Bokurano: Ours 1-2 by Mohiro Kitoh: B

Fifteen kids—most of them, except for one boy’s kid sister, in 7th grade—are taking part in a summer program called “Seaside Friendship and Nature School.” Chafing at the instruction to go out and observe nature, the kids decide to explore a nearby cave, where they inexplicably discover a computer lab and a strange guy who calls himself Kokopelli.

Kokopelli tells the kids he’s working on a game in which the “chosen heroes” will pilot a giant robot as it faces off against alien invaders, and offers them the chance to play. Of course, they’re all interested and when he asks them to seal their contract before explaining the rules, they comply. It’s only when Kokopelli’s subsequent demonstration claims the life of a fighter pilot that they begin to grasp that the battle—and the damage it causes—is real.

Over the course of these first two volumes, the kids begin to learn exactly what they’re in for. After the disappearance of Kokopelli, “assistance” is provided by (possibly untrustworthy) Koyemshi, a floating creature almost cute enough to be a plushie if not for his menacing set of pointed teeth. He doles out information sparingly, and it’s not until two of their comrades have died that the kids learn the truth: the giant robot will fight to defend humanity from the invaders, but derives the power to do so from the life force of its pilot.

Obviously, the kids want to quit, but Koyemshi points out that they signed a contract and warns that if they should refuse to fight, Earth will be destroyed within 48 hours. The same fate awaits if they should lose a battle. As he puts it, “Win, save the planet and die… or lose and die when your planet is destroyed. Those are your options.” Believing that they really are helping to save the world, the kids soldier on.

At this point, the feel of the story reminds me a lot of another VIZ Signature title, Ikigami. For those unfamiliar with the story, Ikigami envisions a Japan in which the government attempts to encourage its citizens to lead a more productive life by instilling in them the fear of death. Anyone could receive a death notice (an ikigami) at any time informing them that they have 24 hours left to live, and the series follows each recipient in turn as they deal with the news.

Bokurano is structured similarly, focusing on each pilot as he or she “gets the call.” There are merits and flaws to this approach: obviously, the current pilot receives a lot of attention, and it’s interesting to see how each approaches the responsibility differently. One boy cares nothing for human casualties while another carefully takes the battle out into the harbor to minimize damage. One girl uses her final hours to sew morale-boosting uniforms for the group. Unfortunately, this also means that at any given time there are about a dozen characters relegated to the background, waiting for their turn to contribute to the story.

Because of lack of time spent with individual characters, it’s hard to care about them much, despite their awful predicament. I might realize I like someone based on how he handles his turn as pilot, but I know the opportunity to see things from his perspective will be brief. The most compelling aspect of the story to me is the notion of where these invaders came from in the first place, and what the human population as a whole thinks about giant monsters in their midst.

During Kokopelli’s demonstration, as he occupies the sole chair in a circle of many, he admits that he’s as much a pawn as the kids are and that he isn’t from our planet. It would appear, then, that he is the final pilot from a previous incarnation of this “game” who was sent to Earth to find a new set of players. Is this “invasion” real? Why are there precisely fifteen enemies and no more? This may not be a game for the young pilots or the humans threatened by these monsters, but is it a game for someone, somewhere?

Dark, grim, and mysterious, Bokurano is probably not for everyone, but I’ll definitely be reading more.

Bokurano: Ours is published in English by VIZ. The series is complete in Japan with eleven volumes.

This review was originally published at Comics Should Be Good.

Review copy for volume two provided by the publisher.

BLAME! 1-10 by Tsutomu Nihei: B+

While I do my best to appreciate manga art, I generally do not choose to read a particular series solely because of it. The exception to this is BLAME!, a ten-volume series by Tsutomu Nihei that boasts “an endless labyrinth of cyberdungeons filled with concrete and steel.” Thinking that sounded pretty durn awesome, and prepared to encounter an occasionally incomprehensible story, I took the plunge.

And man, is BLAME! gorgeous! Killy, the unemotional and practically unstoppable protagonist, spends most of his time roaming a giant structure known as “The City,” looking for humans who might carry Net Terminal Genes, which pre-mutated man once used to communicate with the Netsphere (overseen by The Authority). It’s not unusual for a whole chapter to go by with no dialogue at all as Killy continues his journey, sometimes reduced to no more than a tiny speck on a narrow bridge spanning a dark chasm. The place is gloomy and cavernous, filled with pipes, corridors, stairs, and the occasional abyss. Nihei excels in creating his enormous and dangerous world, and also in conveying Killy’s progress, as demonstrated by a couple of pages from volume six that I scanned for a recent Let’s Get Visual column.

Killy encounters a few small pockets of civilization but has no luck finding anyone with the Net Terminal Genes, which are necessary to curtail the endless expansion of The City, since the builder bots who construct it were never given the instruction to stop. He does team up with a former scientist, Cibo, whose attempt to access the Netsphere with synthesized genes ended in disaster and introduced The Safeguard to The City. The Safeguard are mechanical creatures who can derive their bodily forms from the City itself. Originally designed to protect the Net from unauthorized access, their chief focus now is exerminating humanity. Humans must also contend with the Silicon Creatures, a race of cyborgs who also want to access the Net.

Killy and Cibo engage in countless fights against the Safeguard and Silicon Creatures, resulting in some pretty massive damage. Cibo goes through about three bodies throughout the course of the series, while Killy must lose his arm about eight times. (There is a lot of limb loss in this series, as well as quite a few still-conscious partial people.) It gradually becomes clear that Killy is not exactly human himself and that he’s able to heal from even the most devastating injuries. He also can’t remember where he got his gun—a powerful Graviton Beam Emitter that creates a straight line of destruction 70 kilometers long—but it’s awfully similar to one carried by Sana-Kan, a powerful Safeguard who was able to get close to Killy and Cibo in a humanoid guise.

Eventually Killy and Cibo enter a quasi-independent realm, which seems to be the headquarters of a company called Toha Heavy Industries. The artificial intelligence in charge has stored the genetic information of humans that used to dwell within, and it’s from there that Killy finally gets his sample. Unfortunately, it falls first into the hands of a pair of sympathetic temporary Safeguards (seriously, one utters the line “Also, you might see my arm lying around somewhere. If you could pick it up, that’d be great.”) and finally into those of a Silicon Creature, whose attempt to access the Net somehow leads to one final mutation for Cibo and a pretty crazy resolution to the story. The final page gives one a lot to ponder, and I’m sure there are a variety of fan opinions on what exactly happened.

This is, of course, a vast simplification of the plot, and I am omitting quite a lot that I am at a loss to understand or explain. But here’s the thing… it doesn’t matter. BLAME! is so fascinating and its world so grimly compelling that it simply doesn’t matter if sometimes one has to stare at a panel and wonder what the hell one is even looking at. From someone like me, who usually demands that a plot make sense, that’s pretty high praise indeed.

BLAME! was published in English by TOKYOPOP. All ten volumes were released.

Planetes 1-3 by Makoto Yukimura: B+

Planetes is the story of Hachirota Hoshino, dubbed “Hachimaki” by his crewmates for his propensity to wear a headband (hachimaki), who dreams of earning enough fame and fortune to buy his own spaceship and achieve complete freedom. As the series begins, however, he’s part of a crew of “extraplanetary sanitation workers” who clean up space debris.

The first volume introduces readers to the crew of The Toy Box. In addition to Hachimaki, there’s Yuri, a Russian of indeterminate age whose perpetual staring into space (literally!) is explained when the story of his wife’s demise in a space liner crash is revealed. Yuri achieves some closure in the first chapter, when he finally finds a compass that was precious to his wife, and becomes a livelier character (and occasional font of wisdom) from then on. Tomboyish pilot Fee is a Floridian with a family back home and an ardent passion for cigarettes, which prompts her to go after some environmental terrorists who’re going around bombing smoking lounges.

The environmental terrorists become a more important factor in volume two. Hachimaki, who has been somewhat of a slacker up until now, learns that a rich inventor is mounting an expedition to Jupiter. Hachimaki develops a single-minded determination to be on the Jupiter mission, which leads to him working out endlessly and being sort of an ass to Tanabe, the (female) newcomer to the crew set to be his replacement. The environmental group—the Space Defense League—attempts several times to sabotage the protect, since the purpose of the mission to Jupiter is not exploration but to mine its resources. Hachimaki isn’t particular about the reasons—he just wants to go—and when his former friend, Hakim is revealed to be the terrorist mastermind, Hachimaki nearly kills him, saved at the last minute by Tanabe.

Hachimaki makes the crew for the Jupiter mission and by volume three is participating in mission training simulations. He’s haggard, though, losing weight, having visions of some sort of mystical cat, and feeling disconnected from everything around him. His crewmate, Sally, attempts to get through to him, and eventually succeeds (via boob therapy). Hachimaki has spent a great deal of time pursuing solitude, but Sally makes him see that in the end that Tanabe was right all along—“space is too dangerous and wonderful a thing to face alone.” Like his father before him, Hachimaki marries before heading out into space in order to anchor himself with a home.

Planetes is definitely an interesting tale, offering a mixture of science fiction and philosophizing about what it means for humans to go into space. One might notice, though, that in each of the paragraphs above dedicated to a particular volume of the series, Hachimaki seems like a different person. And, indeed, an inability to identify with the lead is what prevented me from awarding these volumes an “A.”

These volumes take place between 2074 and 2077, and it makes sense that a person could change a great deal in that time, especially given what Hachimaki has experienced, but sometimes I couldn’t trace the path between one incarnation of Hachimaki and the next or fully buy into his feelings for Tanabe. Also, even though it would have been unfortunate if Hachimaki had remained on the debris-collecting crew forever, I really missed Yuri and Fee as the story moved away from them. The first volume may be the most episodic of the first three, but it’s also a little less heavy than the others.

Ultimately, I liked Planetes a lot, though it wasn’t a quick read for me. I’m looking forward to the fourth and final volume.

Planetes is published in English by TOKYOPOP. There are technically five books in this series, but the last two comprise volume four, which was split due to length.

Additional reviews of Planetes can be found at Triple Take.

Darker Than Black by BONES, et al.: C+

I reviewed the omnibus edition of this shoujo manga based on the Darker Than Black anime for Comics Should Be Good. Basically, all of the elements borrowed from the anime are pretty intriguing, but the manga’s storyline just doesn’t hang together very well.

You can find that review here.

Darker Than Black is published in English by Yen Press in a 384-page omnibus edition that contains both volumes of the series.

Review copy provided by the publisher.

Apollo 23 by Justin Richards: B

From the back cover:
An astronaut in full spacesuit appears out of thin air in a busy shopping centre. Maybe it’s a publicity stunt.

A photo shows a well-dressed woman in a red coat lying dead at the edge of a crater on the dark side of the moon—beside her beloved dog ‘Poochie.’ Maybe it’s a hoax.

But as the Doctor and Amy find out, these are just minor events in a sinister plan to take over every human being on Earth. The plot centres on a secret military base on the moon—that’s where Amy and the TARDIS are.

The Doctor is back on Earth, and without the TARDIS there’s no way he can get to the moon to save Amy and defeat the aliens.

Or is there? The Doctor discovers one last great secret that could save humanity: Apollo 23.

In the run of the Doctor Who: New Series Adventures books, this one comes in at number 37. At some point I’ll go back and read the earlier ones, but I’m really enjoying the new season with the eleventh doctor and couldn’t resist the temptation to check out the first book to feature him and his spunky Scottish companion, Amy.

I’m used to media tie-in books being fairly crappy, so Apollo 23 was a pleasant surprise. Oh, it’s not great literature or anything, but the characterization of Eleven and Amy is very solid, with dialogue that I can easily hear the actors delivering and several lines that elicit a grin. The basic plot is somewhat reminiscent of Dollhouse: there’s a secret base on the moon where experiments are being carried out on prisoners. The goal of the experiment is ostensibly to remove memories of bad experiences that led to criminal activity, but the technology winds up being used to create “Blanks” whose personalities are stored elsewhere while alien minds are imprinted upon them.

There’s more involving quantum links between Earth and the moon, but it’s really a sort of alien invasion/body snatchers story. The Doctor gets to zip around impressing people with his brilliance while Amy does a lot of snooping about. If this were an episode of the show, I’m sure it would be a disappointment, but in this format, it’s a quick and enjoyable read that might help ease the pain of the long wait ’til the Christmas special. I’ll be reading more!

Afterschool Charisma 1 by Kumiko Suekane: B-

Sigmund Freud. Florence Nightingale. Napoleon Bonaparte. These are not merely the names of eminent historical figures. They are also the names of students at a certain high school. These children are the fruit of leading-edge genetic engineering technology. In other words… they are clones.

It’s the year 2XXX A.D. and St. Kleio Academy is home to many students, all clones of famous historical figures. All, that is, except for Shiro Kamiya, son of a professor at the school and the only regular kid in attendance.

The students are expected to not only live up to the “monumental legacies of [their] originals,” but to strive to surpass their achievements. While some students are seemingly content with this arrangement, others strive to be their own person. Marie Curie, for example, lacks passion for scientific study and instead wants to be a pianist. When the school’s first graduate, a clone of John F. Kennedy, is assassinated while dutifully following in his original’s footsteps and campaigning for president, the astute Sigmund Freud does some digging and confirms the existence of a group whose agenda is to kill all of the clones.

Like me, you might find this concept very intriguing. Like me, then, you’ll likely be disappointed to discover that the tone of this volume is quite erratic. After some ominous hinting that Marie Curie—who the students believe has been allowed to transfer to music school—has been scrapped (“Another do-over,” according to Shiro’s dad), the story abruptly veers into fanservice territory, with Shiro and Freud shoved into the girls’ changing room by their friends. So, now we’ve gone from “Ooh, creepy!” to “Ooh, boobies!”

As the story progresses, it wanders seemingly without direction. There are still some hints about the anti-clone organization sprinkled throughout, but the focus becomes more on a sort of cult operating within the school whose members carry around plush toys in the likeness of Dolly, the famous cloned sheep. Also, because Mozart disdained Marie Curie’s musical ambitions, Shiro decides he needs to get fit so he can challenge him to a fencing match after which Mozart seemingly hangs himself to teach Shiro what it’s like to be a clone. Or something. It’s very odd.

In the end, I’m still interested enough in the story to read the next volume. I have suspicions about Shiro’s origins, for one thing, and the fact that the anti-clone folks have their faces hidden can only be significant. There’s a lot of potential here—I just hope the various elements coalesce into something more purposeful.

This review was originally published at Comics Should Be Good.

Afterschool Charisma is published in English by VIZ and serialized on their SigIKKI website. One volume’s available in print so far while in Japan the fourth volume has just been released.

Saturn Apartments 1 by Hisae Iwaoka: B+

In this low-key, dystopic sci-fi story, a boy named Mitsu takes up his missing father’s occupation as a window washer in the hopes that it will yield answers about his disappearance, or maybe just life in general.

Humanity has vacated Earth. They were not, however, willing to move too far away from their former home, now declared a vast nature preserve, and have instead taken up residence in a gigantic ring around the planet. Within the ring, a very stratified society exists, with public facilities located on the relatively airy middle levels, spacious homes for the wealthy in the upper levels, and dark and cramped living conditions for everyone else in “the basement.” Saturn Apartments is essentially a slice-of-life story that follows Mitsu as he begins his new job (washing the ring’s external windows) and interacts with residents from the various levels of society. Most of the guild’s work is either assigned by the government or commissioned by the very rich, so when his first job is cleaning windows on the lower level, it’s rare.

This job has been requested by a young couple who are about to get married—the groom-to-be is Sohta, a very bright young man who obtained an advanced degree with the hopes of finding a job in the middle levels. Only after Sohta graduated was he told that, even if he goes to grad school, he’s still not going to be employable because he’s from the basement. He ends up settling for a job as a technician in a power plant instead. Many of the following stories also serve to illustrate the plight of the basement-dwellers while offering in contrast the excesses of the rich, including one eccentric fellow who keeps a near-extinct sea creature in his home and another who tinkers with robots all day long and has the crew back to redo his windows over and over without offering any explanation as to what they’ve done wrong.

Meanwhile, Mitsu seeks to learn more about the accident that apparently claimed the life of his father, Akitoshi. Five years ago, Akitoshi’s rope was cut and he plunged toward Earth. Mitsu had always suspected that his father cut the rope intentionally, but when he’s sent to work at the same spot, he notices some damage to the ring’s hull that could’ve been responsible for severing the rope, along with many handprints that suggest his father fought to stay alive. Later, he meets his Akitoshi’s former partner, Tamachi, and begins to hear about a side of his father that he never knew.

As I wrote in my introduction, the world of Saturn Apartments is what I would call a low-key dystopia. Those who dwell in the basement aren’t too happy with their lot, but they seem resigned to the fact that they can’t do anything about it. The only one who really has any spunk is Jin, the experienced window washer with whom Mitsu is partnered, but his frustration at rich folks manifests as bursts of ill temper that pass quickly. Iwaoka’s art excels at depicting the oppressive feeling of life in the basement—narrow alleyways and towering buildings reinforce the notion of insurmountable obstacles and one can almost feel the weight of all the rooms above Mitsu’s pressing down on him.

Mitsu himself is perhaps the weakest link here because he is so much an observer. We do learn that his mother died when he was very young and that, after his father’s death, some kindly neighbors attempted to care for him but he always kept a respectful distance from them. Now that he’s finished school and is working, he is determined to pay his own way and seeks to find meaning in the work that he’s doing. Too, he believes that following in his father’s footsteps and working hard will enable him to learn something. What that is, exactly, he doesn’t know, but perservering feels important.

I certainly find Mitsu’s quest interesting and will keep reading about him and his world, but it’s as if he’s keeping a respectful distance from the reader, too, which makes it difficult to become more than simply curious how things will turn out.

This review was originally published at Comics Should Be Good.

Saturn Apartments is published in English by VIZ. One volume has been released so far, though two chapters of volume two are available on the SigIKKI website. The series is still ongoing in Japan; five volumes are currently available there.

Astonishing X-Men 2: Dangerous by Joss Whedon and John Cassaday: B

From the back cover:
A tragic death at the Xavier Institute reveals a powerful enemy living among the X-Men that they could never have suspected—and no, it’s not Magneto.

Things heat up in a way none of the X-Men ever dreamed, but will teamwork save the day when they can’t even depend on themselves?

You know those episodes of Buffy where the supernatural threat is pretty dumb, and yet the episode is worth watching because of the amusing dialogue and the good character work going on? Well, the second arc of Joss Whedon’s Astonishing X-Men run is just like that.

In a nutshell, at some point in time, the Danger Room, used to train the X-Men by putting them through all manner of dangerous situations, became sentient, thanks to a contradiction in its programming that ordered it to kill the X-Men and yet stop short of killing them. Professor Xavier was aware of this development but ignored it, essentially keeping the sentient room trapped there to do his bidding. Now it’s gained enough control that it’s able to wreak some havoc, and eventually fashions itself a body to facilitate its revenge.

While I definitely appreciate the morally grey implications of Xavier’s actions (or inaction) and Peter’s response to same—Peter, aka Colossus, who has just been rescued from years spent as a prisoner/experiment himself—I just couldn’t get very interested in this scenario. Perhaps I wasn’t meant to, though: Joss is beginning to spin out a few plot threads that are obviously meant to continue for some time and possibly just needed to give his characters something to do in order to get those ideas across. Of chief importance is the question of where Emma Frost’s loyalties truly lie, since it’s heavily implied here that she’s feeding information to someone else. There’s also the issue of Agent Brand, who believes that the death of the X-Men is necessary to protect the planet from vengeful aliens, and who has an unknown mole on the inside at Xavier Academy.

On a more personal front, there’s also the awkwardness between Kitty and Peter to deal with, since she’s concerned that she has scared him off with her emotional response to his rescue. I love how Whedon shows Peter in battle against a monster while his thoughts distract him (“I am riding a monster’s nostrils. I really should concentrate.”), followed by Kitty in battle while her thoughts distract her (“Came on too strong…”), followed by Wolverine in battle, absolutely free of mental interference (“I really like beer.”).

Kitty continues to be a likeable character: she’s smart, capable, and determined to fight, even though her particular brand of abilities brands her as a noncombatant. John Cassaday’s character design for her is terrific, too, and must be commended for its consistency in a medium where lack of same seems the norm. She’s definitely pretty, but it’s a very normal sort of pretty. I do continue to hear a lot of Buffy in her dialogue, as in this exchange…

Emma Frost: (in response to Cyclops getting all commandy) I positively throb when he gets that tone.

Kitty: Your not saying that would be nifty.

…but it made me giggle, so I can’t really complain too much.

In the end, this arc has a relatively humdrum plot that nonetheless has an impact on character relationships and sows some seeds of distrust amongst the team. As Angel proved (most notably in season four), this will likely not end well.

To Terra… 1 by Keiko Takemiya: A

From the back cover:
The future. Having driven Terra to the brink of environmental collapse, humanity decides to reform itself by ushering in the age of Superior Domination (S.D.), a system of social control in which children are no longer the offspring of parents but the progeny of a universal computer. The new social order, however, results in an unexpected byproduct: the Mu, a mutant race with extrasensory powers who are forced into exile by The System.

The saga begins on educational planet Ataraxia, where Jomy Marcus Shin, a brash and unpredictable teenager, is nervously preparing to enter adult society. When his Maturity Check goes wrong, the Mu intervene in the great hope that Jomy, who possesses Mu telepathy and human physical strength, can lead them back home, to Terra…

There’s no shortage of sci-fi stories in which the natural resources of Earth have been used up, prompting humans into space in search of new homes. In To Terra…, this situation works out a little differently. Instead, the humans are deemed to be the problem, and the original population of Earth (Terra) is forcibly removed while a eugenics program begins to breed a new race of people willing to submit to the will of Universal Control, part of the Supreme Domination system devised to regulate all aspects of life.

Fourteen-year-old Jomy Marcus Shin is a product of this system and has spent his life thus far on Ataraxia, a planet where children are raised by carefully selected foster parents until such time as they are ready for their Maturity Check. Jomy chafes against this orderly society, however, and is repeatedly subjected to tests designed to weed out ESP abilities—a sign that he is actually a Mu, a race of evolved humans noted for their telepathy and “emotional instability.” None of these tests detect Jomy’s latent powers until the Mu leader hijacks his Maturity Check and recruits Jomy to be the new leader of the Mu and help them achieve their goal of returning to Terra.

Meanwhile, those children who pass their Maturity Check have their fate decided for them by the computer. Some go on to their assigned jobs while others are destined for further schooling. Among these is Keith Anyan, an elite student destined for a position as one of Terra’s most powerful citizens. Currently, Keith is the star pupil at an educational satellite, though he’s not without his doubts about the system. His world is shaken up by a rival student, Seki Ray Shiroe, who refuses to relinquish his own free will, no matter the consequences.

There’s a lot going on in To Terra…, but though it’s definitely a complicated story, it never stops being a compelling one. No matter the differences between characters or their circumstances, all are united by yearning of one kind or another. Jomy yearns for a family life that was real, and it’s his recognition of the depth of the Mu’s longing for a home that helps him to finally understand them and agree to be their leader. Keith, though repeatedly assured of his own place on Terra, secretly yearns for a more inclusive system that would enable his less talented friend, “gentle Sam,” to achieve the same. As it is, Sam will probably spend his entire life in space, not being deemed good enough for a place on the surface.

Nobody is happy with things the way they are, but change requires action. Jomy is bold in his approach, starting the Mu off towards Terra immediately after taking charge, but Keith is constrained by expectations and some surprising revelations about his background. Too, anyone around him who might be of aid either conveniently forgets their dissent after a visit with the mother computer or ends up like Shiroe. In a way, this reminds me of Tezuka’s Adolf, as we are introduced to sympathetic characters on both sides of a conflict and seemingly poised to follow them over many years. In that scenario, Keith would be the Adolf Kaufmann, the sympathetic young man being educated by a fascist government who will either learn to embrace their beliefs or risk losing his place of prestige.

Visually, To Terra… is just as epic as a story like this warrants, with many gorgeous two-page spreads and pages upon pages of star-flecked darkness, emphasizing the vastness of space and the isolation between worlds, cultures, and individuals that’s causing so much pain to the characters. It does bother me that the sound effects haven’t been translated, though, since sometimes they could add a lot to a scene.

Even though To Terra… is technically shounen, the emphasis on the emotional lives of the characters and their simple desire for a home results in a story with universal appeal. No pun intended.

I reviewed To Terra… for May’s Manga Moveable Feast, hosted by Kate Dacey. Other reviews and commentary can be found at Kate’s blog, The Manga Critic. The series is published in English by Vertical and is complete in three volumes.

Twin Spica 1 by Kou Yaginuma: A-

The year is 2024. Fourteen years ago, Japan’s first attempt at a manned space mission ended in disaster, as something went wrong 72 seconds into the flight, causing the craft, “The Lion,” to crash in the middle of a city. The crew, and many civilians, lost their lives. Asumi Kamogawa’s mother was among the wounded, lingering in a coma for five years before finally succumbing to her injuries.

Even so, Asumi grew up with a passionate love of the stars, and spent many hours stargazing with her mysterious friend, a young man—wearing a lion’s-head mask—that no one else seems able to see. As a child, Asumi wasn’t shy about sharing her dream, but lately guilt over leaving her father behind compels her to take the entrance exam to the Tokyo Space School without telling him. When he finds out, Dad proves he’s not so helpless after all, since he’s been working and saving for years in order to be able to make his daughter’s dream come true.

This frees Asumi to continue with the admissions process, the next step of which is a test that requires her to live with two strangers in a room for seven days. This is a fun glimpse at the space school world she’s about to enter, as well as Asumi’s strengths relative to those of her prospective classmates. Physically tiny, she possesses a child-like sense of wonder, which sometimes leads her to ask seemingly stupid questions, but is also able to see patterns in things that others miss. While most of the other candidates fail, Asumi’s team is a success, thanks in no small part to her contributions.

Instead of forging ahead with her promising future, the rest of the volume is composed of short stories—the success of which was ultimately responsible for Twin Spica becoming a series—depicting incidents from Asumi’s childhood and revealing the true identity of her masked friend. The second tale, “Asumi,” in which Asumi dreams she is able to help her mother’s spirit reach its destination, is especially touching. I admit it: I cried. The existence of Mr. Lion, and the supernatural possibilities he introduces into the story, means that this encounter really could have happened, too.

Artistically, Yaginuma’s work is clean and attractive, with lots of white space—as is appropriate for the “closed-off environment adaptability test”—and a variety of panel layouts. The one thing that bugs me is that Asumi looks really, really young throughout. She’s supposed to be smaller than others her age, but she winds up resembling a second or third grader in comparison. I hope this isn’t a hint of moe infiltrating what is otherwise a very fine story.

With this first volume, Twin Spica is just, if you’ll pardon the awful pun, getting off the ground. I definitely look forward to discovering what is to come, and especially appreciate Vertical’s commitment to releasing all sixteen volumes of this series by 2012. I could make another pun here about climbing aboard now, the better to experience the journey, but I’ll spare you.

Twin Spica is published in English by Vertical, Inc. Only the first volume is out so far, but the series is complete in Japan with sixteen volumes. The review copy I received included the following publishing schedule:

Volumes 1 to 4: 2010
Volumes 5 to 10: 2011
Volumes 11 to 16: 2012

Review copy provided by the publisher. Review originally published at Manga Recon.