainly in a coma, bandaged from head to toe, is a compelling figure. One particularly complicated character is Asumi’s father. Though he obviously loves his daughter and supports her dreams, he is somewhat lost as a single parent and too often expresses himself through violence.
Yagimuna’s artwork is utterly charming. Simple, clean, and full of heartfelt emotion, it flows easily from panel to panel. Again here, there is a persistent air of nostalgia to the series, enhanced even by Vertical’s choice of font.
This volume feels short–just 124 pages of main story, followed by two short comics that provide a good chunk of backstory (written by Yagimuna before the series proper)–though that perception could just as easily be attributed to its overall delightfulness. Though the series was published as seinen in Japan, it provides substantial appeal for teen girls as well, especially those with their own dreams of space travel.
Hopeful, charming, and tinged with sadness, Twin Spica leaves us wanting more. Highly recommended.
Review copy provided by the publisher.
mom saysApril 27, 2010 at 7:15 am
After reading your review, I looked up the definition of seinen (since this genre is fairly foreign to me) and was surprised. This story sounds so much like a series you would have loved reading as a young teen, it doesn’t sound like the choice for adult men.
But then, you AND dad were real trekkies.
Melinda Beasi saysApril 27, 2010 at 7:31 am
I think there are quite a number of manga series I could hand you that would surprise you with their demographic categories. I am reminded often just how different our cultures are. That said, if I actually showed you this book, I could point out to you the characteristics that make it look/feel like a seinen manga. I suspect my review suffers a bit from my inability to express that well in writing. I’m working on it! :)
mom saysApril 27, 2010 at 7:38 am
I need to put that on my list of books to take a peek at in your library. And, of course, you may “feel” the series differently than a man would, and different aspects may touch you differently. Thinking of my own experience, I remember being in tears when I first read Zenna Henderson and wondered how a younger man could realize how much I would love her writing. Perhaps we don’t put books in specific people categories so much in this country.