Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Twin Spica vol. 1-7

Ever since Asumi Kamogawa could remember, she has loved looking up at the stars and has always dreamed of getting closer to them. When she was just a baby, Japan's first manned rocket, The Lion, crashed into her home town, taking the lives of many, including her mother. Now fourteen years old and guided by the ghost of The Lion's pilot, Asumi is determined to attend Tokyo Space School to become an astronaut and reach for the stars. Many obstacles lay in wait for her to overcome, including the physically demanding astronaut training, as well as the mental barrier of coming to grips with The Lion disaster. But accompanied by newly made friends and the everlasting beacon that is her dream, Asumi embarks on a remarkable journey of self discovery in 'Twin Spica'.

One thing I could appreciate about 'Twin Spica' was that it had many "layers" or story aspects to enjoy. At it's core, I think it is a coming of age tale. We get to follow this group of characters as they set out into the world and try to accomplish their grand dreams. We also are treated to a school-life story, but with a bit of a twist. this school-life story takes place at an astronaut training school. I personally thought the astronaut training was one of the more entertaining aspects of the story. On top of that, there was a compelling sense of mystery surrounding The Lion rocket disaster and how different characters are connected to it and each other. Whether it was thought provoking dialogue of dreams, entertaining training scenes, or new clues to mysteries, 'Twin Spica' never left me feeling bored with a stagnant story.

I thought the extra chapters at the end of the first few volumes really added to the depth and power of this series. It's interesting because four of the short stories featured at the end of volumes have Asumi as the main character and they act as prequels to the main series. I believe they were actually published before the main series. Now, I'm not sure if they were presented in the Japanese volumes the way they were or if the editors at Vertical Inc. decided on the placement in the American volumes, but either way, for four chapters that came before the main series, they were placed in a way that really compliments their respective books. They act as flashbacks that really fit in where we are at in the story and really served to enhance the books a lot. I've got to say, I kind of enjoyed the flashback chapters more than the main story. They gave a lot of insight on different characters' histories, especially Asumi. They really tied the main story together, and I was a bit disappointed when they stopped being featured at the end of volumes.

'Twin Spica' is a seinen manga that has themes of dreams and friendship that I usually encounter in shonen manga, but they are delivered in a way that is more solemn and realistic. Rather than shonen concepts like "friendship and determination can solve everything!", this series emphasizes the importance of friendship and how it can help you move forward to success, and make your failures seem not so lonely. In that way, it has a message that is a lot more relatable and lasting than the artificially uplifting and very temporary "friendship is magic" message that is so prevalent in many mainstream shonen series. While not new territory, the concept of following your dreams is a heavily and well done theme in this series, but like the friendship theme, I found the delivery very refreshing. Going to space is the dream of the characters, not their goal. I thought about that way of thinking for a while and contemplated the difference between the two. I think that the difference for the characters is that there dreams don't have an finish line like a goal does. They won't be finished when they get to space and they won't let their dreams die there. For me, this was a thought provoking mind set that seemed a little different than the sometimes more shallow delivery of dreams of shonen heroes(become the best...then what?). 

One thing about this series that I didn't care for was the character, Marika Ukita, who is a friend and classmate to main character Asumi. I didn't care for Marika as a character and didn't care for her sub plot much. She starts out kind of mean and cold, but she warms up a bit and becomes friendlier, though she never really became more likeable to me. And without spoiling, the mystery surrounding her is kind of contrived and it bogged down the story for me. I like a certain level of drama. And we had that in this story with Asumi's relation to the Lion disaster. But with Marika's kind of out of place plot line, it takes the drama level up to a melodramatic level, and that's where it loses me fast. Instead of invoking more emotions from me, I was pushed away and sympathized even less with Marika. The whole time Marika was the focus, I just wanted more attention to be paid to Asumi. Despite all that, Marika arguably has the most amount of character development in these seven volumes. At least in terms of personality change. I can at least recognize and appreciate that much. None of the other main group of characters grew on me much either or got a whole lot of individual focus like Marika and Asumi did, but they had a interesting group dynamic and good dialogue with one and other. Besides, there is five more volumes to flesh out the rest of the group fully and make a greater impression on me.

Right now at this very instance, I am sighing out of frustration. Once again, I am at a loss for words at how exactly to describe the art to you. Oh well. I'll give it a try anyway. First and foremost, the art is quite good. I think I've mentioned this before in past reviews, but one thing that I think is often overlooked by readers is distinction is character designs. Ever read a manga where so many characters look too similar and you stop and wonder, who is who? That can really take you out of the story. 'Twin Spica' doesn't have that problem at all. The character designs are very distinct. The style is very pleasant. Easy on the eyes. It's soft and round with just the right amount of detail to not overwhelm you. For some reason that I can't pinpoint, I find the style kind of reminiscent of Osamu Tezuka's art, but less "cartoony", more modern and more expressive. And wouldn't you know it, my terrible way with words is bailed out once again by the good people at Vertical Inc., and their free preview in which you can judge for yourself whether or not you like the art. I know. I'm such a cheater. But art is so subjective, that even if I described it perfectly, you may completely disagree with me. So give the preview a look see what you think.

This manga had a strong first volume, and the rest of the volumes had their moments, but they never really had the same amount of impact as the first. For me, these first seven volumes of 'Twin Spica' have been a series truly great moments that are separated by just good story. The "just good" majority of the story is damn well good enough, but pale slightly in comparison to the brilliant and beautiful, momentous occasions. A very good read that is not quite great, but could end up being so if the last five volumes pull everything together. Word to the wise: If my review piqued your interest in reading 'Twin Spica', go out and buy now, because the editor at Vertical Inc. has stated that due to low sales, 'Twin Spica' will be going out of print. It's likely that it will be difficult to find and/or expensive in the near future.

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