Created by Kou Yaginuma
Published by Vertical
2012 has been a great year for space fans. Despite the American government cutting their funding, NASA has managed to land the Curiosity rover on Mars. Japan seems to have joined the recent space craze through their entertainment. The manga Space Brothers is currently one of the more popular manga in the country, having a successful anime airing this year as well as a live-action movie, and the current Kamen Rider series is themed around space. Even shows not based around space exploration have weighed in on the theme, such as Humanity Has Declined which had a moving arc based on personifying space probes. As long as man has been able to see the skies, it’s dreamed of space exploration, and it continues to be a romantic ideal for many writers. Any fan of space exploration should check out the subject of today’s review, Twin Spica.
In the year 2010, Japan launches a space shuttle named the Lion. However, not long after launch, the rocket failed and crashed in the middle of a city, killing and injuring several people. It’s deemed one of the most tragic accidents in spaceflight history. Our main character, Asumi, was 1 year old when this happened, and her mother was sadly one of the several people injured in this crash and later died. Despite the tragedy, Asumi dreams of one day becoming an astronaut.
One half of the first two volumes shows Asumi working hard to get accepted into the Tokyo National Space School, a high school dedicated to training students to work in space sciences. The other half shows Asumi’s childhood, further showing the consequences of the Lion crash and how it affected Asumi and the rest of the city. Despite the characters being shaken up by the tragedy, the chapters in the past manage to be very heartwarming, and at the same time are more fantastical than the chapters that take place in the present. This is because of a character named Mr. Lion, a man in a lion mascot costume who may or may not be real. He acts as Asumi’s mentor and closest friend, and it’s thanks to him that Asumi is so driven to become an astronaut.
Asumi’s mother gets a very significant chapter during the flashback chapters. Not long after she passes away, Asumi falls into a river and nearly drowns, causing her to enter a near-death experience where she’s allowed to communicate with her mother one last time. It’s very Japanese in the way the afterlife is shown, and fans of Spirited Away might know why. It’s one of the most heart-warming chapters in the entire manga.
The present-day chapters are no slouch either. An early chapter puts Asumi in a sealed box for about a week with two of the other main characters, Kei and Marika. This is actually a real training exercise that JAXA, the Japanese equivalent of NASA, puts its astronauts through, and really shows how mentally challenging it is to be an astronaut. The students are forced to live with people they might not get along with 24/7 and they have to come together as a team. A simple task such as setting up dominoes becomes a major challenge, and some students even quit because they’re unable to handle the stressful environment.
The rest of the present-day chapters are more slice-of-life in comparison. Asumi has two major obstacles in her pursuit of becoming an astronaut: money and height. Asumi’s father, now a construction worker after the Lion crash, is barely able to support Asumi on his own, and Asumi is just barely able to afford the school. And even for Japanese girl standards, Asumi is really short, which means that she not only needs to work extra hard to keep up physically with everyone else, the school has to make her a custom space suit that will fit, and it costs the school lots of money to do so. One of the teachers, who has a grudge against Asumi’s father for his involvement in the construction of the Lion, actually takes advantage of this and tries to get Asumi to leave the school, and it almost works. For what is essentially another high school manga, this one manages to stick out thanks to great heartwarming drama and realistic depictions of what it takes to be an astronaut.
The artwork is very simple and easy on the eyes. Asumi looks cute, but she’s not a terrifying moe archetype with plate-sized eyes. The artwork makes me think of Naoki Urasawa’s, except lighter and softer. By anime and manga standards, the characters look fairly realistic, with a few exceptions. The semi-realistic character design matches the tone of the series perfectly, and the backgrounds of the school and hometown of Asumi are beautifully drawn. It’s not a particularly innovative artstyle, but it gets the job done and draws your attention when it needs to.
There is so much untapped potential in the astronaut drama genre. Space is a wonderful motivation for characters, since it is a vast frontier that scientists to this day have barely scratched the surface of. But it’s not just the thrill of space that drives the power of this genre, it’s the people that follow that dream of going to space. Like its contemporary Space Brothers, Twin Spica keeps you glued with its characters and realistic depiction of their day-to-day struggles. You are emotionally invested in what this character is doing, and even if you’re not a space junkie, you can’t help but get wrapped up in the thrill of space travel when these characters talk about it. Twin Spica has been called “Space Brothers in high school”, and although Twin Spica technically came first, that is an accurate description of the series. I have yet to finish the series, but I will eventually collect the entire 12 volumes that were released, because I want to see Asumi’s journey to the very end.
If you’re a fan of slice-of-life drama, the science of space exploration, or just want a heartwarming series, I cannot recommend Twin Spica enough. If you’re looking for stories similar to Twin Spica, I’ll once again mention Space Brothers which is still airing on Crunchyroll, and the anime Planetes, a drama focusing on space debris collectors on a space station. Twin Spica is available from Vertical, but if you want to read the series, I’d recommend picking it up ASAP, because sadly the series did not sell as well as Vertical hoped and will soon be out-of-print.