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Worlds Without End Blog

SF Manga 101: Twin Spica Posted at 6:36 PM by Glenn Hough


Glenn Hough (gallyangel) is a nonpracticing futurist, an anime and manga otaku, and is almost obsessive about finishing several of the lists tracked on WWEnd. In this series on SF Manga Glenn will provide an overview of the medium and the place of science fiction within it.

twinspica6From the Big Dipper, take the arc to Arcturus.  Drive a spike to Spica.

The star Spica in the constellation of Virgo is actually thought to be a binary star system about 262 light years away from Earth.  Twin Spica.  But even this is in doubt.  There may be more stars in that system; it might be up to a quintuple system.

And no, the lead character of Twin Spica is not from this system.  It’s where thirteen year old Asumi Kamogawa is looking to go.  To the stars.

The publisher says this about Twin Spica:

In a Tokyo of the not-too-distant future a young girl looks up to the stars with melancholy in her heart and hope in her eyes. Thirteen-year-old Asumi Kamogawa’s life has been tied to those stars; her future may very well be among them. And she is not alone… Asumi is one of many young people with ambitions to some day head off to space for Japan’s first manned mission.

Spica1Before liftoff, like any true astronaut she must show the right stuff and overcome odds to pass numerous physical and mental trials if she even wants to be considered in the running for a rare spot in the elite Tokyo Space School.

Have you ever sat and talked to or listened to someone on TV who was in their early 20ies or teens during the height of the Apollo era?  Do you hear the passion in their voice, still, after all this time?  Do you understand that for them, space was not a trivial thing?  It meant something.  It was a striving, a growing, a throwing off the shackles of the past for something nobody had tried to do before.  We’d dreamed of it certainly, but never before had the physics or technical knowledge been ours so that we could try.  Space was our future and we were going for it.   Space mattered then, in a way it does not matter now.  And the spirit we had then, is what moves Twin Spica.

Spica3Once we get into Twin Spica, the manga presents us with very common place manga themes wrapped around the solid axis of space.  The space high school, with it’s entrance exams and fees.  The growth of the main cast of characters, each dreaming of the stars for different reasons.  The making of friends, over coming enemies, undergoing special training and trials.  It’s The Right Stuff but now written for teenagers, coming of age in Japan.  They are the ones who will redeem Japan’s space dreams; the manga starts with a Japanese accident that makes the NASA accidents look well contained in comparison.

I am reminded of Woody Allen’s comments about seeing Kubrick’s 2001 for the first time.  He said, to paraphrase, that he thought he was watching a long commercial for NASA.  He didn’t understand the genius at work.  Allen eventually got it.

I think I am reminded of this comment since Twin Spica can be seen as a cheer leading exercise.  And if that’s the impression I’ve given, I’ve missed the mark, badly.  Nothing is that simple and Twin Spica presents not so rosy a picture.

Their are prices to be paid for failure.  When “The Lion”, Japan’s first entirely Japanese made rocket fails upon launch and crashed into the middle of a city, it shatters many families, including Asumi’s.  Her father worked on The Lion and had to quit being an engineer.  It was far to painful.  Asumi’s mother died from her injuries a year after the crash.  Asumi’s memories of her, since she was so little at the time, are only of a woman whose face was always completely bandaged from the burns, coupled with the medicinal smell.

It’s the trials one has to go through, that hardly anyone will pass, on the way to space, which is one of the main themes of Twin Spica.

Spica7Kei is Asumi’s good friend at school.  But she will probably washout sooner or later.  She’s middle of the pack when it comes to physical, academic, or technical details.

Miraka, another of Asumi’s friends, is one who makes friends very painfully, so the confines of space travel will be especially difficult for her.  She’s brilliant, but will probably washout due to medical reasons.

Shu, another of Asumi’s friends, is the best student in the class, the best well rounded applicant of them all, but his chances are just as dismal. He’s defying his family by going to this school.  His family is politically connected and has been for generations.  It’s his duty to continue in that line.  And all his family really has to do is place one phone call, and he’s out.  Japan’s politics and culture are different enough so that Shu can’t just say “John Glenn” and give a career outline to his father which starts with astronaut, goes to national hero, swings over to diet member, and ends with prime minister.  That still wouldn’t satisfy him.

Spica4Even Asumi was almost washed out of the program very early on since she’s rather short, and well, the standard issue suit that they were using wouldn’t even begin to fit her.  A space suit like that, for use in the pools as part of the space training (just like NASA) is expensive.  Height alone almost got her kicked out.

And yet, they all keep trying their best, together, even though they know that it will come down to who best fits the mission profiles and the few available seats.

Probably the most exotic element in this story is Asumi’s Mr. Lion, the ghost of an astronaut from the doomed “Lion”.  Asumi has been able to see him since she was little and he’s been there to guide her towards the stars.  When it came time for the physical requirements, Asumi is well prepared since her Mr. Lion has encouraged her since she was in elementary school.  When an early trial of seemingly random numbers washes dozens out of the program, Asumi sees that the numbers are light years to specific stars, like her favorite Spica, and passes easily.  Mr. Lion has given her his knowledge with the gentle teaching that comes from their shared passion for space.

Spica5From the first grader Asumi who wants to be a rocket driver, who could give a free ride to both her father and Mr. Lion, to the young highschooler who can rattle off space history or distances to stars, or dozens of other things an astronaut should know, Asumi has already been on an amazing journey: her life.  She has the right stuff.  It’s now only a question if the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) can match her determination and passion for space.

Twin Spica is brought to the States by a relative newcomer to the American manga scene, Vertical Inc.  They have a small but very select catalog of quality titles.

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