S.S. Astro: Asashio Sogo Teachers’ Room is a yonkoma, or four-panel, manga created by Negi Banno. The first volume of S.S. Astro was originally published in Japan in 2007. Yen Press released the English translation of the manga in 2008, around the same time that it was licensing several other yonkoma manga series. As for S.S. Astro, only one volume was ever released. As far as I can tell, the series has been on hiatus since 2007 in Japan. Although I believe that Banno has created more S.S. Astro strips than those found in the first volume, there have not been enough to collect into a second volume. I have no idea if Banno plans to ever return to the S.S. Astro manga, but because so many years have passed it seems increasingly unlikely. S.S. Astro was actually one of the first yonkoma manga that I ever read. I originally came across it a few years back while searching for manga in English with yuri elements, which used to be a little more difficult to find than it is now.
Seven years after she graduated, Izumi Maki is back at her old high school. Except this time she’s one of the ones responsible for molding the young minds of Tokyo’s Asashio Integrated Public High School. It’s her first year as a teacher. Maki’s now in charge of both health and physical education classes, not to mention a home room with nearly forty students. (Now she just somehow needs to find a way to remember all of their names.) Maki’s not the only fresh blood at Asashio. Her good friend Yuko Nagumo, the new Japanese instructor, is also a first year teacher. The nursing teacher Setsuna Arai has a couple of years of experience on them and Maki’s backup teacher Kaname Karasuma, the instructor for the school’s English course, has even more. She also has a huge crush on Maki, not that Maki has noticed. Throw in all of the other teachers and their quirks, as well as Maki’s older brother, and high school is just as entertaining and complicated as it was the first time around.
Yonkoma manga tend to be fairly hit-or-miss for me, but in the case of S.S. Astro it’s mostly a hit. As with many four-panel manga, whether or not someone actually likes the series will depend on whether or not the reader likes the characters as they are. Although there are plenty of running jokes in S.S. Astro, the series tends to be episodic without much of an overarching plot and very little in the way of character development. Fortunately, I do like the characters. Quite a bit, actually. Maki’s a scatterbrain but earnest. Nagumo can put away an impressive amount of food and is closet fujoshi. Arai has a delightfully sadistic streak. Of the four main characters, Karasuma is the most responsible one, at least when she isn’t completely lovestruck. About halfway through the first volume of S.S. Astro the rest of the Asashio staff are more thoroughly introduced. Prior to that they were largely relegated to the background. I like the other teachers as well and wish more time could have been spent getting to know them better, too.
Quite a few manga licensed in English take place in a school setting. What helps to set S.S. Astro apart is that it focuses on the teachers rather than on the students. I find this to be a refreshing change of pace. One of the reasons that I’m particularly fond of S.S. Astro is that the manga focuses on the adults and their lives and relationships. Granted, the main cast are all relatively young and still in their twenties, but there are some older characters as well. Maki and the others can be immature at times, but in the end they are adults with adult responsibilities. Which is not to say there isn’t room for fun in S.S. Astro; being an adult has its perks, too. Video games, drinking parties, and a little bit of workplace romance (straight and otherwise) all have their place in the series. The artwork tends to be rather cute, too. In general, I find S.S. Astro to be fun and funny. S.S. Astro may not be a manga that I go out of my way to recommend to people, but it is one that I quite enjoy. I only wish that there was more of it.